“Underneath all these left-field things was a really tasty blues guitar player”: Slash says Eddie Van Halen was a blues player at heart – and that's what made him so good

Slash (left) and Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When Eddie Van Halen sadly passed away in 2020, he left behind him an untouchable legacy of innovation, having taken guitar playing to new heights via finger-blurring tapping, acrobatic whammy bar techniques, and banshee-like harmonics.  

But beneath all the flash and flair, Slash saw Eddie Van Halen for the blues player he really was. That foundation, he feels, helped him stand head and shoulders above the rest. 

“That was the coolest thing about Eddie for me. All the great ideas he had that were uniquely his own, all these left-field kind of things, underneath all that was a really tasty blues guitar player.” 

The statement comes from the latest issue of Guitar World, in which Slash explores his everlasting love for the blues, with plenty of column space dedicated to praising the late guitar hero. 

“He just added all these other ways to branch out his expression on top of that,” he continues. “And that’s why nobody could ever touch him.”

Eddie Van Halen performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 8, 1982.

(Image credit: Larry Marano/Getty Images)

Of course, it’s easy to be distracted by the fireworks of Eddie’s playing, but as a young player, he idolized Eric Clapton. In truth, that adoration never wavered.  

Indeed, he could even play Clapton’s Crossroads solo – to many the pinnacle of shred before Eddie reshaped the guitar landscape with Eruption – note-for-note.

He once told a Rolling Stone journalist that Slowhand was “at the top of my list” of influences.   

“What attracted me to his playing and style and vibe was the basic simplicity in his approach and his tone, his sound,” he explained.

“He just basically took a Gibson guitar and plugged it straight into a Marshall and that was it. The basics. The blues…. the only guy solo-wise was Clapton to me.”

Brian May + Friends (Starfleet Project) - Blues Breaker - YouTube Brian May + Friends (Starfleet Project) - Blues Breaker - YouTube
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Eddie's bluesy undertones can be clearly heard in the gluttonous 12-minute jam, Blues Breaker (from Star Fleet Project) where he traded licks with Brian May across a track honoring Clapton. Here, he got to indulge himself in full-blown blues playing like never before. 

The top-hatted guitarist, who released his tribute to the blues, Orgy of the Damned, in May, acknowledges that Eddie isn’t the only player to take the blues template and lace it with pyrotechnics. But he believes those who can pull off such a feat and therefore take blues guitar to new and interesting places deserve all the praise they get. 

Eric Clapton performs at the Live Aid Concert on July 13, 1985 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(Image credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

“That’s what I’ve always been attracted to,” he says. “It doesn’t matter whatever technique it is that they’re using, as long as it’s theirs. I mean, Yngwie? Yngwie means it. He fucking owns that shit, whether you like it or not.”

Slash is the cover star for the new issue of Guitar World, featuring alongside Samantha Fish and Christone "Kingfish" Ingram. The trio will be touring together, alongside an exciting cast of blues players, under the S.E.R.P.E.N.T Festival banner later this year as Slash takes his new album, and that boundless love for the blues, out on the road.  

Head to Magazines Direct to pick up a copy of Guitar World and read the Slash interview in full.

Phil Weller

A freelance writer with a penchant for music that gets weird, Phil is a regular contributor to ProgGuitar World, and Total Guitar magazines and is especially keen on shining a light on unknown artists. Outside of the journalism realm, you can find him writing angular riffs in progressive metal band, Prognosis, in which he slings an 8-string Strandberg Boden Original, churning that low string through a variety of tunings. He's also a published author and is currently penning his debut novel which chucks fantasy, mythology and humanity into a great big melting pot.