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When you think about art, you think about something beautiful, something enjoyable, entertaining, life changing, full of emotions and something timeless. Yes there are trends and the times change, but art has a special thing that makes it last almost forever.

In music the same applies, and the legacy of thousands of musicians remain even long after they are gone, a legacy that takes many shapes and forms. However a few of them manage to change a little part of the world with their art, in music more specifically rock, one guitarrist took the instrument to new heights and opened an infinite number of possibilities, his name is Eddie Van Halen.

Van Halen passed away on October 6th, 2020, in a long struggle against cancer, and people all over the world reacted with sadness but remembering him for his big mark in the history of music.

The Beginning

Eddie Van Halen was born on January 26, 1955. He was born in Nijmegan, Netherlands. He and his brother Alex began playing after taking piano lessons. Eddie took the drums and Alex the guitar, but they swapped places as Alex was a better drummer, and Eddie started to put a lot effort and time with the guitar, being influenced by some of the greatest such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.

After playing for a while, David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony joined the band and eventually formed Mammoth. This was the moment when Eddie really started to blossom as a hard rock guitarrist, going as far as to getting the most out of tapping in a way nobody could ever think of. Even though he did not invent that way of playing, he did show the world the full potential of tapping. Not only did he managed to play with great speed and precision, he also was able to make some of the greatest guitar riffs ever, the band even changed the name to Van Halen, and while Alex was a great drummer we all know why that was.

Everyone Wants Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen became recognized as one of the greatest guitarrists out there, with his custom made guitars, bold captivating playing and a great band to back him up.

But his succes went even beyon the band as many other artists saw his talent, including Michael Jackson, who had a little song called “Beat It”. This song had some rock in it despite being a song from the king of pop, and who better to make a guitar solo than Eddie Van Halen?

He also collaborated with Brian May from Queen in the album called Star Fleet Project which was an idea from Brian May including many other artists.

Innovation

Eddie Van Halen will forever be in history as one of the most influential and important figures in rock, as he not only carried the torch from all those rock bands from the 70s to the 80s but also composed in a way that changed rock music forever.

From easy but strong power chords, to blues feeling, whammy bar, classical influences and tapping, Eddie Van Halen had everything you could have as a skill and influence when playing the guitar, and it came together beautifully.

The Story of The Frankenstrat Guitar

He was also very interested in experimenting with guitars, which started with his signature Frankenstein.

In a 2016 interview with Stuart Williams from musicradar.com he talked about how it happened.

“Let me start at the beginning. When I first started playing guitar, I was at the local music store, which wasn’t even a music store, it was kind of like a Radio Shack that also sold musical instruments, it was called Lafayette Music.

“I fell in love with this hollowbody 12-string because of the neck, and the first thing I did was I took six strings off, because it was a 12-string, and I didn’t want 12! They didn’t have what I wanted in the store, so it had already started there!

“Then, I got a paper route; we didn’t have any money and my parents couldn’t afford to buy us equipment. So I saved the money from delivering papers for two and a half to three years, and bought my first real guitar, which was a ’68 Goldtop Les Paul with single-coil P-90 pickups.

“So what do I do? I take the chisel to it right away! Because I wanted a humbucking pickup! But in Pasadena, there were no Les Pauls with a humbucker in them. There was one store in northern Pasadena – a Les Paul came in and they called me right away ‘Hey, we’ve got a Les Paul!’ I walk in and I go, ‘Ah, shit! It ain’t the kind Clapton plays!’ It didn’t have humbuckers.

“So, of course, I hunted down a humbucker, took a chisel and made the hole bigger and crammed it in there. I was lucky enough to solder it back properly, then I painted it black and added binding. I did all kinds of crazy shit to it.

“The funny thing is, I only changed the bridge pickup and left the P-90 neck pickup. Since my right hand was covering the bridge pickup, when I played people were going, ‘How the fuck’s he getting that sound out of a P-90?!’ Because that’s all they could see. Little did they know that I’d stuck a humbucker in there!

“From there, I bought a Strat, and the rest of the guys in the band hated the way it sounded! And I couldn’t really handle the hum, so it was just a logical marriage to – with the humbucker – cross a Gibson with a Fender. Because I loved the vibrato bar, and that was probably the most difficult thing; trying to figure out how to keep that thing in tune. This might take a while, but I’ll try to explain…

“Everything from the bridge to the tuning peg had to be perfectly straight. The only reason a tremolo goes out of tune is because of friction. When you bring the vibrato bar down and if the string angle is wrong then it’s not gonna slide back to its original position.

“So, I would do things like take the string and put it through the tuning peg hole and wind it up instead of down, so there would be no tension on the nut to the tuning peg. I had a brass nut that I cut larger grooves into, and I put oil in it all to eliminate any friction that could cause the string to hang up.

“Another problem is Fender Strats always have the string retainers, I removed them. Again, to eliminate any other factor that would cause the string to not slide back and forth smoothly. As a result if I hit an open string too hard it would pop out of the nut.

“So, I’d have to keep my index finger on the other side of the nut to keep it from popping out! I got away with that – in the club days, through the whole first record and live on tour. That’s how I used the stock Fender tremolo until the locking tremolo was introduced.”

RIP Eddie Van Halen, a real guitar hero.

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Music always pays homage to artists that made history in many ways, one of them is covers, but sometimes covers reinvent the original in creative ways without altering the feeling that was intended to have. These covers are mostly associated with people that post in social media and just do it for fun, the interesting part of this is that there are succesful artists out there that want to do the same, just have fun while remembering music history.

