David Lee Roth (born October 10, 1955) is an American rock vocalist, songwriter, actor, author, and former radio personality, best known as the original and current lead singer of Van Halen. He was widely respected and emulated as one of the greatest frontmen of hard rock during his early career with Van Halen. In addition to his work with Van Halen, Roth is a successful solo artist, orginally leaving Van Halen and going solo in 1986, creating The David Lee Roth Band and having released several platinum and gold solo albums. Without Van Halen, the band and brand he helped build up to support him, by the early 1990s Roth's solo career stalled, and he went on to explore other career alternatives. Sometimes referred to as Diamond Dave, Roth rejoined Van Halen in 2007 (much to the joy of the band's fanbase) for a North American tour that became the highest grossing tour in the band's history. Roth was ranked by Hit Parader nineteenth on their list of the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Singers of All Time.
Roth was born October 10, 1955 in Bloomington, Indiana. He is the son of Nathan Roth, an ophthalmologist, and Sibyl Roth. He is the brother of Allison and Lisa Roth. David's paternal and maternal grandparents emigrated from Azores Islands, Portugal and Russia to Indiana. Many members of his family were surgeons: Roth has an uncle, Dave, who is a brain surgeon, an uncle, Marty, who is an orthopedic surgeon, and a grandfather who was a surgeon. Roth's uncle, Manny Roth, is an influential New York City nightclub owner and entertainment entrepreneur who built and owned the New York establishment Cafe Wha? in the early 1960s, when the likes of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix were working there. Seven-year-old David Lee got his first taste of, and desire for, show business from the inside by hanging out at Cafe Wha?. His uncle would be one of David's first guests on his short-lived radio show when he replaced Howard Stern.
After living in Bloomington and in Swampscott, Massachusetts, Roth moved to Pasadena, California in his teens. Roth stated he bounced around to too many schools and spent three years going to a psychiatrist. He eventually attended a ranch for troubled teens where he cared for a horse to build a sense of responsibility. He was educated at The Webb Schools in Claremont, California and John Muir High School in Pasadena. He later attended Pasadena City College (as did the Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex), although he did not graduate. During this period, Roth worked as a hospital orderly.
With Van Halen
Roth rose to prominence in the 1970s Los Angeles, California rock scene as the lead singer of "Mammoth", which would eventually become Van Halen. In 1973, Roth rented his PA system to the brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, after failing a previous audition, and later joined their hard rock band as lead vocalist when the band members decided that letting him join would both save them money and allow Eddie to focus on guitar playing. After finding out that the name Mammoth (which the Van Halens called their band at the time) was being used by another band, Roth persuaded the Van Halen brothers to change the band's name from Mammoth to Van Halen.
In February 1978, Van Halen released their debut album, Van Halen. It quickly established the group as a commercial success with sales of 10 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Soon after Van Halen's debut, Roth became well-known for his flamboyant showmanship. The 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide Vol 2. described Roth as "the most obnoxious singer in human history, an achievement notable in the face of long tradition and heavy competition." Although often noted more for physical than for technical vocal prowess, Roth's bluesy baritone voice and distinctive screams much like singer Josh Murphy in the band Foxycock and Blade of Grass, along with his often humorous and campy lyrics, were integral to Van Halen's sound. Roth is able to take his voice into a multi-pitched wheeze/rasp, almost like a train whistle (see Throat singing).
From 1979-1984, Van Halen released five more albums: Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down and 1984, each to increasing popular success and critical acclaim. In 1983, Van Halen was paid $1.5 million to play one set at the US Festival in California, making them one of the two highest paid bands in modern history, along with the festival's other headlining act, David Bowie. Van Halen achieved their greatest commercial success, including their first Billboard #1 single, for the song "Jump", in 1984.
