Van Halen was a huge band in their day, and are still considered by many to be one of the greatest bands of all time. Their self titled debut was on every kid’s stereo when I was growing up; I remember staring at the album cover wondering where the brothers, guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex, were from. They weren’t typical looking rock musicians. To add to that, Eddie had this crazy, beat up, taped up guitar in his hands. That guitar would go on and revolutionize hard rock and metal guitar playing but what I was interested in was his innovation. He was not only an insane player, his gear was also crazy. He was the first musician in my experience that made even scratching the strings sound musical and awesome. I was an obsessed kid and wanted to know what I had to do to come across like Eddie did.
I saw Van Halen on the first series of warm up shows dubbed The World Vacation Tour. It was a 1979 tour to support their second album Van Halen II – the band’s first world tour as a headliner, previously having been a supporting act for Black Sabbath’s 1978 Never Say Die! 10th Anniversary World Tour. All of my friends, bandmates and I bought tickets and we were sure the experience was going to be something special. These dudes were the kings of innovation and after touring for a long time on their first record, they were rested and ready to take over the world.
Our parents drove us to the Marin Civic Center where the show was to be held. I don’t remember much about what we did before the show but I do remember, in great detail, what I saw happen on stage. The band walked on stage, with Eddie Van Halen making feedback noise and doing whammy bar dive bombs. It was crazy how loud it was but being that age, I thought it was perfect. The band was on fire and performing all the songs closely to the album takes.
Eddie and Michael would stand by their speaker cabinets until it was time for their backup vocals and they would come up at the same time, sing and then head back. David Lee Roth was singing the lyrics loosely to what they were on the record but he was such a dynamic frontman that it didnt matter. He was the entertainment for the non musicians in the crowd. I was there to see Eddie and he constantly pulled stuff off that I had never seen before. Two handed playing that he was so known for, dive bombs, fast solo breaks…Eddie came out of nowhere. It was hard to pin down his influences because he had evolved so far beyond anyone he’d looked up to.
I think what stuck with me most was how excited I was to see a pioneer in action. Eddie was trailblazing for all hard rock guitarists to follow. His use of effects, like phasers or flangers, were so well incorporated into the music that you just thought he was from the future. He constantly evolved over the course of Van Halen’s career; he never let us down through the first 5 records. I will always be in awe of Edward Van Halen.
Who blazed a trail for you? Did you ever get the feeling you were witnessing someone who would cut a new path for musicians who followed? Let me know in the comments section!