Three a.m. last Saturday morning, David Lee Roth awoke to "branches breaking, sticks cracking and a thud that sounded like a bowling ball dropping fifteen feet" coming from the lawn outside his house in Pasadena.
"It's all doctors and lawyers in my neighborhood and very quiet," the former Van Halen frontman explains. "I'm the only Indian chief on the block. I thought it might be some kids doing what I would have done at sixteen: 'Hey, I think the bassist from Led Zeppelin lives there. Let's go see if we can get a look at him.'"
Roth crawled out of bed on his stomach and right up to the window to check it out. He didn't see a group of drunk high schoolers, but a man creeping up to the house. "He got right up in front of me," the singer says, "and very quietly, I said, 'Can I help you?' and he flipped out."
The man ran around to the other side of the house, as Roth knew he would. "I grabbed my shotgun and was there waiting for him," he says. "I yelled at him the standard gun-school stuff -- 'Get down on the ground. The police are on their way'-- and he stayed right where he was, lying down and mumbling into the sprinkler system."
Of course, the intruder had a good reason to comply. "The shotgun makes the most noise when you rack it," Roth says. "It makes the most sinister, convincing sound, especially when someone's somewhere they're not supposed to be doing something they're not supposed to do."
That's just knowledge any bluesman who's known his share of hellhounds has a good handle on. Roth's covering some of his favorites, including Elmore James, Jimi Hendrix and Savoy Brown on his upcoming Diamond Dave, due this summer. "This is where I went to school," Roth says. "I grew up specifically imitating these songs. If you wanted to sing low, you copied Hendrix. If you wanted to growl you copied Jim Morrison [the Doors' "Soul Kitchen" is also on the record]. I've done every one of these songs 1,000 times in front of the mirror."
In the case of "Ice Cream Man," a John Brim original popularized by Elmore James that Van Halen also covered on Diver Down, that's probably literally true. "I just updated it," Roth says. "Sinatra and those Rat Pack guys used to revisit their own stuff all the time."