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Music

How Eddie Van Halen insulted Eric Clapton

Considering that Brian May and Eddie Van Halen share a lot of musical overlap, it was only fitting that they should work together on an album. The resulting record was Star Fleet Project, a scintillatingly produced rock effort that offered both musicians ample room to let their guitars play out. 

Considering the uncompromising nature of the work, it wasn’t geared to everyone’s tastes, but it must have upset May to hear that the former Blind Faith songwriter, Eric Clapton, didn’t rate the work. Worse still, they presented the album to him as a form of tribute.

“One side was a kind of a fusion thing – really very interesting, great to listen to – and the other side was a blues jam,” Clapton told Musician magazine in 1986. “It was so horrible. And they dedicated it to me. They sent me a copy, and I put it on, expecting something, and, you know, I was almost insulted that they should send this to me.”

Although he was credited with flowering the seeds of heavy metal in the 1960s, Clapton was always reluctant to acquiesce to the genre. Van Halen was a fan of his, but Clapton didn’t view him as a natural disciple. 

And then Clapton stuck the knife in: “[I]f he was that tuned into me and missed that point, then he missed the whole point,” Clapton said. “It’s crazy for him to have learned that much from me. I mean, he could have just been aware of what I was doing, and then said, ‘Oh yeah, well, that’s a bit like Buddy Guy,’ or, ‘That’s a bit like so-and-so,’ Put it all in perspective. To get obsessive about one person…”

Personally, I think Van Halen has been sorely misjudged by members of the music press. Sure, he would like to “finger-tap”, but there was more to his antenna than spine-tingling riffs. Indeed, it was Van Halen, not David Lee Roth, who pushed the band into more keyboard-oriented territories. If anyone in the comment’s section can name a keyboard hook as infectious as ‘Jump’, I’ll be mighty impressed — and definitely surprised.

May too, is another fine musician. It’s not my place to say whether or not he’s a better songwriter than Clapton, but he’s certainly the stronger vocalist. May sang many of the more sombre Queen numbers, including A Night At The Opera standout, ’39’. He also sang the second vocal on ‘I Want It All’, a sprawling anthem that still makes rock radio playlists. 

If May was hurt by Clapton’s comments, he was good enough not to show it in public. In an interview with Far Out, the Queen songwriter went on to espouse his admiration for the Blind Faith frontman: “It’s one of the great privileges of gaining success in some area, you then get the chance to interact with some of your heroes. For me to work with someone like Eric Clapton, who’s totally my hero. Those moments never leave you.” 

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