By Jim Ryan
Following the death Tuesday of Eddie Van Halen, tributes to the influential guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer continue coming in from throughout the music world.
On the phone Wednesday to discuss his latest single “This is Christmas” (one of two originals from the forthcoming Goo Goo Dolls album It’s Christmas All Over, scheduled for release October 30 and now available for pre-order via Warner Records), singer, songwriter and guitarist John Rzeznik recalled a formative moment: his first concert.
“It scared the hell out of me! I was 12. I think I left my toys in the toy box and went to the concert with my older buddies,” Rzeznik told Forbes, recalling a 1979 Van Halen concert at the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York. “That was the first time I smelled pot. It was the first time I heard anything that loud! I was scared, man. But it was a powerful experience. It really changed me, you know?”
Rzeznik caught Van Halen on tour just two months after the release of the album Van Halen II, one which would see the hard rockers crack the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart for the first time.
Behind the strength of singles like “Dance the Night Away” and “Beautiful Girls,” Van Halen’s sophomore album sold six million copies in the United States. Ultimately, the group would go on to move nearly 60 million albums in the U.S. (75 million worldwide) as one of the best selling acts in American history, securing Van Halen’s legacy as one of his generation’s most influential guitarists.
“Eddie Van Halen is, was and always will be in the top five most influential guitarists of all time. He’s got to be. I mean, he caused an enormous paradigm shift – in music and in guitar playing. He was something that was so fresh and so radical at a time when music was pretty bloated,” said Rzeznik.
“And when you listen to those first two Van Halen records, those are punk rock records. The rawness – but there’s virtuosity in it. And the thing that separated Eddie Van Halen from all of the people who imitated him is the fact that they were great songs. They were great songwriters. And every single note that guy played served the song. His guitar solos, and all of his guitar work, were very, very composed – it wasn’t just wanking away and playing super fast. All of those guitar solos and all of those songs, there’s an emotional basis to them,” the songwriter continued. “They’re well composed and they are great songs. And that is the most important thing.”
Edward Van Halen passed away Tuesday following a battle with metastatic throat cancer. The guitarist was just 65.