Eddie Van Halen Opens Up in his First Guitar World Interview From 1981, Part 1
In 1981, Eddie Van Halen discusses roots, technique and his love of Cream-era Eric Clapton.
Your current trio and a singer format is not much different than Cream. Have you ever thought of working with another guitarist?
I've never played with another guitarist because I make enough sound on my own. What I loved about Cream is that everybody had to put out It was three people making all this noise and you could hear each person. The Allman Brothers' feel is something I never got into. Duane was an excellent slide guitarist, but I never cared for Dickie Betts. I found their music too cluttered for my taste.
In your Clapton days, I'm sure you did some intense studying on the instrument. Do you still work as hard to improve your playing?
Yes, but I don't call it practice. This will sound real funny to you, but we tour for eight weeks and then take eight days off. When I'm home on a break, I lock myself in my room and play guitar. After two or three hours, I start getting into this total meditation. It's a feeling few people experience, and that's usually when I come up with weird stuff. It Just flows. I can't force myself. I don't sit down and say I've got to practice.
Can you be specific about how you play better today than, say, when the first album was released?
I don't consider myself a better player. I consider myself different. With the technical ability I have, I can play just about as fast as I'd like to play. Any faster at the volume I play, and I'd have distortion. So technically there's no reason to get any faster.
But do you still reach any new plateaus?
Sure I do.
Can you point some out on your records?
The solo on "Cradle Will Rock" is different. One guitar player who I respect and think is the baddest, is Allen Holdsworth. I do one short lick on "Cradle" which is very spontaneous. That came out because I've been listening to this guy. On the second album I expanded a little more on harmonics.
You're talking about hitting false harmonics by using your right hand to hit the fretboard?
Yes. First I just used my first finger on the right hand to hit a note (Heard on "Eruption" from the first Van Halen album). Then I discovered the harmonic by hitting the fret an octave above where the left hand is positioned. Now I'm expanding on that, by using all the harmonics in between the octave. I also use the slap technique, which I got from black bass players. Jimi Hendrix influenced me on how to hold the pick when I do the harmonics. I saw the Hendrix movie and discovered where the pick goes when it disappears. He holds it between the joints of his middle finger. I pick weird too. I use the thumb and the middle finger.
One thing that strikes me about your playing is that of all the high-energy players, you don't take long guitar solos.
I haven't heard anyone do a long interesting guitar solo outside of early Clapton. I do a guitar solo in the live show which is long, and some people may think boring, but I have fun. Clapton was my favorite. With his feel he'd hit one note where someone else would hit twenty, and his one would do something to you, whereas the other person's twenty would leave you flat.
Stay tuned for Part two of this story.
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