While he’s mostly recognized and lauded for his lead playing, there’s no doubt Eddie Van Halen is also one of the best rhythm guitar players you’ll ever hear in rock.
In fact, Edward Van Halen should be put up on the rhythm-playing pedestal with Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards.
Fans and musicians can talk forever about how good “Eruption” is or the stellar solo on “Ice Cream Man”, but when you listen to the first ever song on the first ever full Van Halen album, “Runnin’ with the Devil”, you quickly realize Eddie’s got that uncanny feel and oh-so-smooth swing when it comes to playing rhythm. “Runnin with the Devil”, while being a fairly simply riff, has an undeniable hook that still sounds so fresh almost 40 years later. It also showcases his penchant for triads.
And Eddie is certainly happy to be recognized for his rhythm playing.
“Real musicians actually respect me more for my rhythm-guitar playing than my soloing,” said Van Halen in a Rolling Stone interview from 2008. “‘Cause soloing is almost like pissing up a rope, showing off – unless you’re truly improvising off the melody of the song. But I’m actually a very rhythmic player ’cause I’m the only guitarist in the band. So I gotta cover both.”
Eddie has noted he was influenced and inspired by the likes of Iommi (especially Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void”), Cream, and Malcolm Young (Eddie said “Down Payment Blues” is an all-time fave of his).
Another prime example of a stellar Van Halen riff is “Mean Street”, which showcases his choice of notes and phrasings combined with his picking ability.
Through the entire canon of Van Halen albums, Eddie has always contributed amazing riffs with “5150” being another classic track that often gets overlooked.
Eddie Van Halen certainly doesn’t get enough kudos for his riffs and rhythm, which is really too bad, because he’s one of the best. Ever.