When I came to Portland I was a professional bass player and I got work. Life was beautiful but I blew out my wrist with one too many bass solos so I switched to the guitar. I was studying the usual Guitar Gods and though I couldn't play like them, at least I knew what they were doing. Then Eddie Van Halen's solo on "Beat It" came to my attention and I had no idea what the hell he was doing - how he was generating that kind of firepower. I plunged in to find out. Was it computer generated? What I learned was the tapping technique. It should be noted that some acoustic playing dude in Europe was the first to play this way but Eddie came next and whereas the dude from Europe was basically riding in a horse-drawn carriage, Eddie strapped the thing to a rocket ship and headed off to space. I bought a Kramer electric like he used with the lockdown tuning pegs that allowed you to torture the whammy bar and I became a tap-on player. Around 1984 Van Halen rolled through Portland and stayed at the hotel where I worked. The room service waiter said he had an extra ticket and I went for it. The thing I'll always remember is when the band was about to hit the stage. You could hear Eddie getting ready and he fired off an outstanding imitation of a blaring elephant. It was the prefect mood setter: "Get ready, Portland. Van Halen's about to come out there like a rambunctious elephant and tear this place apart" --- which they did. No band with just one guitarist ever sounded fuller. Not with Jimmy Page, Hendrix, Clapton. The only time where it seemed at all limited was on Jump when Eddie stuck to the keyboards and kissed off the guitar solo. I was now like a young fan of this band even though Eddie was basically my age. I saw the Hagar version twice. Sammy plays a decent guitar himself so that was fuller but nothing had the punch of that first concert. Eddie played the rhythm parts and lead fills at the same time. It was the essence of entertaining fun - rock and roll as a party. By the way, if I'm ever in a coma play "Panama" for me. If I don't respond, you'll know it's over. P.S. The band had an acrimonious history as we all know and I did see one sign of it. Someone threw a bra onstage and David Lee Roth picked it up and said, "I see rock and roll isn't the only thing that's big here in Portland." Then he turned to Eddie who was leaning against his amp and said, "It's too big to be Valerie's." I thought to myself at that moment, "What are you doing, you dumb ass? You have Edwardo the Great standing there and you're going to insult his wife?" So I saw trouble ahead but that was all down the road. On this night, Van Halen was in their prime and they were fantastic.
What I liked most about Eddie was that he always looked like he was having a good time while he was doing his incredible stuff. None of the pained expressions that other guitarists put on during their big solos. He always appeared as happy about what he was doing as the audience was.