When you look back at the guitar giants who emerged in the ’60s, you notice how many hit the ground running. Jimi Hendrix, whom Jimmy Page and countless others have called the best to ever play the instrument, claimed his spot instantly with Are You Experienced (1967).
That album didn’t just feature Hendrix’s mind-blowing guitar work; it also showcased the 25-year-old’s ability as a songwriter. And though Led Zeppelin (1969) featured fewer originals than Hendrix’s debut, you could say the same about Page when he busted out with the Zep (also at 25).
If you asked Pete Townshend, The Who’s mastermind would tell you both guitar virtuosos borrowed from him on those records. Townshend, whose compositions and guitar work shined from the get-go on My Generation (1965), considered himself the pioneer of the ’60s power trio.
Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020), who passed away at 65 on October 6, achieved the same rare feat. Right from Van Halen (1978), he showed he could shred as good or better than the all-time greats and back it up with his compositions. Following his death, Townshend and Page paid their respects.
The Who’s Pete Townshend mourned the passing of ‘immense talent’ Eddie Van Halen
In a post on the Who Facebook account, Townshend checked in to say goodbye to Van Halen. Townshend called his passing “completely tragic” and praised the late guitar great. “He was not just an innovative and stylish player with great taste,” Townshend said. “He was also a laidback virtuoso showman who just blew us all away every time.”
Townshend didn’t stop there. The Who legend also related a remarkable story involving himself and Van Halen in the ’80s. It began with none other than Michael Jackson asking Townshend to play guitar on a record called Thriller (1982).
“I said I couldn’t do it but recommended Eddie,” Townshend recalled. After Van Halen called him and the two chatted, he quickly won over Townshend. “He was utterly charming, happy about the connection […]. His smile was just classic. A man in his rightful place, so happy to be doing what he did.”
Anyone who saw Van Halen on stage or in his videos knew that trademark smile. And they also knew about Van Halen’s propensity to jump on stage — in what looked like a salute to Townshend’s kinetic performances. “Every shredder today has lost their Master Teacher and Guide,” Townshend said.
Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page praised Van Halen’s ‘taste and panache’ in his goodbye
If you came up rocking in the late ’70s, chances are you were influenced by the previous 10 years of Page’s pyrotechnics on Zep albums. And Van Halen didn’t deny it. “Page is a genius,” Van Halen said in a 1990 Guitar World interview. “He’s a great player, a songwriter, a producer.”
Though Van Halen once called out Page for his sloppiness on stage in the late Zep years, he acknowledged the impact Page had on him. “I’ve always said Eric Clapton is my main influence, but Page was actually more the way I am, in a reckless-abandon kind of way,” he told Guitar World.
In his goodbye on Instagram, Page described the “great sadness” he felt and called Van Halen “the real deal.” He also saluted Van Halen’s one-in-a-generation skill. “He pioneered a dazzling technique on guitar with taste and panache that I felt always placed him above his imitators,” Page wrote. “R. I. P. Eddie.”
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