Guitarist Dweezil Zappa said Van Halen’s 1981 album ‘Fair Warning’ marked the moment the band was firing on all cylanders.
“For me that was the apex of the creativity of the band,” said Zappa during an interview with Sunset Sound Records. “The sonic character of that record is what I wanted to hear more and more of.”
Zappa and host Drew Dempsey sat in Studio 2 at Sunset Sound where Van Halen tracked and mixed their early albums. Along with talking about his 40-year friendship with Eddie, he discussed ‘Fair Warning’ being his favorite album.
Dempsey gave Zappa even more reason to be intrigued with ‘Fair Warning’ when he brought up a story he had heard involving Eddie writing most of the album on the piano.
“That I did not hear,” said Zappa. “It’d be interesting to know what translated from the piano. I can hear possibly ‘Sunday Afternoon In The Park’.”
Van Halen – “Sunday Afternoon In The Park”
Zappa said the most unique moment on ‘Fair Warning’ is Eddie’s prominent tapping intro to “Mean Street”.
“Still, hands down, if you hear that and you’ve never seen what it is and you’ve just listened to it, you can’t even picture how that’s coming out of the guitar or what’s even happening there,” said Zappa. “I’m sure he had to have been thrilled with what that was. How could you not as a guitar player? It’s just amazing.”
Van Halen – “Mean Street”
Zappa pointed out a concert performance of “Mean Street” in which Eddie did something he may have never done before or since.
“I actually heard something on a live concert they did in 1981, it’s from Greensboro, North Carolina,” said Zappa. “I’ve never heard it on any other version of ‘Mean Street’. When he’s doing the tapping pattern, the rhythm pattern, at the beginning, he adds another part to it in the live solo that I’ve never heard anywhere else and it never made an appearance on a record. It’s one of the coolest things that ever happened.
“He took that idea even further,” he continued. “It’s this weird little descending part of that tapping thing. I heard it and it really spoke to me because it’s really hearing the advancement of that thing in a way that he never did beyond that.”
Here is Eddie’s performance of “Mean Street” from August 25th, 1981 in Greensboro, NC:
Zappa said, “Sometimes [Eddie] would do things that were spontaneous that would trigger something in him where he was like, ‘Wow! I don’t think I can do that again’. It’s just that thing that happened right then and there.
“Any musician that is tuned in to what’s happening right in the moment, that is the thing that you live for,” he continued. “To have something happen that can only happen in a singular moment and an audience that can see that, that’s unique to them? It’s that special thing, it can’t be recreated. It’s just that one time and place.”
Dempsey and Zappa went on to discuss the track “Unchained” and the story that Eddie may have recorded his guitar parts on it without producer Ted Templeman knowing.
Dempsey said, “[Guitarist/Producer Doug Messinger] told us that he stopped by during the ‘Fair Warning’ session and during the tracking of ‘Unchained’ there was a big fight. Eddie stormed out, Ted stormed out. Then Eddie came back with Don [Landee, VH engineer] that night and re-tracked the guitar on ‘Unchained’ and Ted never knew about it. Did you hear that?”
Zappa responded, “I’ve heard of stories of that and I was assuming it would have been overdubs or textural things but I don’t know. It would be great to know what happened.
“That is just the coolest riff [on “Unchained”],” he continued. “The first couple of seconds when it comes on I will never not get super psyched to just be energized by the power of that riff and that guitar sound, the flanger and all that stuff.”
Van Halen – “Unchained”:
Zappa spotlighted another track from ‘Fair Warning’ – “When Push Comes To Shove”.
“[On ‘Fair Warning’] he had taken it to the very height of his creative powers. The ‘Push Comes To Shove’ solo – the best solo that he ever did, for me,” said Zappa.
Van Halen – “When Push Comes To Shove”:
Zappa was asked if there are any specificic unreleased Van Halen tracks he’d like to hear and he once again focused on ‘Fair Warning’.
“I know there was an alternative version of ‘Hear About It Later’ that had a different section in it that never made it to a record,” said Zappa. “I talked with Ed about it and there was this really cool riff that was introduced. You know how it has the breakdown section for the solo and the cowbell and all that stuff? There was a different riff that happened there.
“And then Ed did this other solo that was very Alan Holdsworth-inspired,” he continued. “It kinda had some stuff where he just took it a little outside. That might have been one of the things that maybe they were coming back in and doing late at night and maybe didn’t get a chance to make it to the record ‘cuz maybe Edward was like, ‘Aahh I don’t know, that’s takin’ it a little too far outside. But THAT…that’s what I wanna hear, something from that era.”
Van Halen – “Hear About It Later”:
Part 2 of Zappa’s interview can be viewed below. In it he talks about the possible unreleased Van Halen recordings to come, the last memories and interactions he had with Eddie and more:
Dweezil Zappa currently hosts a podcast devoted to Van Halen called Runnin’ With The Dweezil. He also recently launched a project for artists titled Reward Music – a vehicle to create career sustainability for artists of every genre.