Brian May and Eddie Van Halen, two of the ’80s premiere rock guitarists, once collaborated on a sci-fi-inspired EP that has mostly flown under the radar over the years. Billed as Brian May + Friends, a three-song EP using the name Star Fleet Project was conceived and completed over two days in 1983.
Reflecting on that experience, May recently told Total Guitar, “It was not consciously conceived. Or not premeditated. I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Queen had taken a break – we’d sort of had enough of each other for a while. And for some reason I always felt like a different person in LA. I’m naturally quite shy and retiring, but in LA I feel I can call people. And one morning I thought, why don’t I call Eddie Van Halen? Maybe we could get together.”
Van Halen took the call and May revealed the idea he had in mind. “Because my little boy had been watching this science fiction series and I always thought that the theme tune for it would be a great vehicle for all-out guitar playing,” stated May. “And Eddie said, ‘I’m up for it!’ So that was the beginning. I said, ‘I’ll call a few people and we’ll get in there.’”
The collective for the sessions included REO Speedwagon drummer Alan Gratzer, Rod Stewart bassist Phil Chen, Queen keyboardist Fred Mandel and May’s Queen cohort drummer Roger Taylor also lent backing vocals to the title track. According to May, he had constructed the basic tracks leaving room for a soloing section to allow for Van Halen to do his thing. From there, May and Van Halen discussed what else could be done and they decided to jam out some blues. By the end of the session, they had “Star Fleet,” a May original titled “Let Me Out” that Van Halen liked and a third song “Blues Breaker” owing a nod to their mutual love of Eric Clapton.
“We all sat around with big smiles on our faces, going, ‘Yay, this is fun!’ I think we’d all got to the point where we’d worked hard in the studio with our respective bands and it had almost become a job, you know,” recalled May. “Of course we all loved music, but there are moments when you feel pressure in the studio, the album has to be made, deadlines and whatever, and sometimes it gets tense. But this was different – we’re all friends, and whatever happens here is a bonus. So it was full of joy.”
The Queen guitarist revealed in the interview that he had recently considered reissuing some of his solo works including the Star Fleet Project EP, but adds, “At some point it would be lovely to revisit it in depth, but at the moment I’m not. It doesn’t feel right now.”
Sharing his thoughts on Van Halen, May explained, “He was the greatest. There was no one who could match him, no one who could come close. There will never be another one of him.” As for how he’ll remember the guitar great, the Queen axeman stated, “He was always smiling. We all know he was a technical prodigy, but what he did, he did with such lightness and humor. He didn’t need to take it seriously. Eddie was always generous, always fun. I miss his energy. I’m thankful I had the chance to have moments with him, but I feel so sad that he’s not around. All I can say is I miss him. I miss his presence in the world.“
Brian May + Friends, “Star Fleet”