In early 1985, while still a member of Van Halen, Roth released a popular solo EP of off-beat standards. Singles for "California Girls" and "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" (using an arrangement from Sam Butera & Louis Prima) succeeded largely due to their innovative music videos, which featured ridiculous characters created by Roth's manager and Creative Director, Pete Angelus (who directed Van Halen's Roth-era videos, before directing the videos from Roth's early solo career) along with some assistance by Roth.
On April 1, 1985, Roth and Van Halen parted ways. In his 1998 autobiography, Crazy From The Heat, Roth characterized Van Halen's music just before his 1985 departure as "morose". Roth wished to record an album quickly, tour, and then shoot a movie (the ill-fated Crazy From The Heat) co-written with his creative partner, Pete Angelus (also his personal manager and creative partner from 1985-1991—and the other half of "The Fabulous Picasso Brothers, featured in "Yankee Rose" and "Goin' Crazy" videos).
Reportedly, Roth also disliked Eddie Van Halen's behavior regarding an appearance on Michael Jackson's 1983 hit "Beat It". Van Halen did not tell Roth that he had recorded the song for fear that Roth would prevent him from releasing it. In Crazy From The Heat, Roth writes that he approved of Van Halen's participation on "Beat It"; he believed that the Quincy Jones-produced track provided an excellent vehicle for Eddie Van Halen to showcase his talents. Roth later claimed that his issue with Eddie's participation on the track was that Eddie had declined to be paid for his work, receiving only a thank you note. Roth lamented, "We don't think alike at all."
Van Halen showed signs of falling apart when Eddie made an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman playing "Panama" with the NBC house band in 1984. Eddie played the song without the other members of Van Halen. Eddie stated in many interviews that he hated stardom, he didn't want to be a rock star, and Dave did.
Post Van Halen
In late 1985, Roth assembled a backing band, consisting of guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan, and drummer Gregg Bissonette. With veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman handling the production, Roth released his debut full-length solo album, Eat 'Em and Smile in July, 1986. The album saw Roth return to hard rock music, and met with huge commercial and critical success, charting at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 for 1986. In interviews of this period, Roth claimed that he had recorded additional Spanish and Portuguese language versions of the album, but to date only one of these, the Spanish language version, Sonrisa Salvaje, appeared. The tour supporting the album was one of the most successful concert tours of 1986.
Van Halen's first album with Sammy Hagar, Roth's replacement as lead vocalist, entitled 5150, met with greater commercial success than Eat 'Em and Smile. Van Halen allegedly titled their 1988 album OU812 — a homophone to "Oh, you ate one too?" — in reference to the title Eat 'Em And Smile.
In January 1988, Roth released Skyscraper, a more experimental offering than the first solo album. It featured Roth's most famous original solo song, "Just Like Paradise", which was a worldwide hit. Skyscraper was co-produced by Roth and Steve Vai, and displayed the growing influence of the guitarist, featuring on many songs the dense layers of compressed guitars that gave it a unique sound that was to differentiate the album from the more Van Halen-sounding Eat 'Em and Smile. The album was certified platinum (1 million in sales) reaching #6 on the Billboard album chart.
Nonetheless, it met with a more tepid commercial response than anything Roth had released previously. Roth then went on a headlining arena tour with the Los Angeles hairband Poison opening for him. Soon after Skyscraper's release, Billy Sheehan left Roth's band, which then embarked on a world tour with new bassist Matt Bissonette during 1988. The tour was a major production featuring, at various points, Roth surfing above the audience on a surfboard suspended on wires, and in a boxing ring. Both parts of the stage show were seen in the "Just Like Paradise" music video. The show also featured the band in a calypso segment playing Caribbean steel drums and in an unplugged segment where the band performed acoustic covers of some rock and roll classics such as "Wake-Up Little Susie" by The Everly Brothers.
The tour was a huge success and met with positive reviews in many places. A Sounds magazine review of a show on the tour in St. Louis, Missouri declared it "the greatest rock show on earth". Kerrang magazine summed up the tour as "a don't blink or you'll miss it spectacular" that had the reporter Mick Wall "scrabbling to put new batteries into his pacemaker." Despite the critical and commercial triumphs of the Skyscraper Tour, Steve Vai left the band to pursue a solo career and record and tour with Whitesnake.
