What Eddie Van Halen's Former Bandmates Said About Him

Before becoming one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time, Eddie Van Halen had a very humble beginning. Born on January 26, 1955, in Nijmegen, Netherlands, he eventually settled with his family in Pasadena, California, when he and his brother Alex were still very young. The brothers were initially trained on piano, but they ditched their classical tutelage and picked up rock 'n' roll as their main creative hobby. With Eddie on guitar and Alex on drums, the two played with numerous bands, until they teamed up with vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony — and so the band Van Halen was born. They made quite a name for themselves in the LA music scene with their big, rowdy sound (helped in large part by Eddie's electric guitar pyrotechnics), and it wasn't long before they released their debut album in 1978, becoming one of the biggest rock bands of all time, racking up countless hits that are still heard on the radio today.

The band underwent several lineup changes over the decades, often with a fair amount of drama between each formation. In the meantime, Eddie performed with a surprising number of other musicians. Let's take a look at what those who've played with the legendary guitarist have said about him.

Mark Stone

Michael Anthony was Van Halen's longtime bassist, and was eventually succeeded by Eddie Van Halen's son Wolfgang. However, before either of them supplied the low end to the band's sound, bass duties were handled by Mark Stone, who played with Eddie and Alex Van Halen in the early years of the group, when they were first called Genesis and later Mammoth, and for Van Halen itself from 1972 to 1974. While he can be heard on some early demos, Stone's contributions to the band never extended past those formative years. He was ultimately asked to leave the band due to a perceived lack of commitment on his part. In "The Van Halen Story: The Early Years," Stone said, "I was a straight-A student, and doing the band, and I was split between those two things, and basically I couldn't keep up. We met one day, and they actually asked me to leave."

Even in those first few years of the band's existence, Stone recognized the talent of the Van Halen brothers, particularly that of Eddie. The ex-bassist said, "I knew it early on that they were both virtuosos. You know, there were few legendary guitar players, and I knew Edward was on his way to being there." While Stone never officially re-joined the band, he sometimes performed with the Van Halen tribute band, Fan Halen, giving hardcore devotees a taste of what might've been. Unfortunately, Stone passed away on September 26, 2020.

Michael Anthony

Michael Anthony was the final member to join Van Halen's first true lineup, and although he hasn't attracted as many headlines over the years, his contributions to the band are enormous; besides playing bass for them, he did most of the heavy lifting for their pristine background vocal harmonies. But prior to joining one of the biggest rock bands of all time, Anthony was born on June 20, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois, and picked up music at an early age, starting out on trumpet before moving on to guitar and finally bass. He and his family moved to Southern California, where he played with several local rock bands. As a student at Pasadena City College, he met Alex Van Halen, which led to him playing bass for them following Mark Stone's ouster, and the rest is history.

A talented musician himself, Anthony was floored the first time he heard Eddie, Alex, and Stone play live, and was especially impressed by Eddie's ability to master the music of such guitar greats as Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton. In his January 8th, 2021 appearance on "Talkin' Rock with Meltdown" (via 101 WRIF), Anthony said, "I remember I was impressed because they must've played the whole Who 'Live at Leeds' [set] or whatever or any classic Cream stuff they played, Eddie played the lead stuff note for note ... back then when you're a kid like that, that's very impressive to see somebody playing like that."

David Lee Roth

For many, if not most fans, David Lee Roth is the voice of Van Halen, having been with them since the beginning, and singing for them across six classic albums. Born on October 10, 1954, in Bloomington, Indiana, he and his family moved to Southern California and, already having an interest in music, joined a rock band when he was still a teenager. Like Michael Anthony, Roth also entered Eddie and Alex Van Halen's lives while attending Pasadena City College. It wasn't long before he joined forces with them, serving as the face of their party-down attitude that would typify the band for the rest of his time with them.

It's no secret that Roth and Eddie had a tumultuous relationship, culminating in his leaving the band in 1985 to establish himself as a solo artist. And while he reunited with Van Halen a few times in subsequent decades, their two powerful personalities always prevented them from forging any permanent bond. However, despite the animosity that has characterized their association, Roth, in the wake of Eddie's tragic passing in 2020, had nothing but kind words to say about his former bandmate. On his podcast, "The Roth Show," he said the following, "Boy, I miss him. I had a ball with Ed ... I've gotta tell ya, playing with Ed, writing songs with Ed, presenting those songs with Ed was better than any love affair I ever had."

Sammy Hagar

Sammy Hagar is Van Halen's second singer after David Lee Roth left the band in 1985. And while the debate over which of the two singers was better rages to this day, there's no denying that the band achieved massive success during their time with the Red Rocker. Hagar made a name for himself in the 1970s as the frontman for Montrose, a hard rock band most famous for their songs "Bad Motor Scooter" and "Rock Candy," before branching out on his own. It was as a solo artist that Hagar became even more popular, scoring such hits as "There's Only One Way to Rock" and "I Can't Drive 55." When he joined Van Halen, the band took on a more polished style that made them perfect for the growing prevalence of MTV.

