Today is the 42nd birthday of original Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth.
Roth's flamboyant stage persona combined with the guitar mastery of Eddie
Van Halen were the key ingredients in making Van Halen one of the most
successful heavy metal acts to come out of the L.A. scene. Born in
Bloomington, Ind., the son of a jazz loving ophthalmologist, Roth was
turned on to the vocal stylings of Al Jolson and Ray Charles by his father
at the age of 8. Roth's family moved to California when he was in his
teens and he began singing solo as well as with a group called the Red Ball
Jets. The Red Ball Jets often shared their sound equipment with a group
called Mammoth, a band which featured Alex Van Halen on drums and Eddie
Halen on guitar. Roth joined Mammoth in 1973, bassist Michael Anthony
joined in 1974 and later that year Van Halen was born. The band toured
constantly on the Pasadena/Santa Barbara circuit, mostly playing covers but
also sneaking in a few originals. Kiss bassist Gene Simmons produced their
first demo and the band was signed to Warner Bros. in 1977. Their self
titled debut came out the next year and hit #19 on the charts based on the
strength of "Runnin' With The Devil," the first in a long string of songs
about the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, and their cover of the Kinks' "You
Really Got Me."
Van Halen's first top 20 hit was "Dance The Night Away," from 1979's
Van Halen II. The success of the single allowed the band to launch
a headlining world tour, the first tour in which Diamond Dave and his
bandmates contractually demanded a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones
removed as a way to see if promoters read the contract all the way through.
It was also during this tour that the band earned its reputation as hard
partiers, with many an urban legend springing from its backstage parties.
The ever quotable Roth always did his best to encourage the rumors,
constantly telling reporters about the substances he ingested and the
number of women he had been with. Van Halen released one album per year in
the early '80s, hitting the charts with such songs as their covers of Roy
Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman" (one of the first handful of videos to be
banned by MTV) and Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing In The Street." Van
Halen broke into the mainstream upon the release of 1984, an album
which contained the #1 hit "Jump," as well as the singles "I'll Wait,"
"Panama" and "Hot For Teacher." Roth released a solo EP, 1985's Crazy
From The Heat, which contained his covers of the jazz standard "Just A
Gigalo/I Ain't Got Nobody" and the Beach Boys' "California Girls," the
videos for which went a long way to cement Roth's reputation as a wacky
ladies man. The long simmering personality clash between the mild-mannered
Eddie Van Halen and the way-out-front Roth finally came to a head at the end
of the year when Roth left the band because he wanted to tour stadiums and
the rest of Van Halen wanted to tour arenas. Roth had a mildly successful
solo career, with 1986's Eat 'Em And Smile and 1987's
Skyscraper going platinum and featuring the guitar work of Steve
Vai. Roth's work in the '90s, however, has consistently been a
disappointment, with 1991's A Little Ain't Enough and 1994's Your
Filthy Little Mouth failing to yield a single. Roth briefly rejoined
Van Halen last year to record a track for a greatest hits collection and
this year brought the release of his autobiography and a greatest hits
collection of his own.
Other birthdays: Alan Cartwright (Procol Harum), 52; Jerry LaCroix (White
Trash/Blood Sweat & Tears), 52; Keith Reid (Procol Harum), 51; Midge Ure
(Ultravox), 44; Al Connelly (Glass Tiger), 37; Martin Kemp (Spandau
Ballet), 36; and Michael Bivens (Bell Biv DeVoe), 29.