EVH Stripes

I’ve done a really crappy job of constantly posting to any of my sites, but here at Keefer Madness, I’ve done an extra crappy job. With the recent passing of Eddie Van Halen, I thought it was time to write something here — my own tribute and thoughts on the innovative guitarist and overall music innovator.

Since hearing the news of Eddie Van Halen’s passing on October 6, 2020 (just over a month ago at the time of this writing), it’s been a bit of a shock, yet not at all at the same time.

First Listening

Van Halen BannerI’ve been a hardcore Van Halen fan for as long as I can remember, but got into the game late, seeing as I was a year old when their original and best album, Van Halen I was released. By the time, I got into the band, they were on their second album with Sammy Hagar, OU812. My dad used to play that cassette in his Jeep Cherokee a lot on weekend trips to the record stores, errands, etc.

Over the next few years, I got everything they released, both as the new albums came out, but also the back catalog with the original/classic lineup, and eventually started getting into tape trading of live shows spanning the band’s career.

Picking a Favorite

I love the whole Van Halen catalog. I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite, beyond recognizing the true brilliance and raw power of the premiere album. Growing up and first being exposed to the Sammy Hagar era, I don’t have the same alliance that a lot of older fans do to David Lee Roth, but I still recognize how classic all those Roth-era albums are. They still stand-up, and feel as fresh as the day they were released. The 5150 and OU812 albums feel a little more dated, especially 5150 with it’s electronic drums. But even all that said, I love them all.

I never got into the Sam versus Dave thing, but recognize them as two eras and in some ways two bands. I love the whole catalog, including the

Honoring and Celebrating EVH

Van Halen, April 21, 2012Whether it’s my Apple Music, YouTube, or Sirius/XM radio, all my audio listenings in the week after Edward’s death centered around the music of Van Halen, and the rock radio talk and honoring of Eddie Van Halen. So many fans and musicians have come out, honoring him as a guitar virtuoso, a guitar innovator, and just an all-around musician. I’ve heard so many musicians (mainly via Eddie Trunk’s SiriusXM shows) Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave), Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Tom Kiefer (Cinderella), among many others talk about how EVH impacted their playing, their music, and ultimately their lives.

His past bandmates Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony did a video together as well, and I’m happy to hear that Hagar had been in contact with Eddie over the past few months, and the two reconciled. He said he kept it quiet to make sure rumors weren’t out there about yet another reunion. I’m glad the two were able to make peace before one left this world.

Michael Anthony

It’s less clear on whether Michael Anthony, Van Halen’s bassist from the mid-’70s till sometime after 1998. The Van Halen brothers could hold quite a grudge, and it ran super-deep with Anthony for some reason. I think it was a combination of a lot of things, but they resented Anthony touring with Hagar in the years after Hagar and Van Halen parted ways.

On the single Van Halen Gary Cherone album, Van Halen 3, Anthony only played on a handful of tracks, and on the subsequent greatest hits album, he didn’t write or play on any of the new tracks, though he did still do background vocals.

When the reunion with Van Halen / Hagar happened in 2004, had Hagar not insisted, Anthony would not have been part of the tour. Even participating, he was offered a smaller royalties contract for the tour only. They went as far as for a while, Photoshopping out Anthony from photos on their site, till fans complained. I hate how they treated and resented Anthony — by all accounts a super easy-going and friendly guy. This really bugs me to this day.

Impact

Van Halen, April 21, 2012Regardless of the grudge and relative seclusion, the Van Halen brothers practiced when outside of touring and making music, Eddie Van Halen had an impact on so many musicians and music, both through Van Halen’s music catalog and performances, but also in his contributions to music technology. EVH was always chasing tone, tweaking, and adjusting things. Early in his career, out of necessity and ignorance, his Frakenstrat was born, melding a Strat-style body with the Humbucker pickup used in Les Paul guitars. He also messed with adjusting the voltage on his guitar amps to give them the tone he was chasing.

He later went on to help perfect the Floyd Rose tremolo system and the D-Tuna system that allowed guitars equipped with it to go from standard tuning to dropped-D tuning by pushing a metal shim of sorts on the guitar bridge. The guitarist also had four patents — all related to the guitar.

In the final years of his life, fans saw most of Edward Van Halen’s output via his EVH brand — new guitars, limited edition guitars, almost all under the Wolfgang name, his only son’s name, along with his 5150 series of amp heads, cabinets, and combo amplifiers.

Output

Albums and tours slowed in Van Halen’s later years, and health (and rehab) rumors always abounded. In hindsight, it seems like Eddie Van Halen fought long and hard cancer multiple times, along with substance abuse. But the guy was a musician through and through. He played daily, most known for the guitar for obvious reasons, but also quite capable on piano, bass, keyboards, among other instruments I’m assuming.

