Edward, referred to as Eddie, was born in Nijmegen,
Netherlands to a Dutch father (Jan) and an Indonesian mother (Eugina).
The Dutch Roman Catholic Van Halen family moved to Pasadena,
California from Holland in 1962. Eddie immediately started
classical piano training and won talent competitions as a child
(although during a radio interview he said that he cannot read
music). Edward Van Halen claims that one of the first things his
parents did upon arriving in America was to seek out a piano
teacher for him and his older brother, Van Halen drummer Alex
Initially, Alex began playing the guitar while Eddie studied piano. According to Eddie Van Halen, while he was delivering newspapers to pay for his drum kit, Alex would practice on them. It was when Eddie heard Alex's mastery of the Surfaris drum solo in the song "Wipe Out" that he got annoyed that his brother had overtaken his ability and decided to switch and begin learning how to play the electric guitar.
Halen was around age twelve when he started playing guitar. He was so committed to the instrument that he played it all day, every day. Sometimes, Eddie Van Halen would even skip school to stay at home and practice. Eddie claimed that he had learned almost all of Eric Clapton's solos in the band Cream "note for note" by age 14, though in other interviews he claims that in fact he could never learn to play the solos precisely and would therefore modify them to suit his style.
In an April 1996 interview with Guitar World, when Eddie Van Halen was asked about how he went from playing his first open G chord to playing "Eruption", Eddie replied:
"Practice. 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."
Eddie's main influence was
Eric Clapton. He
has also acknowledged the influence of Queen guitarist Brian May
and fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth, of whom he has said:
"He's the best in my book."
The initial incarnation of "Van Halen" manifested around the time Ed graduated from high school and was a three-piece consisting of Ed, Alex, and bass player Mark Stone - a friend from high school. However, the band was not performing under the name "Van Halen", but under the name "Mammoth". In this lineup, Ed played lead guitar and sang lead vocal. They had no P.A. system of their own, so they rented one from David Lee Roth, who had auditioned for the band, but had failed as he was not an accomplished vocalist at the time. David charged Mammoth $50 a night to rent his P.A. system. After a year playing with this lineup, Eddie Van Halen became frustrated singing lead vocals, and figured they could save money by letting David Lee Roth into the band because he had the P.A. system. Eventually Roth agreed to join the band.
Bassist Mike Anthony first saw Mammoth performing at the same festival as his band "Snake", which he fronted. A year or so later Eddie Van Halen and Alex realized they needed a new bassist as Mark Stone had a hard time with the instrument and couldn't remember all the songs the band was covering. Michael Anthony was called over to David Lee Roth's dad's house to jam (at this time the band rehearsed in Roth's Dad's basement). Anthony accepted because he knew Mammoth was playing well-known clubs in Pasadena while Snake was just playing local parties. Roth was not at this first jam of what would eventually become the first incarnation of "Van Halen", but Ed, Alex, and Michael Anthony jammed late into the night and when it was all over Michael Anthony was the new bass player for Mammoth. At first Anthony thought he would just play bass but eventually he was asked to sing backup vocals and this became a trademark of the Van Halen sound. Roth is typically accredited with eventually suggesting the band simply call itself Van Halen (although the name "Rat Salad" -- the name of a Black Sabbath song -- was also considered). With this lineup (Ed, Alex, Anthony, and Roth) Van Halen started playing clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood more frequently and to increasingly greater audiences.
Van Halen quickly developed a "following" or a legion of fans who made it a point to see the band play wherever they happened to be performing. For Van Halen's part, they worked hard to increase their popularity through self promotion: before each gig they would pass out flyers at local high schools in Pasadena and the vicinity. Van Halen fans soon became notorious for being rowdy; at an audition for a club in Pasadena the band was denied because their fans were too rowdy. At a backyard barbecue where Van Halen were performing the police were called in to break up the party but were met by a mob of Van Halen fans who flipped over police cars and handcuffed one officer to a tree.
Van Halen's appearance also helped boost their popularity. When they played before audiences in Pasadena everyone thought they were a Hollywood band because of the way Dave dressed and behaved on stage. When they performed in Hollywood everyone thought they were from Pasadena because Ed, Alex, and Anthony were always in jeans and T-shirts.
There are bootleg recordings of many of Van Halen's early
shows where they would play original material (some of which
made it onto the band's first two albums) along with cover
versions including songs by Deep Purple, Cream and ZZ Top. Roth
has been known to say they tried to cover and write songs people
could dance to in order to boost popularity. However, Roth's
penchant for wanting to play cover songs purportedly annoyed Ed
(especially on the album Diver Down: Ed and Dave apparently
argued a lot over whether or not Dancing In The Streets - which
Dave liked and Ed didn't - would make it on the album).
