Chris Holmes Talks W.A.S.P., Eddie Van Halen, Touring with Metallica and More

(Image credit: Florence MF Photos)

He's best known as the guitarist from Eighties metal mavericks W.A.S.P. and for one particularly iconic drunk-as-a-skunk movie scene, but what Guitar World readers really want to know is...

I love your most recent solo record, Shitting Bricks. how did it come together? and what are you going for on your solo albums? —Sancho Goodyear

Over the previous, I would say four to eight years, I worked with Phil Taylor from Motörhead. We worked together on the first solo record I had, called Nothing to Lose. For Shitting Bricks, right before I came over to Finland I had some time off in L.A. and Vegas and I decided to write the songs. Then I put them on a hard drive and brought them over here and mixed everything. They were done mostly in America. But it took a year to mix it over here and get it done.

I’m in the middle of the process of doing a third one now. As for what I’m going for on my solo albums, I couldn’t tell you. I just play whatever feels good at the time. You get an idea and you go with it from there. My wife has asked me not to swear on this one so I gotta consider that. [laughs]

What led you to leave America and move to France a few years ago? —Mike Schoenfeld

Beating around the bush in L.A. for 10 years trying to find a group to play with. I just couldn’t hook it up right. So three years ago, I had a chance to play with a group in Finland and I went over there with the intention of coming back to L.A. Then we decided to visit my wife’s parents in France and I found some guys to play with so we decided to stay.

There’s a lot of places to play over here. The rock scene’s a little better, I think, than it is in America. They still listen to hard rock over here. There’s not too much hip-hop and not too much rap. I’m not saying that music’s bad, it’s just not my genre. I don’t play that stuff.

What was your main guitar and amp setup in the W.A.S.P. days, and what are you using now? —Jonathan Green

My main guitar back in the day was a Charvel Jackson. A yellow bolt-on Star. It’s the same one I use now. I’ve broken it about five times—I just glue it back together and put a new neck on it. The amps were Marshall Super Leads, 1971 or ’72, 100-watt tops. I used a Nady [Wireless], and I went into a parametric equalizer, then a Lexicon [effects] processor and then into the Marshalls.

I still have some of my Jacksons I had 30 years ago. They made some guitars that stand up to the test of time. I mean, I’ve beaten the shit out of them and they still work! I have a V, one of the first I ever got from Jackson. And I have a custom one, it was called the Headless Children guitar, but I repainted it and it has a CHP sticker on it. I got that in about 1987 or ’88. And I use a Line 6 cordless with a Marshall JMP preamp. After that I go into the Lexicon processor. I split it to stereo sound and then I have a stereo Marshall power amp. It’s 100 watts per side.

Then I also have a few Jackson Randy Rhoads models. Grover Jackson was really cool to me. In 1983 he endorsed me before we even had a record deal. And I told him if he did I’d always play his guitars. And they gave me everything I’ve ever wanted. Never had a problem with them. Although I had to sell a few to get back home a few times in certain bands! So these days I only have about four [guitars]. You can only play one at a time anyway. And the more you have the more you have to drag around. Or pay for in storage. [laughs]

Why wasn’t the song “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)” included on the original version of W.A.S.P.’s 1984 self-titled debut? —Chris Paulson

We recorded that before we actually did the record down at Cherokee [Studios]. Once we got the deal with Capitol, that was going to be the first single. But Capitol didn’t wanna put it out because it had the word “fuck” in it. That’s why it went out as a single. We did it in England as an import. And then the PMRC thing, they held that thing up on the news. Remember Tipper Gore? I remember I was at home living with my mom. I was watching the news and she held up “Animal.” And I go, “Mom, check this out! Channel 2 news! Look!” [laughs]

Is it true that Eddie Van Halen used one of your guitars on an early Van Halen album? —Ron Wysocki

Yeah. I grew up in the town that borders Pasadena, and back then Van Halen would play backyard parties. I probably saw them play about 50 or 60 of ’em. I met Eddie at a party and we became friends. He just has real talent. A big inspiration to me. I don’t really try to play like him but just being around the environment and stuff, there’s a lot of things I learned. Anyway, the guitar was an Ibanez Destroyer. He had one and I had gotten the same exact guitar. It was from probably 1977.

And in ’78 I got in a motorcycle accident and I was laid up in a hospital. Eddie had just gotten off the first Van Halen tour and he had taken his guitar and cut a big V out of the back of it. And it changed the tone of the guitar. Made it a lot more trebly. And he knew I had one and so he came and visited me in the hospital and asked to borrow it for their record. And I said, “Yeah.” And he left his V, the one that he cut up, at the house so I had a guitar when I got home. The one on the cover of Women and Children First is the one he loaned to me. And he used mine on Van Halen II or Women and Children First.

Then he went out on the road and I got out of the hospital. I wanted my guitar back so I went over to his mom’s. I go, “Hey, my guitar’s here…” And she said, “Look in his room.” I went back in his room and found it and it didn’t even have a bridge or a pickup in it, the prick! [laughs]

I love the way W.A.S.P. looked in the early days. Was your image inspired by The Road Warrior? —Bradley Fain

Yeah. The movie had just come out. I didn’t like the little glittery, glam clothes. I was not gonna wear that crap. I was gonna wear leather. Road Warrior–type stuff. And so we took on that kind of image. And there were a few things in the movie that we put in the stage show, like the torture rack. Remember how there were people tied to the front of Humungus’ car, with the hoods on their heads? That’s exactly where that came from. And we had an abundance of women that wanted to do the torture rack. They were excited to be onstage naked!

After you guys put out the W.A.S.P. album you went on the road with Metallica, who were touring behind Ride the Lightning. What was that like? —Stephen Lapter

It was great, man. We were around the same age. It was a madhouse. Because they’re California boys. I remember partying with Cliff Burton all the time. Yeah, that was a drunk fest. We played in Buffalo once and it was such a snowstorm. Cliff had gotten off the bus up by Niagara Falls, he got off at customs and didn’t get back on. He got off to take a leak and they took off and left him there! We both played the show but it was snowing so bad there were only four or five people in the audience.

But they were cool. We were all friends. We’d all end up at the same hotels just trashing each other’s rooms and stuff. We were having a good time. And on Master of Puppets if you read the thank you’s, they thank [former W.A.S.P. drummer] Steve Riley and me. It says thanks to Chris “Hey Shitfuck” of W.A.S.P. That was my nickname: “Shitfuck.” They’re cool guys, man.

You’ve been touring across Europe with your band Mean Man. Any plans to hit America? —Phil Tencic

Yeah. If the right tour comes up and the right setup, definitely. It’s just over here it’s a lot easier for me to get my band going. And I play with people that aren’t American. So the personalities are a lot different. My guitar player and the drummer speak fluent English. My bass player not so much. He speaks French. So it’s kinda fun explaining the songs to him! When he sings in English it’s kind of funny. But he’s learning it a little bit better. So, yeah, we’ll see!

I’ve read about how in the early days of W.A.S.P. you guys would throw raw meat at your audiences. what was that all about? —Joe Lopez

Well, Blackie [Lawless, W.A.S.P. frontman] used to eat worms in [pre-W.A.S.P. band] Sister, just to flip out the audience. So the boss decided to chop up some meat onstage once, and then he starts throwing it in the audience. And I was watching him and, you know how with basketball players, they’ll be going down to the other end of the court with the basketball and they’re looking one way but they throw the ball the other way and the person can’t tell where you’re throwing it? I told him to do that.

“Point over here, but out of the corner of your eye throw it over there and you’ll hit the person. They won’t believe it’s coming!” So it was kinda entertainment for the band.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.