Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen was born on January 26, 1955, in Amsterdam. When Eddie was 7, his family moved to the United States and settled in Pasadena, California. When they were young, both Eddie and his brother Alex played the piano. Young Eddie was quite an accomplished piano player, winning several talent shows. Both brothers, however, found the piano to be boring and took up different instruments. Initially Alex took up guitar and Eddie took up the drums. When Eddie heard his brother play the drum solo to the Safari’s song “Wipeout”, he realized that his brother was a better drummer than he, and the two switched instruments.
After taking up the guitar, Eddie would wear the instrument around the house and practice nearly constantly. By the age of 14, Eddie had learned to play his own interpretation of all the solos that Eric Clapton played with Cream. In an interview with Guitar World, Eddie explained his practice ethic during his teenaged years, “I used to sit on the edge of my bed with a six-pack of Schlitz Malt talls. My brother would go out at 7 p.m. to party and get laid, and when he’d come back at 3 a.m., I would still be sitting in the same place, playing guitar. I did that for years — I still do that.”
In 1972, Eddie and his brother formed a band with bassist Mark Stone. The trio was originally unaware of the band of the same name, and named themselves Genesis. Upon learning of their mistake, they changed the band name to Mammoth. Eddie originally sang lead vocals, renting a PA system from David Lee Roth for $10 a night. Frustrated with singing vocals, and realizing that they could save money by letting Roth join the band, the trio became a four member band. Shortly after Roth joined the band, Michael Anthony replaced Mark Stone on the bass. It was David Lee Roth who thought that the brothers’ surname made a cooler sounding name for the band.
Now playing as Van Halen, the group was discovered in 1976 by KISS bass player Gene Simmons at Gazzari’s in Hollywood. Gene was impressed with the band, in particular the innovative guitar playing of Eddie and used his own money to help the band record a demo. Gene flew the band to Electric Lady Studios in New York and they recorded “House of Pain” and “Runnin With the Devil”. The next year the band was offered a contract with Warner Brothers Records. The first single off of their eponymous debut album was a cover of the Kink’s song, “You Really Got Me.” The band didn’t want that song as their single, but other bands had heard Van Halen’s version and were rushing to beat them to the punch.
With Roth on lead vocal duties the band recorded six studio albums, but tensions between Roth and the other members of the band caused Eddie to consider quitting the band. He approached Gene Simmons in 1982 about the possibility of him replacing the departed Ace Frehley in KISS. Gene didn’t want to see Van Halen breakup and convinced Eddie to return to the band. The final Roth era album, “1984” featured the hit single “Jump” and another hit “Hot for Teacher”, the video for which was also a huge success. The album reached number two on the Billboard charts, behind Michael Jackson’s legendary album, “Thriller”. Eddie had also contributed guitar work to that album, playing on the track “Beat It”.
When David Lee Roth left, he was replaced by Sammy Hagar in 1985. Hagar sang with the band from 1985 to 1999. During this time, more of the bands songs featured Eddie’s keyboard playing, which he had displayed so well on the previous hit “Jump”. Even on the tracks on which Eddie played guitar, his tone was light and more commercially oriented. The band’s sound was so different that fans often refer to this era of the band is often referred to as the Van Hagar years. In 1996, when tensions among the band began to surface again, Hagar left.
After Hagar’s departure the band entered a state of flux. Roth briefly rejoined the band to release a greatest hits album, which included two new tracks, “Me Wise Magic” and “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” later in 1996. The band quickly discovered that they could still not get along however, and Roth departed once again. After a long audition process the band hired Gary Cherone to replace Roth. The new lineup’s first release “Van Halen III”, was received poorly and Cherone departed the group on friendly terms. The band went on hiatus until 2004.
The so called “Van Hagar” lineup reunited for a tour between 2005 and 2006, but the band was still not getting along well. Michael Anthony claimed in an interview that tension with Hagar led Eddie to frequently perform drunk. At the end of the infamous final show of the tour in Tucson, Arizona, Eddie lost his temper and violently smashed his guitar onstage.
In 2007 the band announced that David Lee Roth would rejoin the band for a summer tour. The tour was put on hiatus while Eddie did a stint in rehab. The tour finally happened between late 2007 and mid 2008. In the fall of 2008, Van Halen’s 15 year old son, Wolfgang, took Anthony’s place as the band’s bass player. Eddie had this to say in an interview, “Wolfgang breathes life into what we’re doing. He brings youthfulness to something that’s inherently youthful. He’s only been playing bass for three months, but it’s spooky. He’s locked tight and puts an incredible spin on our shit. The kid is kicking my ass! He’s spanking me now, even though I never spanked him. To have my son follow in my footsteps on his own, without me pushing him into it, is the greatest feeling in the world.”