Gene Simmons: “Eddie Van Halen talked about being a fan of Eric Clapton. I’m sorry, I don’t see that. What he did was closer to classical music”

(from left) Eric Clapton, Gene Simmons and Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Harry Herd / Francesco Prandoni / Fin Costello / Getty)

Gene Simmons recently spoke to Louder to offer his reflections on the late, great Eddie Van Halen. In the piece, Simmons recalls witnessing early Van Halen shows, his friendship with EVH and, in the process, dismisses comparisons to the late electric guitar icon’s own hero, Eric Clapton.

Instead, says Simmons, “Eddie was a complete guitar symphony in his own right” and, as such, the frontman maintains EVH had more in common with classical composers than blues-based players.

“What really intrigued me about Van Halen was that they came out of nowhere,” says Simmons. “Edward has talked about being a fan of [Eric] Clapton. I’m sorry, I don’t see that. Where other guitarists were inspired by B.B. King or Albert King, Edward was playing majors and minors and flat-thirds. What he did was closer to classical music.”

Elsewhere in his Louder interview, Simmons recalls the first time he saw Van Halen perform (at Hollywood club The Starwood in 1976) and says that – contrary to popular myth – he did not discover the band, stating “I just happened to be there.” 

That popular myth, of course, may have been down to Simmons previously telling Howard Stern “I discovered Van Halen” – but either way, he was there. 

“I saw them that night and was left incredulous,” recalls Simmons in his Louder interview. “I stood at the front of the stage and couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. This was one man making all of these sounds with his bare human hands?”

At that point, Simmons says, Van Halen’s talent was already clear, and the guitarist had already started trying to protect some of his trade secrets.  

“In those early days Ed would sometimes stand with his back to the audiences because he didn’t want to give his tricks away,” remembers the Kiss icon. “But even if you saw how he played those licks, how could you possibly emulate them?”

Later in the piece, the frontman argues that the quality of Van Halen’s compositions is often overlooked, and says he is concerned about modern audiences overlooking the legacy of the guitar icon. 

“As much as his death was upsetting, it also made me a little furious that so many of our so-called ‘younger generation’ remain unaware of his talents,” says Simmons. 

“For fuck’s sake, parents should be slapping mobile phones out of their kids’ hands and telling them to check out this guy. Our millennials need to know about the most important musician since Jimi Hendrix. There will never be another like him.”

Most millennials are now pushing 40, so Simmons' rant is seemingly actually aimed at Gen Z, or maybe just yunguns’ in general. 

Regardless, given that cohort seems to contain some of the more technically gifted and musically open-minded players we’ve seen yet – not least of them Eddie Van Halen’s own son, Wolfgang – perhaps that legacy is not in as much danger as the Kiss man fears.

Indeed, Eddie Van Halen’s Hot For Teacher Kramer recently sold for almost $4,000,000, suggesting he’s hardly fallen off the radar….

To read Gene Simmons' full interview, head to Louder.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.