Gary James' Interview With Van Halen's Manager And Author Of
Runnin' With The Devil: A Backstage Pass To The Wild Times,
Loud Rock, And The Down and Dirty Truth Behind
The Making Of Van Halen
Noel Monk started out as Van Halen's Tour Manager and later their Personal Manager. He's written about his experience in the book, Runnin' With The Devil: A Backstage Pass To The Wild Times, Loud Rock, And The Down and Dirty Truth Behind The Making Of Van Halen (Dey Street/Harper Collins) with a little help from Joe Layden, who has authored or co-authored more than thirty books including multiple New York Times best sellers. These two guys have put together a fascinating look at one of the most popular classic bands of all time, Van Halen. What follows is a spirited discussion with Noel Monk about personal management and Van Halen.
Q - Noel, this is the first time I've interviewed anyone about Van Halen, not that I haven't tried. So, this is a very special interview.
A - Gary, I have a question for you.
Q - Fire away!
A - You are a real expert on Classic Rock 'n' Roll.
Q - Well, I try to be.
A - Going back to the Fillmore when I was pouring Southern Comfort for Janis Joplin when I worked for Bill (Graham), it was a fun, fun time. Then my time with Van Halen for seven years was fun, but there are questions in my book that I raise. I ask people and nobody can answer them. Maybe you can. I think you can. For instance, you've got Ed (Van Halen) who was the premier guitar player of his generation. I'm not going into comparisons. He was the best for me. They had the best 'live' show. Why, thirty years later after they robbed Michael (Anthony, Van Halen's bass player), Al, Ed and David of probably five to ten million dollars, is Ed and Al still going after Michael? That's my question.
Q - And now I'm not looking very much like an expert on Rock 'n' Roll. Had I been able to interview any of the guys in the group maybe I'd have an answer for you. There's still hope I guess that one day I'll talk to Eddie or Alex or David. Michael is represented by Rogers And Cowan and I've had no luck getting through to him.
A - We actually used Rogers And Cowan in 1978. They're a good firm. Very good firm, but tight lipped.
Q - When someone hires Rogers And Cowan it usually means they don't want to talk. At least that's been my experience. So, I wish I could answer your question, but when the guys don't grant interviews it makes it kind of tough.
A - Gary, the only thing I can say is, I know why Ed and Al and Michael don't take interviews, because they can say whatever they want and get the press to come to them and they can say whatever they want and at that point the press doesn't even refute them or question them. And they're very smart. They're not stupid. Edward might be stupid but David and Al... Al may be mean, but he's not dumb, they don't do interviews. In my book I said a lot of things about them. Every one of them happens to be absolutely true, but if it was about me or you we'd say something. They take the attack if I don't do an interview. I don't give Mark any publicity. I take away everything he says by not answering. It's safe. It's pretty smart, but it also leads me asking you questions which you're much more astute than they are in the overall picture of Rock. You can answer that question because your answer is as good as anybody's. You don't need Edward. All he would say is, "Michael is just not that good." Where is he getting that from? You see, he doesn't want to be questioned. That's thirty years later and Michael lost five or ten million dollars by signing that paper. Michael doesn't want to say, "Hey I rolled over and played dead," which is what he did. If he'd come to me I would have worked it out. It's thirty years, Gary!
Q - I've heard a lot of stories over the years about singers and musicians being shortchanged over the years. Very few guys get to keep the money they made.
A - These guys did and I can tell you that as a fact. When they were under my tutelage they kept every penny. Ed's got thirty or fifty million dollars. They've all got that. Michael has less "1984" millions. They have them. There's no question. You can Google it. That's how plain it is. They have that kind of money. So, they're not going to bellyache. Michael won't even bellyache out of five million except it doesn't make him look too good to have been allowed to have himself treated like that. Ed and Al don't want to answer "Why did you do that to Michael? This guy was with you from the beginning. Why are you still beating up on this poor guy?" He's a good bass player. He's got a great voice. If Al wasn't named Van Halen he'd be out on the balls of his ass.
Q - I actually saw Van Halen at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York in October, 1982 I believe it was. David Lee Roth celebrated his 30th birthday here.
A - It as a great show. I remember that actually. There were balloons. They had a party. They were a party band. It was Dave's birthday. I'll tell you a funny story about that if you want.
Q - Go ahead!
A - We had a linoleum platform on the deck. I had a great production team. I had the best in the world. I paid the best. I gave 'em health insurance. I have them pension and profit, everything I wanted when I was an independent guy who got nothing from a record company. Long story short, the next night they laid out the same linoleum and David came on and he slipped and fell on his ass. (laughs) We were all looking, "What's going to happen now?" He went crazy. At a certain point, when you're not directly being berated by him, it's kind of fun to watch. The stage manager came out and put Coca-Cola on the stage and it was skid proof, but it was very funny and that's one of the reasons I remember Syracuse.
