A Gibbons-May-Van Halen Thang?

January 12, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More

Did Edward Van Halen learn tapping from Brian May who learned it from Billy Gibbons?

In a recent (and very good) Guitar Player interview of Brian May, conducted by GP associate editor Matt Blackett, the topic of two-handed tapping (aka, right-hand hammer-ons) came up. Rather than paraphrase the whole exchange, I’ll quote it below – but first, bear in mind that the occasion for the interview is the release of the amazing (get it!) Queen Rock Montreal concert DVD, filmed in 1981. Hence the rearward-looking questions.

GP: Your solo in “It’s Late” features some rare, pre-1978 two-handed tapping. How come you never pursued that?

Brian: Eddie Van Halen asked me that same question. He was very interested in that. That idea came to me because I was in a bar in Texas and there was this guy—I wish I could remember his name. He was playing a solo and suddenly on went his right hand to the fretboard and he produced this yodeling sound that I thought was amazing—just an incredible extension of what the guitar can do. I went up to him afterwards and said, “That’s great! I’m going to nick it!” His answer to me was, “I got it from Billy Gibbons.” But I’ve heard a lot of Billy Gibbons and I don’t remember ever finding it.

GP: I believe he does it in “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.”

Brian: OK—mystery solved then. When I went home, I started playing around with it—putting my right-hand finger on and pulling that finger off while also doing hammer-ons and pull-offs with my left hand. When it came time to cut that solo, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it out because I was looking for something different—something off the wall. Having done it, I liked it, but I was sitting down when I did it. I didn’t find it so easy to play onstage standing up so I kind of got off the idea. I thought it was fine for that track but I didn’t care to pursue it. I didn’t think it was that important until later when a certain genius in the world made it into an art form. I want to say this very clearly: Eddie is a god and always will be. It’s not just his technique, it’s also his color and spirit. But his technique is brilliant.

Props to Brian for calling it like he sees it, and not having an ego.

Anyhow, after listening closely to Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers, I think I hear a right-hand hammer-on on all of one note. Who knows what Billy did live at the time, and who knows where the guy Brian saw do it took the technique. Regardless, what Brian did on It’s Late (see/hear it below) is well beyond the recorded version of BD&HR and well into what would become Edward Van Halen territory.

Which begs the question: Did Ed pick up/absorb/whatever that technique from Brian? Supposedly Ed was a big Brian May fan and could play quite a bit of his stuff note for note. But Ed said he got the inspiration for tapping from seeing and playing Jimmy Page’s Heartbreaker solo.

The bottom line, I guess, is that you can either accept what Ed says or not – it doesn’t really matter. But a couple things are for sure: Ed liked Brian’s stuff, and Ed loved the Rev. Willy G.’s stuff.

And here’s one more potential link-up between the three: Sure it’s a popular and simple progression, but It’s Late starts off like ZZ’s Jesus Just Left Chicago – and Van Halen’s Drop Dead Legs.


Queen It’s Late (start listening at about 3:30)

And just for kicks:

A Van Halen live video cover of BD&HR

Motorhead’s version of BD&HR

Category: Billy Gibbons, Brian May/Queen, Edward Van Halen

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  1. WoodyTone! - More Confirmation: Gibbons First Famous Guy To ‘Tap’ | July 9, 2009
  1. pmachao says:

    I´m prety sure that Duane Allman used tapping in the Filmore concerts in 71 in the last part of his solo in “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, although he justs taps one note with his right hand and his left hand stays still in another fret making it just a 2 note tapping it´s still the earliest example of the technique I can think of. Probably that´s where Gibbons picket it up.

  2. guitthumper says:

    Wow, that Queen is sweet. The solo is awesome, very EVH before EVH, ha ha. Ed’s “When Push Comes to Shove” solo immediately came to mind listening to it. I always new Brian May was a great guitarist, but I’ve always been somewhat dismissive of Queen. Listening to this may cause me to reconsider.

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