Queen’s Brian May Recalls Seeing Eddie Van Halen Play for the First Time: ’How Does Anyone Do That?’

In a recently shared video interview on his YouTube channel, Queen guitarist Brian May looked back on his 1980s solo project called Star Fleet Project. It was around the time when Queen took a little break and Brian decided to bring together a group of experienced musicians for an album.

Among the people involved in the project was none other than Eddie Van Halen. And during the video, Brian recalled how he actually met Eddie in the first place — it was during the famous Black Sabbath tour in 1978 when Van Halen opened for them. Brian recalled (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“Eddie Van Halen was a phenomenon and I guess that hardly needs saying. I met him for the first time through Tony Iommi, my great friend from Black Sabbath when I was watching the two of them, and Van Halen were opening up for Black Sabbath.”

Van Halen 09 22 1978 Fresno

“I mean, that was something to see. It was in a Circus Krone in Munich. And I hadn’t seen Tony for a while and I’d never seen Van Halen. Luckily, I got there in time to see him play. And I was just, ‘Wow, what is this? What is this guy? What is he doing?’ I can’t even begin to figure out how his fingers are moving, what he’s doing.”

In fact, Brian was so impressed that it reminded him of another guitar legend”

“It was a bit like seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time, like, ‘How does anyone do that? What has he got that is so magical that we’ve never seen before?’ And Edward was incredible that night.”

“And we all got together, Tony and me and Eddie. And then I guess there was an instant bonding because Ed told us both that he’d been massively influenced by us, which is great. So we had lots to talk about. And then I guess we became friends.”

The Star Fleet Project also included other great musicians. Although only three songs were released for this EP, there was a total of six musicians involved. Apart from Brian and Eddie, there was Phil Chen on bass, Alan Gratzer, Fred Mandel on the keyboards, and Queen drummer Roger Taylor doing backing vocals on one of the songs.

Van Halen Live 1978 - Paris, France (Great Sound!)

Looking back on the lineup, Brian shared a few words about bassist Phil Chen, offering:

“Phil Chen was a great character. He’s Jamaican extraction, although I think he was born in Britain. Full of sunshine, full of life. And as a bass player, full of kind of tautness and humor. He played with great kind of panache.”

“He was in Rod Stewart’s band for a long time, so I got to see him fairly. We used to bump into Rod and his band quite often. I mean, I’d spent quite a bit of time within having a drink or two, generally cups of tea with Phil, he wasn’t a big drinker. Bless him. Well, I wasn’t mostly at the moments, but mostly not.”

“So Phil came along, and Phil had a great style to him. He is unusual. And there’s that thing called ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ by Rod Stewart. *sings the bass line* That’s Phil and he injected it into the song. He’s very recognizable, his style, sort of Jamaican influence, bit of reggae influence, bit of rock and roll. He was unique.”

Going more into the matter, Brian also recalled drummer Alan Gratzer who’s known for his work in REO Speedwagon:

“Alan Gratzer… Yeah, the drummer for REO Speedwagon. Now, REO Speedwagon were very much kind of parallel to us in the Midwest. We’re making our way in the very early days, there’s Aerosmith, The Styx, there’s REO Speedwagon, and a couple of others. And Queen.”

“And we were kind of the outsiders because we come from England, but we’re doing the same kind of circuit working our way up from theatres, into arenas.”

Brian May - Star Fleet Sessions: 3D Unboxing

“And it’s odd, actually, that we didn’t bump into REO Speedwagon because we didn’t. I don’t think I ever saw them live.

“So when I met Alan, I did a bit of quick homework to make sure I knew what they were about. I mean, I’d heard a couple of hit singles. Big hits, they had big hits. Alan hits the drums pretty much harder than anyone I’ve ever known.”

“He hits them with big fat oak steaks — I think they’re oak — turned the wrong way around. So he’s hitting this drums with a big part of the stick as opposed to holding the big fat part.”

Home Grown KIO-Alan Gratzer Interview

“So that doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that they’re easy to recall. It doesn’t necessarily follow that way. But he hits him very hard, very energetically.”

“And it was actually hard to get his sound. I think the engineer kind of struggled to get his sound. And we’ve made a few corrections on the remixes to try and make the drums sit there better. And I know Alan likes what we’ve done because I’ve checked with him. He likes the new drum sounds which I do. But he’s killer. [laughs] Again, from a world which was different from mine, but very much parallel.”

Photos: Raph_PH (TaylorHawkTributeWemb030922 (208 copped)), Carl Lender (Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.