Ultimate Classic Rock

Matt Wardlaw
Published: December 18, 2021

Adrian Belew describes his first experience with Eddie Van Halen. Like so many musicians, he was absolutely blown away when he saw Van Halen play live for the first time.

Though he'd done his own experimentation with what would become known as tapping, the young guitarist was clearly taking the concept to the "next level."

As a guitarist, Belew has enjoyed a fascinating journey, including stints working with David Bowie, King Crimson and Talking Heads, in addition to his own solo work.

Currently, he's readying an interesting new solo album, which is due for release sometime in 2022.

In part, the forthcoming record draws inspiration from a longtime love of painting.

During the pandemic, he began to learn how to paint digitally using an iPad and Apple Pencil. It was a prolific period, with Belew creating more than 150 pieces.

The new album, Elevator, will feature a selection of art drawn from the period, and Belew plans to release the record when he can tour to support it.

Presently, he's revisiting the time he spent recording and touring with Police drummer Stewart Copeland as part of the all-star collective Gizmodrome.

A recently released live album collects performances from their handful of shows together in 2018. Belew spoke with UCR via Zoom to discuss all of the above.

We're speaking a year after the death of Eddie Van Halen, and David Lee Roth has recently announced plans to retire.

What are your memories of experiencing the music of Van Halen for the first time?

"I thought David Lee was a great frontman. A lot of people have different opinions, but I thought he was a big part of the band.

He and Eddie, of course, who was the shining star of the band, with his unbelievable guitar playing.

I liked what they did. I thought it was a really great band.

Fortunately for them, MTV came along when it did. But here’s an interesting story from my perspective.

Rob Fetters, the guitar player in the Bears, we were both walking along Sunset Boulevard one night. He had come into town, and we were hanging out and having a good time, walking along and seeing sights we’d never seen before.

We were all new to the whole thing.

We saw the Whisky a Go-Go. We went in there, naturally.

Before that time, I had just started playing this thing where you hold a note and then you do this.

It’s now called tapping, but back then, we didn’t have a name for it. Rob Fetters and I were the only two guys we knew who were doing it.

It was on a Steely Dan record "Kid Charlemagne," from 1976's The Royal Scam, and I figured out, that’s how Larry Carlton must have done it.

I thought, “Okay, I’m going to start doing that.” Rob started doing it too.

We walked in and there’s Van Halen, unknown, unsigned, no one knew them, playing like crazy on stage.

Eddie Van Halen is doing that all over the neck of the guitar. We looked at each other and said, “Hey, he’s doing that thing that we do!”

We laughed, and we said, “And he’s doing it better than we do!” [Laughs.]

Because he had already taken it and advanced it to the next level.

Good for him. It became something that a million different young guitar players tried to do since then."