NUNO BETTENCOURT Weighs In On JOE SATRIANI's Attempt To Play 'Mean Street': 'You've Gotta Give Him A Bit Of A Pass'
November 21, 2023
In a new interview with The Jeremy White Show, EXTREME's Nuno Bettencourt weighed in on Joe Satriani's attempt to perform Eddie Van Halen's intro to "Mean Street", the opening track off VAN HALEN's 1981 album "Fair Warning", during a recent appearance on "The Howard Stern Show". Satriani later said that he "royally screwed up" playing the track, the original version of which saw Eddie Van Halen applying his two-handed tapping to lead-rhythm guitar.
Nuno said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "I just did an interview for this documentary that [Joe's] son is doing based on 'G3'. And you've got albums like [Joe's] 'Surfing With The Alien', which is like — that stuff is lore. It's like instrumental guitar… It's a masterpiece.
"The one thing that I learned recently of seeing Joe or anybody — me, Joe, anybody — if we're gonna take a risk and we're gonna play an Edward anything, especially on Howard Stern or anything like that, where you know you can't get it back, good luck. That's all I'm saying is good luck. Why? Because you're going now into hallowed ground.
"I remember seeing Edward on a stage at the NAMM show. And it was really strange," Nuno continued. "It was like a little jam, but it was all the guys outside of Edward with these country — Alvin Lee, Steve Morse, country-picking, Southern-fried chicken, crazy stuff. And there was Edward. So these guys would take these solos, and then it got to Edward. And it was, like, 'Ooh, that's interesting,' because it was Edward out of his element. And the reason it was strange, it wasn't because of what Edward was doing. It was because the whole rhythm section, the whole band was not his genre. So it kind of exposed them in a way as well, going, like, 'Man, this is not your lane. This is not your vibe.' And some people were in the crowd going, 'Ah, see what I'm saying? And I'm, like, no, no, no, no.
"The whole idea of being a great guitar player is nobody can do you like you," Bettencourt explained. "Nobody can step into Edward's domain and fucking play Edward like Edward. The same thing with Satriani or [Steve] Vai or [Jimmy] Page or any of these guys. But in this case, if you're gonna do it, you're exposing yourself. And I think even Joe came out and said something, like an apology or something. But if any of us are gonna play 'Mean Street', which, yeah, I can play it. I think I can play it. I can play it, I think, like Nuno can play it.
"People really get confused about Edward, to me. They think it's like Edward was this flashy, tapping, and it's all about this kind of technical side of things. I never saw that. Edward's pocket, rhythm, feel, swing is what separated him from everybody. If you're just gonna play the notes and try to play the notes, good luck. It's a feel thing. You can learn it note for note, but, man, there's a pocket there. And especially 'Mean Street', this funkier thing. It's all rhythmic. It's like he's a drummer. And that's one of the things that I related to Edward a lot is, like, I played drums first. And when I first read that, I was, like, 'My God, this makes so much sense,' why the rhythm and the tightness and the swing that he had came from…
"If you're not a drummer that played on guitar, you're gonna attempt to do… Try this other stuff that he does that's a lot more elastic-y sounding, like in 'Hot For Teacher', but if you're gonna do 'Mean Street'… People are saying it's impossible to play. It's not impossible to play. It's impossible to do it if you don't have a kind of rhythmic drumming background, because that's all it is.. It's like him tapping on a snare drum. So then he incorporated with like harmonics that he does. And that's the perfect nuance of what I was saying earlier, when Edward would take his drumming into like something that maybe he learned or maybe his influences and swing and Billy Gibbons and ZZ TOP, and then all of a sudden, then you create this Edward that's, like, oh, my God. It's like a triple-threat thing going on here that it's not just notes. There's harmonics, there's tapping, tapping that he does, then there's rhythm. 'Mean Street' is the perfect storm of why people don't fuck with Edward. It's like, okay. But it's not the hardest thing he's ever played, in my opinion. It's hard if you don't have a rhythmic feel.'
Nuno added: "There's songs like 'I'm The One'. And I'm talking about the first 10 seconds. Forget the song. You play the intro to 'I'm The One'. I've seen the best guitar players that I know, my own buddies, trying to do it on Instagram. And I'm, like, 'Hey, power to you for trying.' But there's this whole percussive, rhythmic, crazy, mental approach to guitar that Edward had that that's why it was always so baffling. It wasn't just, like, it was difficult. It wasn't the difficulty. It was, like, man, it was so fucking him. It was so quirky that you're, like, good luck having that feel and that approach. So that's what made him the king. And that's what still makes him the king.