In January 1991, Roth released A Little Ain't Enough, a more mainstream hard rock album produced by Bob Rock. It achieved RIAA gold status. Twenty-year-old guitar prodigy Jason Becker played on the album but he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease shortly before the accompanying arena tour. He was replaced by Joe Holmes. The stage show for the accompanying tour featured two devil statues that urinated whiskey at Roth's audience and a pair of giant inflatable legs positioned "spread-eagle" wearing ripped, fishnet stockings. Musical tastes had changed dramatically by the end of 1991 with the arrival of grunge, hence Roth's tour did not do as well financially as planned.
In April 1993, Roth was arrested in New York City's Washington Square Park for buying what he described as "$10 worth of Jamaican bunk reefer" from an undercover police officer. The arrest made headlines and became a late-night television punch-line. When asked by Howard Stern whether the bust was a publicity stunt, Roth said, "Howard, in New York City this small of a bust is a $35 traffic citation. It literally says 'Buick, Chevy, Other'. Your dog poops on the sidewalk, it's $50. If I was looking for publicity, I would have pooped on the sidewalk."
In March 1994, Roth released Your Filthy Little Mouth, an eclectic, lyrically intricate album produced by Nile Rodgers. It combined elements of rock, country music, reggae, hip hop music, lounge, and others. For example, it included the song "Cheating Heart Cafe," a duet with the popular country singer Travis Tritt. It did not sell well, considered by many to be a commercial failure, failing to achieve gold status. Roth's career was in decline yet he still managed to support the album with a World Tour lasting over 10 months that took him and his band through North America, Japan, Europe and back through North America again. The band originally featured childhood friend, Terry Kilgore on guitar, along with Brett Tuggle on keyboards and vocals, James Hunting on bass and vocals and Ron Wikso on drums. Terry left the band after the Japanese leg and when the band arrived in England to begin the European leg, they were met by Rocket Ritchotte, who finished the tour.
Nevertheless, many loyal fans remained, and the Roth/Van Halen split entered pop culture. For example, in the hit 1994 film Airheads, fans loyal to Roth were regarded as cool, whereas a character loyal to Van Halen was suspected as an undercover police officer. Similarly, in 2001, the title character of the film Joe Dirt declared he was a Van Halen fan, not a "Van Hagar" fan. Bowling For Soup's 2004 hit song "1985" features the lyrics, "Where's the mini-skirt/ Made of snakeskin/ Who's the other guy/ Singing with Van Halen?". In the 1998 Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer, which was set in 1985, Sandler's character tells his cheating girlfriend, "Please get out of my Van Halen t-shirt before you jinx the band and they break up." Nerf Herder had a minor hit in 1996 with the song "Van Halen." The lyrics heralded David Lee Roth ("I bought Van Halen I/It was the best damn record I ever owned") and bemoaned Sammy Hagar ("Is this what you wanted, Sammy Hagar? ... I'll never buy your lousy records again"). Canadian rock band The Salads released a single in 2003 entitled "The Roth Kung Fu" with lyrics hailing Roth such as "My eyes are half closed, so are yours/Hey Yankee Rose, I'm Just a Gigolo."
In 1995, Roth returned with an adult lounge act, performing largely in Las Vegas casinos, with a brass band that featured Nile Rodgers, Edgar Winter, and members of the Miami Sound Machine. It also featured several exotic dancers, who in Roth's words were "so sweet, I bet they shit sugar!".
In June 1996, Roth reunited with Van Halen for a brief time and to great public fanfare. He recorded two new songs for Van Halen's Best of Vol. 1 album, "Can't Get This Stuff No More" and "Me Wise Magic." After an infamous appearance on September 5, 1996, at the MTV Video Music Awards during which Roth and Eddie Van Halen reportedly threatened each other, Roth was passed over for Van Halen's new lead vocalist job in favor of Gary Cherone. (Cherone's previous band, Extreme, had opened for Roth in 1991).
