20 Years Ago: Gary Cherone Leaves Van Halen

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November 5, 2019 at 9:43 pm Quote #61038



November 5, 2019

The writing was on the wall. After experiencing the thrill of fronting Van Halen, a band he’d idolized, Gary Cherone knew the ride was coming to an end. Across from him sat Alex Van Halen, the group’s drummer, who began the conversation by saying, “We sense that you’re unhappy and a little bit frustrated … ”

Three years earlier, everything had started in a strangely surreal fashion. Cherone had found success as the frontmanof Extreme, the glam-metal outfit whose acoustic ballad “More Than Words” became an international hit. When Extreme went on hiatus in 1996, the singer found himself looking for a new musical project. “That summer, my manager Ray Danniels — who also managed Van Halen at the time — calls me up,” Cherone recalled in a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone. “He goes, ‘What do you think about auditioning for Van Halen?’”

By this point, Van Halen had already endured the highs and lows of two previous singers. Original frontman David Lee Roth delivered his distinctive brand of showmanship, earning a reputation as one of the rock’s greatest singers, while helping Van Halen become one of the biggest bands on the planet. Following his departure, Sammy Hagar led the group for a successful tenure from 1986-96 that saw Van Halen continue their chart-topping dominance. Now the role was once again vacant, and Cherone’s manager saw his client as the next in line.

“I said, ‘Yeah, sure. I’ll go out for the weekend, sing ‘Jump,’ come back and have a good story to tell,’” Cherone explained of his expectations. “And that was truly, truly how much I thought about it.”

Soon afterward, he was on a flight to Los Angeles. As reality started settling in, Cherone began to feel nervous. “I got off the plane in the afternoon and I remember Mike Anthony came out,” he recalled. “I’d met him over the years at some Extreme shows. I said, ‘Mike, hey, man, you’re my only ally here.’” Despite initial concerns that he’d be viewed as an outsider, Cherone was welcomed by the band. “Alex and Eddie came out and shook my hand. I’m holding my suitcase, my overnight bag — and Ed goes, ‘You ready to sing?’ I go, ‘Yeah. Can I go to the bathroom first?’ Then we literally went into ’5150,’ three other songs from the Hagar catalog and ‘Jump’ and ‘Panama’ from the Dave era.”

The chemistry in that first session was obvious, as Cherone quickly found a comfort level with the rest of Van Halen. The group quickly began working on new material. “Right from the get-go we were writing songs,” Cherone noted, adding that he did his best to quell his own excitement. “Even though Eddie was real enthusiastic and he embraced me and the band embraced me, I was skeptical. I was thinking, ‘I’ll take it day to day, week to week, let’s write another song, let’s write another song.’ I remember calling back home and everyone saying, ‘Are you in the band? You’re in the band, right?’ And I would go, ‘Yeah, I guess.’”

The new songs would make up Van Halen III, the group’s 11th album. The band launched a worldwide tour to coincide with its release. Despite excitement for the new material, fans and industry types seemed skeptical of the new singer.

“We’d go into a town and the radio station, there would be some mocking, you know, ‘Gary Cherone, the ["More Than Words"] ballad guy, what’s he doing in Van Halen?’” the singer noted during a 2014 interview with UCR. “But those same radio people saw the show and then after that, we’d see them and they were apologizing. Maybe those guys didn’t know who Extreme was.”

Van Halen III was met with a collective yawn. It peaked at No. 4, with sales significantly lower than the group’s previous albums (the most recent four had all reached No. 1). “Without You” was the LP’s only significant radio hit. Billboard called the album “lackluster,” while Entertainment Weekly said the lyrics fell “somewhere between less than profound and not quite abysmal.”

Watch Van Halen’s ‘Without You’ Video

The ensuing tour, while promising, was also met with lukewarm ticket sales despite the fact that the band delved deep into its catalog of songs. “It’s funny, it was kinda pre-YouTube, but there were rumors going around, ‘Oh, they’re playing ‘Mean Street’ for the first time in 20 years,’ so that worked in my favor,” Cherone recalled.

As for the stress that came with fronting one of the biggest bands on Earth, the singer took it in stride. “I remember being stressed out, but I felt comfortable,” Cherone admitted. “For me, all during the making of the record I couldn’t wait to go on tour because that was my comfort zone. I was dying to get out there and play some new songs, play some old songs. Of course you’re going to get the die-hard fans who are never going to like you no matter what you do. But most of the time, 90 percent of the audience was thrilled that I was singing the old shit. Two-thirds of the set, if not more, were songs Van Halen fans hadn’t heard in a very long time.”

The tour cycle came to a close at the end of 1998. Even with lower-than-expected profits, the band seemed energized by the trek. “I think, maybe, me having some young legs — I was a little younger than those guys. I’m not saying I pushed them, but I think they embraced it,” Cherone opined. “Because it’s my nature to run around and have fun like a carnival monkey, so Eddie was running around [during performances]. Everybody seemed to be happy.”

At the start of 1999, the members of Van Halen assembled to work on new music. Even as they penned new tunes and recorded demos, Cherone sensed the band had “started to get a little dysfunctional.” “I think Eddie started drinking a bit. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t going in the right direction,” the singer confessed. “Also, I wasn’t in a great place mentally. I had some things going on in my personal life that affected me.”

And so Cherone found himself having a heart-to-heart with Alex, the drummer acting as the band’s figurehead, tasked with excusing the singer from his duties. “I knew the end was near,” he admitted, adding that he only wished they could have completed that second album together.

