“It felt like I had been training my whole life for that gig”: How Nuno Bettencourt ended up playing with Rihanna

Rihanna and Nuno Bettencourt
(Image credit: David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns via Getty Images)

Rock fans watching this year’s Super Bowl likely experienced a jolt of unexpected delight when they caught a glimpse of one of their own – Nuno Bettencourt, ever-present Washburn N4 in hand – performing alongside Rihanna during her halftime-show extravaganza. But while his screen time was exceedingly brief – “about 1.5 milliseconds,” he jokes – Bettencourt’s partnership with the international pop superstar, as many now know, stretches back more than a decade.

If some fans believe it to be a strange place for one of hard rock’s most lauded six-string shredders to end up, well, there’s precedent (Eddie Van Halen’s star turn with Michael Jackson on Beat It, for one; Bettencourt’s guest appearance on Janet Jackson’s radio edit of Black Cat, for another). Even so, Bettencourt understands the concerns. “A lot of people were probably thinking, ‘Why is Nuno doing a pop thing?’” he says. “The truth is, and I’m not bragging here, I feel I was kind of made for the gig.” 

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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.