"Iron Mike"
By: David J. Criblez

The Inside (Winter 1998)

If anybody is the most qualified to write a Van Halen biography, it's bassist Michael Anthony. For the past twenty-plus years, 13 albums, 12 tours and three lead singers, Mike has always been the man in the middle. He's the rock that remains solid and unmoved in the stormy sea which is Van Halen. He's also one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet, always greeting you with a big smile and firm hand shake. While Ed is usually wrapped up in the studio master-minding the band's next musical endeavor, you can always count on Mike to be there for the fans.

The following interview took place last summer during the band's tour.

The Inside: Why do you think some people are having a problem with Gary Cherone as lead singer for Van Halen?

MA: People don't like change. When David Lee Roth left the band, and Sammy Hagar came in, it was the same type of deal. But Hagar had a bigger name for himself [than Gary did]. Now it's happened twice. If you're looking for drama, try Van Halen 'cause they're always something going on! I think a lot of people thought Gary wouldn't fit in. If I spoke to anyone who was skeptical about him being in the band, I would just tell them to come see the live show!

The Inside: What is your reaction to the album sales to Van Halen 3?

MA: It was pretty much a transitional period. A lot of strange things were happening when we were doing this album. Hagar was leaving, Alex was going through a big divorce at the time, then--enter Gary! Plus, working with Mike Post. A lot of things were really different. But I'm really proud of the album, though. I think that the best thing in the world is that we're out there playin' live and we'll follow up this tour with a kick-ass next album.

The Inside: I know you and Sammy were good friends. Was that difficult to let go even though things didn't work out business-wise?

MA: In a way, yeah it was. But, the thing that hurt me the most was the way Sammy started talkin' about us in the press...like we threw him out and got Dave behind his back. If you could have heard the last conversation that we had with him, it was like, "Hey, if you ever change your number, I hope you give it to me." That's how amicable it was. There was some shouting or whatever, but he was like, "I want to be a solo artist and do my own thing."

The Inside: When I spoke to Sam two years ago, he admitted to me that he was insecure about being compared to Roth, which is why he was against the "Best Of" pairing his songs next to Roth's and also why he didn't want to play the old VH tunes in concert.

MA: He would always say he couldn't get behind Roth's lyrics. Well, Elvis never wrote one of his songs! We have a lot of great material. A great song is a great song. But he did not want to play the old songs and I think it had a lot to do with his ego.

The Inside: When Hagar joined the band, he brought in his manager, Ed Leffler [who passed away in 1993] who then became VH's manager. Do you think this gave Sam an unfair edge?

MA: Not really. We all struck up a really good relationship with Ed. You could tell he pushed a little bit because he was trying to please Sammy, but he wanted to do what was right the band at the same time. Ed was torn apart at times because he was in the middle. But he was a great manager and a great friend.

The Inside: Sam had said a lot of the band friction was caused by VH's new manager--and Alex's ex-brother-in-law--Ray Danniels. Do you think so?

MA: There were a lot of weird things that happened there. Alex had known Ray for years because his ex-wife is Ray's wife's sister; they were indirectly brothers-in-law. Al knew him as far back as when Roth was in the band. But I don't wanna get into the dirt of it all.

The Inside: How did you feel about the return of Roth to the VH camp in 1996?

MA: There was nobody that did not want Roth back in the band more than me. I didn't even know he was coming back. I called the studio one day looking for Eddie. Ed picks up and says, "Someone wants to say hi to ya," and all of a sudden Roth was on the phone. I just hit the floor. All those years of him being in the band just flashed through my mind. He picked up the phone and said (doing a perfect Roth impersonation with a whiskey-soaked voice), "How ya doin', man!" I knew exactly who it was. I just said (in a dead-pan voice), "I'm fine, Dave. How are you doing?" But none of that happened until Sammy said he was out of the band. Nothing with Roth was even done behind Sammy's back. Ed might have spoken to him once or twice, but that was the because Roth had called and he wanted to know what stuff was going to be put on the "Best Of."

The Inside: Why would you bring Roth back for just two songs for the "Best Of" project, therefore bringing him back into the mind of the public? Why go on MTV together, in front of the entire world?

