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Tony Iommi pays tribute to Eddie Van Halen: “He created his own guitar world – and what a world it was“

EVH Iommi
(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns : Brill/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

I've got two really great friends in the music business – Brian May is one and Eddie Van Halen was the other. Ed was just fantastic, and his death is a terrible loss. I feel so sad for his wife Janie, brother Alex and his son Wolfgang. It’s such a loss for everybody, fans and musicians alike.  

He was a fabulously caring human being. Whenever I was in L.A., I’d call him and we’d go out for dinner with our wives, and it was lovely. He was so easy going and we’d just sit and chat about anything. I met Eddie in ’78 when Van Halen toured with Sabbath. It was the band’s first world tour and we were on the road together for several months. We had such a great relationship. 

I used to see Eddie most nights after the show either in my room or his room or in the bar or whatever. We used to just chat all bloody night, and he’s been a really great friend to me ever since. We just talked a lot about music, guitars and the business, really, because Van Halen were fairly new into the business. And sometimes he’d bring his guitar around to my room and we’d play for a bit.

I first heard him on the tour, and I thought, “What?!?!” His energy and persona stood out immediately. You could see he loved playing and was brilliant at it. It was the first time I’d ever heard his various techniques, and he just got better and better as his time went on. I’ve always had great respect for his playing. Van Halen were a bloody hard act to follow, but we worked as a team.

We were both there to entertain and to enjoy ourselves. I think they learned a lot from us about putting on an arena show – like using drum risers and doing guitar and drum solos.

We stayed in contact in recent years through email or phone. I was going through some of his emails recently and they were really heartwarming. We went through some similar things so we could really relate to each other.

I’ve always had great respect for his playing. Van Halen were a bloody hard act to follow, but we worked as a team

For example, a few years ago I told him I was having problems with the cartilage in my thumbs, and Eddie recommended that I go to this guy he was seeing in Germany. So, I went there, and I had this form of STEM cell treatment like Eddie had. And yeah, it was really good. It’s not well known that Eddie struggled with his arthritis – I’m amazed how well he played, really. 

We were also similar in that neither of us went by the book. We both worked on our guitars and amps to make them do things we needed them to do. He liked to pull things apart, rebuild them and make something out of nothing. He created his own guitar world – and what a world it was!

Tony Iommi was speaking to Brad Tolinski