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Pete Townshend reveals how he first connected Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson in tribute to late guitar legend

Pete Townshend, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Jackson
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage / Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In the wake of Eddie Van Halen’s tragic death from cancer, countless guitar stars have been paying tribute on social media, including The Who guitarist Pete Townshend – who also had a revelation to share about one of the two-hand tapping hero’s most iconic solos.

In a new interview with Rolling Stone on the subject of Van Halen’s passing, Townshend reveals that he was initially in the running to play on Michael Jackson’s quadruple-Platinum 1982 smash Thriller – but he had someone else in mind for the job.

“I was once asked by Michael Jackson to play electric guitar on the Thriller album,” Townshend recalls.

“I said I couldn’t do it but recommended Eddie who called and we chatted. He was utterly charming, happy about the connection, but told me how much he was enjoying playing keyboards. His smile was just classic. A man in his rightful place, so happy to be doing what he did.”

It’s not clear whether Townshend was asked to perform rhythm or lead duties on the record, but his recommendation likely played a part in Jackson and producer Quincy Jones’ decision to enlist Van Halen’s talents for Beat It’s incendiary solo. Rhythm guitar duties on the track were handled by session and Toto great Steve Lukather.

Townshend goes on to pay tribute to Van Halen’s talents – and what he had hoped to see in the American icon’s future.

“It’s completely tragic that we have lost him,” he continues. “He was not just an innovative and stylish player with great taste, he was also a laidback virtuoso showman who just blew us all away every time. Every shredder today has lost their Master Teacher and Guide.”

“As he got older he became more generous and amusing and self-effacing about his enormous gifts. He shared so many tricks through guitar workshops, online and on TV shows. Immense talent. The Great American Guitar Player. I was hoping he might be President one day.”