"I showed Eddie Van Halen some of what I had to learn in order to pull off Frank’s music... Eddie said, 'Who would've thought that you'd be giving me a guitar lesson!': How Dweezil Zappa took EVH inside his father's playing, and left him in awe

(from left) Dweezil Zappa, Eddie Van Halen and Frank Zappa perform onstage
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon/Future, Tim Mosenfelder/ImageDirect, Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images)

Electric guitar great Dweezil Zappa enjoyed a decades-long friendship with the late Eddie Van Halen. 

Famously, Dweezil – the son of Frank Zappa – got to live out the dream of millions of young guitarists, when, at just 12 years old, he got to use (and subsequently keep) Van Halen's own 1982 Kramer for his band's performance of Runnin’ with the Devil at a school talent show. 

Decades later, when the Dweezil-led Zappa Plays Zappa band opened for Jeff Beck, Dweezil found himself playing in front of Van Halen once again. When the two met backstage following the performance, the latter guitarist marveled at the complexity of the late Frank Zappa's music, and what it took for his son to master it.

“We [he and Van Halen] had a chance to play a bit backstage and I showed him some of the things I had to learn in order to pull off Frank’s complicated music,” Dweezil remembered in a 2010 Guitar Player interview. “Eddie said, 'I don’t know how your dad came up with that stuff, let alone how you figured out how to play it!'

“At a certain point,” Dweezil continued, “he laughed and said, 'Who would have thought that you would be giving me a guitar lesson!' Understand I say that with all the respect in the world. For him to even remotely acknowledge me showing him anything – that was an amazing moment.”

Elsewhere in the same interview, Dweezil reflected on the idiosyncratic nature of his father's soloing, and how the elder Zappa worked around his technical limitations. 

Frank, Dweezil said, “was a drummer who became a guitar player, so the rhythmic element within his soloing is ridiculously strong. He didn’t necessarily have the chops to where every single note was executed perfectly, but the charm of his playing is that he’s going for things that he might not be able execute.

“I love that reckless abandon he had. The attitude of, 'I’m going to go for the idea, even if my hands won’t let me do it – my brain says go for it,' is not one you find these days. Not too many people are willing to risk that. I try and capture that spirit in my playing, but I do have some more technical proficiency than Frank did, so I sometimes tone my chops down and slop it up a little bit.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.

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