Ask most rock fans about Gary Cherone, and you'll likely hear some fond memories of virtuoso rock group Extreme. But a few of them might remember - or even try to forget - the short, strange tenure he had as lead singer of an even bigger band: Van Halen.
Let's set the wayback machine to 1996, when tensions between Sammy Hagar and the Van Halen brothers - gutarist Eddie and drummer Alex, of course - were escalating to rarely-reached heights. Things strangely only got worse thanks to a difficult writing and recording process for "Humans Being," a song from the soundtrack to the action/disaster film Twister. It wasn’t long before Hagar was no longer a member of Van Halen. Later that year, they reunited with original vocalist David Lee Roth for some tracks on a new compilation, but that, too, turned out to be short-lived. In fact, by the time Best of Volume 1 actually hit shelves, Cherone had officially been the new lead singer of Van Halen for about two and a half weeks.
How did this combination come to pass? Van Halen’s manager, Ray Danniels, also managed Extreme, and swayed the rest of the band into bringing in Cherone for an audition. When Eddie decided that he liked Cherone’s lyrics as well as his work ethic, the decision was made: Cherone would join Van Halen. Not only that, he promptly took up residence in Eddie’s guest house so the two musicians could write a new album together.
The resulting album, of course, was entitled Van Halen III, and it debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, seemingly making it an out-of-the-box commercial success...until you realize that it was destined to become the first-ever VH album ever to fail to go double platinum. Tough standards for the new guy to live up to, but what can you do?
Well, if you’re Warner Brothers, you can apparently opt out of releasing the band’s follow-up album, an LP reportedly titled Love Again and recorded throughout 1999 and into 2000, with production by Danny Kortchmar and Patrick Leonard. As history reveals, the album never saw release, although some of the material was reworked by Cherone for the debut album by his next band, Tribe of Judah.
But what of Van Halen III? No, it wasn’t as successful as the Van Halen albums which preceded it, but was it really as bad as all that? Certainly not: it scored a No. 1 mainstream rock hit with its first single, “Without You,” and it earned additional airplay with the follow-up singles “Fire in the Hole” and “One I Want.” Granted, more than a few critics had plenty of less-than-positive things to say, but Entertainment Weekly graded the album “B” and praised Eddie’s guitar work on the album - although even they couldn’t resist a passive-aggressive jab at Cherone, saying, “Judging from the renewed intensity of Eddie’s guitar playing throughout much of III, having a merely competent, relatively ego-free singer seems to have reinvigorated his muse.”
Van Halen III might not be the greatest Van Halen album, but it’s still a Van Halen album, and like Cherone himself told Rolling Stone in 2017, “I was one of the three singers in the mighty Van Halen. You can't take that away from me."