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Eddie Van Halen: one year on, the metal world remembers

EVH
(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty)

It's hard to believe that one year has passed since the death of Eddie Van Halen, but from blowing Sabbath offstage with his band to influencing everyone from Dimebag to Adam D with his playing, Eddie’s impact on the metal world was unlike any other. We asked some of its greatest guitarists to pay tribute, talk about the inspiration they received, and reveal their favourite songs by a true legend.

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Gary Holt (Exodus/Slayer)

“The first time I heard Eddie, I didn’t even play guitar yet, and Eruption just destroyed me. Of all the guitarists that made me what I am today, he – along with Uli Jon Roth – is the reason I’ve got a whammy bar on almost every guitarI own. Eddie’s responsible for where my technique started, as well as how I used to modify my guitars. I’m lucky as hell to have been born in the era I was, to have seen him perform so many times, to have attempted to steal so many licks! RIP Eddie. I owe you everything.”

Favourite song: Romeo Delight

“The main riff is killer! Eddie is showing his rhythm chops with the downpicked riff, and the volume swells in the verses are just sick. Such an amazing song!”

Sebastian Bach

“I was lucky enough to get to know Eddie when Skid Row opened the Balance Tour in 1995. I was lucky enough to see the original Van Halen Fair Warning Tour, Diver Down, and 1984 Tour. Eddie’s name in itself was an adjective or a verb to me and my friends. The words ‘Van Halen’ meant the ultimate in cool, the ultimate in being the best you can be, and the ultimate in fun. Thank you, Edward Van Halen, for a lifetime of inspiration. And partying.”

Favourite song: And The Cradle Will Rock

“This is my favourite Van Halen song: ‘Have you seen Junior’s grades?’ This is the song that made me want to rock as hard as I could for the rest of my life.”

Nita Strauss

“As a guitar player, I’m inspired by technique, chops and all the usual stuff. But what inspires me the most is hearing guitar that sounds fun. Where the joy that comes from the player’s hands overshadows all technique and becomes the first thing you hear. That’s what EVH has always personified to me. Some guitar players make fast guitar playing seem intimidating. Eddie made it sound, well, fun! The more Van Halen I heard, the more I felt that ‘I gotta learn how to do that!’ feeling. His bravado, reckless abandon, inventive style and constant smile drew me in as a fan.”

Favourite song: Catherine

“The first time I heard this, I thought, ‘Where did this guy come from?’ The expressive, dark, haunting note choices were a stark contrast to that smiling Southern California guitar hero we were all so familiar with. It instantly made me more of a fan, because he was able to do something so vastly different.”

Alex Skolnick (Testament)

“I’m one of numerous individuals who has EVH to thank for inspiring the development of a skillset that has brought great joy. Yet this extended group goes beyond fellow guitarists. His thinking outside the box, from instrument building and tone tinkering as well as unique song structures, riffs and – oh yes – solos, has also inspired countless music producers, luthiers, designers and other creative types. With all due respect to the fun band known as Van Halen, the influence of Edward is beyond anything we’ve witnessed in this lifetime. It’d require a much larger format to properly convey – perhaps an encyclopaedia. Thank you, Eddie Van Halen.”

Favourite song: I’m The One

“It’s a blend of Edward’s revolutionary guitar virtuosity and the group’s fun feel of a wild party. In terms of Eddie’s licks, it contains the ‘kitchen sink’ of elements – innovative pull-offs, two- handed wizardry, wild bends, unheard-of tremolo bar technique, harmonics, scrapes and other disruptive noises somehow made to work beautifully.”

Mark Morton (Lamb Of God)

“Eddie Van Halen is the sole reason I ever dreamed of playing guitar. Literally millions of people all over the world have found a passion for music through his work, and I’m grateful to have been one of them. Van Halen were a stylistic predecessor for bands like Pantera, and that heavy on the downbeat, head-bob, swagger and strut type of riffing certainly passed down to us as well. They set the standard for so many styles and versions of what hard rock and metal would become. Eddie Van Halen will be loved and celebrated forever.”

Favourite song: Mean Street

“It’s at the top tier for me. People often refer to ‘groove metal’ in the context of Lamb Of God, and I’d say that’s a pretty fair description, but Mean Street is just about as groovy a riff as you can find in hard rock and heavy metal.”

