This article was first published in December 2020.
The passing of guitar legend Eddie Van Halen prompted an outpouring of tributes to the electric guitar master from six-string peers and acolytes, including Steve Lukather, Adam Jones, Yngwie Malmsteen and Jennifer Batten.
But while millions of guitar players were inspired by Eddie Van Halen, few have embodied his flash, style, groove, whimsy and overall command of technique like Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt.
That said, when Bettencourt first met his idol, things were more tense than he would have imagined.
He recalled to Guitar World: “The first time I met Eddie I was working on Dweezil Zappa’s album [1991’s Confessions], and he handed me his guitar and said, ‘You’ve gotta check out this pedal.’ And it’s like, ‘You want me to play while I check out this pedal?’”
Bettencourt continued, “So now Eddie is leaning in front of me, dialing in stuff on his pedalboard. And what do you do when the alien who walked off the spaceship that changed your life is in front of you? What do you play? Like an idiot, I kicked into the solo from [Extreme’s] Get the Funk Out. I became a cover of myself.
“But the second I go into the tapping part, Eddie turns around and stops me. He goes, ‘Hey, hey, none of that silly stuff.’ That scared the shit out of me.
“It took me a minute and then I said to myself, ‘He knows who I am. He reads.’ Because at that time an article had just come out – it may have even been in Guitar World – and the interviewer asked about Get the Funk Out. He said, ‘You’re doing tapping your own way.’ And I told him, ‘To be honest with you, I feel silly when I do tapping. Not because it’s embarrassing, but because it’s so Eddie.’
“Later on, after I got comfortable around Eddie, I asked him, ‘Did you read that article?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I read that.’ I was like, ‘Wow, Eddie Van Halen read an interview I did!’ Even that shit seemed impossible to me.”
As for Nuno’s favorite Van Halen album?
“I love all the albums, but Fair Warning is my favorite, because of the funkiness,” he said. “That Mean Street intro isn’t just tapping, it’s this banging kind of thing. And then Dirty Movies? That was it. It was like the moment when Keanu Reeves sees the matrix. I went, ‘Okay, Eddie is talking to me.’”
Van Halen became a firm fan of Bettencourt’s guitar style, going on to play one of the Extreme guitarist’s riffs at “every single soundcheck” – so much so that his guitar tech believed it to be a Van Halen riff that never got released.