Eddie Van Halen showed a 12-year-old Dweezil Zappa how to play Runnin’ With the Devil at his school talent show rehearsal

Gibson TV’s The Collection series has presented us with a tour of the awesome stashes of artists like Joe Bonamassa and Brian Ray, and the company’s newest episode, with Dweezil Zappa, is similarly impressive.

In addition to the six-string eye candy – which includes a number of odd and obscure electric guitars, many of his father’s original instruments, fretless and half-fretted guitars and a microtonal model, Zappa also opens up about his longterm relationship with Eddie Van Halen.

Recalling the first time he ever met Eddie, Dweezil tells Mark Agnesi:

“I was 12 years old I had been playing guitar for maybe seven, eight, nine months max. But I was listening only to Fair Warning and Van Halen, that was just on a loop. We would switch from one to the other.

Dweezil Zappa tells Gibson TV about meeting Eddie Van Halen

(Image credit: Gibson TV)

“But one day, out of nowhere, the phone rang. And you pick up the house line and you don’t know who it is. So my mom picks up and it’s some guy purporting to be Edward Van Halen. But of course I want his person to be Eddie Van Halen because, you know, that’s the coolest thing ever!”

Dweezil continues, “My dad ends up getting on the phone, they talk for a few minutes and then 15 minutes later he’s at the house. So it was Eddie Van Halen, and he shows up at the house and at the bottom of the staircase there’s some kind of lighting. So he’s backlit and he’s coming up the stairs and he’s carrying a guitar, and it’s not in a case. He’s holding a guitar, and for me it’s like. he was backlit with a smoke machine and Mean Street is already playing, you know?

“So he’s walking up the steps and it turns out he’s in the Women and Children First jumpsuit. He’s got this guitar and it’s a Kramer guitar before he was talking about endorsing Kramer, so there’s a piece of tape over the headstock logo. It’s a purple guitar with two humbuckers in it and without even really getting into the, ‘Hi, how are you?’ it was, 'Okay – play Eruption.’

“It was this amazing moment of, here’s this guy that I’ve heard so much, never seen him close. When you how someone really does what they do, where they play it, what strings they’re playing it on, that was burned into my mind. There’s no way I would ever forget exactly what he played.”

According to Dweezil, that was the coolest experience…until the next coolest experience. That came a few weeks later, when Dweezil was preparing to play at a school talent show and Eddie showed up at a soundcheck and watched him and his 12-year-old friends play Runnin’ with the Devil.

“I’m not only playing one chord wrong – but my guitar’s not staying in tune,” Dweezil recalls.

Eddie then proceeded to drive home and return with a Kramer guitar, which Dweezil is holding in his hands as he tells the story.

“Originally it was cream-colored with an orange lightning bolt, like Shazam,” he says. “He brings that guitar back and he puts it on me and he says, ‘You’re playing it wrong.’ And he stands behind me, he counts it off with the kids and he does the picks slides, the whole thing. It was the craziest experience.”

The next day, Dweezil continues, “I called him and thanked him and said, ‘Hey, if you want to come grab your guitar…’ And he said, ‘No, you can keep that guitar.’

“So I kept the guitar, I painted it, this was my homage to the Schwinn bicycle-style painting of Van Halen-esque guitars. I painted it when I was 13.”

As for what Dweezil thinks was most special about Eddie?

“The thing about Ed, he was the first person that called me when my dad died,” he says. “When you have friends that step up and do something for you, it matters. But it was unexpected that it would be him who would call me first, at like 5:15 in the morning – ‘Hey what can I do?’

Dweezil concludes, “He was a guy that was inspired in the moment and would just go for something. If it had to happen right then he would just do it. I think that’s an amazing quality and I learned from that myself as well. Because if you’re inspired and you can see you can get from point A to point B, why waste time? Why not just do it right now?”

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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.