© Dave Ling - December 1996 - previously published in FRONTIERS magazine
Reunion fever seems to be taking over the world. But despite all the rumours don’t expect Van Halen to be a part of it. For although the legendary Californian hard rockers returned to vocalist David Lee Roth to record a couple of tracks for the upcoming ‘Best Of, Volume One’ album, it’s Extreme frontman Gary Cherone that they’re almost certain to replace the departed Sammy Hagar with.
Roth, who had whetted the world’s appetite by appearing with his former band-mates to make a presentation at the MTV Awards, undoubtedly feels he has been manipulated. In an open letter distributed to the media, he made his feelings abundantly clear by declaring: “I told Edward [Van Halen, guitarist] at the time that I didn’t think it was a good idea for the band to go to New York [and the Awards] half-cocked; and that I didn’t want to imply by our presence there that we were ‘back’ if it was just a quickie for old time’s sake. Had I asked for something in writing, this wouldn’t have happened.
“Then a series of events led me to discover at about the same time as the press did, that the band, along with their manager, had already hired a new lead singer, possibly as long as six months ago,” he continued. “It certainly explains why on that night Edward looked as uncomfortable as a man who had just signed a deal with the devil.
"It sickens me that the ‘reunion’ as seen on MTV was nothing more than a publicity stunt. If I am guilty of anything, I’m guilty of denial. I was an unwitting participant in this deception. I wanted to believe it just as much as anyone else. Those who know me know that trickery was never my style.”
As you’ll have gleaned from the above diatribe, tempers are running pretty high. It also didn’t help matters that the day before this interview took place, Diamond Dave had apparently failed to turn up to record with Van Halen. Consequently, Edward now claims that Roth is now banned from the Warner Brothers Records building in California’s Burbank – which should do no favours to his dipping solo career.
“I really wanted to believe that Dave had changed, but he hasn’t. Two minutes of public adulation
back on a stage and he was right back to square one.”
Edward Van Halen
So what the hell’s going on?
“I’ve been sober for two years now and musically I feel like I haven’t done anything yet,” begins Van Halen’s guitar wizard down an international phone line. “I want to go forwards, not back. What we want to do now is to make music with someone whose company we enjoy and who doesn’t suffer from LSD – Lead Singer’s Disease.”
That person is Gary Cherone, perhaps an unlikely choice for the hot seat considering that Edwards admits he has neither witnessed the singer in concert nor listened to the Extreme albums. But it’s a decision that he’s convinced will ultimately be vindicated. Van Halen – completed of course by Edward’s drumming brother Alex and bassist Michael Anthony – have already cut two tracks with Cherone for their next album.
“Gary’s ninety-nine point nine nine certain to be in the band. We’re just waiting for the attorneys to work out all the contractual garbage,” he states. “He was sitting around while Nuno [Bettencourt, Extreme guitarist] was doing a solo album, so we flew him down and it turned out that he had elephant balls and could sing like an angel at the same time. He sang four Roth songs and four Sammy songs and just blew my mind. He even sang them in the right key, as opposed to having to tune down. But the good news is that there’s no LSD – he’s as sane as Mike, Alex and I.”
This turn of events came to pass because there had been tension for a while between Hagar and the rest of the band. But ‘…Volume 1’ was also central to the situation. Edward Van Halen has often stated that he doesn’t like ‘best of’ albums, but because next year marks the band’s 20th anniversary he finally relented.
“I’m allowed to change my mind, I guess,” he laughs. “Now with the internet and everything, there are fans out there who are 13 years old and whose first exposure to Van Halen is the ‘Balance’ record [from 1995]. They don’t have a clue that we have 11 other records out. So this is for the fans. We just took two songs from every record, and added two completely new songs, whereas most people would have just put B-sides on it.”
Bearing in mind that opinions differ so wildly on the subject of who was the best Van Halen frontman, did anybody suggest doing ‘Volume One: The Roth Years’ and ‘Volume Two: The Hagar Years’?
“No. Sammy for one didn’t want anything to do with a ‘best of’ record – which I thought was quite funny as he himself has already put out two,” chortles Edward. “Eventually, Sammy also decided that he wanted more songs of his on there, which I also thought was funny as I write the music. Maybe it’s a bit like wife number two not wanting anything to do with wife number one, but the reality is that there’s a whole history there with Roth that cannot be denied or ignored. We wanted to put some new stuff with Roth on the record, so then Sammy quit!”
Edward tells me that since Hagar married his 25-year-old girlfriend, he has developed huge attitude problems. These surfaced while the band were working with Alanis Morissette producer Glen Ballard on material for the Twister movie soundtrack.
“It was Sammy’s way or now way, and that’s not a band,” explains the guitarist. “Glen took four days out of his busy schedule and when he suggested ideas Sammy basically spat in his face. That was the last straw and a week later I told Sammy the only way that we could continue working together was for him to become a team player again. Finally, after me reiterating it 11 times, he said, ‘Dammit, I’ll go back to being a solo artist’. And I thanked him for his honesty.”
One of the first rumours to have circulated after Hagar’s departure was that Van Halen were rehearsing with Eric Martin of Mr Big.
“It’s funny you ask me that because Billy Sheehan [Mr Big bassist] called me a few days ago to ask the same question, but it’s not true,” comments Edward. “I’ve heard through the grapevine that when Dave quit the band, Eric Martin and Steve Perry [of Journey] were pissed off that we didn’t consider them. Hey, I respect them both, but I want Joe Cocker with a range.”
With Hagar out of the picture and ‘…Volume 1’ in mind, Edward and Diamond Dave were eventually reacquainted on the phone by a third party.
