The passing of legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen on Oct. 6 closes the curtain on one of the most enduring, innovative careers in popular music and, as Van Halen manager Irving Azoff notes, the loss of a “loving, gentle soul.”
Azoff had managed Van Halen’s career for more than 15 years, taking the helm in the early 2000s and overseeing a string of hugely successful tours. Calling Eddie Van Halen an “unqualified genius,” Azoff points out that Van Halen, the band and the guitarist, found success with an evolving cast of musicians, with brother Alex Van Halen being the one constant, and Eddie Van Halen being “the guy” throughout.
“In my opinion, everybody contributed through the years, Dave [Roth] contributed, Sammy [Hagar] contributed, [son] Wolfgang [Van Halen] contributed, Michael [Anthony] contributed,” says Azoff, “and Alex was the one mainstay through it all. Alex and Ed were inseparable.”
Beyond being recognized as one of the most skilled and influential rock guitarists of all time, Azoff stresses that there was much more to Eddie Van Halen. “You get this image of this bombastic, incredible, loud, prodigy,” Azoff says, “but personally, he had a big heart. He did a lot of things for a lot of people that nobody knows about.”
Even though Van Halen the band is no longer a going concern as a touring/recording act, Azoff notes that EVH Gear, the respected musical instrument and amplifier company founded by Eddie Van Halen, has become a “major force” in the industry, and will remain in operation. “Wolf and Matt Bruck will run it, and that’s going to continue,” Azoff says.
Regarding Eddie Van Halen’s legacy, Azoff says, “I probably can’t speak as well as others have spoken over the last 24 hours as to Ed’s musical genius, but Ed the human being, especially as he had to come to grips with being human, really shined. He was a great father.”
And a fighter, Azoff adds. “Look, the rock ’n roll life was the rock ’n roll life in the early years, and obviously, not unlike [late Eagles co-founder] Glenn Frey, led to some of his health complications,” he says. “But I’ve never seen anybody fight the fight that [Van Halen] fought over the last 10 years, fighting the cancer.”
As ever, hope for yet another Van Halen tour always sprang eternal for the passionate Van Halen fans, and Azoff says it very nearly happened for a 2019 stadium tour featuring founding members David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony. Unfortunately, due to Eddie Van Halen’s health complications, that tour was not to be.
“We had lots of stops and starts, but there was every intention of doing a summer stadium tour (in 2019), and as the cancer moved around, [Van Halen] was physically unable to do it,” Azoff says. Had the tour come off, Azoff is convinced it would have been a blockbuster. Among the plans were for major special guests like Foo Fighters and Metallica to join the band in select cities and, in many ways, the tour would have been considered a fond farewell to one of the greatest bands and guitarists in rock history. “There is no doubt in my mind that it would have been massive.”
With a fiercely loyal and opinionated fan base, Van Halen was a band that seemed to constantly spur speculation, rumor, innuendo, and perceived drama, which Azoff writes off as just a part of the music business, at least in his experience. “Listen, let’s talk about all the bands I’ve dealt with and drama,” he says with a laugh. “Let’s talk about the Eagles, let’s talk about Fleetwood Mac, let’s talk about Van Halen. It’s part of rock ’n roll, and an unintended part of the mystique and marketing, also.”
As for the possibility of unreleased recordings and future unheard music from the late musician, Azoff says it’s much too early to speculate. “Wolf and Alex will go up to 5150, the studio in Ed’s house, but there’s been a lot of recording over the years,” Azoff says. “I can’t predict that for sure there will be anything new, but for sure they’re going to look at it.”
In terms of legacy, Azoff likens Van Halen’s passing to the death of another massively influential guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. More than that, Azoff mourns the loss of not only an esteemed client but also a friend.
“We were always close, but the past couple of years, when he was really unable to record or play, it became less a client/manager relationship and more just as a friend,” he says. “I really got to know him. He was an amazing guy, I can’t say enough good things about him.”