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Marty Friedman pays tribute to Eddie Van Halen: “Eddie’s guitar sound was a mammoth. It was by far the biggest thing we’d ever heard“

Eddie Van Halen and Marty Friedman
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/BMA2015/FilmMagic; Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic )

I loved Eddie and was always completely in awe of him. I didn’t know him very well, but he loved Jason Becker, was extremely protective of him, and because of that he was very friendly to me. 

The first time we met was when we played at a benefit for Jason in Chicago. He gave me his home phone number and told me to call him anytime for any reason. Of course, I never did. What was I gonna do… just call Eddie Van Halen up and chat?  

Anyway, to understand just how spectacular he was, you have to go back a bit. I’m a huge advocate for finding amazing new music. There’s an absolute ton of fantastic, fresh and exciting new music out there, and it can be found really easily. 

This being said, I have to admit I am blessed and privileged to have been a teenage hesher at the time Van Halen came out. Yes, there is a lot of super music out there now, but nothing for a really long time will be as revolutionary as what Van Halen did back then. Great and deeply enjoyable music now? Yes. Revolutionary? No.  

For those of you who didn’t experience the first two Van Halen tours live, I’ll try to describe it to you. First thing your senses noticed was “that smell” that greeted you at just about every hard rock concert venue back then.

It was a unique aroma, made up of 70 percent Mexican and Colombian weed, 10 percent the slight but acrid tang of teenage boys’ B.O., 20 percent general female wetness, mixed with that cheap but sweet body spray that all girls used back then, and topped off with a hint of flavored lip gloss.

This glorious combination of scents will probably remain lost forever, but those of us who remember it miss it dearly. This smell was the precursor to the rock show that was about to assault our other senses, the show we waited months for, suffering through our hellish school routines. And no one assaulted us like Van Halen.

Eddie’s guitar literally growled at us. It was almost scary how much sheer force could come out of six strings. Many rock bands back then had two guitarists, but Eddie’s guitar sound was a mammoth, larger than any two-guitar-band sound. It was by far the biggest thing we’d ever heard.

When I say revolutionary, I mean we were all witnessing for the first time. It was later referred to as the “brown sound,” which since then, and still today, a new century later, is the holy grail of rock guitar tones.

After a VH show, hungover guitar players all over town were glued to their guitars trying furiously to inch a little closer to be a little more like Eddie,

Every single rock guitarist has been chasing that sound since then, whether they know it or not. So imagine hearing that when it first came out, blasting through the PA at ungodly decibels. Revolutionary.

But, of course, it wasn’t just the sound. It was what Eddie did with his guitar that made it just so natural and aggressive. No one played lead guitar that aggressively back then – or with so much ease, innovation and new licks for a change! It was a cross between being uber-impressed and enjoying spanking new great rock songs at the same time.

Yes, there is a lot of super music out there now, but nothing for a really long time will be as revolutionary as what Van Halen did back then

And since Van Halen had great pop songs and one of the most charismatic frontmen of all time, half the audience were excited girls, while the other half were boys pointing at the stage with their mouths open in disbelief.

Even after the show was over, the party continued. Local radio stations played VH on loop after the shows and the parking lot was full of cars blasting their radios before everyone scattered off to after parties, where concert goers bragged to those who missed the show and general debauchery continued until all hours. 

After a VH show, hungover guitar players all over town were glued to their guitars trying furiously to inch a little closer to be a little more like Eddie, because none of us had ever seen a phenomenon like that before.

Many of those guitar players went on to become the guitarists we all know and love, and some have gone on to some really great achievements. We have Eddie to thank for that, and also for the future inspiration he will continue to give the next generations.

Marty Friedman was speaking to Amit Sharma.