One of the biggest shakeups in rock ‘n’ roll history is when David Lee Roth quit Van Halen in 1985. But did he really quit? This insider, who was known as “one of the fifth members of Van Halen,” says David did not quit …
Legend has it that on April 1st, 1985 … April Fool’s Day … David Lee Roth left Van Halen. (First, let’s get this out of the way … it didn’t happen on April 1st. It didn’t even happen in April. But it was during April that the band (read, Eddie and Alex) decided to fire their longtime personal manager, Noel Monk, very much against the pleas of David Lee Roth.
So, April 1985 saw the band without management for the first time since its club days. With no one serving as the glue to keep the band together, Dave and the brothers were unable to see eye-to-eye on practically anything, and things further unraveled over the following several weeks.
As for the exact details of the breakup, not too much is known … except that most everyone believes that Dave left the band.
… Or did he?
Greg Prato, author of MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, gives VHND an exclusive excerpt from his book, where Van Halen insider Pete Angelus shares his side of the breakup. Pete held myriad jobs while with Van Halen from 1977-1985 (including lighting director, creative consultant, and video work), and was later one-half of the solo David Lee Roth video team, The Fabulous Picasso Brothers, and can be seen in some of Roth’s solo videos.
When the band was dissolving, he was there.
Like all musical groups, perception is everything, right? There was the perception that they all got along beautifully and hung out. And there were a couple of years that went better than others. But I would say, and I’m sure that Edward and Dave — if they were willing to be truthful about it — would admit that there was always some tension, primarily between Alex and Eddie with Dave.
Alex was always very regimented in his approach to how serious the music business was. And Dave had a very different viewpoint of it. And Edward was just completely in his own world musically. I don’t really think he cared to get in the middle of those approaches [because] he was so involved in his own music. Everything was music for Edward. Edward wasn’t as social a person as anyone in the band, because he was dealing with his thoughts and his ideas, all the time. And usually locked in a hotel room playing the guitar, or locked in the bus playing the guitar, or sitting in his bunk playing the guitar. But that guitar never left his hands.
With all groups, there is some tension between the members. In 1985, when they announced the break-up, I was with Dave actually at the time. As I remember it, they had been touring pretty consistently for five years. And the idea was simply to take like a year hiatus. And some of them had things they were interested in doing during that year. Dave wanted to spend the time to make a movie [Pete and Dave were collaborating on a movie, Crazy from the Heat, which was never filmed].
When I was on the phone with Alex, Eddie, and Dave, everybody was agreeable to a one-year hiatus. And I can’t remember, but it was like a week or two after that I read that Dave had quit the group in Rolling Stone. At least that was how someone in the Van Halen camp was trying to present it. I remember being on the phone with Dave, going, “Will you look at this shit?! We just had an agreement and an understanding, and everybody was on board a week or two ago…and now this?!” It rolled into a lot of very negative feelings, because I think Dave felt betrayed. I don’t know how the Van Halen’s felt betrayed, because they had agreed to it. Maybe they felt betrayed because he wanted to pursue something in film. But it rolled quickly into some very negative areas.
I remember having a conversation with Alex, as to “What exactly is going on here? Because I thought everybody just agreed to take a year off.” I remember him being kind of aggressive about it, like, “Oh no, that’s bullshit man. We’re not going to sit around and wait while Dave makes a movie. You’ve got to pick sides of where you want to be.” I was like, “Well, wait a minute. No one is sitting around and ‘waiting’ while Dave makes a movie. A few weeks ago, we were talking about maybe it was time for Van Halen to take a year off the road, after so much consecutive touring.” And it was like, “No, that’s bullshit, man. We’re not going to be in a holding pattern for Dave’s whims.” So that was probably how he perceived it, after having agreed to it.
I don’t know why his perception changed, but it did. And I don’t really remember speaking to Edward specifically about it after that. I do remember him saying, “We’re going to carry on as Van Halen.” Edward and Alex were always of the mindset that everybody that worked for them was overpaid, in a sense, and they were going to very carefully select their “team.”
Whereas Dave, at the time, was very optimistic and very open to all creative ideas. So Dave was like, “Will you come with me, and we’ll carry on? We’ll put a group together. I want to go on the road and I want to keep touring. I don’t want this to stop me. I’m not going to sit here in a holding pattern and hope for the best.” I was always much closer with Dave, from the very beginning. It wasn’t really even a decision as to what was going to happen. Dave and I would continue to work together, as we had in the past. And from there, we put together Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan, and Gregg Bissonette, and we carried on.
Interesting! Now, are we now taking this “Dave did NOT quit Van Halen” idea to the bank? Not exactly, but it’s very interesting to hear Pete’s take on the breakup. Truth is rarely black and white. In the case of Van Halen’s split with Roth, the truth might be a bit of a gray area.
Usually, both sides … Roth and Van Halen … will describe the breakup as Roth simply leaving the band. But we think it wasn’t a black-or-white, he-quit-or-didn’t-quit situation. The relationship between the brothers and Dave had devolved to the point that they could not agree on management, musical direction, producers, touring plans — just about anything. Both sides were very frustrated and emotional, and both seemed to think it wasn’t going to work anymore.
So, did Dave quit, or was he fired? Perhaps it was more of a mutual parting of the ways, for better or for worse.
About Pete Angelus:
Pete Angelus is a personal talent manager who has worked in the music business since 1975.
During his career, he has worked with artists such as Van Halen, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Oasis, Slash, Hall & Oates and has managed The Black Crowes (over 35 million records sold worldwide) since the release of their 1989 multi-platinum debut album, ‘Shake Your Money Maker.’
Pete Angelus’ first recognition in the business came when he designed and directed the critically acclaimed stage and lighting shows for Van Halen, from their first world tour as a headline act through their split with David Lee Roth in 1985.
At the time, Angelus’ designs were some of the most elaborate light shows in the business, implementing over 2800 lights, which required seven tractor-trailers to transport the stage and lighting alone.
Some of his noteworthy creations involved a sixty-foot by forty-foot VH logo of aircraft lights, which was mounted on the top of the overhead lighting trusses and lowered thirty feet behind the band to conclude the show.
In addition to light and stage design, Angelus was the art director for Van Halen, influencing their logo, early album covers, as well as designing much of the band’s merchandise from 1979 to 1985.
Angelus became such a creative influence that the members of the band, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony referred to him as “the fifth member of Van Halen.”