An alien. A superhero. Those were a few of the titles that came to mind when guitarists Tom Morello, Nuno Bettencourt and John 5 recently attempted to describe the other worldly skills of Eddie Van Halen.
John 5 (David Lee Roth Band, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie) and Bettencourt (Extreme) recently appeared on Morello’s podcast Maximum Firepower to discuss the life and legacy of Eddie. The episode led off with the three sharing their stories of the profound moment they first heard Van Halen’s music.
“I remember this so clearly,” said John 5. “I was in my living room, my guitar teacher came over and it was probably 1978 when the [first Van Halen] album came out and he brought me the record. He played it for me and I was in such shock. I remember it so vividly because it had such an effect on my life and millions and millions and millions of other people as well. It just changed my life forever.”
Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) said he first heard Van Halen’s music coming from his mother’s car radio while in his teens living in Libertyville, Illinois.
“I heard ‘Runnin’ With The Devil’ on a Chicago radio station on a rainy day,” said Morello. “I was in my mom’s car, there was free swim at the high school and I was actually going with Adam Jones from Tool, [Adam and I] went to high school together, and we heard ‘Runnin’ With The Devil’ on the stereo and we didn’t understand what was happening. That descending ‘NYEEAAARRRR!!!!’ at the beginning. There were familiar touchstones to hard rock music that I had enjoyed before but it was something on an entirely different level.”
Bettencourt said his first time hearing Van Halen was outside of his brother’s bedroom door. It only left him wanting more.
“My brothers had the greatest album collection and I remember in ’78 when that [first Van Halen] album came out I was 12 years old,” said Bettencourt. “I kept hearing this sound coming out through the doors [of my brother’s room] through the week and I couldn’t help but wanna go in and find out what kind of sorcery that was coming through the door. I went in and, I remember it was a great stereo, [the] needle, I remember looking at the cover and I was staring at those four photos of them and how iconic that was. I dropped the needle and I heard that debatable reverse car horn or car horn going by and the little sprinkle of either ‘A’ – the springs or [‘B’] the nut, there’s been much debate [since]. And then, BOOM! When that bass started and the guitars came in, it was a wrap. [I had] this confused look of, like, ‘What is happening right now?’ You thought that was from another planet but then when you got to ‘Eruption’, which was right afterwards, then you were like, ‘Alright, aliens have landed. That’s it.’ The spaceship was hovering in the first song but then the aliens came out.”
When discussing Eddie’s skills, Morello directed the focus on an often overlooked EVH skill – rhythm guitar.
John 5 said, “His rhythm, it’s something you can’t learn, it’s just something you’re born with. Just like you Tom, or Nuno, it’s just inside you, it’s just undeniable. That’s how Eddie was. Of course, we all know he was a drummer first. He just had that natural, natural rhythm. Even hearing him rehearse or at rehearsal just messing around, it’s just such this natural groove. It doesn’t matter how long you sit in front of a metronome or in front of a drummer or drum machine it’s just something inside of you. I played with a lot of people that have it and a lot of people that don’t and Eddie definitely, definitely, had this natural groove to him, it was undeniable.”
Morello: “He’s in my top five all time rhythm guitar players. Of course his accolades come from the pyrotechnics and the lead stuff but the fact that [on] a lot of those records, there’s no rhythm guitar overdub whatsoever. They’re massive and they’re emotional and they’re heartfelt and they kick ass with just that one guitar and his hand on the strings.”
Bettencourt said it was hearing Eddie’s rhythm guitar playing that introduced him to a whole new aspect of the guitar.
“I think it was Van Halen and Eddie that taught me when I was listening to it going, ‘Wait a second.’ As we’re young guitar players and learning how to do scales and wanting to do the solos and everything, Eddie kinda pulled me back a little and [I] go, ‘Wait a second, you can have fun with the rhythm track.’ It’s a whole other three minutes of the song that you can explore and it’s not just waiting and playing some chords until you get to the great solo, all his stuff was just so fun. He was that guy that was doing – in between vocals [or] a vocal line – he would answer and do a really good pizzazzy kinda beautiful run. Nothing complex but just tasty. I think that’s when I realized, ‘Holy shit. There’s a whole other world in the rhythm playing that we need to pay attention to.'”
Morello, John 5 and Bettencourt had more to discuss regarding the life and legacy of Eddie Van Halen. You can hear the entire episode below: