Back-up Vocal~ Once again, we pay a visit to the “Distortion Grotto”. To me, it felt like far too long since the “DBS 3 TV” Video Podcast had been deployed in our pages. “Trope” is too strong a word, but I do enjoy applying this little…nugget…of plot device when there is room for it in a story.  Plus, Hapler has not really played that much of a role of late, so bringing him back into the fold for an observation or two seemed like a capital notion. What’s more important, is that he’s right. A full scale solo album is a much weightier creature than one solo for one song. 

That said, a touch of elaboration seems appropriate in this particular case. Details have varied over the years, due partly to the passage of time. But, perhaps also because embellishment seems to be a gloriously enjoyable method of guarding details from prying eyes. Broadcast folklore to protect fact. In short, subterfuge is fun. But, most reliable accounts report that back in the days of crafting the “Thriller” album, all of the studio musicians had gone home for the Christmas break. Yet, Michael Jackson decided that he desperately wanted the guitar solo for “Beat It” done and he wanted it done by the hottest player on the planet. So, a call was made to Eddie Van Halen, inviting him to come to the studio that very night and work his magic. All traditional tellings of the tale, indicate that Eddie just winged his way through 3 separate takes of the solo and went home. Then, the best moments of each were pieced together into a complete performance during editing, mixing and mastering. Those of us who are of a certain age, grew up hearing that solo on the radio our entire lives, without ever knowing it was really an improvised, piecemeal affair. I offer my favorite element of this monumental slice of music history. Last year, I read a book called “Shredders!: The Oral History of Speed Guitar” by Greg Prato. It offers discussion from a vast array of the best and fastest guitar players of the last several decades, across a considerable expanse of the sonic landscape. Full-time band members, road and studio players offer commentary about their lives and work. In particular, we hear from Jennifer Batten and Greg Howe, who are both among the ELITE who have toured as lead guitar wizards for Michael Jackson. They each ultimately share one thread of gestalt in common with all those who have worked the stage as guitar soloists for the Gloved Moonwaker: they ALL had to learn the Eddie guitar solo for “Beat It” note-for-note. Before moving onward, I present one additional bit of trivia for clarification, since Eddie himself has been open about it: the rule in Van Halen at that time was clear…NO side projects. Especially not for Eddie. As principle Van Halen song writer, he was to preserve all of his best work for the Van Halen machine, without exception. So, he really did sneak off to play that solo for Michael Jackson and wanted it kept quiet that he had ever even done the job. God forbid his band find out about it. But, a solo played by Eddie, is a solo played by Eddie. There is no mistaking that style, technique and blazing performance. Especially when we hear it in a song that became an overnight cultural milestone for a generation. 

I had almost forgotten about Hapler’s abiding love for Social Distortion. Personally, I have never understood Punk. As a dyed-in-the-wool Progressive Rock fan, I’ve always thought the sound and ethos of the Punk world serve as complete rebellion AGAINST the kind of music I love most. Thus, I’m not shocked at all that Hapler lives for it. Somehow, our favorite fox being a Coolio fan makes all the sense in the world to me, too.  Finally, if neck-deep in the swamp of an existential crisis, Hapler is the LAST oracle of wisdom I would consult in any attempt to revive my weary soul. But, if his version of guidance feels like just the approach you need to get some bounce back in your compression coil, have at it!