In the eyes of countless hard rock fans, David
Lee Roth is the prototypical frontman. With a flamboyant, larger than life stage presence and a party-hearty surfer dude
persona (not to mention his acrobatic leaps, long mane of blond hair, and skintight spandex outfits), Roth was an integral
part of Van Halen's meteoric rise to global dominance from 1978 through 1984. Born on October 10, 1955, in Bloomington,
IN, Roth was introduced to music at an early age, via his father's affinity for Al Jolson, Ray Charles,
Frank Sinatra, and Louis Prima. By the dawn of his teenage years, his family had relocated to California, and
by the early '70s, Roth had become a major rock fan (Led Zeppelin, Black Oak Arkansas, Grand
Funk, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, etc.). Roth was soon singing in local bands, including the Red Ball
Jets, who would play shows along with another up-and-coming rock band from Pasadena, CA -- Mammoth.
The members of Mammoth, including brothers Eddie and Alex
Van Halen on guitar and drums, respectively, would often borrow Roth's PA system for their gigs, and a friendship
was struck up. Soon after, Roth was asked to join forces with the Van Halen brothers, who had enlisted a new
bassist as well, Michael Anthony. The new quartet decided on a name change by the mid-'70s as they played the Sunset
Strip -- Van Halen (reportedly Roth's idea). By 1977, the quartet was signed to Warner Bros., and 1978
saw the release of their landmark self-titled debut, one of rock's all-time great recordings. Mixing heavy metal
riffs with punk's fury, Van Halen were onto a whole new sound, which resulted in the band taking the world by
storm. The band issued a string of classic mega-selling albums (1979's Van Halen II, 1980's Women and Children First,
1981's Fair Warning, 1982's Diver Down, and two years later, 1984), while becoming a major arena-headlining
concert draw in the process.
Just as Van Halen had hit their peak and appeared they could do
no wrong, Roth issued a four-track solo EP in 1985, Crazy from the Heat, with rumors swirling that the bandmembers
were bickering behind the scenes and that the singer was going to make a major motion picture. Still, it was a shock to rock
fans everywhere when Roth left Van Halen later that year (Van Halen would soldier on with Sammy Hagar
filling Roth's spot) -- leading to a war of words in the press. When his plans for the movie proved to be a bust, Roth
immediately formed a top-notch solo band, consisting of ex-Talas bassist Billy Sheehan (often called "the Eddie
Van Halen of bass"), ex-Frank Zappa guitarist Steve Vai, and ex-Maynard Ferguson drummer Gregg
Bissonette. In 1986, Roth issued his first full-length solo effort, Eat 'Em and Smile, which was another
hit and gave way to another sold-out tour.
Roth had also become a master of creating hilarious and highly
original music videos (featuring a wide assortment of wacky characters), especially Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher"
and Roth's solo clips "California Girls," "Just a Gigolo," "Yankee Rose," and "Goin' Crazy."
But while Roth's new solo band seemed to be on the way to a very promising future, the lineup began to splinter with
each subsequent release (1988's Skyscraper, 1991's A Little Ain't Enough), until Roth was the only remaining
member. With interest waning, Roth attempted to branch out musically on his experimental 1994 release, Your
Filthy Little Mouth (produced by Nile Rodgers), but it was met with a cool reception, as was his attempt to break
into the Vegas circuit around the same time.
By 1996, Van Halen had parted ways with Hagar, leading to
an onslaught of rumors that a Roth/Van Halen reunion was in the works. The rumor appeared to become reality
on September 4, 1996, when Van Halen and Roth appeared together at the MTV Video Music Awards in New
York to present an award. Despite the fact that they had recorded several new songs the previous summer (two of which would
appear on their forthcoming Best Of: Vol. 1 collection), the reunion was short-lived -- Eddie and Roth
got into a near fistfight backstage on the night of the awards show, as relations soured once again when it became known that
Van Halen tricked Roth into thinking that he was back in the band (meanwhile, they had secretly hired ex-Extreme
singer Gary Cherone a few months prior).
Undeterred, Roth penned a tell-all biography, 1997's Crazy from
the Heat, and issued his best solo album in years, 1998's back-to-basics DLR Band. When Cherone was dismissed
from Van Halen in 1999 after only a single album (the horrific Van Halen III), rumors began swirling once again
about a possible Roth/Van Halen reunion. With both camps keeping things very hush-hush, Roth finally
broke the silence in April of 2001, issuing a statement on his website that he and his former Van Halen bandmates had
indeed regrouped the previous year in the recording studio, but that he hadn't heard back from them in months. Barely a week
later, Eddie Van Halen went public with the fact that he was diagnosed with cancer; in May of 2002 he reported on his
website that his cancer treatments had been successful and he had "just gotten a 100 percent clean bill of health -- from
head to toe."
Meanwhile, the good news from Eddie Van Halen did not apparently
coincide with a return of Roth to the Van Halen fold, as the singer's Diamond Dave, a 14-track collection
of mostly covers that echoed the 1982 Van Halen classic Diver Down, was released in 2003. In 2005, Roth
took over FM "Shock Jock" duties for the satellite radio-bound Howard Stern, and the following year he gathered friends
for the tongue-in-cheek Strummin with the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen. ~ Greg Prato, All Music Guide
Copyright © 2004-2006, Only-Rock. All Rights Reserved. Do not use any materials without permission from Only-rock through
the Comment Form. All Logos and or likenesses thereof are Copyright protected, and are property of each respective band listed.