In a new interview for Talk Louder, bass guitar maestro Billy Sheehan looked back on his collaboration with Van Halen singer David Lee Roth. Along with guitarist Steve Vai, Sheehan played on Roth’s first two solo albums “Eat ‘Em and Smile” and “Skyscraper.” Recalling what it was like to work with the vocalist, Billy explained (transcript via Blabbermouth):
“[David] is a phenomenon of nature and he’s still my hero and I’m still supremely and forever grateful for the break he gave me. And we had a ride together; we had a wonderful time. He’s a jokester and a comedian… I learned so much from him, it’s unbelievable.“
“It was like getting a Ph.D. in Show Biz 101; he knew it inside and out. And he is on. If he’s not on, he’s probably not there. If he’s not around, he’s probably not on. But if he’s around, he’s on. He’s never not on.”
“I just finished [producer] Ted Templeman’s book, and Ted really praised his lyrics. I don’t think Van Halen would have been Van Halen without those lyrics, ’cause they weren’t your typical ‘baby, I love you’ lyrics…“
“And the stuff he did on [Roth’s debut solo album] ‘Eat ‘Em And Smile’ was quite fantastic. I think if we would have kept that ‘Eat ‘Em And Smile’ vibe and style, the band would have really done incredibly well.“
However, as Roth’s solo career progressed, the singer wanted to change things. This resulted in the “Skyscraper” album which was pretty unusual considering his hard rock and heavy metal background. So instead of heavy metal, we’ve gotten a mash of 1980s hair metal and synth-pop.
And as Sheehan explained, he’s not very fond of this record. The story goes that both he and Vai eventually left David Lee Roth’s band due to this new creative direction. Nonetheless, the bassist is still very respectful of the Van Halen singer and understands his somewhat unusual artistic decisions. Sheehan continued:
“Unfortunately, he made a left turn and did [1988’s] ‘Skyscraper’. It takes a lot of courage to make that kind of a turn. I give him credit for the courage. I didn’t like the results of it myself personally. Like [David] Bowie, with ‘Ziggy Stardust’ suddenly came out with the 1984 record, when he broke up his original band and then went off and just went into the dance kind of thing, it took a lot of guts. So I think Dave kind of did that same thing with ‘Skyscraper’. Unfortunately, it was not as successful as it have been.”
After leaving Van Halen, all the eyes of the rock ‘n’ roll world were on David Lee Roth and his next moves. His debut solo album “Eat ‘Em and Smile,” released in 1986, received mostly positive reviews. A song like “Yankee Rose” showcases Roth’s and Vai’s songwriting skills, as well as the latter’s guitar mastery.
As for the “Skyscraper” record, released in 1988, the critics and fans weren’t super keen on it. Although there are some pieces on it that even a metal fan can enjoy, it’s generally considered a weird collection of works. We could also argue that it’s an acquired taste.
However, the first two albums still eventually achieved some pretty great commercial success. And these are, so far, the only two DLR solo records to achieve platinum status. But going from his third album “A Little Ain’t Enough” and onwards, Dave’s work never really reached the same level of fame.