Q - It's a good thing he wasn't hurt.
A - This guy was so strong. Anyone who can jump off a drum riser, go twelve, fourteen feet in the air and do a split and land and not hurt themselves, except their ankles will go after awhile, but no pretender to the throne. No one, Hager, Cherone, could do what David did. He was a hard worker, Gary. Before a show he spent an hour and a half stretching. That's why he could fall down. He did it all the time and he was built for it. He never really hurt himself except once at a photo shoot and he did land and there were no mats and he fractured his ankle. Dave is a tough kid.
Q - Van Halen was such a popular band in the late 1970s, early 1980s. They were on the covers of magazines, on the radio, on TV. They were everywhere! Now we hear nothing! That's kind of strange, isn't it?
A - No. I hear tons about 'em. On fan websites it's an ongoing discussion. A lot of people who do shows, they just go for hours with minutia. They still discuss does David have paternity insurance? I'm not trying to dispute you, but I'm amazed that we have the monstrous press that I built up in the old days. We had a great press agent, Steve Mandel. Anything we wanted was in the papers.
Q - Who did he work for?
A - He worked for a big agency and I hired him away from them. He worked out of our office. I wanted press coming from us. Steve was a brilliant press agent. Why won't they talk? 'Cause they don't want to open themselves up to having those questions asked of them. The best answer is no answer.
Q - We always hear that Warner Brothers, Mo Ostin and producer Ted Templeman saw Van Halen at this club, The Starwood, and decided to sign them. I've heard a different story of how Van Halen got a record deal. Roth's father was a major contributor to the Democratic Party. He met Mo Ostin at one of these fund raisers. At some point the conversation turned to Rock music and Roth's father said to Mo Ostin, "My son is in a band called Van Halen." It wasn't long after that, that Van Halen was signed to Warner Brothers. Is there any truth to that story?
A - It's like every story about them, like the one about them breaking up over a photo session. Complete bull shit. The guy wanted to make press for some book he was doing. The guy had never seen a show. He had never met the band. But they act as if they were best buddies. This story is total bull shit!
Q - The one that I told you?
A - The one you told me. I mean, everyone makes up a story. As a matter of fact, what happened with Mo and Teddy to the best of my knowledge, and I wasn't there, is true. Absolutely dead true. But everybody can have their point of view. This guy put it out that I was a former New York City policeman. It's written in his book. I asked him why he did it and he said, "Someone told me and they seemed like they knew what they were talking about." That's where the writers are starting to come out of the woodwork like roaches and making up stories and interviewing people. I lived with the people for seven years. I saw 95% of their shows. I mean, they were my best friends. I can say I know what happened, but I can't say I know everything or that I know what happened afterward. Not that I don't care, because without David and Edward, there's no Van Halen. It's a big myth out there propagated by Cherone and Hager that they're Van Halen. No! I want to see Cherone or Hagar jump off of a drum riser. I mean, the biggest money ever made was from '78 to '85. I've looked at the figures. Why doesn't Hagar stick with being "The Red Rocker"? He wants to be known as Van Halen, but there is no Van Halen without David or Edward. And now, there's no Van Halen because they're too old! David jumps off a drum riser now and he lands, we take him right to the hospital. He doesn't do it. I saw some of the shows he did a couple of years ago. It was pathetic! They've got millions of dollars, Gary! Why don't they retire? Why don't they stop beating up on Michael who they ripped off for five or ten million dollars? It's thirty years ago. And Edward's gotta say he was a bad bass player? You know why. You have as good of an opinion as anybody.
Q - Maybe it's because he was always smiling?
A - They're not going to let you know.
Q - They haven't been lashing out at you in any interviews, have they?
A - No, of course not. Not one word except David gave three cute answers. One, "Yes." Two, "No." Three, "My lawyer said I shouldn't say that that." It was cute, but there was no substance. There was no defense of anything. How can he dare open his mouth about being bald and wearing suits? He doesn't do interviews. He was the only one who said anything. David's a very bright guy. He's sharp.
Q - David once said, "I used to have a drug problem, now I make enough money." Ha, ha. What a funny remark. But not so funny if you're in law enforcement and you're forced to confront the evils of drug use on a daily basis. Do you know if David ever had any regret about making that remark?
A - He wouldn't regret anything he says. He's an egomaniac and whatever he says is true, even though he's making up bull shit. That's a funny line! That's something Ed Sullivan or Milton Berle would say. He's a funny guy. I love his one about you look at the tunnel and you see two lights coming at you, that's not death. That's a train. Great line. He uses it all the time. You don't think he sat in his room? He's an avid reader. He actually after that had a guy writing jokes for him. You gotta understand, they don't have to talk to you. They're too big. But you can talk about them with better credibility than they'll ever have.
