“I could never play like him. I never tried. Only an idiot competes with Eddie Van Halen”: Steve Vai

Steve Vai remembers his friend Eddie Van Halen in a lengthy tribute.

As the guitar world mourns the loss of Eddie Van Halen, who died from throat cancer this week (6 October) at 65, Steve Vai opened up about his personal relationship with the virtuoso in a lengthy open letter.

The pair first met in 1989, backstage at an Allan Holdsworth show at the Roxy in Los Angeles. At the time, Vai was working with prog legend Frank Zappa, of whom Van Halen was a fan.

“I gave [Eddie] my number and said, ‘If you ever want to meet Frank, let me know’,” Vai recalled to Rolling Stone. “And oddly enough, the next day, my roommate said, ‘Ed Van Halen called.’ I gave him Frank’s number. Then the phone rings, and it’s Frank. And he says to me, ‘Hey, sport, Edward Van Halen is here, come on up.’”

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The three guitarists spent the entire day together at Zappa’s home, listening to music and jamming. “He was amazing back then,” Vai said. “He picked up this one guitar, and the nut was a little too shallow, so the string was buzzing.”

“He found this huge screwdriver and [stuck it] underneath the nut. The screwdriver was sticking out like a foot and a half, and we were jamming like that, and he made it work.”

Before, there had been some tension between the two guitarists; Vai was the guitarist for David Lee Roth’s post-Van Halen band, and as part of the gig, had to tackle the virtuoso’s guitar parts on tunes from Panama to Hot For Teacher.

“I remember he said something very interesting: ‘I thought I was going to dislike you,’ something to that effect,” Vai said. “When I joined David Lee Roth’s band, it was a great opportunity for me to play such well-constructed rock songs. They were just a dream. Of course, nobody can play them like Edward, but you do your best.”

He added: “I could never play like him, I never tried. Only an idiot competes with Eddie Van Halen.”

Reflecting on the guitar icon’s death, Vai advised the greater guitar community to revel in the late guitarist’s contributions rather than lament his passing.

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“What did we lose? I like to think about it as what we gained. Everything in this world is coming and going. We just don’t know when it’s going to go,” Vai said. “I feel the shock and the loss of the entire guitar community. I just want to say let’s focus on all that he gave us, because it truly was a gift. And he was brilliant.”

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