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Eddie Van Halen: A Guitar God Gone Too Soon

Wow, how time flies! I was having dinner with my family when I heard that Eddie Van Halen passed away after a long fight with cancer. Of course it had to be my 15-year-old son who saw it on his phone and let me know, and it just brought me back to the day John Lennon died and other musicians that I grew up on like Neil Peart from Rush, Glenn Frey from the Eagles and Tom Petty.

Eddie Van Halen was more than just a rock guitarist in an era filled with some amazingly talented players. He was the namesake of one of the greatest rock bands of all time and the architect of guitar riffs that many emulate but nobody can duplicate to this day.

I can remember watching Eddie Van Halen play “Eruption“ live in concert and thinking how amazing it was that I could enjoy a song with no vocals. As I got older, I grew to appreciate instrumental songs as much, if not more, than songs with vocals. Back then a great guitar lead was the trademark of an amazing rock song.

In the early 1980s, I started forging backstage passes to concerts at the old Hollywood Sportatorium in Hollywood, Florida. I used to create passes using a rubber stamp and a blank backstage pass pad that I found outside a concert.

My uncle owned a rubber stamp shop, so I used to have him make stamps that said the name Van Halen, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Boston and Aerosmith. He also made me a date stamper and a stamp that simply said BACKSTAGE on it. I didn’t know it then but, in the early ’80s, I was basically a graphic designer making myself a member of the media and granting myself access to shows. I would bring my camera with me and I was able to shoot many great rock bands in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Eddie Van Halen photo by Marc Serota

I got in the photo pit and backstage at many concerts when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, but one of my fondest memories was getting myself backstage to a Van Halen concert and getting to meet a rock God like Eddie Van Halen. With my self-made VIP pass, I found myself backstage after the show in a meet and greet and all I was thinking was how badly I wanted to meet Edward Van Halen, and then it happened! I saw Valerie Bertinelli Van Halen and fell in love! Eddie Van Halen was more than just that Rock star; he was a rock star married to a television star and a beautiful actress, and there she was. I got myself close enough to strike up a conversation with Mrs. Eddie Van Halen and she figured out very quickly that I had snuck my way back stage. She asked me out right and I didn’t lie to her. I said that I had made the pass on my own and she said “don’t worry sweetie, I won’t tell a soul.” After that I got to meet and talk with Eddie Van Halen along with Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony. To no one’s surprise, David Lee Roth was passed out on the couch holding a bottle of Jack Daniels, so I didn’t actually get to meet him.

David Lee Roth photo by Marc Serota

There where two different iterations of Van Halen: the ’70s and ’80s version with David Lee Roth (hits like “Beautiful Girls,” “Jump,” “Hot for Teacher” and “Runnin’ with the Devil”) and the late ‘80s and ’90s version with Sammy Hagar (hits like “Best of Both Worlds” and “Why Can’t This Be Love”).

Whether you liked the original version with David Lee Roth or the later Sammy Hagar version, one thing was always a constant: the amazing original guitar sound of Edward Van Halen.

Eddie Van Halen and Sammy Hagar photo by Marc Serota

Those experiences, and the opportunity to photograph some of the most amazing musicians of the late ’70s and early ’80s, is what built my career. But it also became the corner stone of how I would raise my children. I play them all kinds of music, especially music from the ’70s and ’80s, and try to expose them to all different kinds of musicians from rock to jazz to R&B and even a little country music. It’ll make them better people. Getting to see bands like Van Halen and musicians like Eddie Van Halen definitely made me a better person and made me appreciate life that much more.

Rest in peace Eddie. You will be missed!

Check out these other music articles on Manopause:

In The Footsteps Of Jim Morrison And The Doors by Jon Tognacci

Steely Dan: That’s Right, They’re Awesome by Larry Pollack

My Photoshoot With Kenny Rogers by Marc Serota

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About The Author
Marc Serota
Marc Serota
As a Portrait photographer Marc Serota has lensed iconic athletes and celebrities for CORBIS and GETTY as well as major brands such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN, the NBA, NHL and the NFL. Serota is a renowned award winning photographer having logged 25+ years with news agencies such as REUTERS, Getty Images, The Associated Press and UPI shooting the biggest entertainment, news and sports stories from the early 1990’s to the present. Marc has covered numerous Super Bowls, Olympic games, NHL Stanley Cup’s, NASCAR races, ATP and PGA events. Visit Marc's website: Follow Marc Serota @G_O_A_T_shooter on Twitter and @marcserota on Instagram.
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