Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

1986 – Part 1.2: David Lee Roth – Eat Em And Smile

I had no idea who Steve Vai was until I saw him in the “Yankee Rose” clip, making his guitar answer questions that Dave Lee Roth put forward. And if you think it was a fluke, make sure you check out the cat/kitten noises Vai did for the intro on “Kittens Got Claws” on the Whitesnake “Slip Of The Tongue” album a few years later. The way Vai could manipulate the guitar with the whammy bar, bends and slides and effects to create animal and human like voices is unique.

“Eat ‘Em and Smile” is the debut full-length solo album by original Van Halen vocalist David Lee Roth, released on July 7, 1986. The band on the album is Steve Vai on guitars, Billy Sheehan on bass and Gregg Bissonette on drums.

Produced by Ted Templeman, it’s got all the bells and whistles of a party about to go out of control.

“Yankee Rose”

Penned by David Lee Roth and Steve Vai. The intro is iconic with the walking bass line and of course the “talking guitar” which seems to have a conversation with David Lee Roth.

From a musical viewpoint, Vai is in cruise control here, making a very simple guitar riff sound interesting with his additions of arpeggios, legato lines, bends and whammy bar manipulations towards the end of the fourth bar of the riff.

The video clip was also designed with MTV in mind, with moves orchestrated to show the technical abilities of the individual band members.


The Talas track penned by Billy Sheehan got some added muscle on this album with Vai’s virtuosic playing complimenting Sheehan. And of course, Gregg Bissonette on drums is in his element here.

“I’m Easy”

From Aussie artist, Billy Field who he co-write the song with Tom Price. The whole big band sho-be-bop is not my thing however I don’t mind when rock artists take a song from that style and rock-ify it.

But this isn’t really rock-i-fied.

“Ladies’ Nite In Buffalo?”

Another Roth and Vai cut, this one sounds like it came from the fingertips of Joe Walsh.

The blues rock boogie from Sheehan and Bissonette is excellent and the funky guitar riff by Vai compliments it perfectly. It’s tracks like this that made Dave Lee Roth’s solo career interesting and exciting.

And that lead break from Vai is outta this world.

“Goin’ Crazy!”

It’s another Roth/Vai penned song.

Vai brings the goods with an iconic guitar riff to kick it off. If you think the riff sounds like something you’ve heard before, I always said that the riff in “Finish What Ya Started” which came a few years after, is very similar to this.

The synths compliment instead of detracting.

Check out Vai’s solo and then go to YouTube to watch the video clip put together from the movie that never came to see the light of day.

“Tobacco Road”

A cover song written by John D. Loudermilk, it’s got that big blues rock feel and the way the DLR and the guys in the band do it, is excellent.

“Elephant Gun”

Another track penned by Roth/Vai and this one is full of great Van Halen inspired riffs. Vocally, Roth sings in a deep baritone, something which Axl Rose would do a lot within the Guns catalogue.

The solo section starts off with an impressive bass solo, which keeps happening, when Vai starts shredding the guitar lead.

“Big Trouble”

The “Big Trouble In Little China” film always come to mind when I see this song title.

Does anyone remember the Kurt Russel and Kim Cattral film?

The song has nothing to do with the film except that it’s a sleazy little rumble, written by Roth/Vai with a rap like vocal melody in the verses and a progressive like Chorus.

Check out the blistering Vai solo full of his trademarks fast legato lines with finger taps.

“Bump And Grind”

Another Roth/Vai composition.

Great title with a riff which bumps and grinds its way through the song and Roth is being Roth, having fun and talking his way through the song.

“That’s Life”

A big band cover song written by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon. What can I say, is Roth being Roth.

And this line up wouldn’t do another album again or perform together once the tour ended. However a reunion show was planned recently, and it was killed seconds before the band took the stage by a fire marshal who was worried at the size of the venue and the amount of people in the venue.

The free spirited nature of “Eat ’Em and Smile” is attractive and exciting as it feels like the whole album could just go off the rails and crash at any time.

