Here’s David with Avi Lewis talking about the 80s, change, and dissing Ozzy Osbourne.
Although David Lee Roth’s debut EP has been issued a few times over the years (including remastered on David Lee Roth’s 2013 Greatest Hits deluxe edition), there really is no better way of enjoying it than the old fashioned way: vinyl! Crazy From the Heat was made for the turntable. At only 14 minutes long, the CD was a strange waste of space.
For me, this EP represents an interesting bit of personal history. While it was cool seeing Roth on TV again, I felt like David had sold out his heavy metal past. Van Halen were the first band I liked that split into two camps, and I was in Camp Halen. Roth had not only sold out, but looked ridiculous. He was wearing (gasp) two different coloured gloves in the video for “California Girls”! I can’t stress how much that actually mattered to me at the time.
To people like my mom and dad, David Lee Roth was the superstar, Van Halen were just his backing band. “Why is the band called Van Halen if his name is Lee Roth?” asked my mom. “Because there are two Van Halens and only one Lee Roth,” I answered her simply. No point trying to explain who Eddie Van Halen was! Meanwhile, Van Halen chose the hard rockin’ Sammy Hagar for their new lead singer. It seemed to me that a line had been drawn in the sand. On one side, rock and roll integrity. On the other: David Lee Roth. I was not yet 13 years old.
You can certainly see how Crazy From the Heat was so polarising. The truth is, it’s just Dave having some fun with some old covers. If Van Halen weren’t so uptight about it, maybe they wouldn’t have had to break up. The really crazy thing? This four-song EP produced two hit singles!
Edgar Winter’s “Easy Street” (1974) cooks like an egg on blacktop. That’s Edgar on sax too, who all but steals the show from the consummate showman Dave. It’s a masterful teamup. “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” demonstrated Dave’s love and knowledge of old standards, if not his sheer ability to perform them! It was obvious that Dave was influenced by that whole genre, going back to Van Halen. The fact is, Dave’s the master of it. His whole schtick is founded on that era of American music.
My parents and I used to have furious arguments over who was better: David Lee Roth or the Beach Boys? I didn’t see how anyone could say the Beach Boys. They didn’t have Steve Vai or Eddie Van Halen on their songs. But Dave did have Carl Wilson on “California Girls”, and maybe that’s how he managed to duplicate their surfing harmonies. Dave beach babe music video for “California Girls” was so arousing that I felt guilty for watching it (over and over). It reminded me of this deck of playing cards that my buddy Bob had. Each card had a different girl in a different bathing suit. (He kept the playing cards hidden inside an 8 track tape.) Now, nobody’s really saying that Dave’s version of “California Girls” is superior to the original. They do, however, co-exist continually, in hearts and minds. Roth’s version is to some people what the Beach Boys original is to others.
The final track “Coconut Grove” was a Lovin’ Spoonful cover from 1966. It was clear that Dave’s solo EP wasn’t going to challenge Van Halen for the rock crown, not with songs like “Coconut Grove”. It’s so laid back you’ll drift away beneath the tide. It’s very much at odds with the other colourful, fun songs. As such, “Coconut Grove” wraps up the EP with a bow. Crazy From the Heat has a very clear start, middle and end.
Back in 1985, I assumed that we had lost David Lee Roth forever, since “California Girls” became such a hit. Fortunately I was wrong, and Dave returned to rock on his next LP (though not without losing his knack for oldies, covering “That’s Life” next time). Crazy From the Heat might have pissed me off at the time, but Roth ended up with an EP that is surprisingly timeless and classic.
I’ve long maintained that MuchMusic’s Power Hour was the best hour of Canadian television in the late 80s. The music, the interviews, and the personalities made it a very special show. Far better than anything MTV had on offer. Much respected the Metal. The Power Hour was a fun show, but not a lightweight one.
