Eddie Van Halen in his own words: "I locked myself in my room, played guitar, wrote songs, and hoped to God I got somewhere"

Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

In this collection of Eddie Van Halen quotes – starting in 1981 and ending with a 2016 Guitar World interview – the guitarist discusses everything from Debussy to David Lee Roth’s first solo outing, from Eruption to Spanked, from college to Clapton, from his “Black Sabbath funk” to his beloved EVH guitars and amps.

The following interviews appeared in Guitar World magazine, and were conducted by John Stix, Tim Bradley, Steven Rosen, Bud Scoppa, Billy Cioffi, Joe Bosso, Billy Corgan, Vic Garbarini, Brad Tolinski, Greg Di Benedetto and Chris Gill.

The Natural (GW, January 1981)

“My Father has been a professional musician all his life, and he said, ‘Kid, you’ve got it,’ Some people have got it and some people don’t. Even people who don’t have it can practice long enough to get it down to a point. But there’s always a difference between a person who has the feel and those who don’t. 

“The difference is in the amount of emotion expressed in your playing. I listened to Debussy by two different pianists and it was like day and night. One guy had it and every note was beautiful. The other guy had lead fingers.“

College? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ College! (GW, November 1982)

“On stage, it's different… that’s my world, my life. I don’t have to deal with being accepted by jocks or bikers or that in high school. The band is a family and I’m accepted in that family. That’s what made me get into guitar, because I felt like I had nothing to lose. 

“If I couldn’t play guitar, I’d be pumping gas. I mean, I got a low IQ. When everybody graduated, all the rich guys going, 'Hey, which college are you going to?' and I’m going 'College?!? I just went straight back home, locked myself in my room, played guitar, wrote songs, and hoped to God I got somewhere.'”

 ...And a Song Called “Jump” (GW, January 1984)

“I think this next one is going to be a hellified record. The majority of the solos will be overdubs. It just depends on how it feels right. There’s a fast boogie called Hot for Teacher

“There’s another one called Anytime, Anyplace with a live solo in it. Lots of overdubs. My dad might play an intro for a song. There’s a song called Panama with a live solo. And a song called Jump.“

Crazy from the Heat (GW, July 1985)

“I think it's something [David Lee Roth] always wanted to do. I think it’s great he’s actually doing it. Put it this way – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and haven’t done. I guess in a funny way, it explains Dave as a vocalist and lyricist. 

“He did four cover tunes, but these songs do convey a message within him. California Girls, Easy Street, Just a Gigolo and one other one. But I’m sure it’s going to happen in the true Van Halen tradition even though it’s not Van Halen music.“

Numbers Game (GW, September 1986)

“The way we did [5150] is basically how I would have liked to have done all the previous records. And I think that’s another thing that maybe drove Dave away. Because for 1984, I built the studio and I started wanting to do things a little more my way, and I guess I turned some people off; I created a little friction. Not meaning to. I built the fucking story for the benefit of all of us, for the family, for the band.“ 

Pickin’ ’n’ Grinnin’ (GW, July 1988)

“I use my thumb and my middle finger when I pick. Actually, it depends. Normally, I pick like that, but when I do the hammer-on shit I hold it like that [wedges the pick between the first and second joints of his middle finger]... 

“You see a lot of people go [sticks the pick between his teeth], and I just had to figure out somethin’ else… And sometimes, when I use the wiggle stick, I hold it with my pinky and pick like that [holding the pick between his thumb and index finger, with the last three fingers slightly curled to form a fulcrum for the bar], pick the Mel Bay style – the way, I guess, you’re supposed to, up and down, up and down. 

“My bar is so loose that I don’t have to keep these fingers straight. Those are the three different ways that I lose a pick.“

Down on Diver Down (GW, February 1990)

“The 'half cover tunes' [Diver Down] pisses me off, ’cause at the time I had enough music of my own. You know that Mini-Moog riff that opens Dancing in the Street? I’d written that for my own song, but everybody wanted it for Dancing in the Street. I said, 'What?' So that’s why I built my own studio. 

