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David Lee Roth

A showman singer with a penchant for the party life, blond hair-metal specialist DAVID LEE ROTH has either been at the centre of attraction with VAN HALEN (in their prime between ’77 and ’84) or drawing on numerous “California Girls” in an er… up and down solo career. When it was obvious he might as well “Jump” from his swaggering position as maniacal motormouth at genius guitarist Eddie VH’s side, who’d have thought he’d turn metal into mush through his re-interpretations of the old standards such as `Just A Gigolo’; the latter a staple he was introduced to by his swing/jazz-loving pater.
Born October 10, 1955, Bloomington, Indiana, young David suffered from hyperactivity, curtailed for the most part when he attended a child clinic from age eight. His family subsequently moved to Pasadena, where he subsequently joined local metal group, Mammoth. Fast forward a few years, this outfit evolved into VAN HALEN (brothers Eddie and Alex, plus Michael Anthony), DLR taking centre stage as their inimitably OTT frontman over a decade. During this time, ‘Halen became one of the biggest hard-rock/metal acts in the world as well as regularly hitting the pop charts; at a time when mentors LED ZEPPELIN were no more, and rivals AEROSMITH were struggling.
However, by the mid-80s, as a side-project to his VAN HALEN activities, the spandex-attired ROTH was getting restless. At the turn of ’85, he secured a Top 3 hit with one of the attendant covers (The BEACH BOYS’ `California Girls’) from his 12”-EP/mini-LP, CRAZY FROM THE HEAT {*6}. And for this musical crime, he was unceremoniously dropped from the group; replaced by seasoned singer, SAMMY HAGAR. The swaggering `Just A Gigolo – I Ain’t Got Nobody’ (another Top 20 smash) casted cool crooner “Diamond” Dave as dude for a dad generation, but his wish to be rock’s Frank Sinatra was in question; other covers stemmed from Dan Hartman (`Easy Street’) and The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL (`Coconut Grove’).
Enlisting a cast of crack rock troopers including guitarist STEVE VAI (ex-FRANK ZAPPA), the much-touted bassist Billy Sheehan (ex-TALAS), and drummer Gregg Bissonette, ROTH cut his first full-length solo set, EAT ‘EM AND SMILE (1986) {*7}. The album was roundly praised in the rock press, scaling the Top 5 (UK Top 30) in the process. Alive with the singer’s infectious enthusiasm and natural talent for flamboyancy, the pop-metal record was a consistently entertaining listen. The brilliant `Yankee Rose’ entered Top 20 territory, while `Goin’ Crazy’ and the Sinatra classic, `That’s Life’, were not so prominent; the contrasting, but now formulaic comic-swing to 60s-bubblegum of `I’m Easy’ and `Tobacco Road’, solidified Dave’s blond-maned pedigree as larger-than-life lounge lizard.
Its follow-up, SKYSCRAPER {1988) {*6}, duly appeared with a sleeve depicting daredevil Dave in the throes of his latest obsession – rock climbing. Fittingly then, there was a lofty, widescreen sound to much of the album, the soaring Top 10’er `Just Like Paradise’ giving ROTH his first UK Top 30 hit. Sheehan was already part of MR. BIG, so in came Matt Bissonette (Gregg’s sibling) and keyboard-player Brett Tuggle. And while VAI helped his boss along with several tracks (including `The Bottom Line’, `Hina’ and `Hot Dog And A Shake’), David looked to be falling off the edge rather than climbing without a harness.
By the release of A LITTLE AIN’T ENOUGH (1991) {*4}, both VAI and the crew had departed; the album missing their instrumental spark and underlining ROTH’s increasingly formulaic approach. Though the album made the US Top 20 (UK Top 5!), it failed to spawn any hit singles but for the surge in Old Blighty for the Top 40 title track; ROTH subsequently sacking his band and heading for New York.
Not that he fared much better in the Big Apple; the singer running into personal problems and failing to kick-start his ailing career with the poor, NILE RODGERS-produced YOUR FILTHY LITTLE MOUTH (1994) {*3}. Nor a man to be held down for long, motor-mouth Dave subsequently re-united with VAN HALEN. Or at least, he almost reunited with VAN HALEN; departing un-amicably once more after recording just a handful of new songs for a “best of” set. Instead, he gathered together the DLR BAND {*5} for the 1998 album of the same name. More gonzoid than any of his 90s releases put together, the record went some way toward recapturing that restless spirit he possessed after the first time he left Halen. Augmented by guitarist/co-songwriter Terry Kilgore, bassist Tom Lilly and drummer Ray Luzier, the shlock ’n’ sleaze of `Slam Dunk!’, `Lose The Dress (Keep The Shoes)’ and `Right Tool For The Job’, pleased his fans, if not the whole of the modern metal scene.
After a lengthy absence, the lucid legend returned with DIAMOND DAVE (2003) {*5}, a thoroughly entertaining near-covers set which occasionally fell flat, but in its best moments (including a big-band treatment of John Brim’s `Ice Cream Man’: originally covered on VH’s debut) proved that ROTH always had as much taste as he had ego. One might recognise LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `Tomorrow Never Knows’, JIMI HENDRIX’s `If 6 Was 9’, The DOORS’ `Soul Kitchen’ and STEVE MILLER’s `Shu Ba Da…’ (re-titled here as `Shoo Bop’), while other punters might have to source SAVOY BROWN and CHRIS YOULDEN for blues openers `You Got The Blues, Not Me…’, `Made Up My Mind’ and `Stay While The Night Is Still Young’.
Of late, in 2007, on the back of his FM-DJ prowess in the place of legend Howard Stern, ROTH once again (or was it twice!) hooked up with his old muckers in VAN HALEN, but it proved to be short-lived; nemesis SAMMY HAGAR was Eddie’s chosen one.
© MC Strong 1994-2001 // rev-up MCS Feb2013

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