Guitarist Greg Howe said when it came to creating rock and roll music that could really swing, there was nobody better than Eddie Van Halen.
“For me Eddie Van Halen, honestly, was the king of swing when it comes to rock guitar players,” said Howe in a recently released clip of Dweezil Zappa’s podcast Runnin’ With The Dweezil. “I don’t know that I’ve heard a rock guitarist swing as hard as he did. And it was natural. The fact that he didn’t even know that he was actually doing that and he just calls it boogie, in a weird way just goes to show you that it was kind of just in him. It was just a natural thing.
“He was, what, 22 years old, or 21 or 23 or something when he did that first album? And he had that already which is really pretty astounding,” he continued. “I work with a lot of young players and a lot of guys with great chops but it’s not as common to find guys that can really swing like that; especially in an aggressive rock band.”
Howe went on to demonstrate the swing in Eddie’s riff to the Van Halen songs “I’m The One” and “Beautiful Girls”.
“When Eddie would swing it’s really swing. He’s really swinging,” said Howe. “I remember being a kid and practicing [starts playing opening riff to ‘Beautiful Girls’], just the opening, ya know that pickup, and just that alone was a challenge and yet when you hear him do it as a young guy you can tell that he’s not trying to do it, it’s just in him. It almost feels like it’s easier for him to do that than not to.”
Zappa later added that it was the addition of Alex Van Halen on drums and Michael Anthony on bass that made the swing in Van Halen swing that much better.
“All of what you’re talking about, it really also depends on the degree in which the musicians that you’re playing with can also ride that same wave,” said Zappa. “If you get musicians that can really swing together then the whole thing is about, ‘OK how can we make people feel? How can we get this thing to move like its own organism. And that’s where [Van Halen] were really anomalies in the world of rock because Alex and Edward together, they made that swing happen and Michael Anthony had to actually become the foundation and be the guy that kept the straight thing happening…”
“Yes, yes, that was his role,” agreed Howe. “He was the glue. He was the middle point that kept it all working together.”
Listen to the entire segment below: