As you’ve almost certainly heard, later this month the reunited Van Halen is hitting the road for an extensive tour with David Lee Roth out front. But something is missing. Original bassist Michael Anthony — whose distinctive backing vocals are crucial to classics like “Running With the Devil” and “Panama” — has been fired and replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s sixteen-year-old son Wolfgang. Many outraged fans are pledging to stay home, while others will be showing up with “Where Is Michael Anthony?” T-shirts. Last week Anthony got on the phone with RS to explain what happened.
When was the last time you saw Eddie Van Halen?
The last time I actually spoke or saw him in person was right after we walked offstage in 2004, the last show of the tour.
How were things then?
It really didn’t end in total peace and harmony within the band, for whatever reasons. I’m not going to finger-point at anyone, but the tour, after eighty shows, just couldn’t go on at that point.
How did you find out they were going to do this upcoming tour without you?
Probably like everybody else, I found out on the Internet and through word of mouth. I can understand that he wants his kid to play with him. If I had a kid like that, I’d like to have him perform with me, too. It was kind of funny when I first heard about it being a Van Halen “reunion.”
So they never called you?
No, nobody ever contacted me about anything. I just kind of found out with everyone else.
Is it true they tried to keep you off the 2004 tour?
Yeah. Ed didn’t really want me on that tour.
Do you know why?
He was always put off that I was going out and playing with Sammy [Hagar] when we weren’t doing anything. It wasn’t like I was doing it to spite anybody. I was just tired of sitting at home and doing nothing. Sammy asked me one day if I would like to come out and maybe make an appearance at one or two of [his] shows and have some fun, and I said, “Yeah, great.” It kind of snowballed into me coming out and doing a few songs with him here and there.
Didn’t they make you sign something to participate in the last tour?
You’re putting all the dirt in this one, huh? I gave up a lot to do [the last Van Halen] tour, as far as my percentage of what everyone was being paid. I did have to sign something at the end of the tour, that I was relinquishing any rights or claims that I had to anything that had to do with Van Halen. The reason I did the tour was: I didn’t need the money, but I kind of figured if it was the last time Van Halen ever went out, I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t go out onstage one last time for the fans. So I kind of sucked it up a bit.
But that didn’t affect your royalties or anything?
Do you regret doing that?
There’s always things that you look at in hindsight that you could have done differently or whatever, or tried to make it better. I don’t regret going out, because I did enjoy going out and playing for the fans. I kind of regret the way that it turned out, because it should have been a tour that possibly went on for at least a year, and toured all over the world, and it just wasn’t meant to be. And that’s pretty sad, in my eyes.
Some fans are saying that this current tour is not the real Van Halen. How do you respond to that?
I had a post on my blog the other week stating that it is what it is, and I’m not going to sit here and go, “Hey, those a-holes, going out and doing this without me.” I even told the fans, “Don’t judge his son, Wolfgang, too hard, because he’s the innocent guy in this whole thing.” I’m sure he’ll do fine. But as far as it being a full reunion, well, it’s not. There’s no reason for me to sit there and cry over it or whine over it. Life goes on.
Do you think Wolfgang is too young to be taking on such a huge task? I really can’t say, because I’m not around the guy a lot. He came out and did some shows in 2004, came out onstage when his dad was playing a solo, and played a little bit. Being thrown right out into big arenas, a sixteen-year-old kid, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of possible overwhelming things that are thrown at him in that kind of a situation, plus, when they get onstage, who knows how the fans are going to react to him? Hopefully, he’ll be able to work through all that.
Your backing vocals were an important part of the sound.
Mm-hmm. I guess it will be interesting. I don’t know, I’m not to say how they’re going to pull that one off, but I’m sure they’ve thought of something.
Dave and Ed were smiling and shaking hands at the press conference — do you think it’s genuine?
[Laughs] There again, I really can’t tell you, because I’m not around them or know what’s going on. I can speculate, but that wouldn’t really mean anything here or there. I guess the proof will be once they get out and start playing. Because once Dave gets onstage, he becomes Diamond Dave.
Did you see that they removed your image from Van Halen’s first album on their Web site?
Yes, I did. And that was the one thing that kind of saddened me a bit, when I was pointed to that, to see that my pictures were removed off of the first album. With Women and Children First, they took the picture off completely. I couldn’t figure out what they were trying to do except for brainwash the fans into thinking I was never in the band. That bummed me out quite a bit. I’m proud of all my history with Van Halen, and maybe they feel otherwise.
You seem to be taking the high road with all this.
I’m not a spiteful person. At this point in my life, I don’t need the drama. I went through that when I was in my twenties, and I don’t feel like going through it again in my fifties. I just want to have fun, be able to go out onstage and play and have a good time.
Are you touring with Sammy Hagar this summer?
Yeah, we’re actually going out late October, and we’ll be touring on and off until next summer. It stems from around March, when Sammy Hagar did this cruise thing with Carnival Cruise lines, where they cruise down to Cabo San Lucas. His fans pay an extra premium and his band goes on the ship, and they asked me if I wanted to come and perform one night. I didn’t want to just get up with his band and do Hagar stuff, so I put this thing together and I said, “Let’s just do some old Van Halen stuff and have some fun with it and do maybe a couple other covers that we all grew up to, like some Zep or Cream.” So we call it the Mad Anthony Express, and we did about two hours on this ship, and the fans loved it. I said, “Hey, this is pretty cool.”
Do you see a day in the future where the four original Van Halen members could possibly share a stage again?
At this point, I really don’t know, because I think they’ve chosen their path. They would be the ones to really ask. As far as myself, I think if the situation was right and everything was on the up and up I’d be interested in doing it. It would definitely have to be on those terms.