David Lee Roth sat with Denise Donlon in January of 1991, to promote his new album A Little Ain’t Enough. She didn’t let him off easy. “I think David Lee Roth is smarter than the music you make,” she says bluntly. And she doesn’t let him wriggle out with rehearsed answers. “Sure, the world’s a stage and I want better lighting!” Roth has a tendency to just go off on his own little segues, but Donlon doesn’t buy it and presses further. Dave likes to go by rote, but she kept questioning. Her point being that David Lee Roth is a witty, well read, worldly individual, and she was disappointed to see his new video (“A Li’l Ain’t Enough”) was another showcase for hot girls. She also asks about the blackface, which was not nearly as front-page in 1991 as it is in 2019.
Gotta give Denise Donlon credit for this. Even if you think she’s attacking him (which she’s not), you have to give her credit for being one of the few who are able to get David Lee Roth off script.
Unfortunately I was forced to edit out the musical clips from this video.
A really revealing interview: MuchMusic didn’t have a chance to speak to Steve Vai before this, because David Lee Roth would not pass on any press requests. Hear that story and more.
Seven strings? It’s here. Walking onstage to a crowd chanting “Yngwie! Yngwie! Yngwie!”? It’s here. Astral projection? Right here!
Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper
This is the first Just Listening post for an album I’ve already reviewed in full. I tackled David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper back in 2013, rating it 4/5 stars. However a recent conversation with singer/songwriter Derek Kortepeter led me to try to listen with new ears.
It started with Derek’s message to me. “Unpopular opinion: Skyscraper is better than Eat ‘Em and Smile,” he said. “Better songs, better guitar, tons of awesome synth…when you have tracks like ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Knucklebones’ how can you go wrong?” Derek says “Perfect Timing” might be his favourite song on the album.
Derek definitely has some good points. It’s easily arguable that Skyscraper has better guitars. Steve Vai was in the co-producer’s chair, and he layered his guitar parts as if he was building one of his own solo albums. They’re very dense, yet melodically intertwined. As for the synth, he has a valid observation with some songs like “Skyscraper”. That song verges on progressive rock; it’s got so much going on, including synth and layered Roth vocals. However I think the synth was overdone on tracks like “Stand Up“, which doesn’t even have Billy Sheehan on bass.
Skyscraper is an almost absurd album in some respects, with Dave pouring on that “charasma” to the nth degree. There are so many “woo’s” “wow’s” and “oh’s” that you could make an entire song of just that. Steve Vai was the star on Skyscraper, and as I said in my original review, how much you like Skyscraper will depend on how much you like Steve Vai. I like Steve; I think his music and playing is fascinating. Rock fans often don’t want “fascinating”, they just want the riffs and the choruses. Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more about the big guitars and choruses, but it’s also just a fabulous record. Skyscraper is colder sounding by comparison, and often drifts into experimental pop rock excursions. It also suffers for the lack of Billy Sheehan, who wasn’t given a lot of creative freedom. Where there should be bass, often you will hear synth.
Sorry Derek, you have made some really great points, and Skyscraper really is a great album. It’s brave and fun and experimental, but it’s also cold with little bit of filler (“Stand Up”). I’ll always rate it high…but not as high as Eat ‘Em and Smile.
GETTING MORE TALE #681: Bad Lessons
Parents of the 80s were always concerned about the impressions that their kids were getting from music videos. Objectifying women? Drug and alcohol use? Absolutely a concern. But what about other misleading lessons from the music video age?
Bad Lesson #1: You can play guitar with gloves on!
You’re guilty, Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P.! You too, Jeff Pilson of Dokken! You both played your instruments in music videos while wearing full leather gloves. As children, we simply assumed if it got cold outside, you could continue to play your guitar with gloves on. I’m not talking fingerless gloves, but full coverage.
It doesn’t really look cold in that Dokken video for “Burning Like a Flame”. Why the gloves, Jeff? George Lynch isn’t even wearing a shirt.
Bad Lesson #2: Great hair just happens.