Q - It's the strangest thing about Van Halen. You never knew who their manager was. We knew Peter Grant was managing Led Zeppelin and Bad Company. We know Elvis was managed by Colonel Parker. We knew The Beatles were managed by Brian Epstein. I used to think David Lee Roth was managing Van Halen.
A - (laughs)
Q - I know you're going to tell me it was Marshall Berle and then it was you managing the band.
A - No, no, no. I wanted that to be out there. I never did an interview. I did one for Cashbox and then I shut up. Why is a manager talking? I have nothing to say beyond I manage the bloody band!
Q - A manager has a lot to say.
A - No they don't. They really don't. If they talk, they're upstaging their own band. I never did that.
Q - Brian Epstein used to sign autographs. He made TV appearances. He has his own theatre and was presenting acts. He was just as famous as The Beatles.
A - Well, that's wrong. You don't do that to your act.
Q - He helped enhance the mystique of The Beatles. He was a fascinating guy!
A - But still, my attitude is different. I always encourage my band to talk and I didn't. Who thought up what went on? It was me. It was me and David. It was me and the publicist. I'm not going to let that curtain down. Let the boys take the credit. A manager has no right to be a big marker. He should shut up and let the band be the center focal point. I don't agree with you that The Beatles weren't ten times bigger than Brian Epstein and would've been still if he had shut up.
Q - There would have been no Beatles if not for Brian Epstein.
A - No. We disagree on that.
Q - John Lennon once said of Brian Epstein, "He was our salesman, our front. Epstein fronted for The Beatles." Brian Epstein was the front guy for The Beatles.
A - Well, I was the front guy, but I don't have to advertise that I'm thinking up all this stuff. I don't have to advertise that I thought
up paternity insurance for David. Let David take that credit. He loves it. He takes credit for everything. Give it to him! Brian Epstein found them and spring boarded himself off of The Beatles. That to me is unconscionable.
Q - Paul said if there was a fifth member of The Beatles it would be Brian. In your case with Van Halen, I don't know what the guys would say.
A - They would say I did nothing. I didn't get their contract doubled. I didn't get them a quarter of a million dollar promotional deal that they turned down. I didn't get them the U.S. Festival. They're not going to give me any credit. They want all the credit, which is fine with me. All I did was work behind the scenes to build them up. I didn't need to build me up. If Brian got them a record deal, great. Now step back and do your job. The same with Zeppelin. The guy (Peter Grant) was a thug. There are stories about him and I know about them because I worked for Bill (Graham) and Bill would tell me. I can't sing, dance or play a musical instrument, but I can manage. Manage money. I can manage a band. But I don't want to do it naked out in front. I want them to be naked out front.
Q - One woman accused Eddie of being the father of her baby. These woman who hang around backstage waiting to meet the band, did you ever tell the guys in Van Halen, "Be careful. This is a dangerous situation here"?
A - I've got the legal documents from the District Attorney who sued us. Ed and I worked our way out of it.
Q - What did you and the band do about groupies?
A - Anybody that thinks a band can be on the road without women is out of their mind. You read what happened to us when we were with Black Sabbath and there were no women out there for four or five weeks. Our band went crazy! They've got to get laid! It builds up a little juice in there.
Q - But it's dangerous!
A - Everything is dangerous. Crossing the street, get hit by a bus. They backed the band. They were fans. Whether they were fans or what you want to call "groupies", they were not sluts. They were wonderful people. I encouraged them because we had one time in over seven years when we had a problem with Edward. It went away because he wasn't the father. We did DNA. So, I guess my attitude didn't hurt us. I had a guy on the elevator who checked everybody who came on the floor. Every woman had to show her I.D. that she was 18. I wasn't stupid. I was gonna make sure that we weren't setting ourselves up. But, to tell the women to go away? Hey! They're half our fans and more! For one thing, fans made Van Halen. When musicians forget that fans are the greatest thing for a band and that they can't sign a signature for them, they're just plain stupid. I mean, those fans made us. Take away the fans Gary and what do we got? Nothing. You don't have an audience. You don't have excitement. You got a couple guys up there playing their instruments. C'mon! The fans are everything and should be acknowledged. Groupies are an important part of a Rock touring band. I'm sorry. I was a young kid. I wasn't going for seven years without getting laid. I wasn't married and I'm no choir boy. It comes down to I don't have a double standard. I don't think my getting laid makes a problem. I got to be careful. I used to call Al "The Pie Man", because we used to take him so many times to get shots for his venereal diseases. He was putting out so much green gook that I was going to fill it up into pies and sell it. That was our joke. (laughs) Not Al's joke. That was my joke. People go, "Yuck!" Well, that's Rock 'n' Roll. Love it or leave it.