Mikey Demus (Skindred)

“When I was a kid, I wasn’t a studious or technical guitar player. Virtuosity was never my thing. But when I heard EVH for the first time, just like with Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Keef, Dimebag, Tom Morello… it was life-changing. There was an attitude, an unmistakable signature sound. That’s the goal, right? There’s a million shredders out there. None of them have the catalogue of undeniably banging tunes to back it up. Being different, being original, playing for the song… I’ve always identified with that. That, and he loved to tinker with his gear. That’s what Eddie meant to me. He was a pioneer and an innovator.”

Favourite song: Panama

“This is my power song! This is my Number One getting-ready-to-go out-and-cause-some-carnage tune. I listen to it when I’m getting ready to go onstage. Panama turns a regular, humdrum weeknight into a hip-thrusting, four-on-the-floor, air-guitar-laden ultra-sesh.”

Troy Sanders (Mastodon)

“I probably got to see Van Halen seven or eight times over my life. Every time they came through Atlanta where I grew up, I would always go, and I even travelled to the south-east of the US to see them. So I got to see all three eras; the David Lee Roth, the Gary Cherone short-lived Van Halen phase, and the Sammy Hagar. So yeah, Van Halen’s incredible, absolutely love ’em. Overall, I’m just glad that they existed, and that’s what has bred the desire of thousands and thousands of guitar players that are on this Earth right now.”

Favourite song: Ice Cream Man

“I was part of a Metal Allegiance tour on a cruise ship. I was the vocalist for this song, Alex Skolnick was on guitar – dressed as Eddie Van Halen – and on bass was Wolfgang, Eddie Van Halen’s son. I looked up at the sky and there was nothing but stars. I realised we were in the middle of the ocean, playing Van Halen songs, and it was a wonderful moment that I’ll never forget. So of all the amazing Van Halen songs, Ice Cream Man sticks out as my favourite record.”

Chris Kael (Five Finger Death Punch)

“The first riff I ever heard from Eddie Van Halen was Unchained, when it was in pretty heavy rotation in the early days of MTV. ‘Duh-duh! Chug-chug-chug-chug.’ Such a great rock riff. And, the beauty found in Cathedral? Eddie was doing things on the guitar that none of us had ever heard before. And, upon hearing Eddie, everyone knew that it was time to step up their game. Bassists like myself included! Eddie’s playing made anyone playing a stringed instrument lock themselves in their room for countless hours of practice. Thanks for the motivation and inspiration, Eddie!”

Favourite song: Hot For Teacher

“As a kid who loved heavy metal and motorcycles, I was on Cloud Nine hearing the blending of those two loves in Alex’s drums at the beginning of Hot For Teacher. Add Dave’s hilarious ‘I don’t feel tardy’, Eddie’s finger-tapping technique and the high vocal harmonies of Michael Anthony, and you get one of my highlights of growing up in the 80s.”

Sophie Lloyd (Guitarist/Youtuber)

“When every guitarist first heard Eddie play, they were both amazed and petrified. He made everyone step up their game. Eruption was the first two-handed tapping lick I ever learned when I was 15, and 10 years on I still can’t get enough of it and use this technique in almost all of my compositions. I guess I like solos that are outrageously silly, with mad techniques and super-speedy runs that the listener just can’t help but sit back and smile at. I want to play solos that will make people smile as much as I do every time I listen to Eddie play.”

Favourite song: Eruption

“Forty-two years on, and Eruption remains the greatest guitar solo ever. I first heard it when I was just starting on guitar and to say it’s been an inspiration is an understatement. The emotions Eddie portrayed with just one instrument is incredible, only matched by his jaw-dropping technique.”

Adam D (Killswitch Engage/Times Of Grace)

“Van Halen was the soundtrack to my entire childhood and adolescence, especially Eddie. I remember being a little kid, hearing him, and thinking, ‘How the hell is he making all of those crazy-ass noises? I wanna do that!’ Even after playing guitar for 25 years, I still think that! To me, he is one of those guitar players where you just have to hear him play for like, one second, and you immediately know it’s him. He just had so much personality, attitude and uniqueness. To me, that makes him the greatest rock guitar player of all time.”

Favourite song: Girl Gone Bad

1984 is one of my favourite records, ever. The band feel electric on Girl Gone Bad, and Eddie’s parts have so much damn attitude. Yeah, they may not be executed perfectly, but the conviction and vibe is undeniably badass. There’ll never be anyone else like him.”