Attempting to describe Eddie Van Halen’s influence on modern music is like describing the round part of a football. Technically, melodically and compositionally, Van Halen advanced the art of guitar playing to unthinkable new levels; indeed, it’s impossible to imagine rock or metal today without his enduring influence.
While his band went on to sell records by the bazillions, Eddie inspired a new generation of shredders to rethink their entire approach to playing. Among those early disciples was Nuno Bettencourt, of Boston metallers Extreme, whose chart-busting second album, Extreme II: Pornograffitti, delivered some of the most incendiary guitar work of the 90s. Brian May once described Bettencourt’s playing on Get The Funk Out as “a landmark in rock history that I think should have its own little medal struck and awarded to Nuno Bettencourt and Extreme.”
Guesting on The Mistress Carrie Podcast in 2020, Bettencourt gushed over his admiration for Van Halen. “Every guitar player after Eddie,” he said, “the way they played rhythm — the chording, everything they did, the way they phrased them — from [Ratt's] Warren DeMartini to, you name it. Randy Rhoads at the time — it affected all of them, and that was even simultaneously. Eddie had a way to play rhythm and soloing — that's what makes him the greatest to me of all time. Period."
Suffice to say, when Bettencourt eventually met his hero, it was all a bit overwhelming. Speaking with Eddie Trunk in the video below, Bettencourt shares that the meeting finally happened just after vocalist Gary Cherone left Extreme to front Van Halen in 1996, after their split with Sammy Hagar.
“[Gary] came to me about doing it and Gary was not the biggest Van Halen fan,” says Bettencourt. “He was a Who guy, Zeppelin, you know? He loved Queen. Me and Pat [Badger, bassist in Extreme] were more obsessed about the Van Halen stuff.”
While working on Dweezil Zappa’s 1991 Confessions album, Bettencourt paid a visit to Van Halen’s studio. Bettencourt explains: “On the way to the studio one day, Dweezil said, ‘Hey, I gotta make a quick stop…I’ve got to run in and grab a guitar. Just come in with me.’” And inside, he found Van Halen, mid-rehearsal.
“I thought, ‘Wow!’ We’d just done a run with David Lee Roth when we went in and before that as well. Eddie stopped! He stopped playing and I was like, ‘Uh oh…he’s gonna kick me out.’ But he came over and other than Elton John, he’s the only other guitarist or musician that kissed me on the lips.” After a few catcalls from the audience, Bettencourt continues, “I thought I was special but then I read that he did that to Kurt Cobain as well and he did it to so and so… so he’s a bit of a slut. He kissed everybody on the lips, hello. I thought I was special!”
The two men chatted and, after a bit more rehearsing, Bettencourt got his shot. During a break in the rehearsal, Bettencourt says that Eddie beckoned him over and said, “‘Come and play my rig!’ I was like, ‘Uh oh…did he just hear me? Did I just say that out loud?’ He was like, ‘Just play, I wanna try this pedal out.’”
Rather than blindly improvise in front of his hero, Bettencourt elected to play to his strengths, reeling off the intricate, yet familiar solo from Get The Funk Out — a solo which includes Eddie Van Halen’s trademark tapping technique.
“I went in and started going and I got to that part where I did the tapping and he turns around and he stops me and I go, ‘Uh oh…’ and he goes, ‘None of that silly stuff here!’ And you know why he said that? You think these guys, these icons, don’t read these magazines. I’d just done an article that came out in Guitar World or Guitar Player and they asked about doing tapping and I said, ‘I kind of feel silly when I tap, because it’s so Eddie.’ Not that it was bad, but you can't not be Eddie when you do that. So he stopped me and goes, ‘None of that silly stuff here!’ Haha”
Van Halen passed away in 2020 and in the years since, Bettencourt has vowed to keep his spirit alive in his own playing — a statement made abundantly clear in his jaw-dropping fretwork on Rise, from Extreme’s latest studio outing, Six. “When Eddie Van Halen passed, it really hit me,” Bettencourt told Guitar World. “I’m not going to be the one who will take the throne, but I felt some responsibility to keep guitar playing alive. So, you hear a lot of fire on the record.”
In fairness, the admiration was mutual. In 2022, Guitar World reported that Van Halen used to regularly play Bettencourt riffs during Van Halen soundchecks. As told by Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, no less, it turns out that the two men shared a guitar tech, who would hear Van Halen playing Bettencourt’s riff in He-Man Woman Hater during soundchecks and assume it was an unrecorded Van Halen riff.
According to Kroeger, “[Bettencourt] started playing He-Man Woman Hater during soundcheck and the tech said, ‘Oh, how do you know that riff? It’s a Van Halen riff that’s never been recorded!’ And Nuno was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And the tech said that Eddie used to play that song every single soundcheck.”
Extreme will release Six, their sixth studio album and first new material in fifteen years, on June 9, via earMUSIC.