8 Facts You Didn’t Know About Eddie Van Halen
We all know Eddie Van Halen as the dive bombing guitar legend who popularised finger tapping, brought pointy guitars to the masses and completely defined the entire 1980’s rock guitar movement; whilst reinventing the instrument in the process. Here are 8, lesser known facts about Eddie Van Halen - from hip replacements to US patents.
1. Classical Eddie
It is widely known that Eddie started his musical journey as a drummer, however, his primary instrument was the piano.
Was he any good? Yes, indeed he was, in fact he wasn’t just dabbling with piano; during the mid 60’s, young Eddie won regional piano competitions, performing works by Bach and Mozart (could this be the origins of his tapping technique?).
Despite his classical lessons and high level of proficiency, pianist Eddie couldn’t actually read music. His learning came from visually copying his piano teacher’s finger movements and reproducing what he heard, solely by ear. So good was he at copying his tutor’s demonstrations, that the fact he couldn’t read a note of notation went unnoticed. Eddie recalls that his renditions of classic pieces by Mozart were often partly improvised! Jeez! ….. Who needs TAB huh?!
2. That Beat It solo
Yeah, we all know this as one of the most famous guest guitar solos in history. But it is odd that Eddie rarely appears in print as a credit for this piece of blistering axemanship. The reason is simple; he originally performed the solo on the 1983 Michael Jackson hit as a personal favour to Michael; accepting no fee!
What would that back-dated royalty cheque look like? Lots of zeros we image!!
3. 5150 - That’s crazy talk!
We’re all familiar with the legendary signature 5150 amp and album title, but do you know from where this number/name originates?
During the 80’s, Eddie wanted to take Van Halen down a more synth driven musical route, yet producers didn’t like the idea. Eddie’s solution? Build his own studio!
This venture wasn’t popular, in fact everyone said Eddie was crazy to take such a leap. In response, he named his new studio ‘5150’ - the Los Angeles police code for an escaped mental patient!
4. Language barrier
Of Dutch birth, Eddie & Alex Van Halen grew up in Holland, moving to the USA as kids. What is less known is that neither Eddie or Alex could speak much English until they arrived in America, aged 10 and 12 (respectively) and learnt the language as they moved into their teens.
A Dutch related bonus fact - Eddie’s middle name is Lodewijk - a tribute to Ludwig Von Beethoven. This could be why Eddie continued the tradition by naming his son Wolfgang.
5. Don’t turn around!
What are now common place guitar techniques in the modern world of rock guitar - tapping, whammy bar tricks, tremolo picking etc - all blew minds when first unleashed on audiences in the late 70’s, when Van Halen erupted (no apologies for the pun!) onto the scene.
On hearing Eddie Van Halen’s mesmerising finger tapping licks, combined with that famous phaser, it is understandable that the guitarists of the day wanted to copy Eddie’s trademark style. Pre YouTube and prevalent music videos, gangs of guitarists would attend Van Halen gigs, hoping to score the secrets of his sound.
The joke was on them; Eddie performed his early concerts with his back to the audience during his guitar solos in order to hide what he was doing; thus maintaining the mystery and magic of his guitar trickery! Many attribute this practise to Eddie’s crippling stage fright though.
See, even the masters get nervous!
6. It’s all in the hips!
In 1999 Eddie underwent hip surgery. A relatively young age for this operation. But the symptom for this was years of jumping around stages and off drum risers with a solid bodied electric guitar around his neck; putting an unrelenting stress on his joints.
The perils of Rock n Roll!
7. Go Go Gadget EVH!
Eddie is the proud owner of a US patent and registered inventor of, what is simply titled, the ‘Musical Instrument Support’.
He invented a straight forward hinged device which was secured to the underside of his guitar, fixing his axe at a right angle to his body and enabling him to perform his crazy, piano-style, two handed tapping licks and solos whilst performing live.
Watch out for this gadget during any old Van Halen live footage!
That famous black & yellow super strat, which features on the cover of Van Halen II, got the guitar world talking. But, the guitar itself was, in fact, not played on any of the album’s tracks!
The original 1979 Bumblebee striped guitar was buried with metal guitar legend Dimebag Darrell, following his death in 2004. Eddie and Dime had only met for the first time weeks before his fatal shooting. Dimebag’s famous last words to his band mates were “Van Halen!!”; a call to action to encourage his band to perform more energetically.
When asked about his tribute, Eddie stated “Dime was an original, he deserves the original”.
So, there we have it, a round up of EVH related gems to pass around your guitar buddies!
If you have enjoyed this walk through rock guitar history, check out these other blogs detailing the facts and stories behind some of the greatest albums and guitarists of all time.
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