Rock and Roll music evolved during the 70s and many incredible bands appeared on the scene, presenting different sounds and songwriting. But one of the high points of that decade was when Van Halen, led by the brothers Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen, released their self-titled album in 1978.
That record showed the world the incredible technique that Eddie had and it was a huge inspiration for guitarists, who simply started to copy him. So during the following decade the guitar parts of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal songs were becoming faster and faster. But of course, music kept changing throughout the years and when the 90s began and bands like Nirvana changed the whole scene, making Grunge the main focus of the music business.
At that time many older musicians gave their opinion on the new movement and one of them was the late legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen.
Eddie Van Halen’s opinion on Nirvana and Kurt Cobain as a guitarist
Nirvana’s leader, main songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Kurt Cobain was born in 1967 and was only 5 when Van Halen was formed in 1972. By the time the Grunge band released their debut album “Bleach” in 1989, Van Halen had already 8 studio albums out and had the new singer Sammy Hagar for fours with them. He replaced the original vocalist David Lee Roth in 1985 and with successful records like “5150” (1986), and “OU812” managed to keep Van Halen on top.
But obviously, as every other older band that was active in the early 90s, Van Halen was also affected and scared by Grunge. The new movement was changing the whole scene and making older groups appear outdated. Although bands like Nirvana were a commercial threat for Van Halen, Eddie liked them. He even lamented Cobain’s death in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1995.
The musician was talking with the famous magazine about addiction and was asked about musicians who used heroin. He then answered by mentioning Cobain and rating him as a guitarist.
“I think it shows in the music coming out nowadays. In Europe they don’t understand all this downer rock. They ask us in every interview, ‘What’s with this depression-grunge-Generation-X shit?” They don’t get it at all’. Well, if that’s the way you feel, fine. But I don’t think things are any worse than when I was young.”
Eddie Van Halen continued:
“I think there are certain bands that even complain about making music. Hey, if it’s a problem, don’t do it. As much as I loved the music Kurt Cobain made, and as sad as it is that he’s not with us anymore, I can’t help thinking that if what you’re doing caused you to kill yourself. I would have stopped doing it. It ain’t worth it. Stay at home and make music in your bedroom for yourself,” Eddie Van Halen said.
Questioned about Cobain’s skills as a guitarist, Van Halen said: “It didn’t matter how good or bad he was. It was just his feel that moved me. There’s no particular technical proficiency. But it didn’t matter. I loved his voice and his songs. It came from his heart. It was real,” Eddie Van Halen said. The guitarist had the opportunity to see Nirvana live in concert in the 90s and met the band members.
According to Sammy Hagar, they were scared by Grunge when the movement appeared and the band planned something
Like every older band at that time, Van Halen was also scared by Grunge as the band’s ex-singer Sammy Hagar recalled in an interview with Sirius XM in 2020 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage). “That was freaky, man. Because I’m looking at these guys and I’m going, we were sort of the Glam Rock all dressed-up and dressed like girls and stuff (laughs). You know, Mötley Crüe, Poison and these guys. It was more fun dressing the way I dressed than the way I dress now, I’ll tell you that (laughs).”
“But then when Grunge came they were like down, dirty and funky. They’ve made me nervous, (like) ‘these guys gonna disrespect us’. But it didn’t happen. I was so insecure about that I invited Alice In Chains (to tour with us). (It was when) they had their first album, their first single ‘Man In The Box’ to open for Van Halen.”
Sammy Hagar continued:
“They came out the whole tour with us. I’ve been a dear friend of Jerry Cantrell since then. But that’s how insecure I was. I’ve said ‘Let’s get them on the damn show then their fans will know we are cool,'” Sammy Hagar said.
Curiously, Eddie’s son, the multi-instrumentalist and singer Wolfgang Van Halen paid a double tribute in 2022 alongside the ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. He was invited by Grohl to be part of the tribute Foo Fighters made for their drummer. They were honoring Taylor Hawkins, who died at the age of 50 that year.
Wolfgang was part of the shows held in London and Los Angeles, playing Van Halen with Grohl and several guests. He considers that it was a good tribute to his father who died in 2020 at the age of 65. The main reason is because the surviving Van Halen members didn’t reach an agreement to pay a live tribute to the guitarist.