The third VAN HALEN frontman, Gary Cherone, who took over when Sammy Hagar left the group (or was fired, depending on whom you ask) in 1996, was interviewed on a recent episode of "Talk Is Jericho", the podcast of Chris Jericho, the world champion pro wrestler, actor, New York Times best-selling author and lead vocalist of the metal band FOZZY. You can now listen to the chat at PodcastOne.com. A few excerpts follow (transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On his VAN HALEN audition and early shows:
"I did 'Panama', 'Jump', 'Why Can’t This Be Love', 'Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)', a Sammy song. That was when I really started to appreciate what an incredible singer Sammy was. I grew up on the Dave [Lee Roth] stuff, I knew the Sammy stuff, but during Sammy's [era with VAN HALEN], I was embarking on EXTREME. I remember looking at Michael Anthony [VAN HALEN bassist] and going, 'You've gotta help me with this song.' [Sammy's range was so high] it was insane. Actually, I said it to him before, when I went on tour with VAN HALEN, doing the Sammy stuff made me a better singer, because I had to find a way to do it or get kicked out of the band. And that stud you can't cheat. So I'm singing 'Dreams'… Some nights I couldn't do it… just tired, you know. 'Cause you find your comfort zone. When you're challenged with other people's music, those were cover songs. Two of thirds of [the live set], [I was] doing classic VAN HALEN. The Dave stuff was great — I loved it, I knew it — but, vocally, it wasn't a challenge. To do the Sammy-era stuff was very challenging. I came out of that experience a better singer. Some of the stuff I did post-VAN HALEN — whether it was solo stuff, TRIBE OF JUDAH stuff or later EXTREME stuff — my range grew because of that."
On singing VAN HALEN material that was originally performed by David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar:
"I understand why Sammy probably… He was more a Dave contemporary… They were around the same age, they both had their own careers, egos and pride and all that… Not necessarily egos… But Sammy had his own career. Again, they were from the same generation. Me, I was [from the] following generation. EXTREME was influenced by VH. And I knew going into VAN HALEN, you were gonna have your diehard Dave fans, diehard Sammy fans, so I was gonna do anything to endear myself to the audience. What was I gonna be? A prick? And go out there and go, 'No, I'm only gonna do 'You Really Got Me' and one Sammy song. I'd be pulled out on a hook. But, believe it or not, man, [it was] one of my favorite tours. Eddie [Van Halen, VAN HALEN guitarist] was playing his ass off. The band was passionate, and we were all over the place on the stage. I was like a kid in a candy store singing those songs. Those were no-brainers. I remember Alex [Van Halen, VAN HALEN drummer], during rehearsals… Because of that, because of his time with Sammy, and Sammy only did selected songs — only a few — he was, like, 'What do you wanna do?' I said, 'I wanna do tracks that you guys haven't done in twenty years: 'I'm The One', 'Romeo's Delight'.' And they were, like, 'All right. Cool.' And I remember those guys having more of a hard time learning some of the older tracks."
On "Van Halen III" (1998), the only VAN HALEN album he appears on:
"It was more of an Eddie record. He was coming out, at the end of the Sammy period… I don't wanna get into all that stuff. But I think Eddie was feeling his oats. And I came in, I was writing. He sat at the piano. When Eddie sat at the piano, I'd say, 'Play that again.' And we would do something a little bit outside the VH circle, what was expected. Looking back on it, I would have arranged some of those songs differently. In hindsight, you can do that with all your records. And that was a battle I had with some of the EXTREME songs. I think it's a guitarist-singer thing. Some of those arrangements were a little unorthodox, especially coming out of that VAN HALEN world. So if I was to do that record again, some of those songs would be shorter."
On how his stage presence in VAN HALEN was different from those of Roth and Hagar:
"That's funny, 'cause… Over time, I think, in the VAN HALEN fan base, they maybe appreciate it a little more. But I wasn't cut from the Roth school, I wasn't cut from the Sammy school. [They're] both great frontmen. Sammy got shit for not being like Roth. And me, some of the influences I had, whether it was [Steven] Tyler or [Freddie] Mercury… Those were the guys that kind of inspired how I became a frontman… Or [Mick] Jagger… I'm more Jagger school than the Roth school. It was funny. When I got to meet Sammy, we would talk about the history, and he'd tell me some old stories. And I would say, 'I got a lot of shit from fans. They would give me the finger all night 'cause I wasn't you, or I wasn't Roth.' And he goes, 'Get over it! I was getting that for ten years.' So it was funny. Sammy kind of put things in perspective for me. But the majority… That experience with VAN HALEN, I look at it as, that's on my application. The next band, I can say, 'Well…' I can go, 'I have a good resume.'"
On whether he was close with Eddie Van Halen during his time with VAN HALEN:
"Yeah, without a doubt. All the guys. But because I wrote with Eddie… Eddie was the sweetest guy in the world. Obviously, he's had some with problems with alcohol and all that. He's got through it. This tour now… even 2007… I didn't see 2012; I don't think I was in town. But from what I've seen of [the current tour], the band is ballistic. I mean, people give Roth a lot of shit, but Roth is Roth. He was a prototype. More people copied his style… I mean, he's responsible for almost every '80s rock singer, pulling out the whole party attitude, the whole shtick. He really was a master of ceremonies, so he's still doing his thing. But back to the band… Alex and Wolfie [Van Halen, VAN HALEN bassist] are incredible players, so this tour is great. Eddie is playing his ass off, and I'm happy that he's clean and he's straight. I've seen a couple of interviews. I think he did the Smithsonian thing a year ago, and it made me feel good that he was in a good place. I actually like the last VH record, 'A Different Kind Of Truth'. Some of the heaviest stuff they've ever done. It's great."
On whether he still keeps in touch with any of the VAN HALEN guys:
"I've been out of touch with Alex and Eddie, but I do keep in touch with Michael. I think he's gonna do a testimonial for the EXTREME 'Pornograffiti' DVD. And we've played with Sammy a few times. He's invited me on stage. Good guys. In the back of my mind, would I like to see the original lineup again, with Michael? Yeah. Whether that will happen or not. I mean, I love Wolfie. I met him when he was a kid — ten years old. I saw him grow up wide-eyed. I saw him pick up his guitar, and I'm, like, 'Boy, this kid… He's got the best teacher.' And it proved out to be correct, 'cause Wolfie's a great player. But Michael's the best. Whenever I think of Michael, not only as a bass player, I think of him as a vocalist and how identifiable his voice was to VAN HALEN, as much as Alex's drums or Eddie's guitar. That's VH."