Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth is currently planning a full-fledged reunion of his ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ band. Comprised of guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette, the lineup was Roth’s first solo roster following his departure from Van Halen back in 1985. The same band would appear on Roth’s 1986 debut ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ and 1988’s ‘Skyscraper,’ both of which proved to be massive commercial hard rock victories.
The decision may have seemed to sudden to those who followed Roth and the members of Van Halen during their well-received 2015 summer tour of North America, however the inspiration behind this reunion was rooted at the Ultimate Jam Night, a free weekly show at Lucky Strike Live in California hosted and founded by Quiet Riot bassist Chuck Wright.
It was originally intended for Vai, Sheehan and Bissonette to perform songs from ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ with vocalist Ralph Saenz, more commonly known as Michael Starr from Steel Panther. As Sheehan recently explained during an appearance on Eddie Trunk’s radio show, the band only found out “five to seven days” before the Lucky Strike Live show that Roth had agreed to participate during two songs, “Yankee Rose” and “Shyboy.”
“We hadn’t heard back from [Dave] yet, so we had Ralph in there [ready to go], in case we we didn’t hear,” said Sheehan. “‘Cause we didn’t know if he would wanna do it at all; we hadn’t talked about it for a long time. So sure enough, finally out of nowhere, Dave says, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it. I’m in.’ [We went], ‘Great!’ So we thought, ‘Should we tell Ralph now? Because we don’t wanna stiff him.’ So we thought, ‘We hope he’ll understand.’ We waited for the night before and then explained to Chuck [Wright] what was going on. Nobody knew; nobody from the club knew Dave [was gonna show up at the venue].”
Sheehan continued: “So then all panic ensued. And I had to speak to somebody about it, ’cause we had to figure where to put Dave in the meantime, to surprise [the crowd by getting] him on stage. So we had to eventually talk with the people there, and then things started to slip out a little bit. But we wanted to do it in true Lucky Strike fashion — we just walk up on stage and play. No rehearsal, no soundcheck, no nothing. Just go up, plug in and go.”
Unfortunately the onstage reunion didn’t end up happening, as the show ended up being cancelled after the Lucky Strike Live surpassed maximum capacity and the Fire Marshall shut down the event. “I had my bass out and was ready to go. And the fire marshal showed up and said, ‘We’re shutting it down.’ And there was a line… Already the place was overcrowded,” Sheehan explained.
“It holds about five hundred people, five [hundred and] seventy legally. Sometimes they get six or seven [hundred] in there; they push it. There was about… They told me two thousand. I don’t know if there was two thousand in there or not, but it was just crazy. And it was dangerous, so I don’t think it was the wrong thing for the fire marshal to shut it down. They came in with the fire helmets, carrying gear, yelling at people to get out…”
The demand for such a reunion is obvious enough; the original ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ lineup hasn’t performed onstage together in 30 years. According to Sheehan, Roth is still “into” bringing his original solo band back together for another reunion in the near future to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ album.