MA: In hindsight, we realize that we opened up a can of worms that should have been tossed a long time ago. The MTV thing was a whole other trip there, too. MTV plays their game of "You scratch our back, we'll scratch yours." They dictate a lot of what kids listen to now. I won't even get into some of the stuff that they've asked us to do for them.

The Inside: Meanwhile, here we are in 1998 and they won't even play "Fire In The Hole."

MA: Now you know what we're going through. We're just scratching our heads.

The Inside: Eddie said you guys never considered touring with Roth. However, in 1996, you told one interviewer: "They already offered us to headline Donnington [late summer Monsters of Rock festival in England] next year. But, if we do it, we'd be strictly doing it for our fans. It would be on tour and that's it."

MA: The two songs we did on the album (Best Of Van Halen: Volume 1), we were supposed to do videos for. If it turned into it, we might have done a reunion tour. But, that's as far as it would have gone and that's exactly what we told Roth. He totally misconstrued the whole thing. He was like, "I'm the only guy for this band. There's no way they can get anybody else. I'm going to be the guy." Right after the MTV incident, he went on Howard Stern and said it was a shame and that we tricked him into the whole thing. He was never led to believe that he was ever going to be a permanent member of the band.

The Inside: So you guys were going to do two videos for the two new songs off of the "Best Of" and possibly a reunion tour?

MA: If it would have came to that. Offers were already coming in from promoters. But after the MTV fiasco, it pretty much broke down.

The Inside: Was another reason for not doing the reunion tour because Dave's voice wasn't up to snuff?

MA: Yeah, it was. As things progressed, we realized this wasn't really going to happen. It took a good two-and-a-half weeks just to get the vocals done on the two songs we did on the "Best Of." Besides, we were also finding out, little by little, that the chemistry just wasn't there anymore.

The Inside: When you guys got back together with Roth. You jammed a few old tunes. What was that vibe like?

MA: It was strange at first, just to be in the room with the guy again jamming. It wasn't really the same, though. But, making those two songs with him was actually kind of a cool experience. I talked to Dave quite a few times and, when he lets his guard down, he can talk and be a regular human being. When I first saw him face to face again, it was probably one of the strangest things that I ever experienced. He came up and gave me a hug and said hi. I was just like, "Whoa, Whoa." I don't hate the guy, but it was just really strange after 11 years 'cause I hadn't spoken to him once since he left the band.

The Inside: Could you ever see you guys working with him again at any point in the future?

MA: Realistically, I'd probably say no, but, as far as this band is concerned...well, in five years, we're eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now what's that going to be like?

The Inside: Were you surprised when he left VH in 1985?

MA: We were surprised because it happened without any reasoning or whatever. We knew he was testing the waters when he did his "Crazy From the Heat" EP.

The Inside: Could you ever see yourself working with Sam again?

MA: I could. There are a lot of personal things that we'd have to get around. I remember reading that Sam said that he would love to play with us again, but it would be on his terms and it would only be for a charity event...I don't know.

The Inside: Have you guys spoken since?

MA: I called him on Christmas [of '96] and he called me back that New Year's. It was just one of those quick phone things and we totally missed [catching] each other. We saw each other at our lawyer's wife's funeral shortly after he left the band.

The Inside: Was that awkward?

MA: It really wasn't that awkward for me. I can't speak for Eddie and Alex but...I just came up, gave him a hug and asked him how he was doing and whatever. I told him I hoped everything was cool and that he was doing O.K. That was basically it.

The Inside: Fans have described you as the good soldier in the band, the glue that holds everybody together. Do you see that as your position?

MA: I don't know. I wouldn't describe myself that but...I am who I am and, I guess, if that's what everybody says that I am, then I guess am. It's not that I strive to be that. All I can say is that I got a great marriage and I love doing what I do. I try to do it as best I can.

The Inside: Is being a husband and a dad difficult to balance while being the bassist in Van Halen?

MA: Yeah, as far as touring is concerned. The only thing I don't like about touring is being away from my family. I don't like to be away from my kids, and it's hard for my wife and I to be apart. I've been married 17 years. I don't go out on the road and bang chicks. But I've got a lot of friends on tour, especially in our crew, so I have a great time.

The Inside: You've got a great voice. Did you band ever consider you for the lead position?