“We apologised to each other for all the childish behaviour of the past – and now we’re right back to square one again,” he snorts with laughter. “But it all comes from Dave. He put out a press release that was total rubbish. He says that we had already appointed a new singer when I hadn’t even met Gary Cherone till after the MTV Awards, because that was when we started to audition singers.
“Dave also says that the only reason he did the MTV Awards with us was because I’d told him he was back in the band, but four days later he tells [US shock jock] Howard Stern that he’s not in the band. I just don’t get it, I’m not a doctor.”
Eddie says that the actual recording of the two new songs, ‘Can’t Get This Stuff No More’ and ‘Me Wise Magic’, was comparatively painless. In fact, it was “just like time stood still”. However, getting them written was an entirely different kettle of fish.
“It was a very difficult process. Dave hadn’t sung in about seven months and he didn’t seem to have any idea what he was looking for,” states Van Halen.
“So I played him this song I’d written, which went [adopts deep, dark voice]: ‘I know what you’re thinking’. Dave went, ‘No, no, no, that’s not me’. Then three weeks later I said, ‘What about that song, I know what you’re thinking?’ It took a while longer than we expected, but it came out so well that we tried another song… and that took longer still!”
Indeed, the guitarist is at pains to point out that Dave was never in the frame to get the job again full-time.
“We never even alluded to him being considered as our permanent singer,” he protests, with genuine conviction. “Every other day I had to tell him, ‘Dave, quit putting the cart in front of a horse that doesn’t exist yet’. He even pulled a muscle preparing for a tour before we’d even recorded a song together. All it was supposed to be was one song, but it eventually became two. Now I’m having to apologise to everyone for having the idea in the first place, because it’s all got so ugly.”
Edward is disappointed that, like Roth, Hagar has also pointed the finger. He says that once Sammy’s departure had been settled, everything was handled with dignity. The pair had even agreed to stay friends and inform each other if they moved house or changed phone numbers. To his astonishment, he says, Sammy then surfaced in the Los Angeles Times saying that he had been conned into participating in the Twister project and then ousted.
Something that’s indisputable is that Van Halen’s only ever line-up changes have been singers. I ask Edward about the possibility of on an ongoing three-against-one mindset – even a subconscious one? He responds: “I don’t even know how we attract these bozos, to tell you the truth.”
So you’re not difficult to work with? The barbed response suggests that even asking the question has riled the guitarist.
“No! Ask anyone who has worked with me. Call Glen Ballad, call anybody,” he says. “All I ever ask is that you’re open with me. I’m definitely not a control freak. During those years of being an alcoholic, all I’d do was sit in the corner and write music.”
Prior to the original split with Roth, Van Halen were well on the way to becoming if not the biggest band in the world then at least a top five attraction.
Edward admits he’s as aware as anyone of the impact that a reunion with Roth would have made, but says that it will never happen – especially after his most recent experiences with the flamboyant Diamond Dave.
“Of course I understand all that, but it’s not about the money at all,” he points out. “If we did get back together we’d have to write a new album first, not just go out as an oldies but goodies band and rake in all the money. From my own point of view, as much as he was up for the idea, it would have been impossible to have made a whole album with Roth.”
When asked to explain the MTV controversy, Edward says that the week before the ceremony the group had sat down to discuss what they would say in interviews. In fact, he confirms, it was Dave who suggested they just tell the truth (“there’s less to forget that way!”); namely that they’d recorded two songs together and that nothing else had been decided.
States Edward: “After presenting the award, I told the press exactly that. I also explained that on December 16 I’m having a complete hip replacement operation, which would put me out of commission for three to six months. I can write and record, but I can’t go touring.
“After three of those interviews, Dave’s whole vibe changed,” he continues. “Something was really bugging him. He then told me, ‘Tonight’s all about me, not your fucking hip’. I was so taken aback that I agreed not to mention it in the next interview and he put his finger right in my face and said, ‘You’d better fucking not’. Right then and there, any future possibilities of us working together again were over. Even ten years down the road, forget it. I really wanted to believe that Dave had changed, but he hasn’t. Two minutes of public adulation back on a stage and he was right back to square one.”
Once Eddie’s surgery is over and done with, Van Halen will continue working on their next album, with Glen Ballard. They hope to release it as soon as March 1997. Touring activities will depend upon how quickly Edward’s hip wound heals, although he notes: “I don’t have to jump around, I can leave all that to Gary.”
On a final note, I ask whether Edward knows if Diamond Dave is still planning to dish the dirt in the autobiography that he mentioned some years back. The last answer seems to sum up his mood.
“I don’t know,” he mutters in irritation. “If his press release is anything to go by, maybe he should call it The Book Of Lies.”
The official Van Halen website
I was in between magazines when the offer of a phone interview with Edward Van Halen came along. The approached had been on the basis of a news story for Metal Hammer (who I think it was that accepted my pitch) – Extreme’s Gary Cherone was about to join the band for what we now know was the ill-fated ‘3’ album – but Edward had so much more to get off his chest. I wanted to write it as a decent-sized feature. The feelers were put out and Frontiers, a well-intentioned (though now defunct) UK fanzine-cum-magazine, said they’d be willing to run it as a cover story. Given that it was sourced from a quick phone chat I thought its contents were pretty reasonable, but Frontiers later said suggested I’d made the entire thing up in a bid to get them taken off the shelves. Such paranoia! Such effrontery! I’d given them the story as an exclusive and free of charge. Now that’s gratitude… (25th August, 2004)
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