The list of rock-star party stories spans six decades, but few rockers truly rise to the level of party rock god. You could probably count on one hand the rockers who truly created a mystique simply based on their reputation for debauchery: GnR, Keith Richards, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, and, of course, David Lee Roth.
Yes, David Lee Roth is a singer, but, as reviews will attest, you don’t go to a Van Halen show to hear Diamond Dave’s voice, you go to see the human cartoon that is David Lee Roth (and Eddie’s guitar wizardry).
Roth’s party days have long faded, but during those first six albums the singer cut with the band, the guy lived it up. In typical Roth fashion, he told BuzzFeed about those days.
“We lived our lives like roughnecks,” he says. “Roustabouts, circus carnies. I wonder if it’s still a dream to live the way we lived. I know the success part of it is. Not just the partying, but the travel, the late nights, not just with groupies, but with all kinds of colleagues in a variety of other pursuits. I wonder if I even see that in people’s eyes.”
In celebration of Roth’s 61st birthday and the completion of a Van Halen tour that actually ended rather pleasantly, let’s look back at some of the many highlights on Roth’s party resume.
Diamond Dave’s bonus program.
In 1979, Van Halen embarked on their World Vacation Tour in support of Van Halen II, which would eventually go 5x platinum. It was the band’s first world tour as a headliner after blowing Black Sabbath off the stage every night the previous year. While the guys did have to perform an 18-song set, the rest of the time truly was a world vacation for the guys.
While Eddie Van Halen would often skip the afterparty to toil away in his room with a guitar, alcohol, and cocaine like a mad scientist, David Lee Roth enjoyed the spoils of fronting hard rock’s newest sensation. This meant groupies, and to ensure that he had an abundance of willing females to choose from, he had his road crew play talent scout. Roth had launched a program where members of his road crew would be given five backstage passes to hand out to women eager to meet the frontman. The roadie who picked the girl(s) who ended up going to bed with Roth was awarded $100 and commended the next evening at dinner. The program was so efficient that it ended up cutting stage breakdown time in half and led to Roth actually asking his lawyers if they could insure his “little Elvis.”
Howard Stern recalls VH chaos at a Detroit radio station.
In 1998, Roth released his autobiography, Crazy From the Heat, and went on Howard Stern’s radio show to promote the book. The book details Roth’s childhood, entry into the music business, and – of particular interest to Stern – the band’s indulgence of rock-star excess. While speaking with Howard about how he was once passed around among five groupies like a party favor, the DJ recalled the insanity that followed the band when they came to his first radio gig in Detroit.
“Just by coincidence, when I was a disc jockey in Detroit, my first week on the air, these guys were playing and I was on the same floor with them. Which is really weird. And there were just women banging on doors — they thought I was part of the entourage. There would be a ‘David! David!’ and they’re banging on the doors and stuff and I’m like, ‘David’s not here.’ “
The band was traveling with a photographer from LIFE magazine and two dwarf bodyguards, and the whole scenario was glaringly obvious to Stern that “these guys are having the times of their lives.”
Roth clashes with The Clash.
By 1983, there was no band on the planet bigger than Van Halen; the group had five successful studio albums under their belts and ended their world tour over Memorial Day weekend at Devore, California’s US Festival. The festival was a four-day bash with separate days devoted to new wave, rock, heavy metal, and country. The event was a raucous affair with temperatures soaring upwards of 110 degrees, numerous drug overdoses and arrests, and two deaths.
Partaking in some of the debauchery was, of course, Diamond Dave, who made it clear on stage that he was enjoying the group’s unofficial liquor of choice — Jack Daniel’s. The Clash had played a day earlier and, for whatever reason, Roth felt it needed to be addressed that the group wasn’t up to his party standards, drunkenly stating:
“I wanna take this time to say that this is real whiskey here… the only people who put iced tea in Jack Daniel’s bottles is The Clash, baby!”
The Clash didn’t respond to Roth’s claims of false partying, and the band went on stage two hours later than scheduled, reportedly miffed that Van Halen was getting $1 million for their performance.