In 1997, Roth wrote a well-received memoir, entitled Crazy From the Heat. The 359-page book was whittled down from over 1,200 pages of monologues, which were recorded and transcribed by a Princeton University graduate who followed Roth around for almost a year. Among the book's revelations, aside from stories about backyard parties, Van Halen, and catching malaria in Third world jungles, was the infamous "Brown M&Ms" clause written into Van Halen's early contract riders. The clause was included in contracts not because of ego, but rather to make sure that structural stage specifications in the contract were read thoroughly and were adequately provided. Roth writes of a time when he found brown M&Ms in a bowl and subsequently had a fit. In the press, he was accused of causing US$85,000 worth of damage to the arena. Most of the monetary damages were due to Van Halen's staging sinking through the floor. Roth writes, "they didn't bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty-thousand dollars worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&Ms and did $85,000 worth of damage to the backstage area. Well, who am I to get in the way of a good rumor?" An interesting aspect to Roth's memoir is that years after his falling out with his former manager, Pete Angelus, he never mentioned Angelus once in the book or gives him credit for any of his success or the work that was done. Angelus was the other half of "The Fabulous Picasso Brothers," featured in Roth's videos. Angelus began as Van Halen's lighting designer and art director, and then co-wrote and co-directed many of the videos that helped catapult Roth into video fame: Jump, Panama, Hot for Teacher, California Girls, Yankee Rose and Goin' Crazy.
In 2000, written by John Lowery, called "Look At All The People Here Tonite!" was the first ever single released to radio via the internet.
In 2001, rumors swirled that Roth and the members of Van Halen had recorded several new songs together and were in the process of attempting yet another reunion. Roth later confirmed this, but nothing became of the music. A box set was also rumored, but never materialized. Instead, Warner Bros. re-released remastered versions of all six early Van Halen studio albums.
In 2002, Roth's Heavyweights of Rock and Roll Tour with Sammy Hagar revived his career somewhat. Despite this, Roth's future with Van Halen seemed uncertain.
In 2003, On December 31, Roth played a one night sold out New Year's Eve show at the House of Blues in Hollywood, CA consisting of Van Halen era songs as well as Roth era songs, and some drunken midgets roaming about the stage.
In 2004, he appeared on The Sopranos as a poker-playing guest of Tony Soprano, to which Roth was quoted on his website as saying, "Mom says I'm going to look like Lee Marvin in 10 years whether I'm in movies or not, so I might as well get after it!"
Roth's website has stated that he is also working on the book The Tao of Dave: Rock 'n' Roll Philosophy with David Lee Roth, a follow-up to his autobiography.
On May 25, 2006 in an interview with Billboard magazine, Roth predicted a classic Van Halen reunion. "There's contact between the two camps..." says Roth, and "To me, it's not rocket surgery. It's very simple to put together. And as far as hurt feelings and water under the dam, like what's-her-name says to what's-her-name at the end of the movie". Strummin' With The Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen - A Tribute was released on CMH Records. This album consists of tributes to Van Halen performed by David Lee Roth, The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, Blue Highway, Mountain Heart, The John Cowan Band, Iron Horse, David Grisman and Sons.
On January 3, 2006, Roth began a career as a radio personality, hosting The David Lee Roth Show which replaced satellite radio-bound Howard Stern in the morning drive slot on CBS Radio stations in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and West Palm Beach. Roth stated in an October 2005 interview with Stern that his show would be political, but at the same time, not overly serious.
Roth's show developed into a mix of music reviews, interviews with porn stars and strippers, political discussions, and guests from many walks of life. Roth's show featured an in-studio guitarist, Brian Young, referred to on air as B. Young.
