Original Van Halen Line-Up:
David Lee Roth – Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitar
Michael Anthony – Bass
Alex Van Halen – Drums
Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, replaced Anthony.
Usually, when a lead singer leaves that’s the end of the band. The singer’s career goes on. The other band members fade into oblivion – even resorting to working day jobs. It’s a cruel world after all. But Van Halen was never solely about the singer, not with Eddie (later Edward) Van Halen on guitar. The band got together when the Dutch born Van Halen brothers (Alex on drums) recruited bassist Michael Anthony. Roth was added after the group figured out it was cheaper and easier to hire Diamond Dave rather than constantly pay him for the use of his PA system.
After a round of unsuccessful demos produced by KISS leader Gene Simmons, the group hooked up with Warner Brothers Records. They produced covers (“You Really Got Me” and “(Oh) Pretty Woman”) and jacked up originals (“Running With The Devil” and “Dance The Night Away”). With front man David Lee Roth the band was exciting, showy and wicked fun. The “1984” album was their big commercial breakthrough (it sold over ten million copies). Not only was the band due, the album was incredibly solid. Of course, success had a way of breeding discontent. Roth recorded a solo EP that consisted of covers (Louis Prima’s “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Coconut Grove” and a faithful rendition of the Beach Boy’s “California Girls”). “California Girls” was a huge hit and the video had its own attributes (a bevy of girls – especially So. Cal girls). Before long Roth was gone. He experienced some initial success before sinking like a stone. Leaving turned out to be an awful career move.
Warner suggested that the group, absent Roth, should change its name. Understandably, the Van Halen brothers nixed that idea. They brought in former Montrose guitarist/singer Sammy (“I Can’t Drive 55”) Hagar. “5150” carried on as if nothing had happened. “Why Can’t This Be Love” rode all the way up the charts just as “Jump” had.
Hagar stayed with the band through the remainder of the ’80s and the first half of the ’90s. In ’96, Van Halen planned to release a “Greatest Hits” CD. Hagar had a problem with the whole compilation concept – thought it was a bad idea for a band that seemed to still have a lot of life in it. Compilations usually come at the end of a career – the summation. In addition, the band asked Roth to sing on some new songs. Whatever the reason or combination of circumstances, Hagar stormed out.
Soon all the old problems surfaced and Roth split again (more below). Ex-Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone handled the singing chores for the disappointing but gold certified “Van Halen III” CD.
It’s said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If that’s true, Eddie is very strong. He’s dealt with divorce (from actress Valerie Bertinelli, his wife of 21 years – they separated in ’01 with the divorce becoming final in ’05), alcoholism (entering rehab) and battling cancer and undergoing treatment.
It’s a big deal to get inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a time for celebration. A nostalgic look back at what’s been accomplished – setting aside, if only momentarily, long term grudges, hard feelings and age-old disputes. Unless the band is Van Halen. Eddie and Alex were no-shows at the January, ’07, ceremony. Roth, willing to perform, was unable to agree with the backing band, Velvet Revolver (who also inducted the group), on which song to perform, so he bailed. It was left to Hagar and Anthony (ironically neither was a current member) to perform “Why Can’t This be Love” during the group’s induction.
Ah, might as well jump. Though some probably thought it would never happen, Van Halen, fronted by Roth, launched a reunion trek in the fall of ’07. But the Roth-Van Halen pairing was not accomplished without some train wrecks and high drama – typical Van Halen stuff.
The first inkling of a Roth-Van Halen return came at the ’96 MTV Video Music Awards. The original members were award presenters. The appearance, designed boost the sales of their “Greatest Hits” album, did just that, especially when Roth announced during the program the band (with him as frontman) was back together. Turns out, that wasn’t exactly the case. Van Halen had selected Mitch Malloy as Hagar’s replacement. Roth was unaware (not told) of this ‘small’ point. Figuring no one would accept him as Van Halen’s vocalist, particularly in light of Roth’s comments, Malloy bailed. Feeling betrayed, Roth also saw no point in continuing with Van Halen. So that left the door open for Cherone (who managed to last for only one album).
There were reports, in ’00 and ’01, that Roth and the band were recording at Eddie’s 5150 studio. But nothing came of it.
Rather than an ‘02 Van Halen tour with either Roth or Hagar, the band’s two most prominent vocalists embarked on the Song For Song, Heavyweight Champs of Rock and Roll Tour (also known as the ‘Sans-Halen’ or ‘Sam & Dave’ Tour). While the two singers had nothing to do with each other – onstage or off – the excursion was deemed a success and featured Anthony playing with Hagar’s band (but not with Roth). Leave it to David Lee to famously assess the differences between Hagar and himself. “He’s the kind of guy you go out with to split a bottle with a friend,” said Roth. “I’m the kind of guy you go out with if you want to split your friend with a bottle.”
Next up was Hagar’s ’04 spin with Van Halen. He recorded new songs for another “Best Of” set, which aside from the hits, featured three new tracks, “It’s About Time”, “Up For Breakfast”, and “Learning To See.” Tellingly, the songwriting credits, which had previous gone to the entire band, now only listed the Van Halen brothers and Hagar.
While fans and the media had been fixated on the dysfunctional Van Halen-Roth-Hagar dynamic, there was another serious internal problem. Going back to “III,” Eddie was dissatisfied with Anthony. The bassist was only allowed to play on three of the album’s songs. Eddie handled bass on the remaining tracks. Also, the guitarist didn’t want Anthony on the ’04 tour but relented in the face of Hagar’s insistence that Anthony stay.
Earning $55 million, the tour was one of the year’s top grossing jaunts. On some stops, Eddie’s son Wolfgang, an accomplished guitarist, jammed onstage with his dad.
Though the tour started strong, Eddie’s alcohol problems led to disappointing performances and the trek ended on a sour note. Soon, Hagar was off again.
“No one will pay respect to what any of us do (musically) until we get the reunion out of the way,” said Roth in ’06. And so began another round of reunion rumors. Meanwhile, Hagar and Anthony were happily engaged in The Other Half tour (as in the other half of Van Halen). Later in the year, Eddie, on Howard Stern’s radio show, confirmed that Anthony was out of the band. Oh yeah, and he’d be open to playing with Roth again.
There were several starts-and-stops along the way, but finally, on September 27th, ’07, Van Halen, with Wolfgang installed on bass, began their first tour with Roth in 23 years. Charlotte, NC, was the first stop.
The tour came to a halt though when Eddie had a battery of unspecified tests (likely checking for the recurrence of cancer). “Don’t listen to the rumors – (my father is) doing great – seriously,” said Wolfgang. Van Halen resumed the tour in Reno.
In June, ’08, the trek rolled to a close at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI. It grossed more than $93 million over 74 shows – a band record. “We send our thanks to the countless new and longtime fans that helped make this tour our most successful,” wrote the group in a joint statement.
Eddie told Hustler magazine that he was happy with the trek. “The best part for me obviously was playing and being onstage with my son and my brother, and of course being back with Roth.”[It was] like family playtime.”
Van Halen issued “Tattoo,” the lead track from their comeback album “A Different Kind Of Truth,” in early ’12. The album was the group’s first with Roth in 28 years. They also announced a world tour.
And the ‘firsts’ kept coming. “Tokyo Dome Live In Concert” arrived in ’15. Though it was the group’s second live album it was their first to include Roth. The album debuted at #20 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart.
The promote the set Van Halen shut down Hollywood Boulevard to play their hits during a two-night run on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
It didn’t start good. Roth cut his nose while furiously twirling a metal baton during the opening number, “Panama.” He got it bandaged and carried on but the injury required fourteen stitches.