Q - You made the jump if you will from being tour manager to a personal manager, correct?
A - Absolutely.
Q - The tour manager is like the advance man. He makes sure everything is in place for the show. The personal manager interacts with the booking agency and the record company. They're two different jobs, aren't they?
A - No. Absolutely not. A good manager when he books the tour knows how they get from A to B. A road manager shouldn't worry about it. I had to worry about it because the guy I worked for, the manager didn't give a rat's butt. Everything that is done by the road manager should also be done by the manager. A road manager is a glamorized baby sitter. What I needed was a great production guy. A stage manager who managed when they went on and when they went off. We got there at five in the morning and started putting the lights and sound up. I had the greatest crew. I had 140 people working for me, in the office and the t-shirt factory which I started. We made 50% on t-shirts 'cause we did it. My crew was the backbone. We had 98 crew members on the road. I had it in my rider that they could not use plastic forks. They had to use metal forks. That crew has worked all day. They're supposed to sit down and break their fork into their food? No. I would fine the promoter $100 per plastic fork. You treat my crew the same way you treat my band or you're not going to get them next year. Why do you think I did the brown M&Ms? I did that 'cause my road manager kept saying, "These guys haven't read the rider." I said, "Alright. I'll take care of that." So, I put in brown M&Ms. They read the rider. If they took out the brown M&Ms they got fined.
Q - You were working with Premier Talent's Frank Barsalona, weren't you?
A - The biggest and best agent. Frank and I were very good friends. Brilliant, brilliant booking agent. He helped me immeasurably.
Q - Was he a big fan of Van Halen? Did he come out and see the group?
A - Oh, sure. Whenever we got to town. He'd come out occasionally. He was a big fan of all his artists. He did not discriminate. He had Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen. He had everybody, but he talked about everybody as his great artist.
Q - How did you get your start in show business? I probably should've asked you that earlier.
A - I started out as a light and sound man. This was in '64, '65. I worked in summer stock in Westport. I was in my college theatre. That's all I did was the theatre as the stage manager and lighting. Where do you think I learned all this stuff? Most managers don't know how to run a follow spot. Writers can talk about how the lights are great, but they couldn't haul the lights. I had a brilliant lighting guy, Peter Angelis. Peter and David were the geniuses behind all the incredible MTV videos. I got the money for 'em. They were the geniuses behind them. I didn't want people who were dumber than me. I wanted people who were much smarter than me. That's how you get to a brilliant level.
Q - As I see the story of Van Halen, like every other group, in the beginning they're excited and enthusiastic, but when the band becomes a business, that's when the trouble starts. Would you agree with that?
A - No.
Q - No?!
A - Because, and I'll tell you why. When they were in the garage working out their stuff and when they were playing clubs, that's when the camaraderie, that's when the women, that's when the drugs, that's when the drinking started. They had a business, trying to sell their t-shirts. They had a business and it wasn't because they got into business. It was because their egos blew up to such an extent that they became uncontrollable. For David and the band to turn down a quarter of a million dollars spark-o-matic promotional deal is insane! But they get so full of themselves they can't see their heads in front of their face. So, it's not the business that hurts them. They hurt themselves. Granted, Eddie is not too bright. David is very bright. Granted, Alex is an okay drummer, but he lives and feeds off being Eddie's brother or he wouldn't be there.
Q - Alex Van Halen is a very good drummer. You start interchanging band members the total sound of the band changes. You don't have to have every guy in the group to be a monster musician!
A - Absolutely! Without David and Edward, Hagar has nothing to do with Van Halen. Michael and Al were good at what they did, but in the business, 30 years, they were good. I'm not saying they weren't good. They weren't Buddy Rich. They weren't a lot of people. They held their own. So did Michael. So, why are they blowing his doors off? He did his job. Why crook him off of six or ten million dollars? I don't get it. You tell me why!
Q - I have no idea. Unless they talk to me...
A - They're not gonna do it unless they finally decide they've put up with enough of my shit and they want to answer something, it's never going to happen. Ed and Al together can make an interview. Ed opens his mouth... When we did interviews in the beginning, only David and Al could talk very well, were allowed to do them. Ed couldn't do 'em. We said go back to bed and sleep off your hangover. You think we'd let him on a microphone? C'mon! The guy is the most brilliant guitar player in the world. When it comes to the brain side of it, it's very lacking. Now I ask you, why wouldn't he get up and say, "You're full of shit! I am the smartest guy in the world." He doesn't want to get into that argument. So, the best thing to do is just shut up! Smart. It's very smart of them. But, it's not very good for the fans or the radio people. It's down right wrong! It's right for them and that's all they care about.
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