On Top of the World


Eddie Van Halen, whose speed and innovations up and down the fret board of his custom-made “Frankenstrat” electric guitar inspired a generation of imitators, passed over to the other side last week, a victim of his decades-long battle with throat cancer.


Eddie’s virtuosity as a guitarist placed him at number 8 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2011 list of the Top 100 Guitarists of All Time, bested only by Jimi Hendrix at #1, Eric Clapton #2, Jimmy Page #3, Keith Richards #4, Jeff Beck #5, B.B. King #6 and Chuck Berry #7. Eddie, who had emigrated with his family from the Netherlands to Pasadena in 1962, told Rolling Stone his biggest influence was Eric Clapton.


Eddie’s first hit record was a cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” which appeared on the band’s 1978 self-titled album and reached number 36 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in February of that year. Van Halen originally consisted of Eddie’s brother Alex on drums, bassist Michael Anthony and vocalist David Lee Roth, who was replaced by Sammy Hagar in 1985.


The band, which formed in 1972 and dis-banded in 1998, went on to sell 75 million albums worldwide (as of 2007), 13 of which placed at #1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart. While I never got to see Van Halen in concert, my wife got to meet former Lake Arrowhead resident Sammy Hagar, who personally autographed one of his solo albums for her back in the 80s, when he put in an appearance at The Wherehouse record store in San Bernardino. She was standin’ on top of the world after that chance encounter.


“Hey baby, woo! Make it nice and sweet, oh, oh little darlin’, let’s take a walk down easy street. Standin’ on top of the world for a little while. Standin’ on top of the world, let’s give it all we got.” (“Standin’ On Top Of The World” – Van Halen – 1993)


As a matter of fact, I don’t even own any Van Halen records, but I have always enjoyed their songs and music videos. “Hot For Teacher” comes to mind as an excellent video, though it was a little controversial. Other favorites are “Dreams” and “Why Can’t This Be Love.”


Last week, KTLA morning news reporter Sam Rubin played an interview he did with Eddie a few years ago, which included footage of Eddie’s visit to a Pasadena high school classroom, where he encouraged students to pursue a career in music. When one of the students, who happened to bring his guitar to school that day, asked for help in playing one of Eddie’s guitar riffs, Eddie grabbed the guitar and proceeded to demonstrate. It was heartwarming and phenomenal.


“We’ll get higher and higher, straight up we’ll climb, higher and higher, leave it all behind. So, baby, dry your eyes, save all the tears you’ve cried. Oh, baby, we belong in a world that must be strong, that’s what dreams are made of ” (“Dreams” Van Halen – 1986)


Keep it flyin’ Uncle Mott