White Lion was among the many hit-making rock bands of the late 80s who were inspired by both the look and sound of classic David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. As it turns out, it’s Roth who would also play a role in the band’s name.
In a recent interview with 519 Magazine, Mike Tramp, who was White Lion’s singer from 1983 to 1992 and again (under the name The New White Lion) from 2004 to 2008, talked about his band’s connection to Van Halen.
In 1982 Tramp and his band, then called Lion, had been living in New York after previous stints in Denmark and Spain. It was in November of that year they played in Brooklyn at a club called L’Amour. That’s where Tramp met future White Lion guitarist Vito Bratta.
“I’m sitting in the dressing room and this guitar player comes in and says you gotta check this amp out,” said Tramp. “So he plugs in and I’m thinking we’re so good, this guy’s going to make a fool of himself. For the next half hour he went through every Van Halen guitar solo. I’m thinking this is obviously the guy I need to play with and it was Vito Bratta and that’s how White Lion came to be.”
Tramp went on to explain how it was a comment from Roth that would eventually lead his band to be named White Lion instead of his initial choice – Studs.
“During the time we were in Spain, I told the record company I’m going to kill the name of the band [which was Mabel at that time] and we’re going to start under a new name, and they went along with it,” said Tramp. “I had started reading a lot of these English rock magazines and it was the start of the new wave of British heavy metal and the kids in the studded leather jackets and I sat there and thought: Studs. Almost like the classic Spinal Tap story where he draws Stonehenge on the napkin, I sat there and drew the album cover with those two studs crossing each other like two German hand grenades from WW II and I thought this could be bad ass. At the same time, Van Halen is about to arrive in Spain for promotion for the release of ‘Fair Warning’. We were with the same record company and I tell the president of the record company I really need to meet these guys, is that possible? He said, ‘I can do one better, you are going to go to the airport and pick up the band.’ So here I am in the airport in Madrid and I have blonde hair to my shoulders, leather jacket, Van Halen T-shirt, I’m the only one who looks like that at the airport and the first one who comes out is David Lee Roth. To me he looked twenty feet tall, the long blonde hair, the dark sun glasses, I was scared to shits. He looks around and comes over to me and says, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘My name is Mike, the record company sent me to pick you guys up,’ and he says, ‘You got a joint?’ In a little while the other guys come out and I actually end up in the limo with Eddie going to the hotel. I must have asked Eddie about fifty questions about guitars and amps.
“I met Eddie many times later on in life and became pretty good friends with him,” Tramp continued. “The first meeting in the limousine turned into spending three days with the band because there were no fans there, they were just doing TV and radio, but it was on the final night that I said, ‘This is the time.’ I knocked on Dave’s door and brought a couple albums with me. I was under the impression that all I needed to do was hand Dave my album and I would be the next support act of the Van Halen tour. So he sits there and looks at the cover and says, ‘Studs? That ain’t going to work in America; they’ll think you’re the next Village People'”.
Tramp took Roth’s suggestion to heart and, within a year, the band changed their name from Studs to Lion. By 1983 they had agreed on White Lion. In a 2015 interview with Classic Rock magazine Tramp said, “There was a band in New York called White Tiger so Vito said: ‘Why don’t we call ourselves White Lion?’ I wanted something more original, but White Lion just stuck.”
White Lion released their debut album ‘Fight to Survive’ in 1985. The band found success with their number eight hit “Wait” and number three single “When the Children Cry” from their second album, the double platinum selling ‘Pride’ (1987). They followed with ‘Big Game’ (1989), which achieved Gold status, and ‘Mane Attraction’ (1991) before disbanding in 1992.
Bratta essentially retired from the music business in the early 90s and has had no intention of returning while Tramp has forged on with a solo career. He’s released 12 studio albums since 1997 and will be releasing a compilation album in May titled “Everything Is Alright” through Target records.