I remember several life-changing musical moments from my youth. Moments when something quite profound happened that changed my view of music, musicianship, and what was possible.
I remember bringing home a copy of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and when the intro breaks into the opening chord of Breathe. Well, things were never quite the same again. That moment still gives me goosebumps to this day.
After losing my heart to AC/DC when I bought their live album If you Want Blood, then the wonderful Highway to Hell, I was heartbroken at the loss of Bon Scott. Then in 1980 I walked back from Mastersound in Haywards Heath with a copy of Back in Black, popped it onto the turntable, carefully placed the needle, and those bells began… and that riff… and I knew everything would be ok.
There were others. The first time I heard Metallica in an old Triumph car being driven to the Hungry Years Rock Club in Brighton by my buddy, and in goes this cassette, and out comes the opening bars of Fight Fire with Fire. Man, I’d never heard metal like that before. And thus my love of Thrash Metal was born.
Going on to folk music, sitting in a Bed and Breakfast on the Isle of Skye and hearing the music of Dougie Maclean as me and Cerri ate our breakfast. I went straight out that day and bought his album Roif, and probably, no definitely, drove Cerri mad playing it constantly in the car from them on as we drove around the Hebrides.
Why am I writing this?
Because yesterday I saw that Eddie Van Halen had passed away after a 5 year battle with throat cancer. It’s hit me pretty hard. I may play acoustic guitar, but there cannot be a guitar player in the world who didn’t fall in love with Eddie. His guitar playing changed everything when it came to rock guitar. He inspired an entire generation of players and Van Halen really opened the door for the 80s ‘good time rock n roll’ boom.
So there I was. It was 1979. I was 14 years old and had already discovered my love of rock. I read in Sounds about this band from the USA called Van Halen. So after school, I headed off to Mastersound and exchanged some cash for their debut, self-titled, album. Took it home. Placed the needle in the groove. The opening song was Running with the Devil, a great song and riff – definite potential.
It went into the next track, Eruption.
A guitar solo as an album track?
Who did this player think he was?
Then he let loose into the solo and all became clear… here was a virtuoso, a master. I was open-mouthed, in shock, it left me wondering, how did he do that??? I’d never heard anything like it. The guitar sang in a waterfall of notes that seemed to fall effortlessly from the instrument.
The hammer-on technique he created was soon being copied and he inspired hundreds of guitar players, including the guitarists I drummed with in my future heavy metal bands.
So thank you Eddie, for all of the joy and inspiration you gave me as a fledgling guitarist. It’s hard to see your heroes die, and although I got to see you at Monsters of Rock in 1984, I would have loved to have seen you play live one more time.