David Lee Roth says he doesn’t regret leaving Van Halen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 8, 1994

By Steve Newton

With all the frenzied media attention and intense public speculation surrounding the O.J. Simpson case, it’s hard to keep a fair handle on the whole sordid affair. Even such trusted news sources as A Current Affair and the National Enquirer have gotten caught up in the circus. So who do you have to turn to when you need a straight, unbiased view of the situation?

Why, none other than “Diamond” David Lee Roth himself. He’s been around. He knows the score. And besides, he’ll talk about anything!

“For all we know, O.J. Simpson may be a great Samaritan and this may be a frame-up,” spouts Roth on the line from the scene of the crime, Los Angeles. “Or for all we know, O.J. Simpson may have been a hardcore character way beyond his friendly, easygoing public persona. All things are part of a circle, and there’s very rarely a single unrelated outburst like this. Indeed, he has a history of violence; indeed, he made his living full-contact! Deadly unfortunate, but what are we pretending to not know here? Are we that surprised!”

“Plus the media has taken on a certain P.T. Barnum aspect that, guilty or otherwise, will drive you bats. I fell into the machine a year ago. I got arrested for $10 worth of pot in New York City, which amounts to a $35 traffic citation, okay? Seriously–just pay the fine and that’s it. I was on CNN International every 30 minutes for three days and three nights. They lumped in $10 worth of throwaway bunk reefer with crackheads, junkies, and speed freaks in an effort to lure the viewer and create more advertising income.”

The unwanted flash of publicity Roth acquired for his wee stash was pretty well the only bit of news there’s been on the singer in recent years. Indeed, the ’90s have been unusually quiet for the motormouth rocker, who made headlines in the ’80s both as the macho frontman for rock legends Van Halen and as a solo artist whose satirical T&A videos became a staple for the then-burgeoning MTV generation. Over the years Roth has gone from playing packed stadiums to 1,000-seat clubs, although he says that’s okay with him.

“I think everybody’s tired of the big places,” he says. “When you get to a certain size, it’s more like a gathering of the tribes than it is about any kind of listening experience. When you go to a Grateful Dead show, it’s not so much about sitting and listening to every note played as it is of comparing headbands and swimming naked and barbecuin’. And when it’s Pink Floyd, it’s more about smokin’ pot and kickin’ back and pretendin’ that you’re a member of the ’70s. When you go to a Rolling Stones show, it’s more of a confirmation that you still have some criminal element left in you–no matter what your spouse says or what the boss thinks.”

And when you go to a David Lee Roth show in 1994?

“You are celebrating life! You are re-entering that circle that the Beat generation was cut from, when they made the distinction between hot and cool. Hot is enthusiasm, adventure, energy, like Jack Kerouac had. On the Road. Cool is something that a whole different faction of people came up with. Distant. Removed. Unconnected. That’s not me.

“And there are people who want to take a real colourful ride here,” he adds, referring to his current touring band, the members of which he chooses not to name. “It is more enthusiasm for the actual music itself than I’ve had since I can remember. It is in direct reaction to a lot of artists taking the seven-video-screen, digital-compu-pretaped, choreographed-dancer-with-costume-change vibe–like U2, perhaps. I’m takin’ all of the pretense out of it, and it’s going over like bonkers. Even soundchecks are takin’ a special hue and tone.”

Roth is no stranger to the Granville Mall neighbourhood he’ll revisit on Sunday (July 10), when he plays the Commodore Ballroom. A few years back he holed up in the Nelson Place Hotel so he could feel the heat of Vancouver’s streets while he recorded A Little Ain’t Enough at Little Mountain Sound with Bob Rock. That CD failed to achieve the popularity of previous Roth releases such as Crazy from the Heat and Eat ‘Em and Smile, and neither has his most recent, Nile Rodgers-produced outing, Your Filthy Little Mouth. Still, Roth claims he’s satisfied with how his career is going now.

“It’s ups and downs,” he says. “My world isn’t flat. Any time you try something adventurous and new, the initial response is shock and horror. I went through this with Van Halen in ’81. I remember we put out Fair Warning and toured for 10 months and the album didn’t even go gold. Ultimately, it’s the number-one seller in all of that catalogue. Just what that single record sells alone each year now could sponsor a lot of emerging African nations, but at the time it was crucified and buried. Same thing happened when I came out with ‘Just a Gigolo’. Everybody testified that it was career suicide.

“What’s happening with me now is…as a human being I’m changing–have been for quite a while–and what was in the ’80s is not 1994 by any stretch of the imagination. You can’t expect it to be, not in terms of a haircut or lyrical content. People ask me, ‘What do you mean? Aren’t lyrics timeless?’ No, they’re not. 1984, for example. People had some expendable income in their pocket come Friday night, and you didn’t need to use a condom. Now, that right there is gonna change my lyrical content in some way or another. And you tell me it wouldn’t change yours. Everything’s different, babe.”

Well, not quite everything, Dave–and don’t call me babe. Van Halen continues to hold its place in the upper echelon of today’s most successful rock bands; you don’t see Pepsi offering big bucks for a David Lee Roth tune to sell Crystal Light. The question is, does he ever regret leaving his old band?

“You know, on one hand you can’t replace the chemistry of a bunch of rookies growin’ up together in the business–just as the Oakland Raiders will never replace the team of the late ’70s. We all have a nostalgia for the past like that. On the other hand, I’ve been allowed to travel and work with stellar talents and see parts of life and live ’em large like I never would have been able to do in the parameters of being in a quote-unquote band.

“So, no, I don’t regret it.”

 

To hear the full audio of my 1994 interview with Diamond Dave subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my one-on-one conversations with:

Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
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Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
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Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
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Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
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Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
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Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
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…with hundreds more to come

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