EDDIE VAN HALEN – Riffage 101

Pic courtesy of Richard Galbraith

This will be the first of a new series of posts featuring Eddie Van Halen. I’ve recently ran across some interesting recordings of Sir Eddie aka’ “The Shark” that I thought I would dissect, comment upon and or just share with all the thousands of fans out there.

Most of these rare nuggets are either solo rehearsals, jam tapes and or just misc. out takes from the old school VAN HALEN days. The time frame I am talking about is from their humble beginnings all the way up to the 1984 album.

All of this material has floated around the tape trading scene over the years but I am sure most of you haven’t heard it before. There’s rumored to be enough “left-over” VH material and demos to release  several albums.

Before some of you start ranting in the comments section or sending in anti Van Halen mail, yes I am obviously aware of the fact that VH is not strictly “Metal.”

There are lots heavy bands featured throughout this site and in the original magazine, but the focus was always on rock + hard rock + metal…and beyond. So, I’d recommend that if you are wanting to hear DEATH or MORBID ANGEL, then right about now would a great time for you to check out.

*You may want to stick around, however, as I have some “audible evidence” below that may or may not link Eddie’s early crunchy riffage style to some modern metal and or how it possibly influenced some of the early Thrash Metal guitarists. This was back when they were sitting in their bedrooms staring at their EVH posters and or trying to learn Eruption on a beat up Kramer guitar perhaps…

Before we get into that, let’s have a listen to some classic never-released “warm ups” and out takes from the cutting room floor.

The “tune” up—notice the early snip of “Panama” @ end


The “warm” up—notice how much reverb he used


The “kool” riff—here’s a bone, can anyone name this one?


The “lead” lick—this is kinda sloppy even (by EVH’s standards)


Pic used with permission from R.Galbraith

How is Eddie Van Halen linked to Heavy Metal?


Whoa – did you hear that grind (in-between the blues licks)? Go back and listen again…closely


Let’s get rid of the blues licks and isolate and loop that section…mmm that’s tasty!


*Ha—now that I’ve got your attention. Play that riff again Metalheads (if you didn’t already do so).

Sounds a bit like Metallica’s early crunch/guitar tone or playing on “Seek and Destroy.” Keep in mind that Eddie was just jamming or fooling around and this was one of about a hundred or more riffs or misc. leads and rhythms that went to tape that day.

Just think what it would’ve sounded like if he decided to use something like that as a main riff! Eddie and Co. did open up for the Masters of Metal Black Sabbath back in the day, so he’s no stranger to Metal. Imagine you get a dream-come-true opening slot on a major tour, and then you had to prove yourself night after night—not only to the fans, but Tony Iommi.

Now imagine a heavy bass chugging along, possibly another layered guitar track (or another rhythm guitarist) behind it, a bangin’ drummer…and throw in a vocal growl for good measure.

Might go something like this:

Holy crap, that’s heavy for early 80’s. Sounds like Armored Saint ala’ Delerious Nomad days or maybe a heavier Savatage style riff.

Here’s another riff that he had sitting around for years. I am pretty sure it eventually made its way into the song “House of Pain” many years later, on their 1984 release.

*I know that one wasn’t very fast. Here is a slightly more “upbeat” version that I found and looped for demonstration purposes only.

I like to picture this one with some seriously HEAVY [double-bass] action. Think Lombardo!

Here is the final version for “House of Pain” if you had any doubts…

This is probably the “heaviest” song on the album and was dead last in the track listing

Hope you enjoyed my mini [imaginary] “case study” on how Eddie Van Halen’s guitar sound and or playing style of the late 70’s/early 80’s could’ve influenced some guitarists Metal guitarists or bands. Or maybe you enjoyed being able to hear these unreleased pre Van Hagar riffs and rare rehearsal tapes.

P.S. This was a snapshot of a certain guitar sound, playing style and audible correlation that I made for fun. I am not saying EVH invented any of the above, only that he was taking what T. Iommi came up with originally and how he took it to the next level perhaps.

*It’s well-documented that Black Sabbath did in fact take out a young VAN HALEN on tour with them back in 1978 and these youngsters consistently blew the geezers off the stage every night as well. Or so the story goes…

Special thanks to photographer Richard Galbraith for permission to post the unreleased photos & flyer.

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7 thoughts on “EDDIE VAN HALEN – Riffage 101


    Those first 4 Van Halen albums are METAL in my METAL opinion. Once “Diver Down” hit the streets, Van Halen became a combo Hard Rock/Heavy Metal band. I just cannot listen to the first 4 VH albums and call them Hard Rock… it would be nonsense for me to even think it. Heavy Metal back then (1978 – 1981) was in it’s infancy, so for “back then”, Metal wasn’t as “heavy/extreme” as it is in 2011.

    I know you realize all this… I’m just trying to break-it-down.

    Heck, calling these first four VH albums Hard Rock would be like calling “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” Hard Rock. (“Fluff” excluded).


    Is that “Kool Riff” possibly sumthin’ that turned into “Mean Street”?

    Um, did I mention… EXCELLENT POST! WHOA!

    – Stone

  2. Awesome post man!

    You know how much I dig Van Halen. There are so many early versions of what eventually became known as “Mean Street,” and other great songs like “Panama” and “House of Pain.” He just kept fine-tuning those early riffs into how we know them today.

    Keep up the great posts!

  3. The “kool” riff is of course The Who and “Young Man Blues” 😉

    Cool riffs!

  4. How fitting, from Iommi’s book:

    EVH and Brian May quote

    Ran across this cool pic after making the above post!

  5. ha – good catch!

  6. When Eddie Van Halen made his debut into the rock music scene in 1978, he did so with a homemade guitar (later known as “Frankenstein”). At a time when his monster technique and tone demanded a high-performance, indestructible guitar, he created his own to reach his own seemingly impossible standards.

    For over 35 years, he has continued to examine and improve every variable within the instrument, all culminating with the new EVH Wolfgang guitar.

  7. #8 Eddie Van Halen – ‘100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time’ – Rolling Stone Magazine (Issue 1145 December 8, 2011).

    Eddie is not #8, he is #1. I don’t care who came before him…No one has brought as much innovation, creativity, style & character with such an organic approach as Eddie has…I seriously doubt anyone ever will again.

    Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Richards, Beck, King, Berry only dreamed of playing in such a fashion that would revolutionize the industry.

    Eddie’s approach has NOTHING to do with equipment / guitars / amps etc. It has everything to do with his hands…The ‘brown sound’ is inside his mind and his fingers – translated onto and, on through any piece of gear he touched. The Frankenstrat was pieced together by him for around 200 bucks back in the day.

    His riffs and tone are TIMELESS.

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