The world lost a guitar god yesterday when Eddie Van Halen died of cancer at age 65.
He was the co-founder of the rock band Van Halen, which was formed with his brother Alex Van Halen on drums, Michael Anthony on bass and David Lee Roth as the lead vocalist.
Over the course of their 40-year career, the band gained a cult-like following and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They also ran through tumultuous member changes, with Roth quitting, bringing in Sammy Hagar as his replacement. Years later Hagar departed and Roth eventually came back. Bassist Michael Anthony also left the group in 2006.
But amid all those changes, one thing remained constant: Eddie Van Halen shredding his guitar in legendary live solos to the awe of screaming audiences.
Van Halen toured in Tampa Bay for nearly 40 years, including 1978 shows at Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa and the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg and a 1979 concert at the Lakeland Civic Center.
To remember Eddie Van Halen’s greatness, here’s a roundup of reviews of Van Halen concerts from Times archives.
“One look at the baby face and goofy grin of Eddie Van Halen onstage would convince any parent to let their children attend the “Monsters of Rock” show Sunday at Tampa Stadium,” former Tampa Bay Times critic Steve Persall wrote about their appearance at Tampa Stadium in 1988. “The deadliest weapon he uses is a guitar pick.”
”Highlights included an Eddie Van Halen solo on Panama that closed with exploding flash pots just as brilliant."
Persall also called Eddie Van Halen an “irrepressible guitar guru” in a review of their 1991 concert in Tampa.
In a review of their 1995 concert at the Thunderdome in St. Petersburg (now Tropicana Field), Logan Neill wrote in the Times: “A sure highlight of any Van Halen show, as always, is the guitar virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen, whose 10-minute solo ride took him from a primordial Hendrix feel to a chunky, almost Keith Richards sound and then to what could only be described as a sonic experiment.”
Tampa Tribune writer Curtis Ross said of their concert on September 9, 2004, at the St. Pete Times Forum (now the Amalie Arena): “The musical highlight, though, was a jaw-dropping, 15-minute solo by guitar genius Eddie Van Halen. Yes, a quarter of an hour is indulgent by anyone’s standards, but Van Halen’s skill and, more importantly, his imagination, kept most of the crowd enthralled throughout. His revolutionary playing has been copied by countless other musicians, but none has come close to his combination of tone and technique.”
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Former Tampa Bay Times pop music critic Sean Daly wrote in his review of their 2012 Tampa concert that Eddie was performing his “epic end-of-night solo” while he was scrambling to meet his deadline for the review.
“I stepped away from my computer in the press box, and just gawked at the speed, the tonal elegance,” he wrote. “Darn the consequences: When greatness erupts, you need to stop and watch.”
The last Tampa Bay appearance Van Halen made was in 2015 at Tampa’s Mid-Florida Credit Union Amphitheatre. Times entertainment critic Jay Cridlin started his review of the show with two main takeaways:
1. “The experience of seeing Eddie Van Halen live will always be worth more than whatever you paid for it. He’s just that good.”
2. “You live by Roth, you die by him, too.”