When David Lee Roth Used Alex Van Halen as Threat to Get Paid
In the second episode of a new season of The Roth Show (audio below), the singer looked back on a time when they were short of cash and most of their money went toward pursuing their musical ambitions.
"We stopped eating in 1972 'cause every single penny went into the gas tank or equipment," Roth said. "Eddie would boil his strings in order to temper them or get them to stretch, but he also boiled them so he could reuse them again!" He continued: "Our parents, they pretty much abandoned us and said, 'Look, if you're gonna choose music, professional music, as what you do for a living, that is wildly unstable...you're on your own.' And we were – so every single penny had to go into that gas tank. … This is the golden years."
He summarized an average gig day, saying: "I would go over to the Van Halen's house...Al Van Halen would come out with a sandwich that his mom made him...He would always hand me half of it, put the other half in his mouth and hand me his bass drum."
The food consumed, the pair's next stop was a nearby gas station. Sometimes, they'd splurge if they had a little extra cash. "If we had more than five bucks – which sometimes we did – one of us would walk across the street to the Armenian grocery store." Since the sons in the family-run business were Van Halen fans, "we knew [they] were gonna come to the next backyard party...so if we were change-short, we're good!"
As the band got used to delivering shows consisting of five 45-minute sets, Roth recalled they left the financial dealings to him. "I would be in charge of the cigar box 'cause I'm Jewish, frankly! ... I was good at interacting with other people and communication. Come on, I can bond with a fire hydrant!"
But if a deal went sour, he added, the conversations might go like this: "'Manny, what happened to the last 50 bucks?' 'Ray, don't make me go get Al!' [Promoter:] 'You can't reason with Al!' [Roth:] 'Yeah, exactly – I wasn't going to reason with him! I'm gonna tell him you fucked up and I'm 50 bucks short! So, we'll start all over, Joe.'"
He continued: "And that was me off in the corner of a sawdust-on-the-floor beer bar. That's what I'm singing about in [2020 track] 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bar and Grill.'" He said he'd often start the show in the same way, with an old joke about being unwanted on the stage. "'My name's Dave, I got my first request right here, but you know what? Fuck you, pal – I'm gonna sing anyway!' And I'd kick in and I'd look forward to the hecklers, because they become the high point of your show." After a pause he added: "And, hey, sometimes they have a point. Maybe we have a point."
Listen to 'The Roth Show' Season Two, Episode Two