Six letters to start this week’s blog… R.I.P EVH. Guitar wizard Eddie Van Halen passed away on October 6th at the age of 65 after a long battle with throat cancer.
To be honest with you I may not be the right person to write a tribute to Mr. Van Halen. I personally know dozens of people way more qualified for this task… local music fans, disc jockeys, historians, writers, and guitar players who were influenced by the man and the band named after him. The only Van Halen album I’ve ever owned was “1984”, and that’s just because it was the Columbia House Record Club selection of the month and I forgot to send the card back in time to stop it from being mailed to my house.
On the other hand, maybe me not being a fan makes me just the right person for the job. I do have decades of experience working at classic rock radio stations, and grew up at the height of popularity for both the band and MTV (where videos by Van Halen were in super heavy rotation). I don’t have fandom blinding me, so I can honestly say without a bit of favoritism that Eddie Van Halen was a once in a lifetime talent. He redefined what could be done with a guitar, and he was not just a technical wizard, but also a showman… he would dazzle you, and always look like he was having fun doing it.
I heard something on the radio this morning that freaked me out… Eddie Van Halen never learned how to read music. He was able to do what he did by watching, listening, and practicing. Really???? That’s absolutely crazy to me.
He was arguably the best ever at his instrument, one of the most influential players in history of rock and roll (I personally add Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix, and Duane Allman into this category), and by all accounts a really nice guy. Van Halen is a band I’ve heard almost every day for much of my life, and along with Led Zeppelin are pretty much synonymous with classic rock radio. You just sort of take them for granted (or at least I have).
I feel bad that it took Eddie’s death to make me want to go down a YouTube rabbit hole to see, hear, and appreciate his amazing playing on pieces like Eruption, Hot For Teacher, Spanish Fly, Ice Cream Man, and (of course) his solo on Michael Jackson’s Beat It. It’s good to know that when he passed his son Wolfgang and ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli were at his side. I’m looking at pictures of Eddie and Valerie together in the 80’s… they might’ve been the prettiest celebrity couple ever. His hair was almost as big as hers back then. Stop in to Record Archive to fill in any holes in your VH library, or feel free to order what you need at the webstore.
I’d also like to take a quick second to acknowledge the death of pop/reggae singer Johnny Nash, who died on the same day as Eddie Van Halen. It sort of reminds me of when Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died on the same day… one completely overshadows the other.
Nash passed away from natural causes at the age of 80, and is best remembered for his monster 1972 hit “I Can See Clearly” … I just heard it in a bank commercial last night. His recording career began in 1957, he had his first hit in ’58, and had many songs on the Billboard charts over the next couple decades, so he wasn’t the one-hit wonder most people assume. Here is an excellent sampler of his best songs (including, of course, “I Can See Clearly”).
Johnny Nash’s signature song has been covered many times over the years by everyone from Ray Charles to Lee Towers to The Brady Kids to Bobby McFerrin… I’m going to leave you this week with my favorite version by an Irish band called Hothouse Flowers here.
I do have to say I’m disappointed that I couldn’t find videos of the live versions Hothouse Flowers did of that song on Saturday Night Live and Arsenio Hall in the early 90’s. I thought the sole purpose of the internet was so that I could easily get anything I’d ever seen in the history of television… that and porn.
Stay safe everyone. Don’t go to any parties at The White House for the next couple weeks no matter what anyone says about how great they feel.