One supergroup/cover band that has been showing up a lot lately is the Jaded Hearts Club Band, which initially focused in covering the Beatles, but now expanded their horizons to soul and other rock classics.

The members are all musicians with well known careers in the industry. The band consists of Jamie Davies, Miles Kane, Sean Payne, Graham Coxon, Nic Cester and Matt Bellamy.

One of the greatest things about this is that is just simple pure fun, this is an idea that came from playing at a birthday party, and they had so much fun that it was impossible to just leave it at that, so they decided to make it a project, a cool little side project.

NME Interview

In an interview with NME the band discusses how they handle the fact that they are a supergroup and how they got into the project.

Guitarrist Jamie Davis said:

Supergroups have got a bad reputation for massive egos and not sticking it out. We try to treat The Jaded Hearts Club like a new band who will continue. We are officially what a supergroup is, but we’re trying to stay away from those associations as much as possible, by playing gigs and making music as often as we can.

One of the things that keeps them away from all of that ego fighting drama is the fact that they are just having fun, drummer Sean Payne says: “There’s no bullshit or head games. It’s simple: Turn up, play, have a laugh.”

On how they got together as a band, Jamie says:

“I wanted to hire a Beatles band for my birthday. But then I saw how much they cost, plus they were all a bit naff. Then I thought, ‘Hold on, I know a few musicians…’ It was a eureka moment. I’d thought, ‘They’ll do me this one favour and it’ll be this one gig’. But, after the party, everyone was going, ‘That was really good, we should do this again’.

Just a Cover Band?

Jaded

During the NME interview they all gave their opinions on making original music in the future (with the exception of Matt Bellamy who wasn’t present at the interview).

Nic: “Everyone’s tastes are more or less aligned, so I’m sure it’s possible.”

Miles: “At this point, the next album will probably be more covers.”

Jamie: “Matt and I text each other every day with suggestions for other great lost songs, and we’ve easily got enough for volume two.”

Sean: “The way we’re doing it keeps any songwriting egos out of it. But I’m sure new songs will naturally fall into place. We need to watch The Traveling Wilburys documentary to see how they did it. Everyone wrote in that band, and they managed to kick the doors down straight away.”

Their Debut album “You’ve Always Been Here” is out today and while it doesn’t cover any new ground in music, it’s hard not to enjoy the talent from each one of the members through classics.

Even more than just enjoying, one of the ideas behind the band is to bring old musical gems to everyone’s attention. There are hundreds if not thousands of songs that are all over stream services but don’t get enough plays. Maybe with this fun project, we can go back in music history and enjoy some of the classics in soul, blues and more.

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James Rhodes is an English pianist born in March 6, 1975 in London. He became very interested in music at a young age, more specifically piano, after listening to a recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 E flat major, Op. 73. He wanted to play piano and asked many times for piano lessons but never got any. Around the age of 14 he finally got the chance to study with Colin Stone and even got a scholarship to the Guidhall School of Music and Drama, but he decided not to take the opportunity.

It might seem like a strange thing to do, but he didn’t exactly have a normal childhood. At the age of 5 he was a victim of sexual abuse, which he wrote about in his autobiography.

This became a very hard struggle against “the demons from the past” which haunted him not only because it happened, but because he couldn’t say anything, which led him to self harm, and suicidal tendencies.

After rejecting the opportunity to study music, he took a sales and met his first wife, an American writer had a son and left music behind, however this didn’t work for him, and he said:

‘It was grim. It just wasn’t me. I was brought to my knees. I thought, “The only thing I want to do is music.”

After ten years he decided to go back to music, although it wasn’t easy. The next few months were hard, he practiced with Edoardo Strabbioli in order to get his skills polished but during that time he was in and out of mental institutions trying to hold on to life and although his marriage feel apart, he didn’t. After those dark days, he went out to make his first album and signed with Warner Bros.

He stopped the medications, and went on to play piano as one of the most passionate and unique pianists to ever express himself with the instrument.

Classical Music Rockstar

Rhodes

He is not super precise, nor does he care about the exact “form” of playing a specific piece, he is just himself, messy and chaotic but charismatic and so very human. In way he acts like a rockstar but not because he wants to play the part, but because that is who he is, and how life has treated him, but through music it feels right.

He also urges people that want to do something, to just do it, there are no excuses to hold back on being creative and making art if you feel the impulse to doing it. Who better to say this than someone who supressed his desire for music for 10 years and then suffered for it?

‘Don’t be a massive d**k,’ he says. ‘Don’t be one of those idiots who say, “I’ve got a book in me” and then don’t write it. Don’t be a f***ing idiot and complain that you have no time to devote to music. Anyone can find 20 minutes a day. It’s not that hard.’

James Rhodes

And he is right, all you need is to take a bit of time out of your day, and beautiful things can come out of it.

‘I mean who the f*** cares about sonata form in Beethoven’s Vienna? I don’t!’ he says. ‘I want to know that Beethoven was born into poverty and syphilis and domestic abuse, almost beaten to death twice by his drunk father before he was a teenager.’ As for Bach, he was a ‘gnarly, aggressive, obsessive lunatic’ who was arrested for keeping groupies in the organ loft. ‘Once you play a piece after that, it makes sense to people. It’s about feelings.’

James Rhodes

James Rhodes is living proof that music can save lives and shine a light on the darkest times, and just like he did, he wishes more people to experience how beautiful and intimate a musical experience can be.

‘Trying to do things for other people is the best possible thing. Kindness is the best cure for any mental condition there is.’

James Rhodes

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