’There Was No Trickery’: Steve Stevens Explains What Made Eddie Van Halen Stand Out

Guitarist Steve Stevens, best-known for his work with Billy Idol and Michael Jackson, recalled hearing Eddie Van Halen’s playing for the first time and what he thought of Eddie’s playing.

“[In] ’78, Van Halen arrived. And it was all a whole new chapter in guitar,” Stevens told Final Resonance TV in a new interview (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). And indeed, at that point, the new era began for all the guitar-focused music. Just when everyone thought that the guitar was pushed to its limits, Eddie Van Halen proved that the instrument still had a lot of untapped potential.

Recalling how this first contact with Eddie’s playing came to be, Stevens said that he was at a party and that someone played the record.

Van Halen Stories #36 Steve Stevens “This One’s for Jan” Namm Jam 1987

“And it was quite a party,” said Steve with a laugh. “There was a lot of drinking and a lot of substances. And I was pretty inebriated when somebody put the record on.”

At first, he didn’t notice the music going on in the background. But everyone notices Van Halen once it gets to that one track. He continued:

“It got to ‘Eruption,’ and I wasn’t quite sure what I was hearing, [if] I was just making it up in my mind because I was pretty f***ed up. [Laughs] I walked over the turntable and said, ‘What the fuck is that? Oh, it’s this new band, Van Halen outta Los Angeles… Put that on again!'”

Eruption (2015 Remaster)

So he decided to play it again:

“You know, the days of turntables — I put the needle back on ‘Eruption’ and went, ‘Oh, s***.’ It was just the whole energy. There were a lot of bands that were adopting the new wave thing at the time, and this was deliberately not influenced by any of the new wave stuff.”

“This was influenced by the early ’70s, obviously, but with a totally new technique on the guitar, and just the sound — the guitar sound was unbelievable.”

Of course, a huge part of Van Halen’s sound at that point was due to producer Ted Templeman, and Stevens acknowledged his contributions. However, it wasn’t any specific “studio magic” that helped here. It was just Ted letting Eddie do his own thing.

Eddie Van Halen - 1978 - Eruption Guitar Solo (Live in Fresno, CA)

“Hats off to Ted Templeman for featuring one guitar part,” Stevens added, “and just letting Ed play instinctively and not do overdubs. I think that’s really what set it apart because it was totally believable.”

“There was no trickery,” he pointed out. “You could tell it was coming from this one individual who had created this whole new world of guitar playing.”

However, “Eruption” is the second track on Van Halen’s self-titled debut album. And be it the craziness of the moment with the whole party thing going on, it seems that Stevens just completely ignored the opening song, “Running With the Devil.”

Van Halen - Runnin' With The Devil (Official Music Video)

“I don’t know if I took much notice of ‘Running With the Devil,'” Stevens said. “But by the time we got to ‘Eruption’, it was obvious the record just sounded different from anything else. It was that guitar sound, really, and as I said, no overdubs.”

Of course, Eddie wasn’t the only virtuoso breaking out in the scene. However, despite the virtuosity of other guitar players of the era, Eddie really stood out. As Stevens added:

“Because there were other guitar players showing up at the scene that I was aware of at that time [such as] Steve Lukather with Toto, guitar player Pat Thrall — Automatic Man had come out — but it wasn’t featured the way that Ed was featured.”

STEVE STEVENS AMAZING GUITAR SOLO

“And you didn’t have to sift through the keyboards or the overdubs already. It’s just as I think Ted described it: like hearing Coltrane or something where it’s just unmitigated, brilliant guitar playing.”

Funnily enough, as it turns out, Van Halen members weren’t actually all that happy about the sound of the debut album. As Donn Landee, one of the engineers involved in the album’s making, revealed in an interview in 2023, both he and his colleague Kent Nebergall were so hyped to have gotten the chance to work with this new exciting band that got signed.

“[Kent] had a ‘Star Wars’ X-wing toy,” Donn recalled. “He brought it in, hung it up, and said, ‘This belongs here, believe me, because these are two greatest things I’ve ever experienced: Van Halen and ‘Star Wars’!’ It was hanging from the ceiling, right between the two monitors in Studio 2, for all the time we recorded Van Halen. I loved working with Kent.”

Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love (2015 Remaster)

As for the band, they were all incredibly quiet during the process. In fact, it turned out that he didn’t really like the results. As Donn explained:

“They were extremely quiet. We didn’t hear anything about [the sound of the album] until well after ‘Van Halen’ was out.”

“They were disappointed; it’s not what they had in their mind when they came in to do the record. But Al told me we got it [right] later on. What we got on tape for ‘1984’ [the band’s 5th album] was much more to his liking.”

Photos: Stefan Brending (2019 RiP Deadland Ritual – Steve Stevens – by 2eight – 8SC9760), Carl Lender (Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2)

Author

  • 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.