Unlike the drama-laced departures of Roth and Hagar, Cherone left amicably. He’d later describe the parting as “mutual,” and maintains a friendship with bassist Anthony to this day.

Extreme reformed in 2004, touring and occasionally releasing new material over the next decade-plus. Meanwhile, Van Halen would take a break for several years before reuniting with both Roth and Hagar at various points.

For his part, Cherone reflected happily on his tenure with the rock giants, even if it was short-lived. “At the end of the day, I’m gonna say, ‘Hey, I was one of the three singers in the mighty Van Halen,’” he said. “You can’t take that away from me.”

November 5, 2019 at 9:43 pm Quote #61039



November 5, 2019

Van Halen were going to give it another shot with Gary Cherone.

Despite the critical and commercial drubbing they took with 1998′s Van Halen III — the band’s first undeniable large-scale stumble — the following spring they regrouped at Eddie Van Halen’s 5150 Studios to begin work on a second album with the former Extreme singer.

A May 19, 1999, post on the band’s website revealed that Eddie Van Halen, his brother Alex, Cherone and bassist Michael Anthony had worked on demos for seven tracks and written more than 20 new songs together. Cherone described the “four-on-the-floor” “Left for Dead” as “one of the most uptempo songs the band has done,” and explained that the lyrics of “Say Uncle” focused on “a dominant woman and a willing, submissive man.”

“You Wear It Well” was said to have “a stellar tapping intro that sounds like an extraterrestrial on acid,” while “River Wide” was praised for being “groovy, with a dark edge.”

Three months later, a new update declared that the band was working six days a week on the new album and selected Danny Kortchmar as producer. The studio ace was best known for his ’70s work with Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, and also served as co-writer, co-producer and musician on Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast and The End of the Innocence albums.

An MTV report from the same day featured Eddie Van Halen praising Kortchmar’s “hands-on approach.” Interestingly, that report also noted that the band had already completed two songs for the new record with Patrick Leonard, a producer and songwriter best known for his work with Madonna.

Leonard’s rock credentials were also in order, as he had recently collaborated with both the David Gilmour-fronted Pink Floyd and solo Roger Waters. “[We] did a couple of songs with him,” Cherone told Rolling Stone in 2012. “It was really good stuff.”

“There were a lot of demos,” the singer explained to UCR in 2016. “We worked with a couple of different producers. All different degrees of production. Most of them were a riff, a rough drum [track], a vocal that I put on — I might have thrown a harmony on it. A couple of songs were fully developed and were the best things that we did.”

In retrospect, Cherone said it wasn’t until they toured together in support of Van Halen III that the foursome gelled into a proper working unit. “I do wish I had made another record with those guys,” he told Rolling Stone. “Once we were on tour, we became a band.”

“I look back on some of those [1999] demos and I go, ‘You know what? This should have been the first record,’” he noted in the 2016 UCR interview. “Because the critique of Van Halen III is that maybe it was a little too different. … Maybe looking back, [III] should have been the second record. After being on tour with those guys and being comfortable, we were doing some demos and it was coming a bit more naturally.”

Cherone also thought the unreleased tracks benefited from producers Leonard and Kortchmar gaining more control over the process. “With Van Halen III, a lot of people say it was an Eddie solo record,” he admitted to Rolling Stone in 2012. “I don’t think that. Mike Post produced it, but it was really Eddie’s baby, and maybe we needed a little more guidance on the album.”

Eddie Van Halen and Cherone were both going through some personal issues at the time, which ultimately kept the record from being released and resulted in the singer’s departure from the group. “I think Eddie started drinking a bit,” Cherone told Rolling Stone. “It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t going in the right direction. Also, I wasn’t in a great place mentally. I had some things going on in my personal life that affected me. When we broke up, it was mutual.”

It would be five years before Van Halen released new music — three songs recorded with their returning second singer, Sammy Hagar, for the 2004 compilation Best of Both Worlds. Another eight years passed before they finally released a full-length follow-up to Van Halen III, A Different Kind of Truth featuring original frontman David Lee Roth. That album also included the debut of Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass, replacing Anthony, who’d go on to work with Hagar in Chickenfoot and the Circle.

Following his departure from Van Halen, Cherone formed a new band, Tribe of Judah, which released Exit Elvis in 2002. A few years later he reunited with Extreme, who put out Saudedas de Rock in 2008. He’s also kept busy outside of his main band, forming Hurtsmile in 2007. To date, that group has released two albums, a 2011 self-titled effort and 2014′s Retrogrenade. Extreme are reportedly currently in the process of recording their sixth studio album.

November 6, 2019 at 12:28 am Quote #61041


I truly hope this ain’t be the new fashion’s van-halen will go into.

November 6, 2019 at 10:23 am Quote #61042


Van Halen 3…wasn’t a bad record in my modest opinion.

I liked some songs and some cool guitar riffs…

Of course the comparison with Dave and Sammy was inevitable… but like it or not…Gary, was the third singer for Van Halen.

Left for dead, was in the setlist for the upcoming second record… but it ended up in the new TOJ record…not bad at all.

November 6, 2019 at 1:27 pm Quote #61043


VH3 has some really nice moments, buried in a lot of junk. I think the biggest issue was the album was wwaaaaayyyyyy over-produced. I completely blame Eddie for that. I always thought Gary was never given a fair shot. To me a lot of VH3 felt forced. They should have spent more time with each other and built chemistry. Just my humble opinion.


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