The final studio album, A Different Kind of Truth, the first full album with David Lee Roth since 1984, borrowed and relied heavily on old recordings, riffs, and ideas from as far back as the 1970s in likely an attempt to make it sound more like the classic Roth-era albums, but also as a bit of a shortcut to get to the end product. That’s not a jab, dig, etc., just an observation of what ended up being the last studio album Edward output. They toured twice based on that final album and released a double live album, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert that had the Van Halen trio sounding as strong as ever, and Roth — well being Roth in concert.

Concerts

Van Halen, April 21, 2012I was lucky enough to see Van Halen multiple times over the course of just over two decades — six times to be exact at a total of three different venues. My first time was on July 21, 1993.

Hagar Concerts

Living in Chesapeake, Virginia at the time, my dad drove me and a friend down here to Raleigh to see the band at Walnut Creek Amphitheatre for the Right Here, Right Now tour with Hagar fronting. It’s funny that the first Van Halen show ended up being in Raleigh, where I’ve lived for quite a while now. I loved every moment of it, from the concert opening Mine All Mine to the encore finale cover of Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World.

I was old enough and close enough (now living in Durham) for my second time to drive myself and a friend to see them for the Balance tour in 1995, again at Walnut Creek Amphitheatre on September 1, 1995.

It would be the last album Hagar would do with the band, them breaking up the following summer (I remember seeing it on MTV News like it was yesterday). The straw that broke the camel’s back was after coming off of the Balance tour, Hagar wanted to take time off as he and his wife were having their first baby together. The Van Halen brothers wanted to do new songs for the Twister soundtrack. They only managed to piece together Humans Being, though the Van Halen brothers ended up doing a second song, Respect the Wind, an eerie guitar and harpsichord that feels very final, haunting and a good way to pay respect to the now late Edward Van Halen.

Cherone Concerts

Funny enough, the first time fans got to hear Humans Being was with Gary Cherone singing it. While only with the band for a single album, I got to see Gary Cherone concerts twice in 1998, buying tickets once, and getting them a second-time thanks to my college internship at the News & Observer. The first time with Cherone fronting, we traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina’s Blockbuster Pavillion on July 30, 1998, to see the band live. I was an Extreme fan, Cherone’s original band, and was psyched for the new frontman that could and would sing both Roth and Hagar tracks. I do remember thinking Cherone’s prancing on stage was a better fit for Queen than Van Halen, but never having seen Roth live, maybe it wasn’t as bad of a fit as I thought at that time.

A few weeks later, I got to again see the Cherone-fronted Van Halen again and was back at Walnut Creek Amphitheatre where I had seen Hagar twice with the band. The Charlotte and Raleigh shows were essentially the same, but I would have gone two or three more times on the tour had I had the ability to hear the songs and just see, hear, and experience EVH at work.

David Lee Roth Concerts

When Roth originally left the band, I was like 7 years old, so obviously was in no position to get to see them live the first time around. I did eventually get to see Roth twice, first in 2002 when Roth and Hagar toured together — the so-called Sans Halen tour (Song for Song, the Heavyweight Champs of Rock and Roll). Part of that tour was made to entice the Van Halen brothers out of hibernation and possibly do a tour where both Hagar and Roth did their era of songs with the band. While that never happened, it was great

What’s Next

I’ve read that Alex Van Halen and Ed’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen at some point when wounds heal a bit, plan on going through the 5150 studio vaults. While in the past, not a whole lot of extra material has been released by the band, fans, myself included are hopeful that the silver lining of Edward’s passing will be starting to release more of that unheard material from the 5150 vaults as an appropriate memorializing of EVH.

In Closing

I’m no different than any other fan of Eddie or the band. While it’s not like a family or friend passing, it’s still quite jarring. There’s an obvious feeling of finality. There’s never the possibility of another tour with all the band members. Any new material that comes out now will be old recordings. Much to the eye-rolling of my wife, I introduced both of our boys to Van Halen’s music early and often. I had always hoped to one day take Tyler to a VH concert. Now the next best thing will either be Roth solo or more likely for us, Sammy Hagar and the Circle.

Thanks for reading my rambling memorializing, editorializing, and history sharing of Ed and the band with his namesake. Thanks to Edward, the band, and all its members over the years for creating such timeless music, great riffs, lyrics, etc. EVH is greatly missed, but his music will live on. Rest in peace, Edward Van Halen. May your heavenly Frankenstrats always stay in tune.

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