I’ve seen more concerts than I can remember. Some I’ve reviewed for the News-Press, some I will never forget, and others I wish I could. Seeing Van Halen at Seattle’s Key Arena on Dec. 3, 2007, was one I’ll never forget and one that I would never want to.
That night sticks in my memory as easily the loudest concert I’ve ever witnessed, at least that’s what it felt like to my 14-year-old ears.
While that show and Van Halen’s entire 2007 tour was a big deal because it marked original frontman David Lee Roth’s return to the band after more than 20 years, the standout factor of the ’80s rock sound filling the arena was the virtuosic guitar playing of the recently departed Eddie Van Halen.
The rock world was stunned Tuesday when it was announced that the legendary guitarist and Van Halen namesake died of throat cancer, and locals who make their living through rock and roll were surprised and saddened to hear the news.
Michael Shiflett, a guitar teacher at Santa Barbara business Jensen Guitar & Music Co., said he was shocked to find out that the guitar virtuoso had passed away from throat cancer. While Mr. Shiflett was aware that the Van Halen guitarist had suffered from tongue cancer years ago, the news that it had returned and claimed his life came as a surprise.
“I was really shocked. I knew that he’d had some bouts with cancer, but I didn’t know that he was that sick,” he said.
While he listened to guitar slingers like Tony Iommi and Jimmy Page as a boy in the early 1970s, Mr. Shiflett referred to Eddie Van Halen as “the first major guitar hero of my lifetime.”
He was 14 when Van Halen’s self-titled debut album was released in 1978 and recalled first seeing its quadrant-divided album cover picturing Eddie Halen, his drummer brother Alex Van Halen, singer David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony in the back pages of now defunct music magazine Creem.
Under the picture album was a statement to the effect that Van Halen was going to be a massive group sometime in the near future. Not one to believe predictions like that, Mr. Shiflett forgot about Van Halen until he was reminded of it again when he saw a poster of the album cover in a local record store. Ultimately, the statement in Creem turned out to be true.
“It didn’t take long for them to become huge,” Mr. Shiflett said.
As a guitar player himself, Mr. Shiflett told the News-Press that he greatly admires Eddie Van Halen’s fingertapping, his trademark guitar technique that he popularized to the point of revolutionizing rock guitar playing. Seeing the guitarist demonstrate this onstage with his famous guitar solo “Eruption” was nothing short of a marvel to me, and Mr. Shiflett felt similarly about it when he first heard it on record.
He stated, “I remember the first time I heard ‘Eruption.’ It was almost tempting to want to put down the guitar and not play anymore. If someone’s going to be that good, why bother?”
SOhO Restaurant and Music Club co-owner Gail Hansen called Eddie Van Halen “a rock icon” and a “one-of-a-kind” guitar player. While much of her early music taste was rooted in softer music the likes of Cat Stevens, Ms. Hansen told the News-Press that Van Halen opened her eyes to the heavier side of rock and roll music.
“Van Halen is one of the bands that brought me into more of that kind of music,” she remarked.
She named “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and “Jump” as her favorite Van Halen songs.
Both Mr. Shiflett and Ms. Hansen told the News-Press that they unfortunately never had the opportunity to see Eddie Van Halen play with Van Halen or anyone else.
After Tuesday, in retrospect, that night in 2007 is a blessing for me to count.