It’s easy to understand why Van Halen thought they’d get away with bringing on Gary Cherone as their new lead singer back in 1998. The hard rock giants hadn’t dealt with a lot of failure at that point. Everyone thought losing David Lee Roth back in 1985 would destroy the band, but they hired Sammy Hagar and became even more popular. Meanwhile, Roth’s career quickly turned to dust. When things turned sour with Sammy around 1996, they just assumed the public would accept the former lead singer of Extreme as the new voice of Van Halen.
Things didn’t go as they planned. Their new album, Van Halen III, was a critical and commercial flop, at least by Van Halen standards. The tour did well overseas, but in America some markets were soft. This wasn’t a band used to seeing empty seats. The fans who did come heard more Roth-era songs than they’d seen live in over a decade. “Coming in as a third singer, I said, ‘Listen, I got to do everything that I can to get into the good graces of these fans here,'” Cherone told Rolling Stone in 2012. “I remember telling Alex, ‘Look, I’ll do whatever you guys want.’ I wanted to do an equal balance of both of those eras.”
Check out a video of the Cherone-era band performing “Panama.” This is taken from an Australian date very early on the tour. Cherone was furious when he learned such an early show was being broadcast on television. “I got into a fight with the manager,” Cherone said. “I said, ‘You’re going to put this on video and I’ve only done three shows with this band? Let’s do a video at the end of the tour so I can feel comfortable.'”
When the tour wrapped near the end of the year Cherone suddenly felt frozen out of the group. “Eddie started drinking a bit,” said Cherone. “It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t going in the right direction . . . I remember going home for a couple of weeks and coming back and we had a meeting. I don’t know if Dave was on their mind. They were making a move and they were just getting rid of the manager, and I was part of that. But we sat down, me and Alex. He was like, ‘We sense that you’re unhappy and a little bit frustrated.'”
They parted ways in 1999, and five years later they hit the road for a disastrous reunion tour with Sammy Hagar. In 2007, they finally brought David Lee Roth back into the band, though by that point bassist Michael Anthony had been kicked out and replaced by Eddie’s teenage son, Wolfgang Van Halen. Despite numerous “reunion” tours, the real David Lee Roth-era band hasn’t played a single song together since 1984.