In 1976 Gene Simmons saw Van Halen performing at an L.A. club and decided he wanted to record some of the material they were playing. Eventually Simmons flew the band to Electric Lady studios in New York to record a demo. The songs on this demo were "House of Pain" and "Runnin' With the Devil". Eddie Van Halen disliked his playing on the demo because he wasn't using his own equipment and had to overdub guitar parts, which he had never done before. Ultimately Van Halen ended up with a demo tape but no recording contract. As Simmons was getting back with his band Kiss, he decided to forgo any more involvement with the band.
A year later, in 1977, Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. records saw Van Halen performing at the Starwood in Hollywood. Although there were few people in the audience that night, the two were so impressed with Van Halen that within a week they offered them a recording contract with Warner Bros. records, which Van Halen signed. In October of that year, Van Halen entered Sunset Sound Recorders studio and recorded their first album, Van Halen.
Van Halen's self-titled debut album was released on February 10, 1978 and became recognized as a ground-breaking hard rock masterpiece almost immediately.
Eddie's approach to the guitar involved several distinctive components. His innovative two-handed tapping techniques, use of natural and artificial harmonics, speed, melodicism, and rhythmic sensibility influenced an entire generation of guitarists. One critical aspect of his playing has been his guitar tone, the "brown sound." Eddie Van Halen achieved his distinctive tone by using an (allegedly) stock 100-watt Marshall amp, a Variac to lower the voltage of the amp to change the tone, and a "Frankenstrat" guitar Van Halen constructed using a Charvel Stratocaster-type body, a vintage Gibson humbucker pickup sealed in paraffin wax (to reduce microphonic feedback), a pre-CBS Fender tremolo bridge (later to be a Floyd Rose bridge) and a single volume control, with a tone knob in its place. The now-famous single pickup, single volume knob guitar configuration was arrived at due to Van Halen's lack of knowledge in electronic circuitry: upon installing the humbucking pickup, he did not know how to wire it into the circuit, so he then applied the simplest working circuit to get it to function. His later guitars include various Kramer models from his period of endorsing that company (most notably the Kramer "5150", which Kramer in its Gibson-owned days base their Kramer 1984 design off of, an unofficial artist signature model) and three signature models: the Ernie Ball/ Music Man Eddie Van Halen Model, the Peavey EVH Wolfgang, and the Charvel EVH Art Series. All but the Charvel model are discontinued.
In support of his large variety of two-handed tapping techniques, Van Halen also holds a patent for a flip-out support device which attaches to the rear of the electric guitar. This device enables the user to play the guitar in a manner similar to the piano by orienting the face of the guitar upward instead of forward.
Before the release of Van Halen's eponymous first album, Eddie would often play solos and his more complex riffs with his back to the live audience. This was done at the advice of his bandmates to prevent any guitar players from stealing his style and technique before the album came out in 1978.
Later Van Halen albums such as Fair Warning and Diver Down displayed Eddie's prowess on keyboards, which were featured most prominently on the landmark album 1984, and in particular, Eddie's keyboard work on "Jump", the group's only song to reach the top of the Billboard singles chart.
Eddie Van Halen also played a role in getting R&B videos played on MTV. He was called in by Quincy Jones to play guitar on the song Beat It, from Michael Jackson's famous 1982 album, "Thriller", Steve Lukather of TOTO played the main guitar riff and rhythm with Eddie playing a solo that was blended, or "comped", from three different takes.
The combination of Jackson's pop sensibilities, Quincy Jones' production and Eddie's guitar work melded several genres of music, and helped each to find new fans. Concurrently, Van Halen's song Jump was played in discos, inner-city R&B clubs, and on rock radio.
Van Halen did soundtrack work for movies such as Back To The
Future, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Twister, Wild Life,
and Lethal Weapon 4, and has recorded with Brian May, Dweezil
Zappa, Jeff Porcaro, Roger Waters, and Thomas Dolby. He built
his trademark red and white striped "Frankenstrat" guitar
(originally black and white) by hand, using an imperfect body
and a used neck picked up at a discount.
Though they worked together successfully, Eddie and original vocalist David Lee Roth never got on well on a personal level, with Van Halen's reclusive virtuosity-obsessed persona clashing with Roth's good-timin' frontman shtick. Roth often flubbed the words to VH songs live (or did not bother to sing them at all), which led to further clashes with Eddie.
According to Gene Simmons' book Kiss And Make Up, Eddie approached Simmons in 1982 about possibly joining KISS as a replacement for Ace Frehley, who was suffering from severe substance abuse problems. Eddie did so because his personality conflicts with Roth were worsening, and Eddie wanted out. Depending on the source this information is obtained from the story is likely to be different however it is rumored Roth disliked Eddie's use of keyboards on the 1983 release of the album 1984.
