A historic Van Halen event occurred during this month in 1988 which we never featured on the Van Halen News Desk until now…
After a break following Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock tour, Edward Van Halen paid tribute to the great guitarist, performer and inventor Les Paul, along with some other musical big wigs. Ed and Les had by now formed a genuine friendship. Les was 73 years old at the time.
Eddie Van Halen performed at this special concert tribute, titled Les Paul & Friends, along with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, the Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer, B.B. King, and Steve Miller, among others.
The event was broadcast on the Cinemax network on August 18, 1988 from the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, NY. This tribute was then released on home video (VHS) as “Les Paul And Friends,” which can be viewed below.
When Eddie Van Halen thanked Les for all he had done for modern music, part of the exchange went like this: “Without the things that you have done, I couldn’t do HALF the things that I can do now.” Les, interrupting, said, “Well, forget your married life . . .” Mr. Paul had a quite a sense of humor.
Ed performed a brilliant unaccompanied solo that started out with sound effects, into “Cathedral” – which of course he would not be able to perform without and a complex device for similar pedal which alas laid the groundwork for.
Edward then launched into a totally revamped instrumental version of “Hot for Teacher” which Ed called “Back Pain Boogie.” Ed swapped licks with Jan Hammer on synth and Tony Levin on bass. Les loved Ed’s performance, proclaiming it “Killer… killer!”
Ed also took part in the star-studded encore. (Watch it below).
Here’s what Les Paul said about Ed in the hardcover coffee table book Eddie Van Halen, by Neil Zlozower:
“I know all about Ed. I listen to his music and enjoy it. We had a mutual friend, and he used to bring Eddie’s records over to the house, so I kind of heard Eddie. And then my daughter used to live a short distance from where Eddie used to practice with his band out in Pasadena. My daughter used to live right near there, and I said, “Who’s the guitar player over there?” And so I heard Eddie before Eddie knew I was listening to him.
“Ed told me that once he had a Les Paul Junior and he had to play a slide overdub on a song [“Dirty Movies”]. It was a double-cutaway, but he couldn’t get up high enough on the neck, so he took a saw to it. I loved it!
Eddie’s finger-tapping and vibrato work were innovative. It’s something he developed that made him different than all other guitar players. Extremely different. He mastered it very well. Eddie proves a fellow can create his own thing, something that’s recognizable. It’s very intriguing, and it’s a great road to go down. It’s good to see someone out there that plays his way. That is what makes the man stand out from the boy.
Eddie Van Halen came up with his own thing. Okay, as far as I know, he may have copied it from some hillbilly, I don’t know. But it seems like he had his own thing going. And that alone, by itself, makes it very interesting. And the fact that he does it very well means he’s expressing a lot of things he had inside him that others don’t have. They just don’t play that way.”
Upon Les Paul’s death in 2009, Eddie issued the following statement:
“Les Paul was a pioneer, an innovator and a dear friend. I am deeply saddened at the news of his passing. It was truly an honour to have known him and sit around with him talking guitars. I am especially glad that he, my son Wolfgang and I had a chance to spend some quality time together in the past few years. I will miss him dearly.”
Also, Ed had been seen the night before at Fat Tuesday’s watching Les perform. Fat Tuesday’s is a club at which the Les Paul Trio used to perform every Monday night, but which has since been closed. Les asked Ed up on stage. Ed declined to play, but said he would be playing later in the week for the tribute. Here’s the video: