The 3 guitarists that Eddie Van Halen said were great in the 90s
When the 90’s started, Van Halen already was considered one of the biggest Rock and Roll bands in the world. They had released six successful albums with David Lee Roth and two with Sammy Hagar. The group led by brothers Alex Van Halen and Eddie Van Halen was playing sold-out stadiums and also was being part of huge festivals overseas.
In the beginning of that decade, Rock and Roll changed a lot because of the birth of Grunge but many artists kept their old roots going, like Van Halen. In an interview with Guitar World back in 1993 he talked about how unique guitarists were especially in the 60s and 70s, having completely different styles.
But according to him, that begun to change over the years and the musicians were sounding more similar. However, in that conversation he mentioned three guitar players that he considered to be great. Rock and Roll Garage selected what Eddie Van Halen said about those players over the years and his conneciton with some of them.
The 3 guitarists that Eddie Van Halen said were great in the 90s
Even though Eddie Van Halen mentioned in the conversation with Guitar World that players like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were unique, there were good players around. The first one he mentioned was Steve Vai.
Vai started at a young age in 1978, working with Frank Zappa from 1980 to 1982, then being part of the successful Hard Rock group Alcatrazz. But he is often recalled, curiously, for being part of David Lee Roth’s solo group in the mid-80s that for many people, “emulated” Van Halen’s type of music.
In 1989 until 1990 he was briefly a member of Whitesnake and then started for good his solo career, focused more on instrumental Rock albums.
Even though many people could expect that it could be some animosity between the two guitarists, because Vai was playing Van Halen material with Lee Roth, the two had a huge respect for each other. They had already met each other when Vai still a member of Frank Zappa’s band when Eddie, who was Zappa’s neighbour stopped by the musician’s house.
Eddie Van Halen called Steve Vai after he left David Lee Roth’s band
Talking with Rolling Stone in 2020, Steve Vai recalled that Eddie Van Halen even called him when he left David Lee Roth’s group in 1989.
“The day after I left David Lee Roth’s band [in 1989] – I don’t know how Edward found out – but he called me. That was the start of a nice relationship and friendship. For about six months, we actually hung out a lot together, and I got to know the guy.”
“I saw his studio. He played me all these tapes and was constantly writing and playing. He played me stuff that was never released. But it was so Edward. I said, ‘Why don’t you make a solo record?’ And he always felt that the Van Halen records were his solo records. But this stuff he was playing me was really quite nice. It was all the things we loved about the way he played.”
Steve Vai continued:
“This would be a very interesting story for guitar players, I think: I was at my house in Hollywood, and in my studio, I was using my guitar, my rig, my pedals, my amps. And Edward came in. We were just hanging out and talking, and he says to me, ‘Let me show you this one thing I was working on.’”
“And he takes my guitar and he starts playing and I realized instantly that it was Edward Van Halen. It didn’t sound anything like me, it had that ‘brown sound.’ It was everything we love about Ed’s tone. He was playing my exact gear, and it sounded like him,” Steve Vai said.
Another guitarist mentioned by Eddie Van Halen as a great one in the early 90s was Joe Satriani. Curiously, he is only four years older than Steve Vai and was his guitar teacher before both started their musical careers.
Just like Vai, Satriani also worked with a Van Halen vocalist. He was part of the supergroup Chickenfoot, formed by Sammy Hagar, Chad Smith and the also ex-Van Halen Michael Anthony. In 2021 he revealed that he was invited to be part of a tribute to Eddie Van Halen, that was being planned by his brother Alex.
Talking with Rolling Stone in 2020 after Eddie’s death, Satriani recalled the huge impact the late musician had on him. Especially when he first heard the track “Eruption”. “When I first heard ‘Eruption’ come over the radio, I was in a little studio apartment in Berkeley, California. I actually had my guitar on, and I was totally transfixed. It was like hearing Hendrix the first time when I was a kid. The only difference was I was grown up and already a musician.”
Joe Satriani continued:
“I’m sure you’ve interviewed people who went on and on about how he innovated this, that, and the other thing. And he did. But he also combined everything that went before him in such a beautiful, fun way. This I know from experience, because I was his age. I’m a year younger.”
“I always considered him the greatest of my generation of players who came right after the big ones: after Hendrix, Page, Beck, and Clapton. But he did it with a smile, and that was so important at the time because there was a lot of grimacing and snarling and pretension around the guitar. It was getting very complicated,” Joe Satriani said.
Eric Johnson was another guitar virtuoso that Eddie Van Halen said was great in 1993. The American musician is best known for his album “Ah Via Musicom” (1990) that was certified platinum by RIAA. “Cliffs of Dover”, single of that album won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Johnson had the opportunity to meet Eddie twice as he recalled in a tribute he posted right after the news of Eddie’s passing. The musician recalled how cordial he always was and said that he was the guitarist that re-shaped and re-wrote the Rock and Roll guitar.
“There was a band in Austin Texas called Geneva and the gentlemen. My friend Roscoe Beck played bass in this band. It was a nice jazz band that played around town quite frequently in the late 70s. One night, I had gone down to sit in with them at the Sheraton hotel in Austin. After playing a couple of tunes with them I walked off the stage. A young gentleman came up to me and said hello.”
Eric Johnson continued:
“He was very friendly and mentioned that he was staying at the hotel and had just played a show at the Palmer Auditorium in Austin. He was in a band that had just recorded their first record. They were on their first tour of the US. I wasn’t familiar with them at this early time in their career. We had a nice chat. His name was Eddie Van Halen and it was the first of two times that I met him. I never knew him well. But I did visit with him one other time, years later after he had a number of records out and had become very successful.”
“I had been invited back to meet the band after their performance in Austin in the early 1990s. I had a nice chat with Eddie and he was once again very cordial. Probably since Jimi Hendrix, Eddie was the principal guitarist that re-shaped and re-wrote rock guitar. He left a huge and indelible mark on the evolution and contribution of great guitar playing. It’s hard to think that he’s not here anymore because he has had such an impact on guitar music. God bless him and keep him,” Eric Johnson said.