That time Van Halen took two fans under their wing.
In 1984, when MTV had the attention of every teenager in the country, the network launched a contest of previously unheard of rock n’ roll access: The Lost Weekend. The contest would promise one lucky winner and a guest a weekend of full access and rock star treatment with Van Halen, and Pennsylvania resident Kurt Jeffries was that lucky winner. The then 20-year-old had mailed in eight postcards to MTV, and a month later got the phone call that he would be going on tour with the band. Offers immediately began pouring in from people looking to persuade Jeffries to take them along as his guest. As the date approached, Jeffries recalled that he was offered cash and motorcycles from guys, and had several women proposition him with sex for the extra pass. The guy was getting treated like a celebrity before he had even met his celebrity hosts.
Jeffries eventually chose his best friend, Tom Winnick, and when the MTV limo pulled up to take them to a waiting Lear Jet that would fly to Detroit, the two immediately began drinking in preparation for their weekend of “running with the devil.”
Upon landing in Detroit, the guys were greeted by swarms of women at the airport waiting for the band who recognized the contest winners. Jeffries recalled that when they arrived at the venue and were escorted backstage, the band greeted them with open arms like they were family.
“They treated us like one of the guys, and really paid attention to us,” said Jeffries. Kurt immediately shotgunned a couple of beers with David Lee Roth and exchanged introductions with the rest of the band.
During the concert, Roth took an opportunity to show the guys what it felt like to stand in front of 12,000 screaming rock disciples and brought the boys on stage to say hello. After the show, the fellas enjoyed a steak and lobster dinner with the band and crew — then the party started.
“It was just a huge party, we were just hanging out and drinking malt-liquor and Jack Daniel’s,” said Jeffries. “Throughout the weekend, Eddie kept telling me that if I drank too much Jack Daniel’s, I would start growing giant patches of hair on my chest, like Dave.”
The rest of the first night is a bit of a haze for Jeffries, and the fan said that he eventually ended up in the shower with a woman named Tammy before waking up the next morning in the bathtub with “the worst hangover of my entire life.”
The second night of the guys’ weekend was just as rowdy as the first, but the contest winner admitted he had more interest in chatting with Eddie and then-wife Valerie Bertinelli than chasing after girls backstage. The night eventually ended with Jeffries getting into a food fight with Roth and several of the dwarf security guards, while his buddy Tom, a victim of the party, was found in a closet wearing a bra. It was a weekend that the young fan would never forget, and, as Jeffries put it, “the best time of my life.”
MTV VJ Alan Hunter finds himself in the middle of a cocaine party.
Original VJ Alan Hunter was at the forefront of MTV’s ascent to media giant in the 1980s, and during that time, had more than one encounter with the party lifestyle of rock’s heyday. Along with three of MTVs other original VJs, Hunter shared a story of hanging with David Lee Roth in the book VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave. As Hunter tells it, he was at a festival in New Jersey walking around looking for VJ Mark Goodman when he knocked on a trailer door and was invited inside by Roth for some pre-show recreational drug use.
“I knocked on a door, opened it up, and Mark was in there with David Lee Roth. ‘Hey, come on in, close the door.’ I walked in and they were sitting at a little table — Dave had a big vial of coke. They invited me to join them.”
The party began to swell, and in no time, the trailer was full of people mingling around with Hunter, Goodman, and Roth in the middle of a “cocaine orgy.”
“Before we knew it, the trailer was packed. No one was sitting with us, because they didn’t know David — we did. And they were all just watching us do blow. It was like we were royalty; we were completely nonchalant about fifty other people watching us do blow. People in the TV world, publicists, people we didn’t know. Any of them could have gone out and said, ‘Man, we’re watching two VJs sit there with David Lee Roth doing blow.’ It was like people at orgies watching other people have sex.”
As the 1980s came to a close, Roth was focused more on his solo career, but by that point, the wild frontman had carved out a reputation for offstage antics that nearly overshadowed the stage show.