While most recognize David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone as the three vocalists to have fronted Van Halen albums, there was apparently a fourth singer who thought he had the gig as the band’s frontman only for it to end before an album was recorded. Mitch Malloy, currently the lead singer for Great White and his own self-titled band, relayed his experience of the brief period he thought he was part of the band to Rolling Stone.
According to Malloy, his time with the group came after the band had split from Sammy Hagar but before Gary Cherone took over as the lead singer. But, it was the band’s other vocalist, David Lee Roth, who ended up causing the divide between Malloy and the group.
Malloy had enjoyed some early-’90s success with a pair of solo records and moved to Nashville where he was writing for others and producing when he initially got a call from the assistant of Van Halen’s manager. Some of Malloy’s past music had been passed on to the group’s manager by the assistant, and he was asked to come in for a visit.
The singer recalls, “It was like, ‘OK, you can’t repeat anything that we’re about to tell you. Please sit down. Sammy has been fired, and it’s very top-secret.” And I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ In fact, when I got there, one of the first things Ed said was, ‘This isn’t an audition. We just want to hang out.’ And I just kind of laughed. Like, of course, it’s an audition. I’m just Mitch Malloy and they’re Van Halen.”
The singer recalls being nervous upon meeting the group and after a shopping trip they eventually played some music, with Malloy starting off with “Panama.” “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” After a second day with the group, Eddie played him some of the instrumental versions of songs from what they were planning for the next album, which Malloy admits he wasn’t that fond of.
“I just wasn’t hearing it. I didn’t get it. He didn’t play me anything that I was excited about except one song. And he seemed almost pissed off that I was excited about the one song. It was the one that sounded the most like older Van Halen,” recalled Malloy. “I think in his head, he was thinking, ‘Hmm. This guy isn’t hearing the new stuff.’ And I wasn’t. I didn’t. I still don’t. I listened to Van Halen III once. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now.”
Despite his hesitance toward the new material, Malloy says on the third day he got a call to come to the control room where he was informed by Eddie Van Halen that he had the gig. “It was an amazing moment in my life that I will never forget. The door closes behind him and he doesn’t step forward. He stays where he is. So I’m sitting in the chair behind the console and he’s maybe 8 feet away, at the front door to the control room, which leads outside. He stops and he goes, ‘Well, we just had a meeting.’ He goes, ‘You’re the nicest guy I’ve ever met. Best singer I’ve ever heard in my life. Congratulations, you’re in the band,'” recalled the singer.
But the joy was short lived, as Malloy revealed that the group had been contacted for an MTV appearance that Eddie had brought up a few times. “To me, everything was new. And as far as I knew, I was the singer in the band and my whole life was about to change. So everything he said to me was new. Everything was exciting and everything was cool and everything was new and everything was great,” Malloy said. “So the way he would talk about the MTV thing, it seemed kind of negative. He seemed like he didn’t want to do it. But he didn’t mention anything about Roth being involved.”
The singer knew that the group had reunited with Roth to record two songs for a hits collection, but the singer says he was unaware of Roth’s participation in the MTV appearance until the moment that he saw it on television. That, combined with learning that Van Halen had flown in Gary Cherone to audition and rehearse shortly after he had left Los Angeles, led the singer to question whether they actually did intend to move forward with him.
“It wasn’t good. I think literally, my jaw dropped. So in that moment, I was shocked. And you know how sometimes as humans we just know some things? You just know it. You don’t have to say it. Nobody has to say anything. People just know things. And that moment that Roth walked out behind them, I knew it was over. I am not going to be in Van Halen,” the singer said.
Malloy continued, “I just knew somehow. And so that was it for me. I was just like, ‘That’s it. This can’t happen now.’ I just knew it. It was just … a wall came down. But it just felt like it was over, somehow.” So he had his manager reach out with a letter to let them know he was going to pass on the gig.
Malloy says he did speak with Eddie Van Halen, who apologized for the MTV appearance with Roth and the miscommunication. But the singer had informed them of his intent and not long after, Cherone was named the vocalist for the Van Halen III album.
“To be honest, when I pulled out, they didn’t come after me. They could have. They didn’t go, ‘Oh, please, oh, please. We’ll never lie to you again.’ You know what I mean? There was none of that. There was none of that. It was done. It was over,” said Malloy.
The singer says he remained in touch and visited the band during their 1998 stop in Nashville. After Cherone exited the group, Malloy said he received calls from Eddie asking how he thought he should proceed. But rather than pitching himself for the vacancy, the singer said he offered his honest opinion that was the group should reunite with Roth. “He was really upset. That was a brief conversation and yeah … So there it is,” said Malloy.
The singer says he’s kept quiet about it over the years, not wanting the reaction of “that’s the Van Halen guy,” but added, “The years passed and I became a dad. And I thought finally, you know what? It’s good for my kid to learn when she grows up. And it’s a good thing for the fans to know that it happened.”
Read more of Malloy’s insights from his brief time with Van Halen in the Rolling Stone piece here.