The Rolling Stones of Gen X: “David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen are our Jagger and Richards” The author of "Van Halen Rising" talks David Lee Roth, the band's early years -- and what made them so magical http://www.salon.com/2015/10/11/aut...appens_to_be_a_historian_by_training_partner/ So you thought you knew Van Halen? I did. But I had no clue they’ve been around in some form since 1971, or that the brothers basically hated David Lee Roth but let him in because it was cheaper than renting his P.A. week after week, or that even after Dave joined they were the house band at Gazzarri’s for over two years before they got a break. Greg Renoff devotes his entire book, “Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal,” to their formative years and nearly every page is a revelation. Reading it is like finding some lost demo tape every bit as awesome as “Fair Warning,” or stumbling on a bitchen Camaro time machine kegger where Jeff Spicoli shows up with his hand in the back pocket of Kim Kelly’s bell bottom jeans. We have so much to discuss with author Greg Renoff. But before we get to the book, we must, must, must discuss Van Halen 2015. What do you think about this recent reunion? It’s hard for me to see Diamond Dave this way. I just had a conversation with a musician who worked with Dave for a number of years during his solo career. He said that Roth is a guy with very wide ranging interests, from origami to cattle herding with dogs, and as a result, one thing that suffers is his vocal performances because Dave doesn’t give singing as a technical matter the attention it deserves. In other words, because David Lee Roth isn’t a boring simple-minded guy who only likes to do one thing, he doesn’t always perform as well as he could as a vocalist. I thought that provided good food for thought, especially since DLR’s early live performances during this album cycle weren’t great out of the gate and he has improved as the band has played more shows. I wrote a grad school paper about the personality dynamics of Van Halen and how I thought Michael Anthony was the secret key to the band’s appeal. That solid blue-collar working man who holds the foundation down so the other guys can all be flamboyant. I don’t know if the band works without Mike for me. I think VH fans, at least those who came of age as fans from the 70s-90s, understand Anthony’s contributions to the band’s success were substantial, to say the least. He didn’t write the songs or end up on the cover of the magazines, but he was the guy, for instance, who was always spot-on with his background vocals in a live setting while Roth was jumping around and swigging JD. That made a big difference when it came to making Van Halen sound good back in the day. And Templeman also doubled Anthony’s background vocals in the studio because clearly he understood that he had a certain sound that made a difference on their records. So for me, yes, I do miss Anthony, even though I am glad VH is a going concern these days. You think Mike’ll ever be back? I think Wolf is a talented musician who is in an impossible position because of the messy situation with Anthony. Regardless, he’s handled everything with maturity and class and for however long his Dad wants him in VH, Wolf will be in VH, regardless of former members or what anyone else thinks. Why did you decide to focus “Van Halen Rising” on the early years? I’m a fanatical Van Halen fan who happens to be a historian by training. So I think I was pretty attuned to what was known and not known about the band’s past. I’d read just about every book about the band, and it always seemed that while the band’s post-1978 history had been detailed fairly well, VH’s origins and years in L.A. got short shrift. In the meantime, I’d read little mentions in Dave and Eddie’s interviews about these wet-T-shirt contests the band was involved in, the insanely big backyard parties, and about how Ed and Al had a power trio called Genesis way back in 1971 or so. As fans we knew almost nothing about VH’s history prior to 1978. I wanted to know a lot more, and that’s what inspired me. But it all came down to one key question — how did VH develop into a band powerful enough to blow Black Sabbath off the stage in 1978? That could only be answered by looking at their pre-fame years. Eddie and Alex had Mammoth and Dave had Red Ball Jet. And they really didn’t like each other at all. So how did Van Halen the band ever come together? I have a whole chapter in the book about “How David Lee Roth joined VH.” But the short answer is two-fold. EVH was not much of a singer, and he was an introvert at heart. He didn’t like fronting Mammoth (which was the band name before it was changed to Van Halen). Roth was confident and talked a good game, so even though his voice wasn’t great, he surely knew how to attract attention and draw a crowd while onstage. In addition, Dave had a PA system that he’d been renting to the brothers, which helped them think it would be cheaper to get him in the band. But when people read the book, they will see that David Lee Roth was very strategic about how he approached trying to join Mammoth. It’s a great untold story. Van Halen gigged for years before getting any sort of breakthrough. What role did Gene Simmons play in getting them signed? Gene Simmons will tell you he discovered Van Halen. I’m not sure that’s true, but Simmons did take the entire band to NYC and into Electric Ladyland, where a demo was recorded. In the long run, I’d say that even though KISS’s management passed on VH, the band got a boost from the demo because it was played on KROQ in LA by Rodney Bingenheimer.