Bassist Billy Sheehan Breaks Down Eddie Van Halen’s Technique in 1985 Guitar World Interview
Here’s our interview with bassist Billy Sheehan from the July 1985 issue of Guitar World. The issue was a special edition, a tribute to Eddie Van Halen, and Sheehan discussed the secrets of Van Halen’s playing style. The original story ran with the headline “Billy Sheehan’s Bass-Eye View of Edward Van Halen: From One Hammer-on To Another,” and the story started on page 78.
Billy Sheehan has probably received more worldwide press than any contemporary rock artist not on a major label.
In much of this coverage, Sheehan is referred to as “the Eddie Van Halen of bass,” a title based on Sheehan’s virtuosic command of the instrument, together with his ability to play fiery two-handed fretting moves — a technique Van Halen brought to national attention with his band’s debut album in 1978.
Since then, many guitarists have copied the double-fretting technique, but no bassist has been able to incorporate it into a personal repertoire with as much impact as Sheehan. And though Billy admits to being influenced by Eddie — ever since Sheehan’s band Talas toured the States with Van Halen in 1980, the two have remained in close contact — Sheehan has been experimenting with two-handed fretting since 1974.
GUITAR WORLD: There’s a controversy brewing as to whether you or Eddie began playing hammer-ons first.
As far as I know, we actually began playing them around the same time. But we both came up with it on our own. And it’s by no means a new thing. I mean, in the 1700s, Paganini was playing hammer-ons on the violin. So to say who was first and who’s best doesn’t really matter. I recently saw an issue of Down Beat from the fifties that showed a photo of a guitarist playing hammer-ons. And right now a jazz guitarist named Stanley Jordan does two-hand over-the-neck tapping. But there’s no “patents” and Ed Van Halen will admit that he doesn’t own any technique. However, he did popularize hammering, and for that he deserves credit for shining a whole new light on electric guitar.
What makes him so great?
He eliminated a lot of the stuff between the guitar and the amp. He does have a lot of effects in his rig, but he doesn’t rely on them. Ed uses his hands on the strings to get the sounds, and now a lot of the more advanced players have realized that they needn’t worry so much about pedals and effects. They’re concentrating more on just playing the guitar.
And there’s other ways that Ed has had influence — just the way he painted his guitar, for example — a lot of little things like that. The total scope of his influence may be greater than any guitarist ever.
In certain ways, yes! Not to take anything away from Jimi — he’s influenced me more than any other musician, not to mention the thousands of guitarists he’s also influenced — but Ed has literally gotten a whole generation of kids to go out and buy guitars. Not necessarily to play like him, but he’s inspired them just to play. Ed reaches such a broad group of people. He’s had a huge, huge effect on the guitar.
Eddie’s playing has even stirred the emotions of fellow musicians.
Well, I think a lot of the “name” guitarists — the same ones Ed has looked up to for years, since he was just starting out — have developed a snotty attitude toward him. Because here’s this new kid on the block coming and blowing all their doors off. Ed can bring out a lot of jealousy in people; it burns me up READ THE REST at GuitarWorld.com