Gene persuaded Eddie to return to Van Halen, and KISS went on to have several troubled recordings and tours with Vinnie Vincent (Vincent Cusano), who had played on the KISS Creatures of the Night album.
The 1990s and onward proved to be a rough time for Eddie Van Halen. He battled alcoholism, lost his mother to cancer, was treated himself twice for tongue/mouth cancer, had hip replacement surgery, and separated from Valerie Bertinelli (whom he married in 1981).
As Eddie Van Halen's band split with their third lead singer Gary Cherone (also of Extreme) people began to wonder if that was the end for the one time biggest rock band in the world. The one album produced by the Cherone-fronted line-up was called Van Halen III. Although the first track release Without You was a number one single on rock radio, Van Halen III is considered by many critics and fans to be Van Halen's worst effort in their history. It is also the only album release by the band, including the two "best of" albums, that didn't achieve platinum record status. A tour supporting VH III followed, which despite positive reviews of the band's reinvigorated live performance, wasn't quite as successful as prior outings: later legs of the tour would see them perform at smaller venues or canceling shows altogether.
Before Cherone joined the line-up the band reunited with original vocalist David Lee Roth to record two new songs for a greatest hits collection (Me Wise Magic and Can't Get This Stuff No More). The tracks were available on the compilation album The Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1. Due to a miscommunication between the front man and the rest of the band, Roth believed himself to be the permanent replacement for Hagar and that the group's next album would feature Roth. The confusion was intensified by an appearance by the original quartet as presenters during the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. Roth's outrageous behavior and public statements that the reunion was permanent (neither he nor the public seemed to believe otherwise) led to tension within the group, and the band and Roth parted ways for the second time.
Many different reasons were given for the reunited Roth lineup's low quantity of output, although it is thought to be due to personal relationships within the band. An attempt to reunite the band with Sammy Hagar had similar results several years later resulting in only three new tracks (Learning To See, Up For Breakfast and It's About Time) being recorded and released on a second compilation, The Best of Both Worlds. It was later revealed (possibly also as a result of band squabbling) that bassist Michael Anthony did not play on the three new tracks and this was done by Eddie Van Halen himself and overdubbed.
In 2004, after years of not performing, Van Halen returned on the stage with the Hagar fronted line-up. The tour ended with a rift escalating between Eddie and Sammy Hagar, exploding on the last date of the tour, when Eddie violently smashed his guitar before leaving the stage. The tour also made clear that Van Halen had fallen into the trap of alcoholism once again, and he has been reported as performing in an alcoholic stupor by bassist Michael Anthony, despite being told not to touch alcohol or cigarettes by his doctor after his cancer trouble.
Eddie has one son, Wolfgang William Van Halen, born March 16, 1991. Eddie named the song "316" on the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge after the birth date of his son. He was named after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and nicknamed "Wolfie". Wolfie has played at some of his father's concerts on their struggling 2004 reunion tour with Sammy Hagar.
Eddie Van Halen named his line of signature Peavey Guitars after his son, and between 1993 and 2004 was also sponsored by Peavey Electronics to use their 5150 Amplifiers, which he had a part in designing.
In 2004 the Peavey company parted ways with Van Halen, as Eddie Van Halen launched an on-line sale of homebuilt and assembled Charvel guitars, sold by the name of the "EVH Art Series Guitars", while he was still contractually obliged to Peavey.
The guitars sold for large sums on eBay, and were essentially replicas of his famous Kramer "Frankenstrat" guitars, played by Van Halen mainly during the David Lee Roth era of the band.
In 2005, Eddie and Wolfie painted a 10-foot-tall Fender Stratocaster guitar to be auctioned off on February 4, 2006 at the Dodge Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona, along with other guitars painted by celebrities. The proceeds of the auction benefited Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
On December 5, 2005, Valerie Bertinelli filed for divorce in Los Angeles Superior Court. The Complaint for Divorce revealed that Valerie Bertinelli and Van Halen separated on October 15, 2001. It is believed that their son lives with Valerie.
Since the 2004 tour, Eddiehas mostly disappeared from the public eye, with the exception of occasional appearances such as the 14th annual Elton John Academy Awards, and performing at a Kenny Chesney concert. In the time between the departure of Gary Cherone and the 2004 tour, Eddie had publicly stated that he has "ten albums worth of material" that is waiting to see the light of day. Given the current dissolution of Van Halen, it seems unlikely that much, if any of the new material will ever be released publicly.
In July 2006, Eddie recorded two new tracks "Rise" and "Catherine" to be used in Ninn Worx pictures new adult film "Sacred Sin." They have since surfaced on the internet.
Despite his battles with oral cancer, Eddie has been photographed in public as recently as July 2006 smoking cigarettes.
This Eddie Van Halen Biography Page is Copyright The Planets © 2004 - 2006 Chuck Ayoub