"And so when guys like me are doing my stuff and tipping their hat — like even in the [EXTREME] 'Rise' solo that everybody's raving about. There's no doubt that there's Edward all over that, and the beginning of it might as well be right out of 'Eruption' with the beginning of the solo. And not that you're doing it on purpose; it's just your influences.
"So, look, you've gotta give Joe a bit of a pass on this one, because it's Joe doing Edward," Bettencourt continued. "I'm more pissed at Sammy [Hagar] for allowing him to do it. 'Cause Sammy's, like, 'Man, that's why I got Joe. Nobody can do this stuff.' And I'm, like, look, you're, you're right there. You're already putting him on the spot and doing those things and asking people to play those things. It's really difficult. And if you're gonna do it, man, and Joe probably knows this now, 'cause… Joe is untouchable as Joe Satriani. He's the greatest Joe Satriani you'll ever hear. And that's what I love about Eric Johnson, Joe, myself, anybody that… Nobody can attack you when you're doing you. Nobody can say you suck as you or that you did… I mean, granted, you can try to pull off your own shit off live and sometimes it's, like… But my point is nobody can ever rip Joe Satriani apart in that way. Now, what they can do is because he put himself in that position to go, like… If I'm gonna go on and say, like, 'Man, I'm about to do this right now…' Any of us — it's not just Joe; it's any of us. There's some ripping stuff that Slash did. People don't even realize. Everybody looks at Slash as like this bluesy player. There's some solos on 'Paradise City', some shit that is so crazy and shredding and fast that you're, like, 'All right, I'm gonna leave that there.' I've seen cover bands try to do it. They're, like, 'I'm gonna leave that part alone.' And they're gonna do 'Sweet Child O' Mine' and they're going to do stuff like that. But every guitar player has the things that we can do as guitar players that we can kind of do. But as far as doing their DNA, good luck. And I think Joe… And Sam said, he's like, 'Yeah, that's why I got Joe. He's gonna nail it for you right here.' And even Joe was, like, 'No, man. This shit is fucking impossible.' If I'm saying those words, I'm not playing after that. If I'm saying it's impossible for me, the next thing I'm doing is putting the fucking guitar down. But he apologized, because you know what? Everybody will rip you apart. You, unfortunately, to learn something like 'Mean Street', you've gotta sit down. You've gotta go like what I did. You literally sit there like a child, and I don't care how good you are, it's kind of going back to the drawing board, 'cause you're, like, 'Oh, this is different. What is happening here? This rhythm pattern.' And you're, like, 'Oh my god. He's drumming. Got it. Get that.' Do I play drums? No? Don't play 'Mean Street'. Don't do it."
A few days after Satriani performed on "The Howard Stern Show" with his new "Best Of All Worlds" tour bandmates Hagar, Michael Anthony and Jason Bonham, he told Guitar World about his "Mean Street" rendition: "I royally screwed up, which hurt like a thorn in my side, but I'll get over it."
Satriani told Guitar World that Eddie himself must have found it challenging to perform his early catalog through what the magazine called "incredibly gain-y rig of his latter touring years."
"He probably struggled with it the most," Satriani said. "Because I'm sure when he sat down to do the beginning of 'Mean Street', he experienced what I did on Howard Stern, where it's, like, 'There's too much gain!' Because you want a peak in the midrange of the gain so you can get those harmonics to sing out as loud. But if you cross the line, you get too much surface noise. But to try and figure all of that out at six in the morning was like… 'Damn, this is rough.'"
During the "Howard Stern" appearance, Hagar explained why he wanted to to get Satriani involved instead of just some guitar player who can imitate Eddie's sound.
"The thing about what Eddie did — I mean, the reason Joe is in this band for this tour is because, like I said, if you're gonna go deep into his stuff in the VAN HALEN catalog, you need a guy like Joe Satriani that's not just imitating Eddie.
"So many little kids in grocery stores nowadays just pick up a guitar off the shelf and go play all this stuff, but they don't necessarily know what they're playing," he explained. "They're just imitating Eddie because he's so distinct. Joe knows what he's playing and Joe can do something like that and know what it means.
"I'm going, 'I think that's just Eddie just fucking around beating the shit out of his guitars,'" Hagar said, compared to Joe who actually "knows this stuff".
"That's the difference between playing this stuff with Joe and just having some guitar player in the band that can imitate Eddie," Sammy concluded.
The "Best Of All Worlds" tour will focus on music from the VAN HALEN catalog.
Kicking off on July 13, 2024 in West Palm Beach, Florida, the 28-date trek will feature special guest LOVERBOY.
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