Eddie Van Halen Remembers His Immigrant Youth, Talks Early Guitar Innovation
Eddie Van Halen is one of the world's biggest rock stars, but as a kid, he was just a kid whose parents "showed up here with the equivalent of $50 and a piano" -- and he's never forgotten where he came from.
Van Halen relived his journey during a recent conversation with the Associated Press, saying his family "came halfway around the world without money, without a set job, no place to live and couldn't even speak the language." And although they journeyed to a country often held up as the planet's biggest melting pot, he admitted he didn't always feel overly welcome.
"Oh yeah," he agreed when asked whether he felt like an outsider during those early days. "Believe it or not, the very first school I went to was still segregated where people of color were on a certain side of the playground and white kids were on the other side. Since I was also considered a second-class citizen at the time, I was lumped with the black people. It was rough, but music was a common thread in our family that saved us."
Inspired by that common thread to pursue a career in music, Van Halen also indulged an experimental flair that later served him very well -- including, as he discussed in the interview, his decision to cobble together his 'Frankenstrat' guitar, pieced together from bits of different instruments.
"I'd say combining a Gibson with a Fender," he said in response to the interviewer's question about his most important innovation. "After that, every company on the planet made a guitar like that. Before that, there was no Fender or a Stratocaster-style guitar with a humbucker in it. "A lot of people had no idea what I was doing. ... And I didn't bother telling anyone because it was kind of my little secret."
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