Few can match the unparalleled innovation of Eddie Van Halen. His influence on how modern rock guitarists approach their craft is second to none, with a legacy rivaling that of the great Jimi Hendrix. While Eddie didn’t have a vast pool of inspirations, there were a select few who left an indelible mark on his musical journey.
Eddie’s musical voyage began when he and his brother, Alex, moved to the United States.
Their early foray into music was steeped in the heyday of rock and roll. With their father’s background in the swing band scene, the Van Halen brothers honed their skills by immersing themselves in instrumental tracks like “Wipeout” by The Safaris. Once they mastered the classics, Eddie’s world was forever changed when he encountered the music of Cream.
Before the birth of the supergroup, Eric Clapton was already a formidable guitarist, competing with none other than George Harrison of The Beatles. As a member of The Yardbirds, Clapton wove intricate sonic tapestries with his guitar. But it was Cream, the union of Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker, that birthed some of the earliest hard rock anthems like “Strange Brew” and “Sunshine of Your Love.”
Eddie Van Halen, like many before him, stood in sheer amazement at the virtuosity of Eric Clapton.
While Van Halen would go on to push the boundaries of guitar playing, he drew heavily from Clapton’s bluesy foundation, incorporating classic licks into his repertoire.
When Eddie delved into the intricacies of the guitar within a band context, his focus shifted to Jack Bruce, the bassist of Cream. In contrast to Clapton’s fiery guitar work, Bruce’s musical roots delved into the world of jazz. This influence manifested in his lightning-fast syncopation and intricate walking bass lines, creating a unique sonic landscape.
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Reflecting on Bruce’s profound impact on his musical development, Eddie Van Halen marveled at the bassist’s performance on the song “I’m So Glad.”
“Jack is an insane player. It’s just E to D on the entire song, but what Jack does sonically, how he plays around those two chords and keeps it interesting, is just out there. The bass playing is the most insane twisting and changing thing I’ve ever heard in my life, and it’s just two chords. It’s so out, but it’s brilliant. Clapton sounds lost.”
As Van Halen ascended to become one of the world’s biggest bands, Eddie continued to draw from the lessons Jack Bruce had imparted. While traces of Clapton’s bluesy influence remained, the complex instrumentals like “Cathedral” or the intros to songs like “Little Guitars” would not have existed without Bruce’s fearless exploration of rock’s boundaries.
In the end, while Clapton may have ignited the fire and groove in Eddie Van Halen’s music, it was Jack Bruce who shattered the confines of traditional rock, paving the way for one of the greatest guitar innovators in history.