For drummer Gregg Bissonette, as a youngster, Van Halen was the pinnacle. There was one problem, of course. “My dream was always to play in a rock back — and to me,” Bissonette says in the Vic Firth video below, “there was no other rock band than Van Halen. I loved Van Halen.”
The problem, of course, was that Van Halen already had a drummer — guitarist Eddie’s brother Alex. “My prayers,” Bissonette admits, “had to be slightly altered. I don’t think Alex Van Halen is going to leave Van Halen — and what about his driver’s license? That’s his name! That’s the name of the band.”
Still, he eventually got a chance to do the next best thing, when David Lee Roth went solo in the mid-1980s, and announced cattle-call auditions for drummers.
A who’s who showed up, some of whom Bissonette remembers vividly to this day: There was Matt Sorum, later of Guns n’ Roses fame, who left disappointed — telling Bissonette: “They wanted me to play double bass, man; I don’t play double bass. So I just said ‘forget it,’ and I walked out.” Also in line that day: Russ McKinnon (Tower of Power, Barry Manilow), who says he didn’t get the job because “they said I didn’t hit hard enough.”
Neither of those skills ultimately landed Bissonette the job, however. Once new Roth band guitarist Steve Vai found out that the drummer could transcribe and read music, he said: “As far as I am concerned, you’ve got the gig.”
By the time he got to Roth’s house for a practice session, Bissonette had charted out the former (and future) Van Halen frontman’s rough demos. “That was the beginning,” Bissonette marvels, “of seven years in Dave’s band — what a blast.”