The Toughest Job In Rock
If anyone ever had it, Gary Cherone sure as hell did – and he handled it with style
On November 5th, 1999, Gary Cherone officially parted ways with Van Halen. You could almost picture him, back on familiar Boston turf, breathing a long-overdue sigh of relief. At least that’s what we hope he was doing. After all, nearly three years of constant needling and criticism would certainly take its toll on even the sturdiest of men, wouldn’t it? But maybe not – until the end, Gary showed remarkable fortitude, exuding confidence that few could have mustered under similar circumstances.
Just three years earlier, Van Halen parted ways with Sammy Hagar after a very successful 11-year run, as they brought back their original singer, David Lee Roth, for two songs for their Best Of CD. Then they abruptly parted ways with David. Let’s just say that the fan base was not happy.
Pretty much everyone wanted either Dave or Sammy back. Few wanted anyone else – including the guy who used to sing for Extreme. All of this nonsense undoubtedly affected the band in a negative way when it came time to record the follow-up to VH3. There’s already enough pressure to make great music without legions of radio stations, rock critics and fans proclaiming the band a disaster. If you were Gary Cherone, would you want to deal with that? It seems evident that the band’s “creative differences” were as much a result of an increasing backlash against a new singer than a failure to make music together. While Van Halen 3 was a departure, it remains one of the most unique and more unpredictable albums the band has recorded. It would have been interesting to hear another collaboration on the heels of a year on the road together (as opposed to the years of silence, which is what we got).
Which brings us to the point of this little essay: In the face of nearly impossible and highly unenviable circumstances, Gary Cherone showed an exceptional amount of class. Van Halen has long been one of America’s most treasured bands, with protective fans willing to walk through fire in the name of VH-style good-time arena rock. Gary’s mere inclusion in the band threatened longtime fans who feared Van Halen would never be the same. (Of course, bands never stay the same, anyway…)
So the masses spoke, despite an interesting, energetic and youthful frontman who displayed a deep respect for the band’s history in each of his nearly 100 performances. Gary’s ripping treatment of long-avoided classics like “Romeo Delight” and “Mean Street” deserved something more than criticism, considering the band’s previous singer never acknowledged they existed in the first place. Throughout the entire Van Halen 3 tour, Gary Cherone did nothing but pay respect to the singers who came before him, while trying to carve out a bit of respect for himself in the process. In a short period of time, Gary managed to summon electric stage chemistry with Eddie, Alex and Mike, without having to hurl insults at the band’s former singers. Kudos tor a job well done.
After his departure from Van Halen, Cherone returned to Boston and put together a project called Tribe of Judah. The band played several shows in the Boston area and released an excellent hard rock CD with an electronic-programmed flavor on Spitfire Records entitled Exit Elvis.
He has on occasion guested with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony during their The Other Half performances, and Nuno Bettencourt’s recent projects, as well as with the Boston Rock Opera.
In 2005, Cherone released a four-song sampler CD, Need I Say More that was written and produced by Steve Catizone and Leo Mellace. This album was recorded by Jeff Yurek at Sanctum Sound in Boston, Massachusetts and mixed by Carl Nappa in New York City. Musicians including Dave DiCenso (drums), Baron Browne (bass) and Steve Hunt (keyboards) are also featured on the record.
In May 2006, Cherone sang in three shows as part of Amazing Journey, a tribute to The Who created by ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, featuring Paul Gilbert on guitar and Billy Sheehan on bass. Not long after, Gary and his brother Markus Cherone created their own tribute to The Who, Slip Kid. Presently the band continues to perform regularly in the Greater Boston area.
Later that year, Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cherone’s three-year stint with the group did not establish him as a band member eligible for induction. However, at the televised induction ceremony, the group’s former bassist Michael Anthony thanked Cherone for his contributions.
Since 2004 Extreme has reconvened with Cherone for several tours shows. In 2008, Extreme released an incredible rock album, Saudades de Rock.
In between working with Extreme, Cherone formed a new band, Hurtsmile, with his brother Markus on guitar, Joe Pessia on bass/mandolin and Dana Spellman on drums. They have released two albums.
Extreme released a phenomenal live DVD in 2010, and in 2016, the band released Pornograffitti Live 25: Metal Meltdown, an audio/video presentation of its 2015 concert at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Casino. The band plans to release another album soon and continues to tour.