The other day, I was in the office when “Unchained” by Van Halen came on the radio.
I’d not listened to the band for a while, but in those three minutes and 31 seconds, I was reminded of just how formidable a guitarist Eddie Van Halen is.
There are plenty of influential guitarists in rock n’ roll, sure, but few are true gamechangers in the way that Eddie Van Halen was.
So, in celebration of this, I thought it’d be fun to scour the web for some of Van Halen’s words of wisdom when it comes to guitar playing. You can check out my picks below, and feel free to share some of your own in the comments!
On influences, via Guitar Interactive (lost interview with Steve Rosen, 1978):
“Since the last five or six years, I really haven’t been into any one guitarist; I like everybody. I’ve listened to Blackmore and Beck; especially Wired, I like some of that stuff. Before that I just never really got into him. I didn’t like him with Beck, Bogert & Appice. But the main guitarist I’d say that influenced me to play the most was Clapton. I used to love the way he played; he was real smooth and a lot of feeling. Every review I ever read of the album or my playing it’s always Blackmore, Beck, and Page influence. But I never really sat down and copped their licks like I did Clapton. I guess a lot of people think I sound like Beck or Blackmore because I do use the bar and they do also so it kinda gets the same kinda sound. The only thing Blackmore got me hooked on was the whammy bar. Because I never really liked the way he played that weird staccato stuff. But I feel a lot of my licks are different than theirs. Like the wide stretch things I do I try and make it sound a little bit different.”
On the importance of keeping it real, via Esquire:
“Eric Clapton is Eric Clapton. Nobody does Clapton better than him. Nobody does Hendrix better than Hendrix. Music is an individual form of expression and if you start second guessing or trying to be something you're not… We're not trying to be anything other than who we are. You know a lot of people look at[David Lee Roth], and they trip on him. And they go, "What's up with this guy?" You know? I mean back in '78, we went to Europe, and there were like a bunch of gangsters, and people looked at him like they didn't get it. You know? But eventually they did because he means it. It's not an act. What you see is real. It's not an act. That's who he is.”
On imitators of his two-handed tapping, via Billboard:
“That was a different trip. It was like, ‘What the hell did I start here?’ Because[that technique] had been a part of my playing for so long, and then everybody else started doing it. I did not take it as flattery. But it ultimately didn’t matter, because I still play that way and none of those other people stayed with it.”
On performing on “Beat It” with Michael Jackson, via Billboard:
“I think it’s funny the way people talk about that. It was 20 minutes of my life. I didn’t want anything for doing that...I literally thought to myself, ‘Who is possibly going to know if I play on this kid’s record?’ So I went to the studio and listened to the song twice, and I didn’t like the section they wanted me to solo over. They wanted me to solo over the breakdown. I asked [Thriller producer] Quincy Jones to edit the chords underneath the solo. Then I could play the solo in the key of E, but it was the chords underneath that made the solo interesting. So I guess I did rearrange it.”
On what to do when you make a mistake, via Van Halen News Desk:
“The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was from my father, at an early age when we were making music. I would make mistakes and I’d ask, “what do you do?” And he’d say, in Dutch, ‘gewoon door blijven gaan,’ which means ‘keep pedalling through. Don’t stop and don’t let the audience know you made a mistake. Or, smile and do it twice, then people will think you meant it!’”
What’s your favourite Van Halen moment? Share your stories in the comments!
Cal Jam doesn’t get the same love as festivals like Monterey Pop or Woodstock. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have the late ‘60s countercultural cred, happening a full five years after the summer of love reached its peak. Maybe it’s because it was staged to be filmed for television (as part of ABC’s legendary “In Concert” series). Why do I love California Jam so much? It is because it established the record for the largest concert sound system ever assembled? Was it because it featured the first ever appearance of the Good Year blimp at a music festival?
Guitar lessons eventually followed. But, classical guitar didn’t grab me in the same way that my own freeform compositions had. Firstly, I didn’t know any of the songs I was supposed to be learning. Secondly, it required the kind of co-ordination and finger dexterity that I was – at that time at least – far too impatient to master. “I read somewhere that there are these things you can use to hit the strings so you don’t have to use your fingers. I think they began with a P,” I once told my guitar teacher. “The thing that begins with a P is called practice,” he replied. He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear it.
This week, to satisfy my yearning for live music, I’ve taken a deep dive into my record collection and rediscovered some live favourites. Given how much joy I’ve got out of these records, I thought I’d share them with you today. Putting together this list, I’ve tried to take the road less travelled. I didn’t want to put together a list of classic live albums that everyone already knows like the back of their hand. Instead, my three picks serve as alternatives to some of those classic albums, offering a new look at some legendary bands.