Eddie Van Halen in 1979
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Celebrating Eddie Van Halen, A GRAMMY-Winning Guitar Legend
From popularizing the "tapping" guitar technique to ushering rock 'n roll into the big-hair, big-riff '80s, Van Halen's lead guitarist left a lasting legacy on the genre that continues to inspire
"The power just engulfs you. You just feel it, it makes you vibrate."
That's how Eddie Van Halen, who passed away today after a battle with throat cancer, described the guitar in a 2015 interview about the instrument that not only defined his life but elevated rock 'n roll as an art form. It should come as no surprise that Van Halen—both Eddie as a person and the moniker of his gargantuanly successful band—grew into a musical prodigy and stayed that way throughout the rest of his life.
The son of immigrants from The Netherlands, Eddie grew up in a musical family—his father was a talented musician, playing the clarinet and piano. It’s the latter instrument that Eddie would first learn to play once the family immigrated to Pasadena, Calif. in the 1960s, the roots of a life he would later refer to as a true American dream. Later falling in love with the guitar and growing up emulating the likes of Eric Clapton, Eddie easily met his idol’s popularity and talent in the intervening years, becoming the mainstream face of the guitar and helping cultivate the perception of a rock God.
"During his legendary career, GRAMMY Award winner Eddie Van Halen contributed to some of the world’s most iconic music," says Harvey Mason Jr, the Interim President of The Recording Academy, of Eddie, who was nominated three times and won one GRAMMY. "His explosive guitar playing and approach to the musical process solidified him as an undeniable force in his field and forever established his place as a true guitar hero."
How else can one explain the Eddie and his bandmates' (including his brother Alex, bassist Michael Anthony and frontman David Lee Roth, with whom Eddie had a famously complex relationship) career, which kicked off with an explosive 1978 eponymous debut that included instant classics "Runnin' With the Devil," "Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love," the stunning instrumental "Eruption" and an inspired cover that bridged the innocent riffs of the '60s and the powerful intensity of the '70s with "You Really Got Me"? It’s an album that announces itself with the distinct sound of sirens in the distance, perhaps an appropriate introduction considering the collection, which was essentially a record of the band’s popular yet scant club setlist at the time. Because of its sheer inventive force, it's still regarded as one of the best musical introductions ever, with Guitar World calling it one of the greatest guitar albums of all time, while Rolling Stone ranked it on the list of best debuts in music history.
In short order, Van Halen became one of the most popular acts in the world (the RIAA would subsequently rank them the 20th best-selling artist in the United States), spawning countless imitators and helping culture usher in the big-hair 1980s by creating pop-rich rock confections that hinged on ultra-catchy riffs. Of those, none is more iconic than "Panama," one of the ultimate songs of the genre, guaranteed to give listeners a jolt within its first memorable seconds and tearing along like a muscle car (even the revving sounds of Eddie's 1972 Lamborghini Miura’s engine can be heard on the track). It’s a similar unique and energetic fun that runs through Van Halen’s towering discography, whether it's the early David Lee Roth years or the Sammy Hagar era, including the kinetic and pulsating "Hot For Teacher," the infectious dance floor anthem "Dance The Night Away," or their only Pop No. 1 hit, "Jump," an originally rejected Eddie-penned track that showcases him trading the guitar for an '80s-era synth, giving a sound to a generation. The effort earned the band a GRAMMY nomination in 1984 for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, eventually winning in 1991 for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal for their ninth album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.
It’s also passion for the craft that consistently shone through and gave Eddie an array of impacts on the genre. Take for example his iconic solo for Michael Jackson’s indelible "Beat It," its guitar riff as important to the song as Jackson's falsetto. The unusual collaboration was the result of a call from producer Quincy Jones, and, as if it were a scene from a movie, a monitor speaker in the studio managed to catch fire during his recording. Eddie even contributed his talents to the record for free—and it went on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Outside of the creative innovation he brought to the guitar, Eddie also contributed a number of physical tweaks to the instrument, popularizing the "tapping" solo technique and even patenting a suporting device that frees up the guitar player's hands. As for the instrument itself, it should be no surprise that Eddie's Frankenstein 2 currently sits in the National Museum of American History. He also passed on the musical bug to his son Wolfgang, who Eddie regularly championed and later became a member of Van Halen itself.
"The world is lucky to have witnessed Eddie’s genius as a guitarist,” sums up Mason Jr. of Eddie’s impact. “We know he will influence and shape rock music indefinitely."
