Who Is David Lee Roth?
David Lee Roth played with a few different bands before joining Van Halen. The band released their first self-titled album in 1978, and quickly became a top hard rock act. In the mid-1980s, Roth launched a successful solo career. He has reunited with Van Halen twice over the years — briefly in 1996 and again in 2007. Since 2007, Roth has toured with the group and released a new album in 2012.
Musician David Lee Roth was born on October 10, 1954, in Bloomington, Indiana. Now famous for his distinctive vocals, as well as his rowdy and, sometimes, raunchy stage persona, Roth started life as the son of an ophthalmologist. Some of his early musical favorites were jazz artist Al Jolson and R&B legend Ray Charles. During the summers, Roth would often visit his uncle Manny in New York City. His uncle ran the club Cafe Wha? in the Greenwich Village neighborhood, a popular hot spot for such famous talents as Bob Dylan.
Roth moved to California with his family as a teenager. He began performing in high school by joining a band. As a student at Pasadena City College, Roth studied music theory for a time. There, he befriended Eddie and Alex Van Halen, two brothers from the Netherlands who played together in a band called Mammoth. Roth played with several bands himself, including Red Ball Jets. The Van Halens sometimes rented Roth's PA system for their gigs. Roth later joined Mammoth, which soon changed its name to Van Halen after learning another group already had rights to "Mammoth." Michael Anthony came onboard as the group's bassist.
Van Halen became a popular fixture on the club scene. According to several reports, KISS's frontman Gene Simmons attended one of the band's concerts and paid for them to make a demo recording. Van Halen landed a contract with Warner Bros. in 1977 and released their first self-titled album the following year. Van Halen quickly became a hit, featuring Roth's expressive, sometimes primal vocals and Eddie Van Halen's revolutionary guitar work. The album contained numerous now classic hard rock songs, such as "Runnin' with the Devil" and "Jamie's Cryin'." Roth wrote much of the lyrics for the group, which has been credited for changing the face of hard rock with their pop- and punk-influenced sound.
In 1979, Van Halen had their first hit single with "Dance the Night Away." The band toured to support the record, and Roth proved to be quite the showman. With his long blond hair and crazy spandex outfits, he won over audiences with his fast-talking patter, jumps and stunts. His routine has commonly been described as vaudeville meets the Sunset Strip. Off stage, Roth and his bandmates developed quite the reputation as one of rock's most hedonistic acts. One rock journalist called the group's lifestyle as "a nonstop booze-and-babes party train." Roth himself has said that Van Halen made Led Zeppelin look like Boy Scouts.
Roth made several more hit albums with Van Halen, including 1984, which proved to be Roth's most successful recording with the group, scoring their first number-one single "Jump." He also co-directed several of the band's videos, including the one for "Hot for Teacher." The suggestive yet comical video became popular on MTV. Around this time, however, Roth began to branch out on his own, and Van Halen quickly replaced him with Sammy Hagar. The choice of Hagar was especially odious to Roth as the two had been musical rivals for years.
Solo Projects and Songs
Roth released a four-song recording, Crazy From the Heat, in 1985. On the EP, he did his own take on several famous tunes, ranging from California surf rock to old pop standard. Roth scored a number three hit with "California Girls," written by the Beach Boys. His homage to Louis Prima, "I'm Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," also did well. But these songs were a marked departure from Van Halen's hard rock sound.
With 1986's Eat 'Em and Smile, Roth returned to more familiar territory with this full-length release. The hard-driving song "Yankee Rose" proved to be the album's most successful single. "Goin' Crazy" also enjoyed some popularity. Roth began to really experiment with his sound with 1988's Skyscraper, sounding more mainstream pop and less hard rock. While the album had strong sales, Roth's musical shift was not a welcomed change by some.
Roth further alienated some of his fans with the Niles Rodgers-produced Your Filthy Little Mouth (1994), which proved to be a commercial dud. This was the first real flop for him, and he soon tried another new direction. Roth debuted a lounge act in Las Vegas the following year, which failed to draw much of an audience.
In 1996, Roth had a brief reunion with Van Halen. He worked with them on some new tracks for their greatest hits album and appeared with them at the MTV Music Video Awards. That same year, Sammy Hagar left the band. Van Halen's reunion with Roth was rocky and, subsequently, brief; after producing a few tracks with his old bandmates, Roth went back to working solo.
Trying a different medium, Roth gave readers an inside look at his wild and crazy life in his autobiography Crazy from the Heat (1997). He tried to recapture some of his past glory by teaming up with his former nemesis, Hagar, for a successful tour in 2002. Around this time, however, Roth began exploring a career beyond music. He became a licensed EMT in New York.
In 2005, Roth had a brief career as a radio DJ. He was hired to fill the shoes of Howard Stern, as the popular shock jock had moved to satellite. But Roth's days in radio broadcasting were short-lived. He only lasted a few months, before he was let go for low ratings. He made musical headlines in 2007, as Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Roth refused to attend the ceremony after learning that he wasn't going to be able to perform.
Later that year, Roth buried the hatchet with Van Halen. He rejoined the group, which now included Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, on bass, for a hugely successful tour. He and the rest of the band also went back into the studio, recording 2012's A Different Kind of Truth. The album hit the top of the rock charts, with critics offering mixed assessments of the work. Some noted that Roth's voice is less dynamic than it once was. Still others heralded the return of Roth, calling him "the true hero" of the recording.
Roth and the rest of Van Halen went on tour in 2012, but they ended up postponing some of the dates scheduled for the summer and fall. Sources close to the band, according to Billboard, said that the band members were tired, not bickering. Whatever the case, Roth's legacy as one of rock's top lead singers remains secure. His style, stage persona and attitude changed the face of hard rock and paved the way for other pop-metal bands, including Poison and Mötley Crüe, that followed in Van Halen's wake.
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