Speaking in the brand new issue of Classic Rock, where he looks back on the making of the 1983 Star Fleet Project mini-album which saw the two guitarists working together, May recalls seeing Van Halen for the first time when his bamnd opened for Black Sabbath in Cologne, Germany in 1978.
“I got there early, thinking, ‘I wonder who these Van Halen people are? I wonder what they’re like?’” May tells Classic Rock. “And I sat there watching them and my jaw just dropped. Watching Ed was like watching Jimi Hendrix for the first time. I was awestruck.”
In the same interview, May looks back on how he ended up working with Van Halen on the Star Fleet Project mini-album, which was inspired by a Japanese kids’ TV show.
“It was a step into the unknown for me,” says May of the mini-album, which was released under the name Brian May + Friends . “But it was a chance to have some fun, play with guys I knew and liked, and finally have the opportunity to play with Ed.”
Asked what made Van Halen such a special guitarist, May lists three crucial things.
“First of all, the spirit of the guy,” he says. “He was incredibly buoyant, nothing was ever problem for him: ‘Yeah, I can do that’, ‘Hey I can do this.’ I can get depressed about things, I sometimes have to come around at something from a different angle. In all the times I was with him, I never saw Ed get defeated by anything, I never saw that spirit falter.
He continues: “The second thing he had was incredible dexterity in the way he could move his fingers – certainly way more than I had. He brought the techniques of a keyboard player to the guitar. Someone like Rick Wakeman can move his fingers around that fast on a keyboard. Ed could do that on the guitar.
“And the third thing was that he had a real lyrical sense. Even when he was tapping at this incredible speed, you could always hear the tune. He would sing through the guitar, just as Jimi Hendrix did. And that combination of being able to do stuff in a very flash way while keeping a sense of humour was unique. Everything came from a point of view of: ‘Let’s do this, it’s exciting.’ And that, in combination with the incredible technical skills and the dexterity and his spirit, just put him on a different level to anyone I’d ever heard.”
May also reveals why he always called his fellow guitarist “Ed” rather than “Eddie”.
““He told me didn’t like being called ‘Eddie’,” says May. “Fame came to Van Halen very quickly, and all the headlines were: Eddie Van Halen does this, Eddie Van Halen does that. He said: ‘That’s not the way I see myself. In the family I’m Edward, or I’m Ed to my brother. I don’t relate to this ‘Eddie’ thing.’”
A deluxe 40th anniversary reissue of the Star Fleet Project mini album, featuring an expanded version of the album plus 23 previously unreleased session tracks, is released on July 14 and available to pre-order now.
You can read the full interview with Brian May about his collaboration with Eddie Van Halen on the Star Fleet Project album in the new issue of Classic Rock, along with the story of the making of Queen’s landmark debut album. Order it online and have it delivered straight to your door.