How many music videos of the 80s showed the band members doing up their hair? None! Probably due to the “hairspray” stigma of the 80s. Some videos showed the band members literally getting out of bed, with hair intact. I assumed that once you grew your hair long enough and had it cut by a professional, it would just automatically look cool every morning. Naturally, I had bad hair for years. Thanks, rock stars. Don’t be embarrassed by your hair care products!
Bad Lesson #3: Guitars are eeeeasy to play!
Since we didn’t fully comprehend that music videos were mimed, and not an actual performance, we assumed guitars were easy to play! After all, they made it look so easy! C.C. DeVille could jump around and swing his guitar everywhere without missing a note. Others would just…hit their guitars…and the song played on! Paul Stanley seemed to play his without even touching it. You can imagine how we felt when we actually bought our first guitars ourselves. Hitting it didn’t play a song, it just made a hitting sound. We were lied to!
Players like DeVille and Jeff Labar of Cinderella also made it look far too easy to swing your guitars over your shoulders. We damaged some necks and some ceilings trying to imitate these guys. We learned you had to buy strap locks or watch your guitar get launched skyward.
Bad Lesson #4: Adulthood involves walking the streets at night with your boyz.
As young impressionable kids, we didn’t know what adulthood was really about. We saw our dads go to work every day. Mom worked hard too. But what about before they met and got married and settled down to have kids? What was life like at that stage? Judging by Dokken, Journey or Motley Crue videos, adulthood meant walking around town a lot with your buds. Some bands even cruised in cars! Is this what growing up looked like?
“Don’t Go Away Mad” (by the most Mötleyest of Crües) is guilty on two counts: plenty of downtown walkin’, and Vince waking up with hair perfectly coiffed.
Bad Lesson #5: Getting arrested is no big deal!
David Lee Roth was led away in handcuffs in the “Panama” music video. Bobby Dall of Poison got arrested in one of their clips, too. Let’s not forget Sammy Hagar getting busted for speeding in “I Can’t Drive 55”. But it’s all good – the guys were all there at the end of the songs. No big deal!
It was never the alcohol, or devil worship, or women that made rock videos dangerous. Turns out it was the mundane stuff. Who knew long hair was so hard to upkeep? They never told us that. How naive we were!
Van Halen had some of the best videos of the 80s, bar none. After David Lee Roth, the visionary behind the videos, left the band, they refused to film any new clips for their first six singles with Sammy Hagar! They didn’t want the comparisons. Instead they released live versions of singles as videos. They finally filmed an actual studio video for the ballad “When It’s Love” in late 1988.
It seems Van Halen still can’t reconcile all the different singers from the past. That is obvious by the omissions from this disc. Go ahead and list the missing videos:
The excellently corny “Oh Pretty Woman”. “You Really Got Me”, the timeless Kinks cover. The live videos for “Unchained” and “So This Is Love”. All the live video clips are missing, even Sammy’s debut in “Why Can’t This Be Love”. As is Gary Cherone’s “Fire In The Hole”. “Feels So Good”, “Top of the World”, “Amsterdam”…all missing.
At least they included one Cherone video (“Without You”), but then again, he was the band’s current singer when this was released in 1998. It would have been weird if he wasn’t on it. He hasn’t made an appearance or even been mentioned on any Van Halen releases since.
For Van Halen to refuse to release those videos on DVD just indicates they’re scared of their own shadows. You can’t bury your past, you may as well celebrate it.
DAVID LEE ROTH – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991, Warner, digipack promo CD version)
First Billy Sheehan was gone – fired by the “note police”. Then Steve Vai was out, to join David Coverdale in his merry international band of Whitesnake, replacing Vivian Campbell. David Lee Roth lost his two biggest guns in the space of a year. What next? Replacing Billy was Matt Bissonette, brother of drummer Gregg. Matt is a fantastic bassist, but there is only one Billy Sheehan, so naturally the band was bound to sound different. Replacing Steve Vai was much harder.
