David Lee Roth outlines how Van Halen paid their dues for five years before making their first record
Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth was recently interviewed by the radio station KHSE 95 in anticipation of the singer’s Las Vegas residency at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA in January and March 2020.
In typical David Lee Roth fashion, the singer rambles on but had some interesting things to say such as (as transcribed by Sleaze Roxx):
“Van Halen is a billion dollar franchise, just in terms of making the music and it comes from my point of view. I’m the son of a doctor. I’m not about ‘Me, me, me.’ Soul trained, Miles Davis — Ed was a virtuoso in terms of that. I’ve been in three accidents and my first reaction was ‘How are you?’ That’s what we always brought. That’s what we always brought to the show. In terms of the music, I start where the record starts. We do not sound like Van Halen live. You have not heard this. Van Halen live is lead, bass, drum, sing. Here we start with three, four guitars and we bring it with an unforgiving attitude. We’re not strumming with the devil. This is not some tribute band. I wrote those songs. I structured those songs. I designed the background on those stages. I came up with the album covers. I thought of the stripes on the guitar. I’m the one who said, ‘Call it Van Halen.’ We take it with that attitude. We ain’t talking about love. I guess it’s that sore thumb that keeps sticking.”
On whether he needs to get permission from Alex and Eddie Van Halen to present the songs this way, Roth indicated: “No. I wrote the songs, every word you heard, every syllable, every melody. I structured out even the guitar solos on the first album. Who, why do you think the solos change so radically? I sang the solos for [laughs] “Jamie’s Cryin'” and “Runnin’ With The Devil.” It’s schematics. We’re formally trained musicians. By Europeans, we weren’t really fun to work with at all. I learned to sing from a guy who had a tattoo on his arm from World War II. He had two tattoos. The other was his orchestra number. And all of that went into Van Halen music. Our music is laughing at the end of a lot of struggle. Van Halen took five years, five 45 minute sets a night before we made our first record. We did our 10,000 hours before we even sang our first note to you. And that kind of a balance is why we’re on the same station as Queen, The Who, [Led] Zeppelin, [Rolling] Stones. We’re a seventies band and we were go to shows, the fellas and I, when I go myself, I am a crybaby whiny ass unflinching unforgiving little [inaudible]. I want it exactly like that record and I want it packed with way more emotional content, and I want the sound perfect, and I want the lights booming. And I can tell the difference because I started off with vinyl. So did millions of us! That’s where the bar is set.”
Roth was asked why rock is practically non-existent on the charts anymore to which he replied: “Well, classic rock or the kinds of new rock alright? Coming from a whole different background alright. Classic rock came out of clubs and music halls where you had to work thousands and thousands of hours playing chart tunes, or pop tunes, top 40. And then when you wrote your songs, whether you were Jim Croce or Led Zeppelin, the material became timeless. Same thing for Bob Marlee. I am trying to be as diverse as you can. Or who else did we listen to? Today, you don’t have those clubs and bars and experiences where the musicians are putting in their hours, and then bringing those tools to writing. They’re listening to material at home and then assimilating it. It’s sort of like learning Japanese at home. From some really good videos and tutorials on the internet versus go live in Japan for two years. See the difference?”
Wikipedia states the following in part about Van Halen‘s beginnings (with slight edits): “The band later changed its name to Mammoth when they discovered the name Genesis was already being used. In 1974, Mammoth officially changed its name to Van Halen. According to Roth, this was his brainchild. He felt it was a name that had power, like Santana. They played backyard parties and on a flatbed truck at Hamilton Park. Van Halen played clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood to growing audiences, increasing their popularity through self-promotion: before each gig passed out flyers at local high schools. This sort of self-promotion soon built them a major following. Later that year, the band got its first break when it was hired to play at Gazzarri’s, a formerly famous but down-at-the-heels night club on the Sunset Strip which closed in 1996.
Earlier, they had auditioned for the owner, Bill Gazzarri, but he claimed they were “too loud” and would not hire them. However, their new managers, Mark Algorri and Mario Miranda, who had coincidentally taken over Gazzarri’s hiring, did the deal. Shortly afterwards, they recorded their first demo tape at the now-defunct Cherokee Studios in Northridge where Steely Dan recently had completed an album. Van Halen became a staple of the Los Angeles music scene during the mid-1970s, playing at well-known clubs like the Whisky A Go Go.”
You can listen to the interview with David Lee Roth by KHSE 95 below:
John and Lern talk with David Lee Roth about his upcoming Vegas shows at House of Blues in 2020.