I started playing the guitar when I was 11. At the time, learning how to play the riff from “Satisfaction” or “Day Tripper” felt like a big deal. A few years later, along came Jimi Hendrix, and what I thought of as playing lead guitar changed completely. Sure, Clapton was still my idol (I mean, the “Crossroads” solo on Wheels Of Fire. Has it ever been better?) but Hendrix opened my ears to the possibilities the instrument contained.
I played guitar in bands through middle school, high school, and college. I was rarely alone in my room without a guitar in my hands. I couldn’t really emulate the Claptons and Hendrixs of the world but at least I understood what they were doing. Then, in February of 1978, along came Eddie.
With the release of “Eruption,” Eddie Van Halen redefined the guitar. It’s the solo that changed guitar forever and blew the minds of anyone who ever picked up the instrument with serious intent. In 102 seconds, I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about something I’d been playing for over a dozen years. How was he doing that? It was so far beyond even what Hendrix had done.
What amazed me the most wasn’t just his use of a technique I’d never seen before. It was how grounded in musicality his playing was. Beautiful arpeggios that just soared. Yes, as I came to find out, others had been using the techniques Eddie was using, but what made Eddie’s playing stand out was how despite the feedback and squeals, it was very musical. You might not have known that Eddie learned music early on and won a piano competition. He learned Bach and Mozart and not just Lennon and McCartney. There’s a business point there.
Too many of us jump into business thinking that we’re going to change everything. There’s nothing wrong with that. But learn from Eddie, who really did change everything. Before he did so, he was grounded in the fundamentals. He studied the masters. He learned to play Clapton note for note and mixed up Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Hendrix. He melodized, perfected, and popularized the techniques he learned from them and from others. Oh – and he always seemed to be having fun while he was doing his job.
We can learn a lot more from Eddie than just how to handle a fretboard and even if you’re not a fan. I’m sorry he’s gone. You?