NEAL SCHON Recalls His First Time Watching EDDIE VAN HALEN Play: He Was 'Doing New Things That Nobody Had Seen Before'

October 17, 2020

JOURNEY guitarist Neal Schon has reflected on the passing of Eddie Van Halen, saying he did things on the guitar that "nobody had seen before." The legendary VAN HALEN axeman died on October 6 at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer.

During an appearance on the October 13 episode of SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk", Schon said: "[JOURNEY] took VAN HALEN on their first tour. It was in '78. Their record was just being released. And a couple of months, three months, prior to the tour starting, I had received a little promotional EP. It had 'Eruption' on it and 'You Really Got Me'. So I proceeded to put it on my turntable in my bedroom, with a guitar amp, and I'm sitting there listening to 'Eruption' and I'm going, 'What the fuck is this guy doing for real?' I could not figure it out. I had been listening to MAHAVISHNU [ORCHESTRA] — all kinds of people — and breaking things down. I could just not figure out what he was doing with the hammer-ons. It drove me nuts. And we finally got out there, and I got to know Ed, and watched him night to night just kill it. And all I can say is I was very happy not to be following him. Ronnie Montrose was in the middle — so VAN HALEN opened, then MONTROSE, then JOURNEY. It was a pretty incredible tour… But Eddie was just so on fire and doing new things that nobody had seen before. Everybody was just kind of, like, 'What is going on?' It was great, man. And we had a lot of fun on that tour. We hung out a lot. Watched them trash a lot of hotel rooms. [Laughs] It was a great time, man — a great period in my life."

Schon also spoke about two-hand tapping, Eddie's signature technique, and how Van Halen did not want other guitar players to see what he was doing in order to get that sound.

"He would hide it a lot," Schon said. "In the beginning, he would turn his back, a lot of times, to the audience, or hold the guitar in a certain way where you couldn't see exactly what he was doing. So about halfway through, I remember being in his dressing room, or he came in my dressing room, and I said, 'Show me what it is, man.' And he did it. And I did it pretty immediately, but I was just, like, 'Son of a bitch. That's so crazy.' I never would have thought of that. And I had heard it before — the sound of it — but not doing the triplets and what Ed was doing.

"Harvey Mandel was a great guitarist, and there was a record back in the '70s, 'Crystal Redemption'," he continued. "And I had heard doing the one finger on and the sound of it, but he wasn't doing triplets and using it in a classical sense. So Ed set the bar so high, but also he was such an innovator in the sense of being able to know what sound he needed to use. The fact that he needed to be in E flat was like a big secretive thing, because it's not so easy to do in E. You can still do it when the guitar is tuned up a half a step, but when it's in E flat, the strings become more like rubber bands, so it's easier to get a lot more speed off it, off your index finger of your right hand. So little tricks of the trade of what he developed into his own style. And also the power alternator that he used on the old Marshall heads that actually soaked the power down in the heads that made it easier to dig in. When the tube's heated up from a little less power — rather than running on 110, it was probably running about 100. So the tubes would heat up and everything would compress a bit more. It's like built-in natural amp distortion — it gave him that beautiful brown sound."

Schon went on to say that he was "so sad to hear the news" of Van Halen's passing. "I was really, really hit hard by it, like a lot of people," he said. "But I realized that Ed and I were very, very close in the '80s and hung out a lot. Not just on tour, but when he would come into town, we'd hang out, just talking music in a room, playing music for each other and checking things out."

Neal recalled one particular episode which may have indirectly led to VAN HALEN hiring Sammy Hagar as its new lead singer following the departure of David Lee Roth.

"I completed the record with Sammy, the HSAS [Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve] record, and [Eddie and I] were playing each other's music one night after [VAN HALEN] played in San Francisco at the Cow Palace," he said. "And he wanted me to give him a ride to the hotel, so he grabbed a bottle of vodka, jumped in my Porsche and he proceeded to chug it while I'm driving down the freeway. I'm, like, 'Dude, hold that thing down. Keep it down.' Anyway, we got to the hotel, and we had a cassette machine. And he was playing me some stuff, and I slapped in the HSAS cassette, and he kept going over to the machine and stopping it, backwards and forwards, going over this one guitar riff, like, 'What are you doing there?' I said, 'Ed, let it run, man.' [He did] it, like, 20 times in a row. And finally he goes, 'Who's the singer, man? I really like the singer.' And I go, 'It's Sammy Hagar.' And he goes, 'Who?' And I go, 'Sammy Hagar.' And I said, 'You know MONTROSE, right?' And he goes, 'Yeah.' He goes, 'That's the guy?' And I go, 'Yeah.' And so that's where he kind of found out about Sammy, with me playing [the cassette for] him that night. I mean, he knew who Sammy was through MONTROSE, through that first record, but he didn't know anything beyond that."

Eddie died at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. His wife, Janie, was by his side, along with his son Wolfgang, and Alex, Eddie's brother and VAN HALEN drummer.

The iconic VAN HALEN axeman died from complications due to cancer, his son confirmed.

VAN HALEN was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2007.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked Eddie Van Halen No. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.

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