And so the adventure continues…!
Thirty five years ago today David Lee Roth released his debut full-length studio album Eat ‘Em and Smile. Released on July 7th, 1986, the album peaked at #4 on the US Billboard 200 while eventually achieving platinum status for a million sales.
For his first full-length release, Roth worked with long-time Van Halen producer Ted Templeman and enlisted some heavyweight musicians including guitarist Stevie Vai, who had previously worked with Frank Zappa and Alcatrazz, bassist Billy Sheehan, formerly of Talas (who had opened for Van Halen in 1980), and drummer Gregg Bissonette, who had previously worked with Gino Vannelli and Maynard Ferguson.
“I was doing an audition for Vinnie Vincent of Kiss,” Bissonette told Rolling Stone last summer. “He was starting the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. I went down with Myron Grombacher from Pat Benatar’s band. He’s one of my best friends. I went to the audition, but little did I know that Vinnie already had a drummer picked out. It was this guy from Texas named Bobby Rock. But he didn’t want to tell the few drummers that were there, ‘Hey, don’t bother showing up.’ We played and had a great time. Afterwards he said to me, ‘I already have a drummer, but I really enjoyed jamming with you. You’d be great for Dave Roth.’ I go, ‘Dave Roth? Isn’t he in Van Halen?’ He goes, ‘Not anymore. He left Van Halen. He got Billy Sheehan from Talas [on bass] and Steve Vai on guitar. They are looking for a drummer. I think you’d be great. Call Steve Vai. They were advertising it like the Steve Vai band was looking for a drummer. And so I called Steve and went down and jammed with him and Billy. We had a blast. The next thing was playing for Dave and [producer] Ted Templeman. It all just clicked.”
Initially, many of the songs that ended up on Eat ‘Em and Smile were intended for Roth’s movie project. When that project fell through, however, he decided to use them for what would be the follow up to his 1985 solo EP Crazy From The Heat (also to be the name of the aborted movie project).
Below is an excerpt of a 2016 article written by Van Halen historian Greg Renoff for his piece featured in Guitar World around the time of the album’s 30th anniversary and posted ahead of the anniversary on the Van Halen News Desk:
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.”
Eat ‘Em and Smile spawned five singles with one reaching the top 20. Of the ten tracks on the album, six are original compositions while the other four are covers. The album’s lead track and single “Yankee Rose”, written by the team of Roth and Vai, was released as the album’s debut single on June 18th of ’86. Recorded as a tribute to the Statue of Liberty in New York City, the song was accompanied by a popular video and would reach #16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #10 on the US Rock chart.
Below is Vai talking about the formation of “Yankee Rose” while a guest on the Professor Rock’s YouTube series.
Watch David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose”
Another popular single and video followed with “Goin’ Crazy”, also written by the team of Roth and Vai. Released on October 25th, 1986 it peaked at #66 on the Hot 100 and #12 on the rock chart. Three more singles followed: “That’s Life” (#85 on Billboard Hot 100), “Tobacco Road” and “I’m Easy”.
Watch David Lee Roth’s “Goin’ Crazy”
The first of four covers to appear on the album was “Shyboy”, originally written by Sheehan and recorded by his previous band Talas. It was included on the band’s1982 album Sink Your Teeth Into That.
Listen To Talas “Shyboy”
Listen To David Lee Roth’s “Shyboy
That was followed by “I’m Easy”. Initially written by Billy Field and Tom Price, it was recorded by Field and released under the title of “Baby I’m Easy” for his 1981 album Bad Habits.
Listen To Billy Field’s “Baby I’m Easy”
Listen To David Lee Roth’s “I’m Easy”
The track “Tobacco Road” is a blues song written and first recorded by John D. Loudermilk in December 1959 and released in 1960.
Listen To John D Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road”
Listen To David Lee Roth’s “Tobacco Road”
The last of the covers from Eat ‘Em and Smile is “That’s Life”. Written by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon and first recorded in 1963 by Marion Montgomery, it was made famous thanks to Frank Sinatra’s classic 1966 version.
Listen To Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”
Watch David Lee Roth’s “That’s Life”
A Spanish-language version of Eat ‘Em and Smile was also released with the title Sonrisa Salvaje (“Wild Smile”). The decision to track new Spanish vocals over the songs was reportedly inspired by Sheehan, who pitched Roth with the idea that half the Mexican population was in their 18-27-year-old record-buying demographic, and would be the perfect audience for the record.
Roth changed around some of the racier lyrics, so as not to offend the more conservative Spanish-speaking population. With the exception of the vocals, the basic music tracks are the same as the Eat ‘Em and Smile version, with the only exception being “Big Trouble”, which ends abruptly as opposed to fading out on the English version.
The album eventually fell out of print for years before getting reissue treatment.
Listen To The Spanish-Language Version Of “Yankee Rose”
Check out more Eat ‘Em and Smile-related videos below!