Rock Icons: David Lee Roth by Michael Starr

Steel Panther's Michael Starr on the legendary David Lee Roth
David Lee Roth in 1981 (Image credit: Richard E. Aaron\/Redferns)

My first introduction to Van Halen was in 1978. My brother played guitar and he was really into them but I didn’t know anything about them since I was much younger. He played me Eruption from Van Halen whilst also turning me on to cocaine for the first time, so it was the same first experience at the same time – it was great.

From there I went straight to the next song on the album, which was You Really Got Me, and I loved them from the get go. I was truly blown away by both David Lee Roth’s singing and also the cocaine; the combination of Van Halen and blow was amazing. After that I started really exploring the band and I’d buy the records as they came out. I got Van Halen II on 8-track and I used to play it on my boombox all the time.

By this time I lived in Chicago, Illinois, which was kind of a hippy area, and I’d spend all day hanging out in the park, drinking beers and listening to Van Halen. I’d always look at the album covers and explore them for hours because that was the only media you really had to see your favourite bands back then. David Lee Roth had long blond hair, he looked cool, he had abs and he could really sing. He also had a kick ass guitar player.

Then I moved to California when Women and Children First came out, and I went to see the band play at the LA Sports Arena. I have to say that experience changed my life. I saw that show and I watched David Lee Roth, and not only did he look great but he also sang great and he was super funny with the audience. He made me feel like I was part of the show. Eddie Van Halen looked killer as well, and the whole band was in great shape, but every guy at that show wanted to be David Lee Roth and all the chicks wanted to fuck him. I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to be funny and rock out at places this big.’

I kept following the guy for years and years, and as MTV started blowing up Van Halen started putting out videos. There was So Is This Love? and Unchained off their fourth record [Fair Warning], which were live videos, and I studied the guy’s moves and the way he handled himself on stage for hours on end. I was so drawn to him. Then I started listening to interviews and one of the things I’ll always remember him saying is this: ‘Look man, you can practice in your bedroom all day long, but if you don’t have a mirror in front of you then you’re not going to know what you look like.’ So I got myself a mirror and I started practicing in the mirror. And it really helped me because I would do stuff that felt good, but then when I looked in the mirror and watched myself do it I realised it didn’t look so good. David Lee Roth also said another thing that always stood out to me: ‘I try and work out all the time, but I don’t like jogging because the ice cubes keep falling out of my drink.’ Ha ha!

Everything I did from that point on was basically influenced by Van Halen or wanting to be similar to David Lee Roth. It was pretty common for a lot of my peers to want to do the same, too. They were the first super heavy metal group from LA to break out and they’ve filtered into all of my bands. I don’t care if people accuse me of trying to be like David Lee Roth; I take that as a compliment. It’s an influence, and the reason it’s called an influence is because you put it in the pot, mix it up and make your own soup to serve everybody. I’ve been influenced by a bunch of guys over the years, but David Lee Roth has always been my main influence. He’s the king.

Steel Panther’s album Live From Lexxi’s Mom’s Garage is available now. The band are currently on tour.

Michael was speaking to Matt Stocks.