Even though he was a once in a generation talent as a lead guitar player, Eddie Van Halen remains one of the most underrated rhythm players in rock music. So much attention is paid to his tapping, high-flying solos, and fretboard fireworks that it’s easy to miss the fact that, on most Van Halen songs, Van Halen himself mostly sticks to chords and rhythm.
This is especially true for the earliest days of Van Halen, before synthesisers began to take up the space that Eddie’s rhythm guitar usually landed in. During their days as a lean and mean power trio (at least instrumentally), Van Halen liked to hang back and focus on either riffs or chords until it was time to solo. If you’re looking for the best example of Van Halen’s underrated rhythm guitar prowess, look no further than the beloved Van Halen I track ‘Jamie’s Cryin’.
The only real “lead guitar” lines on ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ happen at the very beginning and very end of the track. Van Halen’s signature bends and dive bombs occupy these parts of the song, but once we quickly get launched into the verse, things get much sparser and paired back. Van Halen focuses on his mind-bending ascending and descending lines, but they never spiral off into improvised solos. It’s all riffs and runs that are meant to keep the song moving as David Lee Roth takes over the spotlight.
Even when Van Halen kicks into the song’s bridge, he’s still playing strictly rhythm, with an MXR phase 90 kicked on to give the guitars a different texture. For the breakdown section, Van Halen doesn’t use any pedals or overdubs for the gentler section: he simply turns down the volume knob on his guitar, easing off the distortion and letting his clean guitar ring out before diving right back into the song’s nasty riff.
‘Jamie’s Cryin’ may be one of the only early-period Van Halen songs that doesn’t feature Eddie Van Halen tapping. It doesn’t really show him doing any crazy shredding or wild histrionics either. Instead, Van Halen stays in the pocket and chugs away at the various riffs assembled to give ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ its maximum impact.
Check out Eddie Van Halen’s isolated guitar tracks for ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ down below.