On February 27, 2006, the Dallas, Boston, and Philadelphia affiliates started airing local programming in Roth's morning time slot, rather than repeat airings of "Best of Roth" while Roth was on vacation. When ratings were released on February 28, 2006, certain entertainment bloggers suggested Roth's hiatus would become permanent. However, on March 6, 2006, Roth returned as scheduled, and he continued to broadcast on weekday mornings. On March 8 and 9, Roth blasted his management on the air, explaining to his audience that they had asked him to stop catering towards ethnic groups and women, and instead focus on 35-year-old white males. On his March 10 show, he announced that things between him and the management had been settled "for the time being." During the week of March 27, Roth Radio took its show on the road for the first time, broadcasting from Miami, Florida.
On March 29, 2006, Roth was taken off the air by CBS; affiliates were told to find other programming to air. That day, Karen Mateo of CBS Radio released a statement saying that David Lee Roth would return to the airwaves from New York on March 31. Upon Roth's return on March 31, the format of his show had changed drastically. Many of the show's callers expressed dislike of the new format, saying they felt that the show had "lost its edge." One caller aired his opinion that Roth's tendency to laugh at one-liners was annoying. Starting April 10, 2006, the Dallas affiliate (now KRLD-FM) moved Roth up one hour from 6-10 central to 5-9 by running the show live instead of on an hour delay. The extra hour was given to the newly acquired Jagger Show, hosted by Chris Jagger.
On April 10, 2006, the New York Post reported that CBS Radio would replace Roth with the team of Opie and Anthony "within weeks." On the morning of April 21, 2006, about halfway through the show, Roth began complaining that his show was not able to take calls or emails. He then went on to read the news stories, only getting halfway through a story before commenting that he didn't care about it and going on to the next one. Following a commercial break, Roth chose to play only songs because of his frustration with CBS radio. At 8 AM, Roth returned to the air to interview car salesman Chop, and then at 9 AM he interviewed actor Jeff Bridges. Roth made an agreement with CBS to address the situation with 15 minutes left in the show; however, when that time came CBS pulled the plug on him, and did not allow him to say good-bye to his fans.
As of April 22, 2006, David Lee Roth was rumored to be in talks with Sirius Satellite Radio to do an afternoon show. This was later denied by Howard Stern and Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin, who stated, "Mr. Roth is still under contract and unable to go to another radio medium while still being paid by CBS Radio." Roth is also expected to pursue his full one year payout of approximately $4 million. Stern has come to Roth's defense, claiming that he should have been allowed time to grow an audience.
On April 24, 2006, the rumor about The David Lee Roth Show being replaced by Opie and Anthony was confirmed. The duo filled Roth's former timeslot on April 26, 2006. Two days later, an article appeared in the Boston Herald, which stated that CBS, supposedly, never intended for Roth to replace Stern permanently. Reportedly, the company wanted Opie and Anthony to replace Stern all along; however, because of a public feud between Stern and the duo, they selected Roth to 'go first,' so as bear the brunt of fan outrage, and thus ensure Opie and Anthony's success.
During a brief war with Howard Stern in 1988, Stern was expecting Roth to show up at his K-Rock WXRK (in New York) station The Howard Stern Show, but when Roth failed to appear, Stern declared war on Roth and told his listeners to call him David "Weave" Roth. When Stern and Roth reconciled, Roth appeared on Stern's show to prove that he was not wearing a weave by having Stern pull on Roth's hair to confirm the claim.
Relationship with the Howard 100 News
During the course of Roth's radio show, he maintained a relationship with Howard Stern News Department reporter Steve Langford. Roth and Langford met frequently after shows, with Langford bringing tape back to Howard of Roth's complaints towards WXRK's management. Issues included Roth's firing, the missing podcast, and his show being cut off early. Langford and Roth met last on Roth's final day, April 21, 2006, Roth performed the Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want" for Howard and discussed an impending lawsuit against CBS.