“Put it this way: I’d rather bomb with my own songs than make it with someone else’s. I don’t buy the philosophy of 'If you redo a proven hit, you’re halfway there.' That way, you’re not there. I’ve played enough cover tunes.“

Van Halen

(Image credit: Ron Pownall/Getty Images)

Might As Well Spank! (GW, September 1991)

“Let me tell you where the title of [Spanked] comes from. Anyone who has ever spent any time in 5150 complains about the placement of our monitor speakers. They’re strange because the room used to be a racquetball court. So Andy Johns walks in for the first time and says, 'Hey, mate, your speakers sound kind of spanked.' Spanked! That killed me. When something is beat to shit, it’s 'spanked'. We quickly adopted it into our vocabulary and Sammy wrote a song around it.“

E.C. Was Here (GW, March 1992)

“The first concert I saw was Derek and the Dominos with Eric Clapton… To be honest with you, I was expecting something more powerful. If I would’ve seen Cream, I probably would’ve been blown away, because that’s the era of Clapton that I really loved. 

“The show was more of a Doobie Brothers Kind of thing — there was like this tambourine and bongo player. The power wasn’t there… Al and I tried to get backstage; unfortunately, Eric had already left, but we did get to meet the tambourine player! Swear to God! “

Getting Warmer… (GW, April 1996)

“The whole story behind Eruption is unusual. It wasn’t even supposed to be on the album. I showed up at the recording studio early one day and started to warm up because I had a gig on the weekend and I wanted to practice my solo guitar spot. 

“Our promoter, Ted Templeman, happened to walk by and he asked, 'What’s that? Let’s put it on tape!' So I took one pass at it, and they put it on the record. I didn’t even play it right. To this day, whenever I hear it, I think, 'Man, I could’ve played it better.'”

 Dressed for Success (GW, March 1998)

“It's all contrived. Even when I was in my twenties, or my teens, I knew music was about much more than that, But I dressed up funny and did all that stuff because it looked pretty silly with one guy up front dressed like that and me in the back being normal. So I played the game, so to speak. 

“But I knew what music was really about ever since my earliest memory of hearing my dad downstairs in his music room, holding just one note on his clarinet for as long as he could.“ 

Takin’ No Prisoners GW, August 2004

“I get easily bored playing the same thing, so I have given myself the freedom to change and play variations within the context of a song. Who made the rule that you have to play the same rhythm part under every verse? I’m not afraid to fall on my face. I think my ability has grown tenfold over what was on our early records, and it’s because I care so much. 

“I care so much that I don’t care. It means so much to me that I allow myself to fail. I’m very simple in my complication and very complicated in my simplicity. If I hear a sound in my head I will stop at nothing to achieve it, because I feel there is nothing given to me that can’t be achieved. It’s a matter of letting go and being open to any possibility. I don’t take prisoners ’cause I don’t know where to store ’em. [Laughs]“

Van Halen

(Image credit: Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage)

It’s His Thing (GW’s 30th-anniversary issue, late 2010)

“It's funny no matter how hard I tried to sound like the records – and I really tried – I always ended up sounding like me. We used to play It’s Your Thing by the Isley Brothers, but everyone thought it was a Black Sabbath song because I was playing it through a Marshall. 

“It was Black Sabbath funk! We would play Get Down Tonight by KC and the Sunshine Band – all that stuff. The stuff that was closest to my heart was Black Sabbath. But it was a blessing. If you play and play and play, after a while you discover the essence of yourself.“   

Wild Ride (GW, February 2014)

“Someone played me this new record once, and every song on it was the same beat. Most of the songs were even in the same key. You could barely distinguish between the songs. He said, 'Once you’ve got them, you don’t want to lose them.' That was so opposite of the way I think. 

“I like to listen to records that go through changes and take you for a ride. I like things that come out of left field and keep your interest, where each song holds up individually and together they make a well-rounded collection. I prefer to make records that you listen to from beginning to end. I’m really not into recording just singles.“  

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