The Eddie Van Halen/Randy Rhoads rivalry is one of the most hotly debated topics in the guitar world. As two of the most well-known electric guitar stars of their time, the pair were frequently pitted against each other in the ‘80s, owing to the similarities in their playing styles.
It’s also a debate that has been rekindled with renewed interest in recent months, after the new Randy Rhoads: Reflections of a Guitar Icon documentary dug up the thoughts and opinions of Rhoads’ contemporaries on the pair’s perceived rivalry.
When that footage emerged in April this year, an audio clip captured Van Halen calling Rhoads “honest”, but also heard him reiterate that “everything he did he learned from me”.
“He was good, but I don’t think he really did anything that I haven’t done,” he said in the documentary. “There ain’t nothing wrong with it, man. I’ve copied other people…”
More recently, Ozzy Osbourne further stoked the debate by calling out Van Halen’s comments and suggesting that “Randy didn't have a nice thing to say about Eddie” as they were rivals.
However, it seems that Osbourne’s zealous defense of Rhoads may have been somewhat overblown, as it turns out the Prince of Darkness’s guitarist did indeed have a nice word to say about Van Halen.
Speaking to Guitar World in 1982, Rhoads distanced himself from the argument that he learned his chops from Van Halen, instead revealing he had skipped the imitation/innovation stage that many aspiring players go through.
In the same breath, he also praised Van Halen as a “great player”, and one who clearly has his own unique style of playing – something he said he also wanted to develop naturally by himself.
“Everything happens so fast that I haven't had enough time to think about what I want to do,“ Rhoads comments.
“I have my own personality on the guitar but as of yet I don't think I have my own style,” he continued. “For instance, I do a solo guitar thing in concert, and I do a lot of the same licks as Eddie Van Halen. Eddie is a great player, but it kills me that I do that.
“For me it's just flash that impresses the kids. I'm trying to make a name for myself as fast as I can. I wish I could take time and come up with something that nobody else has done. But that's gonna take a few years yet.”
In the same interview, Rhoads discussed how his teaching background led to him naturally assimilating his rivals’ licks into his own playing, as students would come to lessons asking to learn a solo note-for-note.
“I learned more by teaching the guitar than by doing anything else,” Rhoads continued. “Students would come up with chord progressions and ask what kind of lead they could play over them. More often they wanted to learn note-for-note solos from their favorite players. That's when I started to learn other people's licks.”
Andre Relis, maker of the Randy Rhoads documentary, recently had his own say on the whole debate, positing that Van Halen saw Rhoads as something of a threat.
“I think that Eddie, in my opinion, thought of Randy as a threat, and just seemed to be – as you can see from the audio of Eddie – Eddie believes that he ripped his style off, and on the Quiet Riot side, and Randy side, they thought that that was just bogus.”
It’s a theory that was also championed by Lori Hollen, president of the Quiet Riot fan club, who recalled that Van Halen would often attend Quiet Riot gigs to keep tabs on Rhoads.
“[It] was always interesting to me, because I know Randy never went to see them play,” she noted. “But they would always come to see Quiet Riot and Randy play.”
In his own defense of Randy earlier this week, Osbourne said, “I heard recently that Eddie [Van Halen] said he taught Randy all his licks… he never.
“To be honest, Randy didn’t have a nice thing to say about Eddie. Maybe they had a falling out or whatever, but they were rivals.”