Tribute to Uncle Manny Roth (1918 – 2014)

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Photo: Uncle Manny Roth backstage with David after the Van Halen “Friends and Family” dress rehearsal at the LA forum. Feb 8th, 2012.

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“Living testimony to Get Off Your Ass!”
—DLR on his Uncle Manny

Our respects and condolences go out to David Lee Roth and his family—his Uncle Manny passed away on Friday.

“Uncle Manny has passed away,” Roth wrote on his website. “He was 95 years old. He was happy, laughing and smiling right up ’til the end. His presence already missed. His contributions with us forever.”

It’s impossible to understate the importance Uncle Manny Roth—one of Dave’s biggest mentors—and of the Café Wha?—the very cafe where Dave’s musical education began. Without either one, David Lee Roth would probably have never been inspired to become the unique rock star that we know and love, nor would Van Halen exist as we know it, if at all.

Many members of his family were surgeons: David Lee Roth has an uncle, Dave, who is a neurosurgeon; an uncle, Marty, who is an orthopedic surgeon; and a grandfather who was a surgeon. But then there’s his Manny Roth…

manny2In 1962, David Lee Roth’s not-yet-famous Uncle Manny, the oldest of the Roth brothers, left Indiana and went to New York’s Greenwich Village. It was the age of the coffee shop in the café. Manny built, owned and operated a club there called the Café Wha?— a stage for amateur acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Rich Little, Peter Paul and Mary, Steven Van Zandt and Joan Rivers all performed there. Manny became quite an influential New York City nightclub owner and entertainment entrepreneur. He gave Richard Pryor his first shot and became his first manager. Bob Dylan got fired from there three times for being late!

David grew up on a farm in Indiana and spent his early childhood in the great outdoors there, and  spent several summers living with his famous uncle at his Cafe Wha? before moving to Pasadena in the early seventies. It was at that cafe that seven year old David Lee got his first taste of, and desire for, show business from the inside by hanging out at Cafe Wha? with his Uncle Manny.

Thanks to Steve Kandell’s interview last year, we have some quotes from Uncle Manny:

“David’s father would bring him down when he was 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, and I would give him the royal treatment,” says Manny, now 93, on the phone from his home in Ojai, California. “I used to fix him up with ice cream, whatever he wanted. I didn’t try to turn him onto anything, but maybe it was osmosis. I was in the center of the scene there — all you had to do was carry an empty guitar case and the girls would follow you. I did my share of drugs. I had my long hair and all that crap. Every day was an adventure.

“By and large, David’s stories are the same stories I tell. From day to day, his life is a new adventure, he’s a superstar. He’s in Japan learning the language and the jujitsu. He doesn’t sit on his ass. I asked him how are the Japanese ladies over there and he said he’d send me one. I love him dearly. I know he can be a little quirky. Being a rock star is being a rock star, I don’t need to go into the details. What would you do if you were a rock star?”

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7b5af767f65d37d81a4b4ee423b9179b826bc7cfTwo years ago, on the eve of the release of Van Halen’s A Different Kind Of Truth, the band returned to the stage at 250-seat Cafe Wha?—the smallest venue they’d graced since the mid-’70s. David chose that sacred place to announce to the world that they were back with their new album and tour.

During the intimate gig, David Lee Roth pointed out Uncle Manny. Both Roths were beaming with pride. Buzzfeed’s Steve Kandell described the moment:

“He [DLR] reminisced about watching his uncle lay down the club’s marble floor, about how being in this room made him the kind of person who could front a band way too big to be playing this room. From someone once considered to be the poster boy for rock artifice, it was about as human a moment as you’d ever need to see onstage.”

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Manny salutes David during Van Halen’s special show at the Cafe Wha?

Watch Dave’s story about being a kid hanging out with his Uncle Manny:

More about the Cafe Wha: 

manny_flyerManny built Cafe Wha? with his bare hands in 1959. As he said once, “I used the last $100 I had to buy a truckload or so of broken marble with which to make the floor.” That broken marble floor is still there to this day. The Club has remained much the same since its opening except there is no longer a bathtub on the stage! There was no liquor sold at Cafe Wha? on its inception. Like many of the little dark Clubs in Greenwich Village at the time they mostly served coffee, tea and perhaps small bites and sandwiches.

It quickly became the hangout for all types of Folk Singers, Artists, Poets, Beatniks and Anarchists of the time. Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and the like were there. Mary Travers, of the band Peter, Paul & Mary was a waitress there at one time. It was renowned as the meeting spot for all things 60s in the “Village.”

Cafe_WahDid you know? 

Manny Roth was David’s first guest on “The David Lee Roth Show”, a morning drive CBS Radio program which ran for four months in 2006. Manny guested during the 8:00am to 10:00am hours during the first day of the show and spoke much of his years in entertainment. Manny told first person accounts of meeting Jimi Hendrix, Richard Pryor (whom Manny affectionately called “Richie”), Bob Dylan, and Bill Cosby among others. (Unfortunately, we can’t find any recording of this episode).

David describing Uncle Manny (short audio):

The Roth Show, episode #5 (The first 8 minutes are on Cafe Wha? & Manny):

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Next: Van Halen Live at Cafe Wha? – VHND Review