Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” is iconic, but Van Halen wasn’t who the King of Pop first approached to contribute to Thriller.
Pete Townshend said in a statement to Rolling Stone following Van Halen’s passing on October 6, “I was once asked by Michael Jackson to play electric guitar on the Thriller album. I said I couldn’t do it but recommended Eddie who called and we chatted. He was utterly charming, happy about the connection, but told me how much he was enjoying playing keyboards. His smile was just classic. A man in his rightful place, so happy to be doing what he did.”
Townshend added on Van Halen, “It’s completely tragic that we have lost him. He was not just an innovative and stylish player with great taste, he was also a laidback virtuoso showman who just blew us all away every time. Every shredder today has lost their Master Teacher and Guide.”
Townshend concluded, “As he got older he became more generous and amusing and self-effacing about his enormous gifts. He shared so many tricks through guitar workshops, online and on TV shows. Immense talent. The Great American Guitar Player. I was hoping he might be President one day.”
Thriller producer Quincy Jones paid tribute to Van Halen shortly after news of his passing writing, “RIP to the GREAT @eddievanhalen. Even though it took a couple calls to convince U it was actually me on the phone. U killed it on Thriller, & your classic solo on Beat It will never be matched. I’ll always smile when I think of our time working together. Eternal love & props.”
EVH’s son, Wolfgang, responded to Jones’ tweet writing, “I loved whenever he told me the story of you calling him and him not actually believing you. One of my favorite stories he would tell. Much love.”
Jones replied, “My dear Wolf…so so sorry for your loss. Sending U & the fam lots of love.”