20 Years Ago: The Van Halen / David Lee Roth Reunion Turns to S—
Van Halen‘s brief mid-’90s reunion with original frontman David Lee Roth ended with a thud – or, more specifically, a scathing open letter from Roth that placed blame squarely at the feet of Eddie Van Halen.
It was the first week of October 1996, just a month after Roth’s highly anticipated appearance with his old band at the MTV Video Music Awards. Still to come was a greatest-hits package which had been expanded to include their first new music with Roth in more than a decade.
But the homecoming had clearly gone awry in the meantime, and Roth was ready to tell fans why. “Eddie,” he famously wrote, “did it.”
Roth said he was never going to take part in “consummating our highly publicized reunion” because, instead, he’d been “an unwitting participant” in a deception. He claimed that Van Halen only planned to promote The Best of Van Halen Vol. 1 with Roth before then unveiling a third frontman. That set off another firestorm of controversy, both within the Van Halen camp and amongst fans, in a year that had already seen the abrupt departure of Sammy Hagar, Roth’s successor.
Van Halen fired back, though they didn’t exactly deny the charges. “We parted company with David Lee Roth 11 years ago for many reasons,” they said in a tersely worded joint response. “In his open letter of October 2nd, we were reminded of some of them. Dave was never an ‘unwitting participant.’ We appeared in public just as we do before releasing any other Van Halen record.”
The band’s statement also included a telling line: “Van Halen will go forward and create the best possible music that we can.” In fact, there was an on-going dalliance with singer Mitch Malloy, but that ended before Van Halen began this next era. Elsewhere, Extreme had already announced their split, freeing up frontman Gary Cherone – who would then officially succeed Hagar.
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