It seems like a long time ago. Music has certainly changed, but there was a time the shredding guitarist was king. Heavy riff-based rock was a staple by the late 1970’s and soloing was coming to be a valuable part. Then Eddie Van Halen sent soloing into another galaxy for technique, speed and personality. He added more intricate tapping techniques and really made the instrument do things no one had ever heard before.
His work inspired the next wave of bands to play louder and faster, essentially starting a sort of metal/hard rock arms race of who is the fastest, most melodic, most technical. The big 4 of metal (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer) each got their start as kids trying to hammer out EVH solos and bringing their own intensity. The genres grew and now you have everything from groove-based groups to intricate “math” metal, utilizing juxtapositions of timing sounding almost like a collision with metal and jazz improv to 300 bpm (beat per minute) blast riffing setting the limits of how fast a human can play.
On the other side you have influence in pop, and other mainstream genres. It is EVH’s guitar playing the riff in Michael Jackson’s iconic “Beat It” (rumor has it Eddie never got paid for the work). The mix of crunchy distortion, timing effects, chorus and reverb have worked their way into all kinds of music. There are very few who the lineage of EVH doesn’t touch.
For me, rock and metal were an escape. I would lay in bed with a big set of headphones and listen to whatever cassettes I had. I didn’t get my first CD player until I was probably 15. I took in every note, envisioned myself being able to play, to impress. I still occasionally to this. I plug in and turn up at the end of the day, while on drives and while working out.
While not as sudden or shocking as losing John Lennon or Prince. EVH’s death still stings. Maybe it’s an awareness of my aging. Maybe it’s because I’d never seen them live or maybe it’s just that he was someone larger than life in my mind.
While David Lee Roth ran at the mouth, EVH let his axe do the talking.