On January 24, 2007, after much anticipation, Billboard.com reported that David Lee Roth would rejoin Van Halen for a 40-date amphitheater tour in Summer 2007. This report, among many others, was confirmed with an official press release posted on the official Van Halen website on Feb. 2, 2007.
On Feb. 2, 2007 The Official Van Halen Web Site released information that David Lee Roth had rejoined the band along with current members Alex, Eddie, along with Eddie and Valerie's teenage son, Wolfgang Van Halen. Michael Anthony, Van Halen's original and only bass player up to now (excluding Eddie, who played bass himself on some of Van Halen III and on all the new songs on the Best of Both Worlds compilation), was fired by Eddie before the summer 2004 tour with Sammy Hagar and played that tour under a 'hired gun' contract. Michael Anthony's website confirms his firing. David Lee Roth's website has a fan poll asking if Michael's absence will detract from a "reunion" tour. On March 8 the official Van Halen website posted a letter from Eddie Van Halen stating that Ed was entering rehab and that the tour with Roth had been indefinitely postponed.
In March 2007 five members of Van Halen, the four original members and Sammy Hagar were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Van Halen brothers did not attend due to Eddie's condition. Roth was to perform with the band Velvet Revolver; however, conflict with the band caused his part to be canceled. Roth subsequently did not attend the induction, leaving only Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar to represent Van Halen. Both Anthony and Hagar thanked Roth publicly for his contribution to the band during the awards acceptance.
The conflict was rumored to be based on song selection. Roth wanted to perform "Jump", the band's highest charting song, but Velvet Revolver would only agree to play "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" or "You Really Got Me". When it was finally agreed upon that Paul Shaffer would perform "Jump", Roth claimed that there was no longer enough time to rehearse and opted not to attend the ceremony.
On G4's show Code Monkeys, Dave is shown giving an inspirational speech to keep the others from taking up jobs at Bellecovision and asks "Would David Lee Roth leave Van Halen?" The show takes place in the 1980s.
On August 13, 2007, 6 months after the initial reunion tour was postponed, it was finally confirmed by Van Halen with Roth at a press conference in Los Angeles that they would start the tour back up again and schedule it starting in September 2007. At that conference, Eddie Van Halen stated that he and Roth were "like brothers" now. Calling Van Halen a "real band", both Edward and Roth spoke of the possibility of further worldwide touring and a new album in mind for the future.
On June 5, 2008, Van Halen announced the 2007-2008 tour with Roth grossed more than $93 million, a record for the rock band. Van Halen played to nearly one million people during 74 arena shows throughout the United States and Canada, beginning September 27, 2007 in Charlotte, N.C. and wrapping June 3, 2008 in Quebec City, Qc for the 400th anniversary of the city. Although currently inactive, it is rumored that the band will release an album of new material following Eddie Van Halen's marriage in June 2009 and allowing Wolfgang Van Halen to graduate high school before embarking on any further ventures.
When asked about the recent Rolling Stone blurb concerning Eddie Van Halen jamming again with Wolfgang and Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth mentioned "Oh, I'm just waiting for a call you know. We've got no new songs yet, no new lyrics but we've got forward momentum and that's the key. (Alex Van Halen)'s got this idea to use the kid from the '84 album grown up for the cover art though. Who knows? I'm gonna have to start hittin' the snooze button and not set an alarm, 'cause I'm expecting that call at any minute."
In response to the Draft John Mellencamp for Indiana Senate movement, a Draft David Lee Roth (who is also an Indiana native) for Indiana Senate movement has started on Facebook.
Solo Band members
With Van Halen
Note: None of Roth's albums have achieved a sales certification in the UK
with Van Halen
Crazy from the Heat (1985)
Eat'Em and Smile (1986)
A Little Ain't Enough (1991)
Your Filthy Little Mouth (1994)
The Best of David Lee Roth (1997)
DLR Band (1998)
Diamond Dave (2003)