Not long ago, I reviewed an expose on Van Halen’s early days leading up to their signing by Warner Brothers and their first tour. It was amusing to read how Black Sabbath, running on fumes at that point with Ozzy Osbourne spent as a rock force, decided to make themselves look good by signing “a bar band from LA” to be their support act. There were any number of bar bands prowling Los Angeles in 1978 who could have been fodder for the mad Sabbath fans. Their manager picked Van Halen, and had he been paying attention, they had already spent a few weeks with Journey squeezing one-time greats Montrose (ironically Sammy Hagar’s old band) into obscurity. Between Van Halen’s blistering and disciplined show and Journey bring the crowd back to Earth with new lead singer Steve Perry, Montrose was doomed. So was Black Sabbath, who had become a shadow of its former self.
And Noel Monk was the road manger for every minute of it. Monk has written about his years with Van Halen from their disastrous signing with Warner Brothers and manager Marshall Berle (Yes, Milton’s son) to the band’s disintegration during the 1984 tour. In Running with the Devil, Monk describes a band still naive in the ways of the world that becomes just a bit full of itself by the time David Lee Roth left in 1985. He doesn’t touch on the Hagar years, and never mentions the ill-fated Gary Cherone line-up or the more recent reformation that saw Wolfgang Van Halen join his dad, his uncle, and Roth.
Monk is not self-congratulatory but rather depicts himself as a long-suffering manager who had to deal with his band’s excesses, egos, and label problems. Make no mistake. Warner was good for Van Halen up until the late 1990s. And their power and energy as the original quartet make it clear why Sammy Hagar’s arrival was so divisive. It really was a different band at that point.
One thing in the book that really pissed me off was the Van Halen brothers’ treatment (probably at Roth’s instigation) of squeezing Michael Anthony out of the publishing royalties from 1984 onward. Anthony is one of the nicest, most loyal guys in rock and roll, and let’s be honest here. He’s a much better bass player than a certain Dutch guitar wizard gives him credit for. I know. I’ve heard him play with Chickenfoot, so Eddie, you’re full of shit. But David Lee Roth comes off as more intelligent than his party boy persona leads people to believe. Beneath his impulsiveness and ego is a shrewd businessman who managed a five-year run as a solo artist alongside his former bandmates.
As for Monk, he took the boys from wide-eyed youths fresh out of the backyard band scene in Pasadena to the heights of rock stardom. Van Halen, as it existed between 1978 and 1985 can never exist again. The individual members have changed too much, and besides, the only reason Roth is back is that none of the other Van Halen children can sing.