The first time I'd ever heard anything related to Eddie Van Halen or even Van Halen the band, was when I was around ten or eleven years old. Growing up just outside Skaneateles, NY, in the "country," made it possible for neighbors to have parties and play music at fairly disruptive volumes. It was one of our neighbors who had a friend who just happened to play guitar. One night, during the summer of what was probably '78 or '79, I heard someone playing something on the guitar that I had never heard before. I was into my fifth year of taking lessons and I'd not ventured into the worlds this person was toying with.
It was AWESOME!
I would later find out they were playing Eruption from a band called Van Halen. That was all I had to go on for a little over a year...and so the research started. Little did I realize that what I'd heard that night, during a rowdy party, was already a few years old...because my second introduction to Van Halen was their cover of Oh, Pretty Woman (which solidified my fandom) and that was slightly far-removed from Van Halen's 1978 debut that featured Eruption.
During that time of discovery in my life, there were two guitarists who floored me: Ace Frehley and Randy Rhoads. I will admit that I never fully got into Van Halen or Eddie Van Halen's playing, but that certainly didn't mean I was oblivious to who they were and the impact they were having on rock music during the late seventies onward. It was impossible to not know who they were and I think a part of me was simply intimidated by Eddie's style of playing. His acrobatics. His wild abandon on the fretboard. His unbelievable tone. That was some scary shit to a kid just learning to play. It was also inspiring because I had been weened on Eric Clapton and George Benson - no joking - and, needless to write, they were a bit different than what was "happening" during my formative years.
So now there was Ace, Randy, and Eddie (and, of course, Eric and George).
Eddie Van Halen's influence was/is far greater than anyone could/can imagine and I would bet all the money in my pockets, that at some point, we'll slowly start to grasp just how expansive his influence truly was and will continue to be. There's something very, very different about this loss. I can't put my finger on it, but it's there. Hopefully, time will tell. If not, let's just be grateful he was here at all. We're all a lot luckier to have known of Eddie Van Halen and the band, than to have not. Celebrate it. Turn it up just a little past 10 and smile. Just smile.