The world is currently a sadder place as music lovers unite in mourning for the loss of one of the greatest, most intuitive guitar players that shaped rock music has ever known. The incredible talent of Eddie Van Halen may be lost but his music and magnificence will always be there to cherish. With an artist as mercurial as Eddie, a figure who re-invented the wheel when it came to guitar-playing, we explore the riffs that he held closest to his heart.
With the band’s debut album in 1978, they announced themselves emphatically and did things on their terms. Together, they didn’t care about the as the derision that their sound was met with from some quarters, instead, they came up with even more killer riffs. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar skills made them the legendary band they ultimately became, he had a certain edge to him which set the band apart from their contemporaries and he was a maestro in every sense of the word.
Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello said of Van Halen after his passing, “Eddie Van Halen was one of the greatest, most inventive, truly visionary musicians of all time. He was an unparalleled titan in the annals of rock & roll. And on the Mount Rushmore of guitarists, he is neck-and-neck for the pole position.” If you’re sitting there and wondering if Morello truly believes Van Halen to be one of the best, then you only need to reflect on the five isolated tracks to get to know his brilliance.
For a figure such as Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello to speak so highly of Eddie, the worlds are all you need to know about his masterful guitar playing. Unfortunately for Morello, he didn’t make the cut when Van Halen was asked to name his favourite guitar riffs to Billboard back in 2015 but he did pick four absolute stone-cold classic riffs that are undeniably spectacular.
“There are millions of riffs,” Van Halen admitted as he tried to bide time to decipher what riffs to pick. “I wrack my brain, trying to think. Obviously, I can’t mention any of my own, right?” he jokingly adds.
His first pick comes from fellow riff master general Tony Iommi and his legendary effort on Black Sabbath’s ‘Into The Void’ taken from their 1971 record Masters of Reality. The next effort came from another icon of rock ‘n’ roll, Eric Clapton, referencing his monstrous riff ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ from Cream’s 1967 album Disraeli Gears.
Eric Clapton once revealed to Rolling Stone that ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ was inspired by Jimi Hendrix, “He [Hendrix] played this gig that was blinding,” the former Cream man said. “I don’t think Jack [Bruce] had really taken him in before. And when he did see it that night, after the gig he went home and came up with the riff. It was strictly a dedication to Jimi. After that, we wrote a song on top of it.”
Van Halen’s third pick comes courtesy of Deep Purple with their track ‘Burn’ which was the title track from the Ritchie Blackmore-led Deep Purple’s first album with singer David Coverdale in 1974. For his fourth and final choice, Eddie opts to go for 1978’s ‘Down Payment Blues’ taken from AC/DC’s Powerage which Van Halen says that Malcolm Young’s performance on the track makes it “one of my all-time favourites.”
Eddie Van Halen was a true genius and a real rockstar that was one of the defining figures of his generation. His guitar playing can still be heard in modern music today and seeing which fellow guitarists he looked for inspiration although offers little surprises, it’s heartwarming to see Eddie who grew up on a diet solely of classic rock admiring the likes of Iommi and Clapton who he found himself in the same conversation as when it came to all-time greats.
Eddie Van Halen’s favourite guitarists:
- Tony Iommi
- Eric Clapton
- Ritchie Blackmore
- Malcolm Young