Super-Early Van Halen: It’s All There!

September 21, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
Early Van Halen (photo from

Early Van Halen (photo from

In the same April 1979 issue of Record Review Magazine mentioned in last Friday’s post, Ed was asked when he started playing guitar. He said: “I’d say that I really didn’t start playing guitar and getting into lead guitar until Cream and the heavy guitar things started happening.”

Ask how old he was, he said: “Ten years ago. I’m 21 now so I was about 11.”

Then the interviewer asked: How were you able to develop your style? Ed: “Just practice, I guess. I’ve been playing eight to 10 years. That’s quite a while. I started early, which is good. A lot of people started late and play for 10 years, and they don’t get quite as far. There are a lot more hang-ups when you get older.

“I enjoy playing. I think that’s the main thing. It’s not like I was forcing myself because I wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. I started out playing because I really liked it, up to right now.”

Interesting, right? So he’d been playing just “eight to 10 years” when he recorded Van Halen II – and obviously less than that for Van Halen I?

Wellllllllllll, maybe.

It’s now known that Ed was born on Jan. 26, 1955. So in early 1979 he was 24, not 21. There were rumors that early on the band lied about their ages to make them appear younger, for some reason (teen heartthrobs?!). Maybe this was part of that.

And as far as the “eight to 10 years” part goes, either this is true or, if Ed is great at fibbing and doing math on the fly, understated by about 3 years.

But none of that friggin’ matters! That is, it does matter when you consider that Ed, by about the end of high school if not earlier, had a full-blown, turn-the-world-on-its-ear, unique style of playing guitar, and chops that as far as we know no one in the rock realm had attained previously.

Ed apparently played a lot of guitar, but he was also a teenager so just like everyone he fit guitar between going to school, chasing girls and whatever else was happening. Back in high school I played guitar for 3 hours a day at one point. I thought that was a lot! But then I read about how Ed and guys like Nuno Bettencourt played 10 to 12 hours a day, and I thought: Oh, that’s how they got so good….

Anyhow, here’s some early Ed that caught my ears. Think about this when you’re listening: How long did you practice a day when you were in high school? Did you have a full-blown style? Were you hot-rodding cover tunes like this, writing originals like this?

1973, Glitter (original), pre-Michael Anthony

1974, In for the Kill (Budgie cover)

What struck me was Ed’s unreal vibrato – sounds like he’s using a bar, but don’t think he is.

1975, Waiting for the Bus (ZZ Top cover)

Here Ed is in full hot-rod form: Whenever there’s a space, he blows through it – like what he did on Van Halen I (but did NOT do on the Gene Simmons-produced demos). And as the YouTube poster notes, Ed is doing some right-hand hammer-on/slides – but there’s no trace of the full-blown hammering we hear on Van Halen I.

1976, I’m the One

When the guitar first came in on this one, I thought: He’s using a Les Paul! Sounds like it to me – big and fat. Was it the Les Paul Junior? A Les Paul? It sure doesn’t sound like the Ibanez Destroyer, at least with the super-aggressive (meaning loud and middy, to my ears) Super 70 pickups.

And no whammy bar, so I’m figuring it’s not a Strat or the pre-Frankie.

Also, listen for Dave letting Ed sing the first part of the “bap-badda….”

Last but not least, it’s ALL there: Dave’s bantering, great drumming, Mike’s background vocals…. Seeing Van Halen in a club must have been a trip!

Category: Edward Van Halen

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  1. Simonhead says:

    I totally agree with you here – Seeing Van Halen in a club must have been a trip back in the day!

  2. Kyle says:

    That makes me pretty jealous, cause I'm also 21 and been playing since I was 11 and I ain't nearly that good. Great classic recordings too

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