30 Years Ago: Brian May and Eddie Van Halen Release ‘Star Fleet Project’
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Thirty years ago, the Star Fleet Project blasted off. No, this wasn’t a NASA initiative, but perhaps the greatest convergence of nerdy rock musicians this side of Rush.
It all started with Queen guitar god and amateur astronomer Brian May‘s son, who hooked his dad onto the Japanese television series ‘X Bomber,’ which was renamed ‘Star Fleet’ in the U.K. This inspired the elder May to re-record the show’s theme song with some friends.
Luckily, May’s pals included rockers like REO Speedwagon drummer Alan Gratzer, journeyman keyboardist Fred Mandel (Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd), session bassist Phil Chen (Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart), Queen colleague Roger Taylor (who provided backing vocals) and Eddie Van Halen.
Together, this formidable wrecking crew ripped through an extended hard-rock arrangement of the ‘Star Fleet Theme,’ cut an unused May composition called ‘Let Me Out’ and then jammed on a 12-minute tribute to Eric Clapton that they fittingly titled ‘Blues Breaker.’
May discussed the project with Ultimate Classic Rock during an interview. When asked if the group recorded more than the three songs found on the EP, he said no. “We only spent the one afternoon, really, playing around,” he recalled. “And it was an epic afternoon. But no, that’s it. What you hear on the ‘Star Fleet’ CD is what we did.”
What an afternoon it was, though, as Van Halen News Desk chronicles. The mere sight of May’s Red Special (a.k.a. the “fireplace guitar”) and Van Halen’s red, white and black “Frankenstrat” — both homemade, one-of-a-kind axes — in the same room is enough to send guitar buffs into convulsions of excitement.
Also, according to VHND, there were no plans to release the sessions at first. “I could have put these tapes in a bottom of a drawer and kept them as a private record of one of the best experiences of my life,“ May said at the time.
But fortunately the collection of stars, eventually billed as Brian May + Friends, released the ‘Star Fleet’ mini-album to document not only one of Eddie’s rare musical field trips outside the Van Halen compound, but a clash of guitar titans for the ages.