In a recent interview with Joe Rogan, Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth detailed the early days of the band and recounted the stories that shaped his music.
50 years, in fact, Roth reminisced fondly the five decades he has played with Alex Van Halen. Roth revealed that the beginning was rough as the Van Halen parents quickly kicked them out of the house only three weeks after graduating high school. Though they didn’t leave them high and dry. Their parents had jobs lined up for their sons at the airport as baggage handlers and Lee himself had been kicked out of his family home halfway through high school for his proclivity for trouble.
After a short while, the band landed on their feet and started cutting their teeth playing as many club gigs as they could.
“It’s really hardcore training, that’s where you build who you are, that’s where you develop your ingredients,” Roth reminisced. “You would tear off the left-hand side of the Billboard chart and learn it. Alex and I went through a list just recently that we found of 120 songs that we could play at a drop of the hat…that’s where we learned to sing.”
Roth says the thousands of hours of vocal training was essential to discovering and perfecting his “signature sound.” His inspiration for his sound developed even further when he met his first singing coach, Curt Blumenthal. Blumenthal was a prisoner in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz and played piano during his time there, a precarious situation that Lee says could have easily resulted in his death.
“He used to tell me, ‘Mr. Roth, sing as if your life depended on it.’ Can you imagine a gig where one bad review literally put you up the chimneys? And that was another expression he would use,” Roth said passionately. “[That lesson] is in the music. It’s in my voice. It’s in every Van Halen song you hear.”
Roth says it was a poignant lesson that not only he learned from Blumenthal, but the Van Halen’s learned from their father Jan Van Halen. Jan himself, who grew up in the Netherlands, was an accomplished jazz saxophonist who would calm his neighbors as they hid in subway tunnels during Nazi bombing raids.
“Every Time I Sing, I Sing As If My Life Depended On It,” Roth concluded.