“The whole idea of being a great guitar player is nobody can do you like you… Mean Street is the perfect storm of why people don't f**k with Edward Van Halen”: Nuno Bettencourt explains why you’ve gotta give Joe Satriani “a pass”

Eddie Van Halen, Nuno Bettencourt and Joe Satriani
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton / Scott Legato / Mario Skraban / Getty Images)

Nuno Bettencourt has said Van Halen fans should give Joe Satriani “a bit of a pass” after the electric guitar virtuoso received criticism for his recent performance of Mean Street on Howard Stern.

Satch has since told Guitar World that the mistake “hurt like a thorn in my side”, but also pointed to the lack of preparation time and the off-the-cuff nature of the performance, which saw host Howard Stern and Best of All Worlds frontman Sammy Hagar ask Satriani to demo some of Eddie Van Halen’s toughest licks.

In the same conversation (with the full interview coming later this week), Satch discussed the challenge of trying to balance his own sound as a player with that of EVH in the forthcoming tribute tour.

Now, speaking to YouTuber Jeremy White, Bettencourt was asked for his take on the situation and offered up a similar sentiment.

“The whole idea of being a great guitar player is nobody can do you like you,” Bettencourt says in the clip [as transcribed by Blabbermouth]. 

“Nobody can step into Edward's domain and fucking play Edward like Edward. The same thing with Satriani or [Steve] Vai or [Jimmy] Page or any of these guys. But in this case, if you're gonna do it, you're exposing yourself.”

The key difference for many players, says Bettencourt, is understanding Van Halen’s rhythmic foundation.

“Edward's pocket, rhythm, feel, swing is what separated him from everybody,” says Bettencourt. 

“If you're just gonna play the notes and try to play the notes, good luck… especially Mean Street, this funkier thing. It's all rhythmic. It's like he's a drummer… 

“People are saying it's impossible to play. It's not impossible to play. It's impossible to do it if you don't have a rhythmic drumming background… it's like him tapping on a snare drum…

Joe is untouchable as Joe Satriani. He's the greatest Joe Satriani you'll ever hear… Nobody can attack you when you're doing you… But as far as doing [somebody else’s] DNA? Good luck

“It's a triple-threat thing going on here that it's not just notes. There's harmonics, there's the tapping that he does, then there's rhythm. Mean Street is the perfect storm of why people don't fuck with Edward.”

The Extreme man says the issue comes from a near-DNA level as a player and, as such, he thinks Satriani is not entirely deserving of the criticism.

“You've gotta give Joe a bit of a pass on this one, because it's Joe doing Edward,” says Bettencourt. 

“I'm more pissed at Sammy [Hagar] for allowing him to do it. 'Cause Sammy's, like, 'Man, that's why I got Joe. Nobody can do this stuff.' And I'm, like, look… You're already putting him on the spot and asking people to play those things. It's really difficult…

“Joe is untouchable as Joe Satriani. He's the greatest Joe Satriani you'll ever hear… Nobody can attack you when you're doing you… But as far as doing [somebody else’s] DNA? Good luck.”

Betterncourt says he thinks he can play Mean Street but were he in a similar situation, he probably wouldn’t have tackled it – again referencing Hagar’s observation that it’s “impossible to play”.

“If I'm saying those words, I'm not playing after that,” says Bettencourt. “The next thing I'm doing is putting the fucking guitar down. But he apologized, because you know what? Everybody will rip you apart. 

“Unfortunately, to learn something like Mean Street, you've gotta sit down… You literally sit there like a child, and I don't care how good you are, it's kind of going back to the drawing board, 'cause you're, like, 'Oh, this is different. What is happening here? This rhythm pattern.' And you're, like, 'Oh my god. He's drumming. Got it...' Do I play drums? No? [Then] don't play Mean Street. Don't do it.”

Indeed, when it comes to the two players' rhythmic differences, Satch observes as much himself, as we reported earlier this week.

“I spent decades sitting way back in the pocket because I was playing melodies,” says Satriani. 

“To get melodies to work, you've got to sit back and let the band get things established to where the groove and rhythm guitars push…

“So, the most awkward thing was suddenly not doing the melody and stepping in first on top of the beat. Eddie did that, but he never sounded like he was rushing.”

Keep an eye out for our full interview with Joe Satriani later this week to hear about the challenges of impersonating “the greatest guitar player of all time”, the G3 reunion tour, plus his plan to release music with Steve Vai.

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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.