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Melvin Edmonds Of R&B Vocal Group After 7 Dies At 65
Edmonds was the "soul" and "signature element" of the group said member Keith Mitchell
Melvin Edmonds of GRAMMY-nominated late-80s R&B vocal group After 7, known for hits like "Ready Or Not," has died at the age of 65.
His death was confirmed by After 7 group member Keith Mitchell via Facebook. The cause of death has not been officially released. Essence reports Edmonds died Saturday after battling a short illness. The singer had a stroke in 2011 among other health issues, according to CNN.
"I will miss you; I love you, and Melvin, your legacy will live on through the music we created together!!" Mitchell said in the post.
Edmonds was the "soul" and "signature element" of the group, wrote Mitchell, which the two co-founded along with one of Edmonds' brothers Kevon. After 7 had three singles land on the Billboard Hot 100 in the '90s. The singles, "Can't Stop," "Ready Or Not" and "Heat Of The Moment" all hit the top 20. The group was nominated for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for "Can't Stop" at the 33rd GRAMMY Awards.
Beyond a musician, Edmonds was a father of four and brother to five, including Kenny "Babyface," Marvin Jr., Michael, Kevon and Derek.
"Melvin's love for audiences and fans everywhere who supported our music is what drove him on stage and in life. He is and will be missed by my family, fans, and friends," Mitchell said.
Keith Wilder, Heatwave Lead Singer, Dies
The GRAMMY-nominated "Boogie Nights" and "Always And Forever" singer dies at age 65
Keith Wilder, the lead singer of GRAMMY-nominated '70s R&B/funk hitmakers Heatwave, died Oct. 29 at the age of 65. Wilder's death was confirmed by the group's manager, Les Spaine, via Rolling Stone. No specific cause of death has been confirmed, although fellow Heatwave band member Billy Jones told Dayton.com that Wilder died in his sleep.
Wilder, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, formed Heatwave in 1975 in Germany with his brother, Johnnie Wilder Jr., who was serving in the Army. The duo subsequently enlisted songwriter/keyboardist Rod Temperton, drummer Ernest "Bilbo" Berger, bassist Mario Mantese, and guitarists Eric Johns and Roy Carter.
In 1976 the group released their debut album, the platinum-plus Too Hot To Handle, which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200. The album spawned the hits "Boogie Nights" (No. 2) and "Always And Forever," both of which attained platinum status. Heatwave's sophomore LP, Central Heating, hit No. 10 on the strength of the Top 20 hit "The Groove Line." The group's third album, 1980's Hot Property, was certified gold.
Moving into a new decade, Heatwave released 1980's Candles and 1982's Current. By then, the group had lost Mantese, Wilder Jr. and Temperton, who at that point was emerging as a go-to songwriter for the likes of Michael Jackson, George Benson and Michael McDonald, among others.
Keith Wilder revamped Heatwave for 1988's The Fire, and kept the band alive as a touring entity into the '90s. While Wilder continued to tour in recent years, he was forced to retire from the road after suffering a stroke in 2015.
Wilder scored two nominations with Heatwave at the 20th GRAMMY Awards: Best Arrangement For Voices for "All You Do Is Dial" and Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus for "Boogie Nights"
"Johnnie was a MONSTER singer whose harmony game is unmatched," said Questlove in an Instagram post. "No REAL singer worth their grain of salt NEVER denied his mastery."
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Mel Tillis, Legendary Country Singer/Songwriter, Dies
Songwriter who wrote hits for Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones and Brenda Lee dies at age 85
Mel Tillis, one of the more prolific singer/songwriters in country music history, died Nov. 19 following a battle with intestinal issues. He was 85 years old.
With a catalog of more than 1,000 songs, Tillis released more than 60 LPs over his six-decade-plus career. In the 1970s, Tillis hit a stride with a string of country chart smashes, including "Good Woman Blues," "Heart Healer" and "Coca Cola Cowboy."
What a truly devastating loss. I loved Mel. I will miss him terribly. My thoughts and prayers to all his family.— Blake Shelton (@blakeshelton) November 19, 2017
In addition to his successful solo career, Tillis wrote a variety of hits for artists such as Brenda Lee ("Emotions"), Webb Pierce ("I'm Tired"), Kenny Rogers ("Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town"), Charley Pride ("The Snakes Crawl At Night"), George Strait ("Thoughts Of A Fool"), Ricky Skaggs ("Honey, Open That Door"), and Tom Jones ("Detroit City"), among others.
