“The first time I heard Eddie Van Halen, I was absolutely floored,” says former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick. “I was also petrified.”
TeamRock.com has put together an impressive collection of new quotes from guitar players talking about Van Halen’s first album:
When the debut album by Van Halen was released in early 1978, it was a bolt from the blue. For the older generation of guitarists, still in thrall to the likes of Hendrix, Clapton and Page, it was something entirely new. Eddie Van Halen’s playing a was a paradigm shift away from the blues rock template musicians had followed for a decade, and a step towards something altogether more futuristic. And for those musicians picking up the guitar for the first time, Van Halen was a dazzling, technicolour leap into the unknown, a different kind of template altogether.
Below, some of the world’s great guitarists reflect on the impact of Van Halen’s first album.
Scott Holiday (Rival Sons)
“I first heard this record when I was eight or so. My aunt was playing a cassette of it at a party, and so what I do? I stole it! I just took it right out of the tape player. I didn’t have the cover, so I made my own artwork and stuck it inside an empty case. I think I drew a picture of a hot guitar or something.
“Let me tell you, I wore that tape out. When it comes to guitar albums, it eclipsed everything else completely. I wasn’t playing guitar yet – I was sort of dreaming about it – so I didn’t know the difficulty factor in what I was hearing. If I’d been playing already, maybe I would have thought, ‘My God, how can somebody do this?’ To me, it just sounded like so much fun. I was like, ‘All right, I’m going for this. This sounds cool.’
“There’s total joy that comes out of Eddie’s playing. I mean, listen to Eruption – even if you don’t like shredding, you can still hear that this guy is having a blast. A jazz guy can hear it; a soul guy can hear it. It’s inarguably one of the most important guitar pieces ever recorded.”
Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge, Slash)
“That first Van Halen album was the one that got me wanting to play guitar. They were a huge deal in the States at the time. I heard Eruption and I was, like, ‘Oh, what’s that? I need to learn how to do it.’ I still don’t know how to play it, not well.”
Damon Johnson (Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders)
“Any of us that play electric guitar, young or old… if Scott Gorham was here he would have to tip his that to Van Halen, and I’ve got youngsters that come to our shows and we talk about guitars and they say the same thing. There was almost a punk energy in Eddie’s playing. There was this total recklessness in the way he played. Someone said it eloquently in a guitar magazine years ago; they said “Eddie plays like someone who’s falling down the stairs, and he always lands on his feet.”
When he launches into a solo you go ‘How does he think like that?!’ It’s like he just grabs the neck and tries to choke this expression out of it. And the tone, the whole brown sound thing, there’s nothing like it. As I think some other players I’m friends with, like Doug Aldrich or Richie Faulkner from Judas Priest, would say… we’re all still trying to get that sound. It’s a cascading sound, and Eddie wrote the book on that. There were virtuosos before him but they seemed to come more from jazz or fusion or places like that.
I saw Van Halen seven or eight times when I was a kid. The first time was 1980, when I was about to turn 16, and I saw them play Birmingham, Alabama. I met some of my friends in Birmingham, I had moved to a different town, but I had this group of friends and we were all music junkies together. So we all arranged to go and our parents dropped us off. And it was life-altering. Eddie gets so much attention for his lead-playing obviously, but he’s equally the best with his rhythm playing. It really helped guys like me look at the fretboard differently.”
Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme)
“For me what I always loved in a record was a mix of the guitar work but also great work from the whole band. But, I think from a guitar sound perspective Van Halen affected me a bunch of times. Van Halen’s first album was big for me. That showed me the kinds of sounds you could get out of an amp.
“It has great playing but also amazing tone. That album was a breakthrough for me and for a lot of people from my generation. That wasn’t the first guitar album that I loved but it was so important in terms of tone.
“The sound of that album was so alien to me that it might as well have been a spaceship flying over my house. Before that I loved Queen and Led Zep and you knew that was guitar. Then, all of a sudden I heard Van Halen and thought, ‘What is going on here?!’ It was a whole different world. The attack on that album is fantastic. The whole band was great as well, the songwriting was crazy.”
Paul Gilbert (Mr Big)
“This album is just unfair to everyone. Eddie’s innate musical genius ears, combined with the athletic prowess he got from eight-hours-a-day bedroom practicing, along with an indestructible rhythmic groove developed from jamming with his brother, results in a record of non-stop jaw-dropping awesomeness.
“Nobody knew what to do when this album came out. Imitation was fun but futile. The best thing to do was just go see the live show – to laugh, scream and join the party. And don’t forget David Lee Roth lines like, ‘Goddamn it, baby. I ain’t lyin’ to ya. I’m only gonna tell you one ti-ii-ime… AHHHHHHHH YAAAAAHHHH!’
“If we guitarists could just get our Variacs on the right setting, we could finally all get Eddie’s mythical tone. Pheeeeeshh, it ain’t the gear! I am starting to notice a pattern here, that many of the best rock musicians had fathers who played jazz clarinet. Wanna sound like Eddie? Better start digging Artie Shaw. ‘Bop na na shoobie doo-wah!’ Seriously, I’m way into the clarinet these days. Suddenly, all of those Woody Allen movie intros sound way more cookin’.”
Satchel (Steel Panther)
“This changed everything – for me and for everybody. What amazes me still is the economy of the sound and the minimalism of the arrangements. As incredible as Eddie’s playing is, he doesn’t pile on all kinds of needless stuff. It all sounds like one guitar performance throughout. Nothing is doubled or tripled. If you listen to this record on headphones, there’s one guitar and it’s only on one side, and it still sounds massive.
“There’s such a natural quality to it all. Like the Machine Head album, it sounds like Eddie is just winging it, playing whatever comes to him. But you know that’s not the case – the band played these songs live all over L.A. clubs, so they obviously had this stuff down cold. The whole thing is pretty magical.”
Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake)
“Nobody had ever heard something like this. It was completely groundbreaking. I was at a school for creative kids in Vermont, and one of the kids there had the Van Halen record. I checked it out, and I stole it from him – it’s one of the only things I ever stole. I feel bad now, but there was no way I was gonna give this back. Forget it.
“I listened to it every day and thought it was amazing, but I wasn’t really influenced by it – not really, I don’t think. I got the idea of tapping from Eddie, but I couldn’t do it like him. I tried learning Eruption, but I just couldn’t do it justice.
“Still, it was exciting and it felt very vital. The band was a three-piece, with the greatest solos you ever heard. It seemed as if the needle was going to jump off the record because the music was so alive and forceful. Fantastic songs, an incredible singer and guitar playing that knocked you on the floor. What more could you want?”
Continue reading at TeamRock.com for their quotes from Jason Becker, DJ Ashba (Guns N’ Roses, Sixx A.M.), Alex Skolnick (Testament), Kiko Loureiro (Megadeth), Bruce Kulick (Kiss, Grand Funk Railroad), & John 5 (Rob Zombie).