When Eddie Van Halen passed away on October 6, I spent most of that night texting a friend from college about Van Halen. They were all great memories including getting to see him and Sammy Hagar play at Farm Aid in 1985 in Champaign, Illinois in the pouting rain.
I can still remember hearing Van Halen I for the first time in 1978 and wondering what the heck was coming out of my speakers. And over the years that fascination always persisted. Throughout the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s, I was totally into whatever sounds he was making. While he did inspire a generation to play finger tapping, I was more impressed by the tone of his guitar (which some refer to as the “brown sound”) and the ease of which he played it. He and the guitar appeared to be one instrument and he was always smiling while playing. I never saw anybody play with such love and appreciation of what he was doing as Eddie.
Van Halen’s current legacy is one of an innovator, inventor, guitar maker, and an amazing guitarist. But as someone who followed his career for 42 years, his legacy is not quite over and still is yet to be written.
In the early 80s, Eddie Van Halen was concerned about the direction of his career. He did not like the fact that producers and the record company were pushing the band to do cover songs. Eddie wanted to do more original music. After producer Ted Templeman took a synthesizer part that Eddie had created and added it to a version of “Dancing in the Streets,” Eddie decided that he had had enough. He wanted to be in charge of the music he was making.
Then he decided to build his own studio.
With engineer Donn Landee, Van Halen set out to create a place where he could doodle and tinker and record all of his many musical ideas whether they were on piano, synthesizer, and guitar.
The first album that Eddie Van Halen created in his new musical laboratory was 1984. From the opening synthesizer rip on 1984 to jump in I’ll wait, the album was a musical departure and revelation at the same time. While, it would be his last album with David Lee Roth as the lead singer, musically Eddie was letting his muse do the talking. The record is filled with amazing guitar work from Eddie just working in his studio including this iconic track that contains a great riff, a ripping guitar solo, and the steamiest breakdown section.
Van Halen‘s first album with Sammy Hagar also bore fruit from that same studio Eddie created. Riff after riff on guitars and synthesizers and beautiful piano melodies came out of 5150 over the next few years before he eventually split with Hagar in the late 90s.
While Van Halen did record an album with former Extreme singer Gary Cherone and one more with Roth, his output the last 20 years has been almost nonexistent as he battled cancer.
Eddie would occasionally play with other artists and he did do the soundtrack to an early 80s movie called “Wyld Life.” There was only one song that was released on the soundtrack record – “Donut City.”
However, thanks to the Internet, you can now hear the rest of the sounds Eddie created for the movie.
I have always wondered why Eddie Van Halen never released an instrumental record.
There would always be the occasional instrumental track on a Van Halen album, but there has to be just hours upon hours upon hours of noodling and songs that were aborted, instrumental jams, and all other sorts of sounds that he’s recorded over the past 35 years since building the 5150 studio.
While most artists tend to put out a box set or rarities, Van Halen never has.
As a historian, I would love to get in to that studio, just start organizing things, and check out what sounds are still in there. It would take years to sort through. I would love to see a series of instrumental CDs or box set of just him playing guitar or keyboard for songs that he meant to record or possibly put out someday.
As a result, Eddie Van Halen’s legacy is still ongoing. Who knows what is down on tape that hasn’t seen the light of day yet. That will be one cool day when that does happen and we can bask in the genius that was and is Edward Van Halen.
This is my favorite Van Halen track. It is the title song from the 5150 album. I just love the guitars, the tone, the rhythm, everything.