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Eddie Van Halen & Randy Rhoads: Duelling Guitarists

It’s 1977 and the hard rock scene in Los Angeles is thriving in booze-soaked, Hollywood bars like the Starwood and Whisky thanks to two local bands: Van Halen and Quiet Riot.

The former would sign a mega record deal and become one of the best selling hard rock bands of all time. Quiet Riot would hit a high in 1983, then fall into hair metal obscurity shortly thereafter.

Despite their differing career trajectories, in 1977 both bands boasted two of the greatest guitarist of all time in Edward Van Halen and Randy Rhoads.

The two axe slingers would never hang out, but they did cross paths several times back in the day.

In 1976 (or ’77), Rhoads first saw Van Halen and came away from the show “devastated” according to former girlfriend, Jan. That’s because Rhoads was the acknowledged top dog in Burbank, with fans constantly telling him how awesome he was. Seeing Eddie Van Halen play was a real eye opener for Rhoads, but he was also inspired by what he saw and heard. He thought Van Halen was amazing and he wanted to be amazing as well.

According to a Rhoads biography, the two actually met four times before Rhoads’ untimely and tragic death in 1982.

One such instance was in April 1977 at a Glendale College gig. Quiet Riot opened for Van Halen. The unassuming Rhoads approached Eddie and asked him how he kept his guitar in tune without a tremolo locking nut. Eddie refused to tell him, saying it was his secret. This came as a bit of shock for Rhoads, who was into sharing ideas and teaching others to become better guitar players. It must have been like a verbal slap in the face.

At the time in Quiet Riot, Kevin DuBrow was the de facto band leader with the goal of getting U.S. record deal. To that end, DuBrow focussed the band on writing more radio friendly songs, which didn’t really allow Rhoads to spread his wings and flourish like he did when he joined the Blizzard of Ozz band in 1979.

So Randy would play a lot of Van Halen’s licks live. He told journalist John Stix it killed him to do that, but added it’s just flash, and that’s what the kids want to see. That’s what impresses them. He also said that it kills him because he believes in the importance of finding your own voice and style. Rhoads thought the worst thing a guitar player could do was copy someone else.

Van Halen watched Rhoads Play Live Several Times

Now it should be known that both guitarists admired each other. Former Quiet Riot drummer Drew Forsyth has said on record the Eddie/Randy rivalry has been made up to be so much more than it was. Forsyth also noted Eddie used to come watch Randy play way more than Randy used to go see Van Halen play.

There’s also the story of how Rhoads went to a music store to buy some classical records in 1982 during a break on the Diary of Madman tour and saw Eddie Van Halen there. Apparently Eddie was picking up a copy of “Diary of a Madman”.

Over the years, Eddie hasn’t said much about his late contemporary. There is one interview from 1982 that was on Youtube (which has since been taken down) where Eddie is quoted as saying “yeah, well, he didn’t do anything that I hadn’t done”, which drew plenty of criticism – not only from Rhoads fans, but guitar players and other musicians as well.

The two couldn’t be more different in their styles and each contributed massively to hard rock, with Rhoads pretty much helping establish neo-classical metal as a heavy metal sub-genre, while Van Halen was the guy every guitarist wanted to be like and he spawned a host of hair metal fret-master-wannabes in the 1980s.

As music fans, we can be thankful for both Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen. It’s just unfortunate Rhoads’ body of work is so small.

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