David Lee Roth stunned fans last week when he said that his upcoming Las Vegas stand would serve as the final shows of his career. “I’m throwing in the shoes,” Roth told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I’m retiring…I am encouraged and compelled to really come to grips with how short time is, and my time is probably even shorter.”
Roth didn’t explain the decision in any real detail, and he rebooted his solo career just last year with a Vegas residency and a slot opening for Kiss on their farewell tour. But he clearly wasn’t in optimal vocal shape during the few shows he managed to pull off before the pandemic hit.
“It bears noting that during Dave’s heyday, nobody did what he did,” Gene Simmons told Rolling Stone in August. “He was the ultimate frontman. Not [Robert] Plant, not Rod Stewart, nobody. He took being a frontman way beyond anything. And then, I don’t know what happened to him… something. And you get modern-day Dave. I prefer to remember Elvis Presley in his prime. Sneering lips, back in Memphis, you know, doing all that. I don’t want to think of bloated naked Elvis on the bathroom floor.”
Simmons eventually walked the comments back and apologized to Roth, but being compared to “bloated naked Elvis” when he was discovered dead in the Graceland bathroom surely stung more than a little. Roth also dealt with an undisclosed illness when on the road last year.
“I’m not so unconvinced I didn’t have the corona,” he told the New York Times in July 2020. “Man, they gave me enough Prednisone to put boots on the moon! We left a trail of groupies, rubble and incandescent reviews. But I don’t want to go back through it.”
Roth’s career started when he was a teenager in the R&B group Red Ball Jets, but it didn’t really take off until he teamed up with Eddie and Alex Van Halen in 1974. He parted ways with them 10 years later, just as they were establishing themselves as the biggest band of the MTV era thanks to the insane success of 1984. Two years later, he released the solo LP Eat ‘Em and Smile, which featured guitarist Steve Vai.
They hit the road along with bassist Billy Sheehan, drummer Gregg Bissonette, and keyboardist Brett Tuggle in August 1986. The show was heavy on solo songs and light on Van Halen tunes, though they did break out “Unchained,” “Panama,” “Everybody Wants Some!, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” and “Jump.” Here’s fan-shot video of “Jump” from a September 1986 show at Detroit’s Cobo Arena.
The tour was a big success, but his momentum stalled big in the early Nineties and never recovered until he rejoined Van Halen in 2007. It’s impossible to say whether or not he’s serious about retiring at this point, but it would be a shame if he wrapped it all up in a Las Vegas showroom. There’s been talk of a giant Eddie Van Halen tribute show ever since the guitar icon died a year ago. If they ever pull it off, it should include every living member of the band, past and present. If David Lee Roth is “retired” when it comes around, he’ll have little choice but to un-retire for the evening.