Like Roth before him, Hagar had his share of clashes with Eddie Van Halen, which resulted in him leaving the band in 1996, though they did reunite to record some new songs for the band's 2004 greatest hits compilation, "The Best of Both Worlds," as well as tour together to support it. Luckily, Hagar looks back on his past with Eddie through rose-colored glasses, telling KUSI's Paul Rudy that "Eddie always played great. That's the thing that used to make me mad, 'cause he could drink as much as he wanted, do anything he wanted and come out there and still play good. I'd be going, 'This guy is making me mad.'"

Wolfgang Van Halen

Wolfgang Van Halen is Eddie Van Helen's son, and has made quite a name for himself in the music world. Born on March 16, 1991 (the Van Halen song "316" is a reference to his birth date, which he confirmed on Twitter), it should come as a surprise to no one that he picked up music at a young age. But while most teenage musicians dream of becoming rock stars, Wolfgang actually achieved that dream at an age when everyone else in his age group was worrying about what to wear to homecoming. His first gig was taking over Michael Anthony's old bass duties with Van Halen in 2006, followed by playing bass with Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti's solo project, Tremonti. Wolfgang eventually struck out on his own with his band, Mammoth WVH.

While Van Halen fans around the world mourned the death of Eddie in 2020, few were as devastated by his untimely passing as Wolfgang, who benefited the most from his dad's virtuosic tutelage. However, Wolfgang revealed to People that, despite how difficult his father's loss was on him, his memory has been a source of great motivation for him, saying, "What really helps me keep going is my dad, because if I just gave up and stopped and crawled in a hole, which I feel like doing every day, I know he'd be really pissed off at me. He's the only thing that keeps me going."

LL Cool J

LL Cool J (real name James Todd Smith) first rose to prominence in the 1980s as a young rapper and one of legendary record label Def Jam Recordings' first acts. His first album, 1985's "Radio," was an instant success and produced the hits "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells." He's since gone on to become a hip-hop icon, paving the way for countless other acts to enter the mainstream. In addition to his music career, LL Cool J has also established himself as a talented actor. He's been seen in such films as "Toys" alongside Robin Williams, "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later," and "Deep Blue Sea." His TV credits include "In the House," "30 Rock," and "NCIS: Hawai'i," among others.

With a resume like this, one wonders how LL Cool J is connected to Eddie Van Halen. But believe it or not, the rapper actually recruited the rocker for his 2013 album, "Authentic," appearing on the songs "Not Leaving You Tonight" and "We're the Greatest." LL Cool J spoke fondly of his time with Eddie on his outlet Rock the Bells, where he stated: "I will always remember his humility, and his willingness to share his talent ... That man came in the studio with me at a time when, creatively, I was trying to get my sea legs and trying to figure out what to do, and how I wanted to do it ... It was just pure artistry, and I respected that about him."

Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons needs little introduction; he's been the bassist and vocalist of KISS since 1972, recording and playing with them on all of their farewell and subsequent reunion tours. Simmons' place in rock and roll history is secure from his time with the band, but he also played an instrumental part in the formative years of another important rock band: Van Halen. In the 1970s, Simmons saw them perform at the popular nightclub the Starwood and was instantly floored by how big and well-realized their sound was, despite being a relatively unknown band. He quickly met them after their set and gave them some useful advice about the music industry, and even financed their trip to New York City to record a demo.

As a favor to Simmons, Eddie and Alex Van Halen recorded an early KISS demo of "Christine Sixteen," comprising an informal power trio together. Simmons was so impressed with Eddie's guitar playing that he had KISS guitarist Ace Frehley copy the solo he recorded. Following Eddie's death, Simmons reminisced about his talent in Rolling Stone, where he stated: "Lots of guys play fast but with no melody or heart or soul. Eddie's solos had all that. Not since Hendrix had anybody bent strings like he did. He cast a large shadow. You think you're pretty good and famous and you're filling arenas. But when you were sitting in front of Eddie, you were in the presence of greatness."

Brian May

Brian May is one of the great British rock guitarists, having made a name for himself with the legendary Queen. Interestingly enough, around the time that he co-founded the band, he was pursuing a degree in astrophysics at London Imperial College. However, music was just too strong a pull for him, and so he, vocalist Freddie Mercury, bassist John Deacon, and drummer Roger Taylor made Queen their main mission in life and never looked back (although May would eventually complete his Ph.D. in 2007). The band dominated the airwaves throughout the 1970s, releasing hit after hit. It was in the early-1980s that May took a break from Queen to work on his solo project, the mini-album "Star Fleet Project," which featured an appearance from none other than Eddie Van Halen on the track "Blues Breaker."

Of course, May had encountered Eddie several years earlier when Van Halen was opening for Black Sabbath. May recounted to Guitar World, "I got there in time to see Van Halen and I was utterly blown away by Eddie. I just thought: I've never seen anything like this in my life. It was almost too much to take in. I remember thinking: I don't want to believe this (laughs). It was similar to watching Jimi Hendrix for the first time." If there was one person that the old guard of rock 'n' roll feared, it was Eddie and his staggering six-string prowess.

Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby is a singer, songwriter, producer, session musician, and composer who's most associated with the early-1980s new wave sound. He wrote several hit songs for other musical acts, including "New Toy" for Lovich and "Magic's Wand" for Whodini. He also helped forge the synth fad of the era by playing synthesizer for such acts as Foreigner, Def Leppard, and Joan Armatrading. But Dolby really came into his own with his 1983 EP, "Blinded by Science," whose track "She Blinded Me with Science" became a huge hit, due in no small part to the accompanying music video that received considerable airplay on MTV. He capitalized on his success in the following year's album, "The Flat Earth," which gave him another hit in the form of "Hyperactive."

One of Dolby's more interesting projects was his 1992 album, "Astronauts & Heretics," which saw Eddie Van Halen tear it up on the songs "Eastern Bloc" and "Close But No Cigar." It's not the most obvious musical pairing, but Dolby told Ultimate Classic Rock that the two got along well, and found a way to marry their two completely different creative backgrounds. "I loved jamming with him, and I think he enjoyed it, too," said Dolby. "... it's a shame that his talents have been sort of limited for the most part to the Van Halen albums, because he's got a lot more versatility and range than you would know, [even as] fantastic as his playing on his own albums [is]."

Steve Lukather

Steve Lukather is one of the most prolific session musicians alive; even if his name doesn't sound familiar to you, there's a good chance you've heard his guitar playing on one of the countless hits he's appeared on over the last several decades. He found success with his first band Toto when they released their debut album in 1978, which spawned such hits as "Hold the Line" and "I'll Supply the Love." In between his time with Toto, Lukather played on the records of other major artists at the time, including Boz Scaggs, Leo Sayer, Cher, and Alice Cooper. Lukather, and several other members of Toto, lent their musical talents to Michael Jackson's, "Thriller," one of the highest-selling albums of all time.

Not one to be tied down to a single gig, Lukather eventually branched out on his own, making his solo artist debut with 1989's appropriately-titled album, "Lukather," which featured the contributions of several top musicians, most notably Eddie Van Halen. Lukather shared his recollections to Guitar World, saying, "[Eddie was] just a humble little guy who just loved to mess with sh*t and do things different ... When it came down to details about equipment and how he liked to do things, he always had an 'adventure' mentality. He knew what he wanted. And he wanted really weird sh*t." Lukather would later repay the favor by providing background vocals on the Van Halen hit, "Top of the World" from their 1991 album, "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge."

Tony Iommi

Tony Iommi, along with the original lineup of Black Sabbath, is one of the godfathers of heavy metal. With their 1970 self-titled debut, they pushed rock into darker and heavier places it had never gone before, opening the door for endless musicians to put their own twist on the new genre. Black Sabbath has undergone multiple lineup changes over the decades, with Iommi as the one constant, having stayed with the band until their disbandment in 2017. Eddie Van Halen was actually briefly a part of one of the band's formations, having recorded a solo for the song "Evil Eye" from Black Sabbath's 1994 album "Cross Purposes." Unfortunately, the recording of said solo had some technical difficulties and was unusable, as Iommi recalled in his autobiography, "Iron Man."

But Iommi and the rest of Black Sabbath had actually encountered Eddie and his band years earlier, when they toured together in the late-1970s. Even at that early stage, Eddie's technical chops on the guitar were already godlike. And yet, as impressed as Iommi was by his six-string skills, he was just as impressed by his humility, telling Rolling Stone, "Ed's such a lovely guy. We really got to know each other well on that tour. He used to come around to my room most nights after the show. Or I'd go around to his room and we'd sit there talking. We used to have such a great time together. We really spilt our hearts out with each other."

Gary Cherone

Gary Cherone hails from Malden, Massachusetts. While his first passion was athletics, a knee injury forced him to reconsider his true passion in life, and so he turned to music, starting a cover band in the late-1970s. From then on, he was a member of various local bands before ultimately joining the band with whom he'd achieve the most fame, Extreme. Cherone and company scored several hits together in the late-1980s and early-1990s, most notably "More Than Words," before disbanding in 1996. Cherone would reunite with Extreme several more times over the years, but he kept himself busy with a range of other musical projects.

However, Cherone's biggest non-Extreme gig was serving as the frontman for Van Halen, joining the group following Sammy Hagar's departure and David Lee Roth's disastrous reunion in 1996. However, Cherone was only in Van Halen for the 1998 album "Van Halen III" and its tour. His stint with the band was brief, but he looks back fondly on his time with them, particularly bonding with Eddie Van Halen. As Cherone told Rolling Stone, "[Eddie] went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. As the years went on, I saw him do that to everyone else. He knew people were meeting Van Halen and Eddie; he knew who he was and how people could get funny around the king. So I remember on my first day how he extended himself to me, and how he was just a regular guy."