David Lee Roth Retiring
The one-time Van Halen frontman is throwing in the shoes.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal (“David Lee Roth: ‘I’m throwing in the shoes. I’m retiring’“) had the scoop:
Decades ago, David Lee Roth shouted, “And the cradle will rock.”
The vaunted showman rocked our world Friday morning.
“I am throwing in the shoes. I’m retiring,” Roth said in a phone conversation that was more a spoken-word performance than interview. “This is the first, and only, official announcement. … You’ve got the news. Share it with the world.”
With that, Diamond Dave announced he is ending the Van Halen era and his own stage career with his five shows at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Jan. 5 and Jan. 7-8.
He quickly added, “I’m not going to explain the statement. The explanation is in a safe. These are my last five shows.”
Given that he hasn’t had a major hit, either with Van Halen* or as a solo artist, in decades, it’s hardly earth-shattering news that an about-to-turn-67 rocker is quitting. Still, he has been actively touring for all of this time. Beyond that, he was an iconic figure during my formative years and remains an interesting character.
While retirements by rock stars are only slightly more permanent than those of boxers, Roth’s move seems reflective rather than impetuous.
Roth then said he had just spoken to Alex Van Halen, his friend for 50 years and co-founder of the legendary rock band Van Halen.
“Al and I have been talking, and I can’t speak for him just yet,” Roth said, “but he knows what I am about to say.” He added, “We speak to each other constantly, two or three times a day. We laugh like pirates.”
Roth also had mentioned he’d been thinking about “the departure of my beloved classmate recently,” a clear reference to guitar god Eddie Van Halen, who died of throat cancer on Oct. 6. The singer also made an oblique reference to his own mortality, as he turns 67 on Oct. 10.
“I am encouraged and compelled to really come to grips with how short time is, and my time is probably even shorter,” Roth said.
He mentioned Eddie Van Halen being the first member of Van Halen to pass.
“I thought I might have been the first, frankly … ‘Hey Ed, objects in the rear-view mirror are probably me,'” Roth allowed. “And my doctors, my handlers, compelled me to really address that every time I go onstage, I endanger that future.”
Nonetheless, Roth plans to lay it out totally in the House of Blues shows.
“I know that when I am in the audience, whether you come out with a ukulele or a marching band, all I ask you give me everything you’ve got to give,” he said. “That’s what I did for the last 50 years.”
Indeed he did. While the first, eponymous Van Halen album was released in 1978, Roth joined the band in 1974 and had been performing since his teenage years.
Roth recalled Van Halen’s lean early years, with covered the first 5½ years of the band’s fabled history. The young musicians made $120 per night, spending most of that money on gas. They were once approached by a police officer while eating at Denny’s in Pasadena, California.
“It was the Saturday Night Supper Club, we’d get there at 3 in the morning, and order everything on the menu, all three three banana splits, the Grand Slam Breakfasts with the bacon, and the ones with the sausage,” Roth said, his voice rising. “We pulled two tables together … This cop came walking in — this was Cop Town — and asked, ‘Who are you all?’ I said, ‘Sir, we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band!’ He said, ‘Do you have enough money to pay for all this?’ And we all pulled our $125 green, crisp, sweat-through-your-(expletive)-shoes, money.”
Roth said he remembered those days “like they were yesterday” and had run through that very story with Alex Van Halen on Friday.
“I just found some pants upstairs. I save some of the old clothes,” Roth said. “I was a size 29. Eddie was a size 26. That’s where we came from.”
Van Halen became a force in rock from the band’s self-named debut album in 1978. Roth tapped into the classics from his era with the band during his January 2020 run at House of Blues, rumbling through “Running With the Devil,” “Panama,” “Beautiful Girls,” “Ice Cream Man,” “Everybody Wants Some” and the famous cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.”
Famous for his high-leg kicks, ringmaster persona and affinity for Spandex, Roth was the ideal front man for the band’s arena and stadium shows.
Those performances are now part of rock history.
Roth says his backing band at House of Blues is the final iteration of the original Van Halen. The rockers originally from Pasadena underwent several lineup changes over the years, including Sammy Hagar replacing Roth as vocalist in 1985, up until Eddie Van Halen’s death.
“I’ve got a band that is doing what Al and I used to call a ‘block,’ that means 75 rehearsals for one show,” Roth said. “We are bringing it in classic VH style. Alex and I are the only version, that was his message. There is no other variation. There is no torch being passed. There is no other side to this coin. This is classic, in-your-face Van Halen.”
That’s got to be hard to pull off at 67. Then again, Mick Jagger is 78.
*The band’s albums continued to do quite well up through their last one, 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth, but their last Top 40 single was 1995’s “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” with Sammy Hagar as their lead vocalist. The last Roth-led hit was 1984’s “Panama” and his last solo hit was 1988’s “Just Like Paradise.”