Tony Iommi and Eddie Van Halen Discuss Their Careers, Friendship and the Past Three Decades of Our Favorite Instrument
For that matter, the only signs that the music industry ever existed in Hollywood are Guitar Center’s Rock Walk and the handful of clubs that are still holding out, like the Whisky a Go Go, Roxy Theater and Key Club, which these days are more likely to feature sound-alike tribute bands than up-and-coming talent.
While the challenges for guitar players who want to enjoy a long, prosperous career in the music industry may be more daunting than ever, Iommi and Van Halen still inspire hope the same way they did 30 years ago. Iommi tours regularly, and this year he released the acclaimed Heaven and Hell album The Devil You Know. Van Halen completed one of the decade’s biggest tours in 2008, and his EVH brand guitars and amplifiers provide players with some of the finest tools of the trade available today. If Iommi and Van Halen continue to infl uence players over the next decade the same way they have over the past 30 years, the future for the guitar and guitar players looks very bright indeed.
GUITAR WORLD: Both of you have had significant influence on guitarists over the past 30 years. Pretty much every metal band that has formed since the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the Eighties can trace its roots back to Black Sabbath.
TONY IOMMI It’s weird when all of these players from successful bands come up to you and go, “Without you I wouldn’t have done what I do.” I’m sure Ed feels the same way about all the Joe Satrianis and Steve Vais who were influenced by him.
In addition to the shred phenomenon, it seems like every rock band in the Eighties that came to Hollywood was trying to follow in Van Halen’s footsteps.
EDDIE VAN HALEN All those hair bands that played the Hollywood clubs missed the most important part. They didn’t play weddings, bar mitzvahs, polkas and all that other shit way before the club days. My brother Alex and I used to do that. We would play at the La Mirada Country Club. My dad would play at the Continental Club every Sunday night, and we would sit in with him. He’d play at a place called the Alpine Haus off of San Fernando Road in the Valley, and we’d wear the lederhosen. Those polka songs are so weird. They’re all I-IV-V, but they’re like some odd country song. Alex and I actually played on the boat while we were coming to America. [Van Halen’s family emigrated from the Netherlands.] We played piano, and we were like the kid freak show on the boat. Music saved our family. My father, mother, brother and I came here with only 50 dollars and a piano. We lived in one room and played gigs on weekends.
Even in the early days of Black Sabbath, the band played some unglamorous gigs at working men’s clubs or in remote towns in northern Scotland.
IOMMI We used to play working men’s clubs and get thrown out quite often. They used to tell us to turn it down or we wouldn’t get paid. Well, since they weren’t paying us to begin with we’d turn it up even louder!
VAN HALEN When we used to play clubs we learned just enough Top 40 songs to get hired. At the gig you had to play five 45-minute sets, but most pop songs are three or four minutes long, so that’s a lot of tunes to learn! We figured we could play our own stuff and no one would care as long as the beat was there. One day we were playing at this club in Covina called Posh. We ran out of Top 40 tunes so we started playing our own music. The owner of the club walks up to us while we were playing a song and goes, “Stop! I hired you to play Top 40. What is this shit?” He told us to get the fuck out of there, and he wouldn’t let us take our equipment. We had to come back the next week to pick up our equipment. It was always that way. It was either “the guitarist is too loud” or “plays too psychedelic.” They always complained about me.
IOMMI We went through the same thing. In the early days we couldn’t get gigs in England, so we went to Europe. We were playing at this place in Zurich, Switzerland, and we had to play five 45-minute sets every day for three weeks, but on the weekend we played seven 45-minute sets. We didn’t have enough songs, so we’d go, “Drum solo!” Then the next set we’d do a guitar solo and then a bass solo, and that’s how we’d get through the night. They caught on to us, and during Bill Ward’s next drum solo someone walked up to us and went in broken English, “Shut the fucking hell up!” It was the owner’s daughter.
VAN HALEN That’s how jamming started.