Ozzy Osbourne first encountered Eddie Van Halen in 1978, when Black Sabbath welcomed Van Halen as their openers. It wasn’t long before the Iron Men realized that the young Californians had enough energy to keep them on their toes, but Osbourne nevertheless appreciated Eddie’s guitar playing. Here, the singer remembers the ease with which the late guitarist could pull off jaw-dropping pyrotechnics and how he was an instant original.
I was just looking at my phone today and I saw the news that Eddie Van Halen had died, and I went, “Oh, my God.” I was in shock. I knew he was battling an illness. I have the same doctor as him. I used to pass messages through her to him, and she would never tell me the condition he was in or whatever. She would say, “What do you want to say?” And I would say, “I send my regards.” So it really was a shock, because he was a good guy. He really was a good man.
It’s always a sad day when somebody like that dies. It’s like when Michael Jackson died. I didn’t believe it at first. It’s such a fucking loss.
I haven’t hung around with Eddie for quite some time, but I did see him from time to time. The last time I spent any serious time with him was on the last official Black Sabbath tour I did in ’79, when they opened up for us. They were such good guys to be around. We had such fun. Every time I ever saw Eddie Van Halen, it was fun.
I remember seeing Eddie do that finger-tapping thing, and that was the first time I’d ever seen anyone do that. Just when you think nobody can make guitar playing exciting, somebody like that comes out. He was one of them.
That thing with finger-tapping in the Eighties, with the hair bands, everybody was doing that finger tapping. Once you’ve seen the master do it, everyone else comes second. Anybody after Eddie Van Halen was in second, as far as I’m concerned. There were some other good players, and there are some very clever ones, but it’s not just playing an instrument. You’ve got to put the emotion behind you, and Eddie had all that. He made it look so easy.
One thing I loved about Eddie was he always had a big grin on his face, and he looked like he was enjoying every second he was up there. Whether it was showbiz bullshit or not — I don’t think it was — he always looked like he was having the best time of his life up there.
And Van Halen were a force to be reckoned with. They weren’t an easy band to follow. I remember one time, we did a gig in San Antonio; they went on, and the building was jampacked. You couldn’t get away from it. They went on and blew the roof off. And we had to follow them. I mean, it was such a hard gig for us. To follow Van Halen, you’d go, “Oh, fuck. No.” And after that tour, they took off.
They were really a great band. I remember I did Monsters of Rock, and I opened up for Van Halen and AC/DC. And that was a great bill. I was smoking in them days, and then they had to follow me. It was poetic justice.
But I could sit and watch Eddie Van Halen play guitar all day. He’s so entertaining as a guitar player. He made it look like it was not difficult. He made it look like it was a natural thing. Everybody else was trying to be Eddie Van Halen, but there is only one Eddie Van Halen. I thought he was brilliant. God only knows, what you have to do to get that good.