Van Halen Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide
Rock and roll never dies, but as any fan can tell you, band lineups are a lot less permanent -- and for groups that have been together for decades, such as Van Halen, the personnel shifts can be hard to keep track of. With that in mind, we've decided to take a band-by-band look at the ins and outs of some of our favorite acts' rosters, pausing to sample the music along the way.
Comparatively speaking, Van Halen have had fewer lineup changes than most bands in their peer group. While they've certainly seen their share of turnover at the lead singer position, where they went through David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, and Gary Cherone between 1985-99, the rest of the band has been fairly stable over the long run.
Still, even with Alex and Eddie Van Halen sticking around over the long haul, there have been a number of comings and goings over the years, and we've chronicled all the major ones (in addition to a couple that casual fans may not remember) in our latest Lineup Changes post. Toss out all your brown M&M's -- here we go!
Before there was Van Halen, there was Mammoth, the primarily covers-oriented group that started morphing into the Van Halen we all know and love after David Lee Roth joined the lineup. Bassist Mike Stone, a holdover from the Mammoth days, didn't last long in the new incarnation, and he's kept a pretty low profile since leaving the band -- although he did surface on eBay during the summer of 2013 to sell a custom-built bass.
Once Michael Anthony stepped in for Stone on bass, the band was off and running; starting with its 1978 self-titled debut, Van Halen enjoyed consistent success on the pop and rock charts, releasing a string of gold and platinum albums between '78-'84. In 1985, with the band's commercial profile at an all-time high, long-simmering internal tensions boiled over; in the aftermath, frontman David Lee Roth departed to pursue a promising solo career, leaving the band with the uncertain task of finding a new lead singer who could fill Roth's flamboyant shoes.
Replacing Roth proved a difficult task for Van Halen; it was only after months of considering various possibilities -- including a rotating lineup featuring a number of part-time singers that could have included Patty Smyth and Eric Martin of Mr. Big -- that a chance meeting at a car mechanic's garage led Eddie to offer the position to former Montrose frontman-turned-solo-artist Sammy Hagar. All doubts about the new lineup's commercial viability were quelled in 1986, when his first LP with the band, '5150,' became their first to go to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. For the next decade, the Hagar-fronted version of the group -- disdainfully dubbed 'Van Hagar' by fans who pined for a Roth reunion -- repeated '5150's' chart-topping success with a series of albums, including 1988's 'OU812' and 1991's 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.'
It ended up being more of a footnote than anything else, but our list of Van Halen lineup changes would be remiss without a mention of Mitch Malloy, the impressively maned singer who once seemed destined to follow in Hagar's footsteps by going from solo act to VH lead singer. In fact, after jamming with the guys -- and allegedly being told by manager Ray Daniels that he had the job -- Malloy watched the gig slip right out of his hands.
In 1996, after a platinum-streaked decade of fronting one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, Hagar -- depending on who you ask -- either quit or was fired from Van Halen, opening the door for an exceedingly brief (but much-publicized) reunion with Roth. Sadly for fans who'd long hoped to see Van Halen's original singer back in the fold, his second stint with the group only produced a pair of new songs on 1996's 'Best of Volume I'; after a disastrous appearance at that year's MTV Video Music Awards, Roth was once more on the outs.
Forced to find another new lead singer, Van Halen repeated what it had done with Hagar, reaching for another known quantity from the rock charts: former Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone, whose elastic pipes helped that band become one of the more eclectic outfits in the genre during the early '90s. While many fans had only heard Extreme's softer side (specifically, their hit acoustic ballad 'More Than Words'), Cherone was more than capable of belting out the hard stuff, as evidenced on 'Without You,' the leadoff single from his only album with the band, 1998's 'Van Halen III.' Unfortunately, changing trends and a disappointing lack of radio-ready material helped conspire to make 'VHIII' a relative flop, and after a disappointingly attended tour, this lineup only managed to record a few demos for an aborted follow-up before parting ways.
Given the animosity that arose in the wake of Hagar's departure from Van Halen, few would have guessed he might return to the lineup one day -- but that's exactly what happened in 2004, when the band reunited with its second singer for a pair of new songs (bundled into the 'Best of Both Worlds' compilation) and a tour. The good vibes didn't last long, however; as any VH fan could tell you, the '04 tour was marred by sloppy performances and bad behavior, and after the final show -- which culminated with Eddie smashing his guitar on stage -- the band entered a lengthy hiatus.
After enjoying guitar god status during the '70s, '80s, and '90s, Eddie Van Halen largely withdrew from the public eye, earning a reputation for being an eccentric recluse who was just as likely to debut new material at an unannounced club performance as he was to make an infamous, seemingly drunken appearance at the 2003 NAMM convention. As the post-'Van Halen III' years wore on and fans grew impatient for an album of new material, rumors ran rampant -- and none were more persistent than the one saying David Lee Roth was back in the band. Finally, in the fall of 2007, the reunion came true -- minus Anthony, who'd been kicked out (and temporarily scrubbed from the band's website) in favor of Eddie's son Wolfgang. And while the band's 2007 tour didn't immediately lead to new music, Van Halen did eventually return to the studio with Roth, releasing their twelfth studio LP, 'A Different Kind of Truth,' in Feb. 2012. Of course, the reunion hasn't been without its wrinkles -- including a series of canceled dates and some scary health woes for Eddie -- but as of this writing, they're still touring. Will we ever hear another new record from Van Halen? We couldn't even begin to guess. If history has shown us anything with these guys, it's that nothing is certain, and no outcome is too strange to contemplate.