At 31 minutes, man, its short for a release, which was strange for a highly anticipated and expected album. But the impact it left behind is huge, introducing Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan to large rock audiences, along with drummer Gregg Bissonette.

After this, Vai and Roth would do one more album in “Skyscraper” while Sheehan formed Mr Big with another ace guitarist in Paul Gilbert. Both acts had huge success with their releases.

Vai would finally release his second solo album “Passion and Warfare” and he also got a chance to decorate the songs that Adrian Vandenberg wrote for the “Slip Of The Tongue” album after a cool million dollar advance.

Meanwhile Roth hooked up with various guitarist to write the follow up, eventually settling on 19-year-old guitar virtuoso Jason Becker to replace Vai.

“A Little Ain’t Enough” was released in 1991, produced by Bob Rock. It did okay business in sales but before the tour started, Becker was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, rendering him unable to perform onstage. Guitarist Joe Holmes stood in for Becker during the tour.

But the audience just wasn’t there for DLR to fill arenas in 1991, After 15 years in the spotlight, Roth’s brand of hard rock became unfashionable.

And the original era of Roth’s solo career fractured shortly after.

P.S. this is the second part of a post that was meant to be just one post. Here is the link to the Maiden post covering “Somewhere In Time”.


23 thoughts on “1986 – Part 1.2: David Lee Roth – Eat Em And Smile

  1. Great album no doubt. It’s a shame Roth could have not kept Vai around but I’m sure being in the circus gets tiring after a while. lol
    This record hits you over the head sonically as Templeman dialled it in perfectly.

  2. Henrik says:

    Ladies’ Nite in Buffalo
    What a track. One of the best DLR ever created with or without VH brothers.
    No wonder Ted Templeman considers it as “one of the highlights of my career – – really showcases Vai’s abilities”.
    “I don’t think he realized how good he was.”

    • 100 percent agreement there on this.

      Just that riff. l also like how Vai embellishes each four bar ending with something different.

      And that lead break. I’m pretty sure it’s coincidence but there’s a lot of licks there that Gary Moore also used in Murder in the Skies.

  3. This album is a beast. It was so much better than what Van Halen put out with Sammy. Back in High School’s Beta Club we had to haze the new batch a kids coming in and I made my stooge dress up as the Cannibal from the cover of this album. He had to be in that get up all day. It was so much fun.

  4. One of the best albums of the 80s. I was comparing this to 5150 and got raked over the coals. The guys were trying to tell me Roth’s lyrics are shit. I disagree!

    I got kinda sense of deja vu
    I could swear I’ve seen you somewhere before
    You don’t think you’ve ever seen me somewhere before, do you, huh?
    So it must have been two other people

    Don’t listen to Deke he was one of the guys raking me over the coals!!

    • I guess The traffic’s slow
      So it’s ladie’s nite in Buffalo

      That’s Roth. He brought a different edge to lyric writing. In some cases it’s all over the places

      Like seriously, who comes up with “I got Elvis on my elbow / When I flex, Elvis talks” from Tattoo.

      He decided that would be the opening lyric for his VH comeback. Only Roth has the kahunas to do stuff like that. And it makes total sense as well.

  5. Henrik says:

    I was lucky enough to see Steve Vai with DLR in Monsters of Rock 1988 and two years later he was there again with Whitesnake. Despite a killer performance I somehow felt he did not properly fit Whitesnake, which to me is/was more blues rock than turbocharged hard rock. Slide it In is a perfect synthesis of both sides, a true gem in their catalogue.

    David Lee Roth gig was hilarious, larger than life performance, even though they were not headliners. Actually, DLR was only fourth band in the bill, after Helloween, GNR, and Megadeth – opening for KISS and Iron Maiden.

    But like you said, it did not last long. Saw them in Helsinki in 1991 and the venue was not sold out, not even close (capacity ~8000). indeed, Roth’s brand of hard rock had truly become unfashionable.

  6. Pingback: 1986 – Part 1.4: Europe – The Final Countdown | destroyerofharmony

  7. Pingback: 1986 – Part 1.5: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ultimate Sin | destroyerofharmony

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