Filling the guitar slot, but not the shoes, was new young guitar prodigy Jason Becker (from Cacophony, with Marty Friedman), and veteran axeman Steve Hunter (ex-Alice Cooper). Becker was beginning to feel the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Fans must have known something was wrong when Becker was not seen on tour. Becker kept his diagnosis private for the time being. Roth tapped Joe Holmes (future Ozzy guitarist) and stated that he needed musicians who could “fly” on stage. It was hard for fans to become attached to his new band, even wielding the firepower of two guitarists, with all these changes.
Roth’s first post-Vai album, A Little Ain’t Enough, failed to ascend the commercial heights of Eat ‘Em and Smile or Skyscraper. “Good”, but not “great”. Not enough of that Dave “charasma”. Just a collection of songs, not a fierce sexed up power-packed ride through. Roth hooked up with producer-du-jour Bob Rock at Little Mountain studios. Rock endowed Roth with a generic sound, contrasting the high-tech Skyscraper. Dave seemed to be trying to take a step back towards his Van Halen roots. Roth insisted that he and his band stay in the shittiest Vancouver hotel they could find. Prostitutes, dealers, criminals, the works. He wanted a dirty rock album and you can’t make one of those with a $20 room service hamburger in your stomach, as per the method of Diamond Dave.
A Little Ain’t Enough wasn’t the return to dirty raw rock Roth that had hyped.
Lead single “A Lil’ Ain’t Enough” was plenty of fun, a top notch Roth party song. “Was vaccinated with a phonograph needle one summer break, then I kissed her on her daddy’s boat and shot across the lake.” Perfect for summer. Second track “Shoot It” was just as fun, a big horn section delivering all the big hooks.
The one-two punch of those openers was slowed by following them with “Lady Luck”, a rock blues track written by Dio’s Craig Goldy. Good song, but the firepower and excitement of the previous two was missing. “Hammerhead Shark”, the fourth track, had more energy but not the killer hooks. What it does have is some killer shredding by the guitar duo of Hunter and Becker, with Hunter on the slide and Becker on the quick pickin’. “Tell the Truth” is another blues, slower this time, and was also released as an instrumental remix with dialogue (from a movie?) dubbed over. Side one closed with a real Van Halen-like corker called “Baby’s On Fire”. As the title suggests, it’s red-hot and loaded with smoking playing.
Side two is a mixed bag. “40 Below” is a fun track, with shades of Halen but more focused on bluesy guitars. “Sensible Shoes” was a single, a slinky blues that appealed to some that normally wouldn’t buy a David Lee Roth album. The slide guitar is the main feature. “Last Call” is another one reminiscent of classic Van Halen, and “Dogtown Shuffle” dips back into noctural blues rock. Good songs – not great, but good.
Jason Becker only contributed two of his own songs to the album: the final two, “It’s Showtime!” and “Drop in the Bucket”. These happen to be two of the best tracks. “It’s Showtime!” is 100% pure Van Halen, smoking down the highway, so try to keep up. It’s the kind of high speed rock shuffle that they invented and mastered. Meanwhile “Drop in the Bucket” serves as a cool, smooth ending to the album. Its impressive guitar work is only a glimpse at what Becker was capable of.
ALS be damned, Jason Becker refused to go down without a fight. As the disease took his voice and his hands, he began composing music on a computer. He uses a system that tracks his eye movements, much like Steven Hawking. This way, Becker has managed to stay active musically and has inspired thousands with his efforts.
It’s a shame that Becker’s only album with David Lee Roth was a bit middle of the road. It wasn’t the full shred of early Roth, nor as diverse as Dave can get. In his efforts to make a straight ahead rock album, Dave shed some of what makes his music special. The musical thrills are lessened on what is probably the most “ordinary” album in his catalog.
Second in a two-part review of the 1989 compilation CD, Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years. Part one is here: Sink Your Teeth Into That. More Talas tomorrow!
When we last met Talas, they were a power trio. On their 1984 live album, they were a quartet. Billy Sheehan was the only remaining member of the original lineup, with some hot talent behind him: Mark Miller on drums, Mitch Perry (MSG) on guitar, and the hugely talented Phil Naro singing. Naro has been around, including a stint with Peter Criss. (You can hear a number of his performances on Mitch Lafon’s Kiss tribute CD A World With Heroes.)
