Book Review: Tonechaser – Understanding Edward: My 26-Year Journey with Edward Van Halen by Steve Rosen

While there have been many books chronicling Eddie Van Halen’s life and music, Steve Rosen’s Tonechaser is by the far the most detailed and personal remembrance of Eddie by a journalist. It’s not strictly business, and is neither a critical/historical analysis of Eddie’s music, or a frothy, skim-the-surface bio. The books consists mostly of Q and A interviews, and the discussions center around music for 98% of the book, sprinkled with personal asides from the author.

A seasoned music writer, Rosen has penned books about Jeff Beck, Prince, Bad Company, Black Sabbath, and Randy Rhoads, among others. He’s contributed to Guitar Player, Guitar World, Classic Rock, and several other music publications. Rosen is also a songwriter and has a collection over 60,000 guitar picks. He first met Eddie in June 1977 at the Whisky A Go-Go when a mutual friend introduced them.

Rosen had been tapped to write Eddie’s authorized biography in the ‘80s by the man himself.  Unfortunately, that never came to fruition during Eddie’s life. Although Rosen continued to hang out with Eddie and interview him, he didn’t compile the interviews into a book til 2020, and completed it in 2021. The title Tonechaser comes from a 2003 interview Rosen conducted with Van Halen. “I’m a tonechaser,” Eddie says, “I’m always chasing tone. It’s that elusive thing you hear in your head that you just quite can’t get.”

Tonechaser is much different than most collections of interviews between a journalist and artist. It’s shop talk about guitars, the songwriting process, and the music business, but Eddie is unguarded in his answers, and offers a lot of information that a person usually only reveals to a friend. One gets the sense that Eddie feels comfortable talking to Rosen; it’s almost like he’s shooting the breeze with a pal. There is one heartbreaking passage where Eddie becomes very emotional when discussing his Dad Jan’s death.

Unlike Andrew Bennet’s Eruption in the Canyon which documents one era of Eddie’s creative life, Tonechaser is a compilation of interviews Rosen conducted with Eddie from 1978 to 2003. (There was a sizable gap for several years after Eddie inexplicably cut off their friendship.) Read through the interviews and Rosen’s comments, you can follow Eddie’s journey, musically, and as an authentic musician navigating the murky waters of the music industry. It’s rather disheartening to compare the earlier interviews in the ’70s/early ’80s with the occasional bitterness that creeps in later as squabbles with Ed’s bandmates, and the business side of his career, compete with music for his attention.   

Although the book is about 600 pages long, it’s easy to read due to the Q and A format of the interviews and the conversational tone of Rosen’s notes and musings. There are also snippets from interviews he conducted with Alex, Sammy, Dave, and various VH mentors and associates (including Eddie’s college music teacher) near the end of the book.

The book is a 7″ x 10″ hardcover. It features several photos of Eddie with the author, plus other mementos including a copy of the original book contract drawn up in 1985. A Neil Zlozower photo of Eddie graces the cover. (Zlozower’s latest book of his EVH photos, ED by ZLOZ, was published in 2022.)

Tonechaser gets in-depth about Eddie’s musical genius in his own words, but it also gives us unfiltered glimpses of the man behind the music.

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Jade Blackmore

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