Today’s the 31st Anniversary of David Lee Roth’s first solo LP, Eat ’Em and Smile!
We have an exclusive excerpt of a lengthy article on the 30th anniversary of David Lee Roth’s Eat ’em and Smile album, which appears in Guitar World.
The article is written by Greg Renoff, author of ‘Van Halen Rising.’ Just as ‘Rising’ shed unprecedented light on Van Halen’s formation, this article sheds light on Roth’s ill-fated ‘Crazy from the Heat’ movie project, and how it’s derailment gave birth to the Eat ’Em and Smile record.
For this piece, Renoff interviewed Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan, Greg Bissonette, Ted Templeman, Pete Angelus, Jeff Hendrickson (engineer), and Jeff Bova (who played keys on a few songs on the album). It’s a fantastic look at the making of this monumental hard rock album.
By Greg Renoff
By the fall of 1985, David Lee Roth had seemingly put the breakup of Van Halen in his rearview mirror. Hoping to capitalize on his MTV-driven video stardom, Diamond Dave now set his sights on the big screen. Along with his creative partner and manager Pete Angelus and writer Jerry Perzigian, Roth wrote a screenplay entitled Crazy from the Heat. Angelus and Roth then sold it to CBS Theatrical Films, secured a 10 million dollar budget, and camped out on the CBS movie lot in Burbank to do pre-production for the musical comedy. Angelus recalls, “I was going to direct it and Dave was going to star in it.” If all went according to plan, Crazy would hit theaters in the summer of 1986.
But in early November, just days before they would begin shooting, the phone rang in their studio offices. It was Roth’s attorneys calling to deliver some terrible news. CBS, facing serious financial woes, had shuttered its film division, leaving Angelus and Roth without a means to make their movie. Angelus says, “When we put the phone down, I remember we were both kind of speechless for a moment. We’d spent the better part of a year preparing for that film. We’d done the casting. We’d done the location scouting. We’d been working with the set designers and the wardrobe people. We were fully into it and fully prepared.” At that moment, it appeared all their work had been for naught.
This setback seemed tailor-made to trigger a crisis of confidence for Roth. He’d trumpeted his movie plans in the press throughout the summer past, previewing a bikini-packed plot that would see rock star Roth squaring off against his greedy manager while on an island vacation. He’d minimize the challenges inherent in filmmaking, declaring on the David Brenner Live show that both starring in and making a film was the “next logical step” after his success with video. “It’s the same thing…except our movies have been three minutes and twenty-eight seconds. So now it’s time to just bump it up to 90 minutes.” But now it seemed unlikely that his movie would ever arrive in theaters.
Meanwhile, Roth’s former bandmates in Van Halen had seemingly suffered no ill effects from his summer 1985 departure. They had a new blond-maned, leather-lunged lead singer, Sammy Hagar, and had begun work on the follow-up to their multi-platinum smash, 1984. Roth also had to live with the fact that Eddie Van Halen, who’d told Roth in the spring of 1985 that he had no interest in scoring Crazy because the guitarist expected the film would “probably stink,” seemed to have made the right decision after Roth’s deal disappeared.
But as the months that followed would demonstrate, Roth was nothing if not resilient. In the summer of 1986, the rock superstar would re-emerge with a hot new band comprised of virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai, bassist extraordinaire Billy Sheehan and monster drummer Gregg Bissonette. He’d release a chart-topping new album, Eat ’Em and Smile, and two new MTV-hit videos, “Yankee Rose” and “Goin’ Crazy,” all built upon the creative foundation he’d laid down for the aborted Crazy from the Heat. He’d follow that up with a barnstorming six-month tour of North America. Despite stepping out from Van Halen, the massively popular act that had been the vehicle for his stardom, and the unexpected loss of his hard-won movie deal, Roth proved that he could weather adversity and still come out on top, smiling from ear to ear.
In early June 1985, nimble-fingered bassist Billy Sheehan, then a member of the heavy metal band Talas, got an unexpected phone call at his Buffalo home. “It’s from David Lee Roth’s office. He wants me to be in his movie. Can I come out to L.A. right away and talk to him?” Sheehan immediately said yes, passing the word to Roth’s representative that the timing for this meeting was ideal, since the upcoming Talas and Yngwie Malmsteen tour would commence at the Hollywood Palladium on June 7.
Sheehan, who’d gotten to know Roth back in 1980 when Talas had toured with Van Halen, made plans to arrive in L.A. a couple of days early. But prior to leaving home, Sheehan rang up a friend. He says, “I called Ed Van Halen to see if he wanted to come down to the Palladium show. At the time, I didn’t know anything about Van Halen breaking up. Ed said he was busy and couldn’t come, but said, ‘Have a good show!’ ” Before Sheehan got off the phone, he mentioned that he’d recently received a call from Roth.
“Wait. What! Why’d he call you?”
“Oh, he wants to have a meeting with me at his house.”
“Really? You’re kidding! You’ve got to call me back as soon as you have the meeting, because I think he’s going to pull an Ozzy Osbourne on us.”
In other words, Van Halen’s guitarist suspected that Roth’s next move was to become a solo artist, much like Ozzy had done in 1979 after leaving Black Sabbath.
Sheehan says that he now realized that he’d stumbled onto a minefield of inter-band politics. “I thought, jeez, now I’m in the middle of something, but I went ahead with the meeting with Dave.”
This concludes our excerpt. This is just the beginning… The actual article is almost 10 times as long, and is a must read! Be sure to pick it up!
Big thanks to Guitar World for allowing us to share this exclusive excerpt!