Born in the Netherlands, Eddie Van Halen (January 26, 1955-October 6, 2020), among the top 20 bestselling artists of all time, was the son of a multi-instrumentalist. After moving to California as a child he performed classical piano recitals before taking up the drums, then the guitar. He formed a group with his older brother Alex, and two members of rival high school bands, singer David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony, when they attended Pasadena City College together. Their original choice of band name, "Mammoth," was already taken, and they opted for Van Halen.
Gene Simmons, of Kiss, produced a demo recording of the group, in a session that Van Halen felt was awkward. "I quickly learned that I didn't like overdubbing," he told Guitar World in 1996. "Gene said, 'Here's what you do in the studio -- you play your rhythm parts on one track, and your solo parts on another.' I remember feeling very uncomfortable with separating my lead and fill parts from my rhythm parts. On stage, I'd gotten used to doing both simultaneously. I'd just noodle in-between chord lines. Because it was my first time in a recording studio, it didn't occur to me to say, 'Can't I play just the way I play live?'"
The demo didn't pan our – Kiss' management felt Van Halen lacked "commercial potential" – but the group would be discovered at the Starwood club in West Hollywood in 1977. They recorded six albums with Roth as frontman, including "Van Halen," "Van Halen II," "Women and Children First," "Fair Warning," "Diver Down" and "1984." Van Halen's virtuosic playing and standout solos on such songs as "Eruption," "Hot for Teacher," Cathedral," "Jump," "Runnin' With the Devil," and the Michael Jackson song "Beat it," landed him at #8 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest guitarists.
Mike McCready, of Pearl Jam, told Rolling Stone that listening to Van Halen's "Eruption" was like hearing Mozart for the first time: "He gets sounds that aren't necessarily guitar sounds – a lot of harmonics, textures that happen just because of how he picks."
After a split with Roth, Van Halen continued with singer Sammy Hagar, releasing four consecutive #1 albums: "5150," "OU812," "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" and "Balance."
Health problems – hip replacement surgery, tongue cancer – and drug and alcohol abuse dogged Van Halen for years, but in the 2000s he rejoined both with Hagar and with Roth, and at one point toured with his son, 16-year-old Wolfgang Van Halen, performing on bass. A 2012 album "A Different Kind of Truth," with Roth back in front, rose to #2.
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
In 2012 he pondered his success with Esquire magazine: "I can't think of anyone more blessed than me. For one, you know all the b******t I've been through in my life. To have a brother that I've been playing with since Day One, and now my son. I don't think anyone else in music can actually say that. I don't know anyone who has a son and brother that they play together. That brings me to, 'Hey mom, dad, why don't you have another kid?'" he laughed. "I could use a good accountant, tour manager, you know, whatever!"