There is little question that Naro’s voice brings the songs to another level. “Sink Your Teeth Into That” benefits from his young rasp. Mitch Perry throws in a more articulated guitar solo for an extended section leaving Billy to hold down the riff. Second in line is a new song, “Crystal Clear” which has a biting Police guitar riff. The busy bass holds down the melodic center as Naro soars on top. Live Speed on Ice has great value, since much of its material was actually brand new and never released on anything else. “The Farandole” is another new one, an instrumental of jaw-dropping ability. Dueling bass and guitars dance and parry while the drums hit the heavy blows.
More new tunes: “Do You Feel Any Better”, “Lone Rock”, and “Inner Mounting Flame” continue the ass-kicking streak. Each has their own groove, but “Inner Mounting Flame” truly is live speed on ice. A few older tracks from the album are solid winners: “King of the World”, “High Speed on Ice” and of course “Shy Boy”, the one Talas song that people know today thanks to David Lee Roth. Billy’s signature bass solo is also performed live (and extended), but cleverly retitled. While “NVH 3345” meant “SHEEHAN” upside down, “7718 (3A17)” means “BILL (LIVE)”. With the freedom of the live setting, Bill took his time to showcase some unheard of chops and effects.
Any album that has Billy Sheehan on bass is bound to include a thousand notes of pure thrills, and any record with Phil Naro is going to sound awesome vocally. Therefore, Live Speed on Ice should be a welcome addition to the discerning rock fan’s personal library. The easiest way to get it is on CD combined with Sink Your Teeth Into That as the 1989 compilation Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years. Either way, you win.
A two-part review of the 1989 compilation CD, Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.
Fans of David Lee Roth are probably already aware of Talas via their incredible bassist Billy Sheehan, an innovative genius of the four-string rumble. His first recordings were with Talas (1979-1983), a Buffalo power trio. With Roth, he re-recorded the Talas track “Shy Boy” on Eat ‘Em And Smile. The Talas original can be found on their second LP Sink Your Teeth Into That, or the compilation The Talas Years.
The focus is immediately and obvious on the bass. Billy plays it simultaneously as a lead instrument, and the rhythmic foundation. “Sink Your Teeth Into That”, the title track boasts not only insane playing, but sounds that had never been heard before from a bass guitar. And the song’s pretty good too. It’s raw 80s hard rock, no more no less, except for that bass. “Hit and Run” is just as strong. Talas were not just a bass showcase, but a band that could actually write good songs. These are unpolished and rough songs, with the band (Dave Constantino on guitar and Paul Varga on drums) alternating lead vocals.
The centerpiece of the album is the bass solo “NVH 3345”. Write that down and turn it upside down: it spells “SHEEHAN”. It has been said before that as Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” was a game changer on guitar, “NVH 3345” is the “Eruption” of the bass guitar. It is hard to imagine more sheer technique stuffed into 2:21. For anyone who is a serious collector of hard rock heroes, “NVH 3345” must find a way into your collection.
“High Speed On Ice” returns to a hard rocking momentum, like “Highway Star” via Buffalo New York. Then “Shy Boy” which needed David Lee Roth and Steve Vai to finally perfect it. Think of this version as a prototype. It is hard to believe that David Lee Roth did not write the line “Gotta keep things movin’ ’til my personality starts it groovin'”, but Roth made it sound like he meant it.
“King of the World” and “Outside Lookin’ In” occupy the mid-tempo range, and that would be Billy singing those high screams. Both good songs with the memorable hooks to go with the bass hijinks. Shadows fall on “Never See Me Cry”, a darker side of Talas but still with the hooks intact. Second to last song “Smart Lady” is the only loser. There isn’t room for songs that just don’t cut it. “Hick Town” ends the album on a better note, with bass pyrotechnics and thrills to go.
Sink your teeth into Talas, and come back tomorrow for a look at Live Speed on Ice.