Mel Tillis was old school. He said what he thought in his songs & they meant something. Any group needs a song that puts them on the map & the First Edition had that w/ "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town," thanks to Mel. We will always be thankful for that. I'll miss Mel a lot. pic.twitter.com/NLuACgRzkX— Kenny Rogers (@_KennyRogers) November 20, 2017
The Week In Music: March Madness
A field of 64 bands set to vie for ESPN's best rock band crown
March Madness is here, that captivating time of year when 68 teams set out on the Road to the Final Four in their quest for NCAA men's college basketball supremacy. This year's tournament is scheduled to get underway March 17, with brackets to be announced March 13. However, those wishing to take part in some early madness with a side of musical fun can get a head start with ESPN's Herd Rock Band Bracket, a 64-artist field devised by radio host Colin Cowherd to crown the best rock band. Formal ESPN analysis is still pending, but we'll chime in with a few first-round matchups to keep an eye on. Teen spirit and Kurt Cobain will face off against the head games of Mick Jones when Nirvana and Foreigner clash in the West: Seattle Region. It will be all pinball wizardry and anarchy when the Who and the Sex Pistols battle it out in the East: New York Region. Metal will look to bring the heat against '60s psychedelia as Metallica takes on Jefferson Airplane in the Midwest: Cleveland Region. And shred guitar prowess will duel angst-ridden prog rock as Van Halen and Tool duke it out in the Far East: London region. Upset alert: Though arguably a mismatch on paper, can Scott Stapp and the No. 16-seeded upstart Creed deliver a knockout blow to the Fab Four, the No. 1-seeded Beatles, in the Far East: London region? Fill out your brackets here. Rock's March Madness survivor will be crowned later this month.
The man who went against all odds, fronted Genesis and brought us pop gems such as "Sussudio" is calling it a career. Following an onslaught of speculation on the reasons behind his retirement, Phil Collins surfaced this week to clear the air with "breaking news" on his website. "I'm not stopping because of dodgy reviews or bad treatment in the press," said Collins. "I am stopping so I can be a full-time father to my two young sons on a daily basis." Collins did take the press to task for painting him as "a tormented weirdo…who feels very sorry for himself, and is retiring hurt because of the bad press over the years." An eight-time GRAMMY winner, Collins assured that his retirement decision was a no "straitjacket" required proposition.
If you're a musician with an appetite for rock-solid financial planning from someone who has been there, done that, you're in luck. Former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan is launching Meridian Rock, a wealth management firm designed to educate musicians about their finances. While McKagan made a name for himself in GNR and the GRAMMY-winning rock band Velvet Revolver, he now fronts his own project, Loaded, and is fully loaded when it comes to financial credibility. After making millions with Axl, Slash and friends, in the '90s McKagan took basic finance courses at Santa Monica Community College in Southern California, and later earned a degree in finance at Seattle University. What type of clients does he think his firm can help? All are welcome, especially those musicians who may be timid. "If they're anything like me when I was 30, they're too embarrassed to ask," said McKagan. "I didn't know what a stock was [or] what a bond was."
With possibly one too many guys trying to touch her junk, Ke$ha has launched a safe-sex campaign. You may file it under just say no way, but the party animal/cannibal has issued 10,000 Ke$ha condoms with her face on them, which will be fired from a canon into the audience at her live shows (fortunately, there's nothing symbolic about that method of distribution). With Ke$ha condoms and a bottle of jack, we should be ready to go until the police shut us down, down.
When's the last time you took a ride down the western country line on a train? Better yet, when's the last time you took that ride with three indie bands? This April, GRAMMY nominees Mumford & Sons will embark on a six-stop tour with Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show. Titled The Railroad Revival Tour, these three bands will take a ride on a 1,500-foot long train featuring 15 vintage railcars pulled by two locomotives and are set to travel more than 2,000 miles across five states. The tour kicks off April 21 in Oakland, Calif., with stops in San Pedro, Calif., (April 22), Chandler, Ariz., (April 23), Marfa, Texas, (April 24), Austin, Texas, (April 26), and New Orleans (April 27). Could the railcar be the new tour bus? With gas prices these days, we're not sure if that'd be less or more costly.
While Lady Gaga was born this way, up-and-coming artist Maria Aragon was just born…10 years ago. After uploading a video of her cover of Gaga's "Born This Way" to YouTube, Aragon was invited onstage to perform a duet with the Lead Monster herself during a March 3 concert in Toronto. "Maria represents what this song is all about," said Gaga before leading into the song. "It's all about the next generation and the future and no more divisiveness, only unity." Let's hope this is a story that inspires future generations of Little Monsters. Don't be a drag, just be a queen.
Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" is No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Jennifer Lopez's "On The Floor" (featuring Pitbull) is atop the iTunes singles chart.
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