MA: As much as I enjoy singing, I never considered myself as the lead singer type. Gary was actually the one who suggested that I do a number in the live show [Mike performed "Somebody Get Me a Doctor" on the Van Halen 3 tour]. I lead sang and played bass in a band [Snake] before I joined Van Halen. I was pretty relieved when I joined VH. Actually, I didn't want to sing at all, but I ended up doing the backgrounds, which I'm totally fine with. Gary and I actually discussed me singing a tune on the next album. If Ed's gonna to do it ["How Many Say I"], damn it, I'm going to do it too! (laughs).

The Inside: Your bass solo was cut from the live show this time around. Did that bother you?

MA: In a way, a little bit, it does.

The Inside: How was that decision made?

MA: It was actually suggested by the other guys. They asked me if I want to sing a song instead. I always try to do something a little bit different. Why should I stand up there and try to be my lead guitar player? (laughs)

The Inside: You guys had tried out another singer before Gary. Who was that?

MA: I can't even remember the guy's name. It was some unknown canadian guy. We weren't even looking for a name. We just wanted somebody who would fit in.

The Inside: Before Sammy joined the band in 1985, there was a rumor that you guys were considering Eric Martin from Mr. Big. Is this true?

MA: Eric's name had come up, but nothing really happened. We even discussed others like Jimmy Barnes and some people thought Patti Smyth. A lot of this was just kicking around names but we weren't serious about it.

The Inside: There was also a rumor that you guys were working with Sass Jordan. True or false?

MA: Sass actually came in the studio and did a few little ditties with Ed and Al. Al was interested in her from a producing standpoint. When people heard she was up there, they thought, "Maybe Sass is gonna join the band?!" But, you can't have a chick in your band singing about chicks! That doesn't work! (laughs)

The Inside: Gary feels that all you guys needed was one or two really huge songs for the public to connect with. Do you agree?

MA: It could have been. But, we weren't in the studio looking to write that big hit.

The Inside: What about "That's Why I Love You"? What happened? Why did you pull it off the album?

MA: I thought it was a great song. It still may make it to the next album. But I don't think everyone was totally comfortable with the way it turned out. But, we have so much demo material for the next record.

The Inside: Did you guys bring back the old tunes in the live set because you wanted to bring back the old fans?

MA: We brought them back because now we could finally play them! I'm serious about that. Every tour we'd work up old material, but Sammy never wanted to play 'em.

The Inside: But, Eddie's the boss so why wouldn't he say, "Too bad, 'cause we're playing them!"

MA: It's a pretty democratic policy in the band. If there is even one person who doesn't want to do anything and feels really strongly about it, then we won't do it. Everyone will bitch, moan, fight and complain, but we won't do it.

The Inside: Things got so bad on the Balance tour that I remember you guys would kick into the intro of "Runnin' With The Devil" but then stop right when the vocals were supposed to begin.

MA: We'd do a few bars. We'd say, "Hey, let's just play the song!" Sam would be like, "Nah." He actually sang part of it once, but the way he sang it, he was obviously totally not into it.

The Inside: Does Eddie still amaze you?

MA: That guy is like one step beyond. Yeah, he still amazes me.

The Inside: Are you pissed that you can hardly hear the bass on the 1988 album, OU812?

MA: I was kind of upset about the way it turned out. It's like, "When is the bass going to come in?"

The Inside Did you read David Lee Roth's book?

MA: Not yet. I'll probably read it at some point. It's basically the world according to Dave. It's more fiction than fact, I'm sure.

The Inside: Did you hear Dave's new album?

MA: I heard the first single, "Slam Dunk." It's very reminiscent of old Van Halen. But, who knows what goes through that guy's mind.

The Inside: Did you listen to Sammy's album, "Marching to Mars"?

MA: Oh, yeah. I actually thought it was a very good album. It was Sammy Hagar with a good bluesy feeling.

The Inside: Does it bother you when you see Van Halen bootlegs?

MA: It used to get me mad but there's nothing you can really do to stop it.

The Inside: What ever happened to the Best Of Van Halen: Volume 2 with the b-sides and unreleased material?

MA: We'll still probably put something like that out. It would not be in the near future because we're still trying to establish Gary before we put more old VH out.

Interview 1998 The Inside Magazine