David Lee Roth has released a newly recorded studio version of Van Halen’s Unchained. Recorded on 3 May 2022 at Hollywood’s Henson Recording Studios, and shared on YouTube with the title card, ‘Roth Lives!’, and features Al Estrada on electric guitar.
Unchained is the latest in a series of Van Halen tracks that Roth has reworked. On 2 September 2022, Roth similarly shared a rerecording of Van Halen’s 1984 classic Panama, with the Van Halen News Desk offering more details of the recording, reporting that the new version of Panama was one of 14 tracks that Roth recorded during the May 2022 sessions. All were tracked live, no AutoTune, with no other members of Van Halen involved, and incredibly the whole thing was over in two hours.
Estrada was on guitar. Ryan Wheeler was playing bass guitar, with Francis Valentino on the drums. The renowned producer, engineer and mixer Tom Syrowski (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam) was credited as recording the sessions.
More followed. On 26 December, we got a reworked Everybody Wants Some!!, and now yesterday’s release of Unchained. These new recordings don’t lack for energy. Roth’s voice is in fine fettle. They obviously lack something – a big, massive, huge something – without Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. But it all begs the question: what is DLR up to?
After the will he/won’t he/well why wouldn’t he? over the question of whether a tribute show or tour could be arranged in memory of Eddie Van Halen, Roth’s intentions have been hard to read. He is sitting on a lot of material.
Besides this session with Estrada et al there is an album’s work of songs that Roth recorded several years ago with John 5 who is now touring the world with Mötley Crüe as Mick Mars’ live replacement. Last summer, Roth shared the latest of these, Nothing Could Have Stopped Us Back Then Anyway, which took a wistful look back on Van Halen’s heyday, and was led by John 5's acoustic guitar.
Speaking to Guitar World in 2012, John 5 described the material as acoustic but altogether more orchestrated than a campfire jam or coffeehouse set, with some tracks involving dozens of overdubs.
“Dave and I have about 12 or 13 songs in the can for a future record,” he said. “And it’s all acoustic. But not strummy, campfire stuff – I’m talking lots of cool, crazy jazz chords, and 50 or 60 overdubbed guitar tracks, with all this harmonising and other weird stuff going on. Dave’s vocals are incredible. He sings his ass off.”
Some of those tracks, such as EVH tribute Somewhere Over The Rainbow Bar And Grill, emerged on The Roth Project, Diamond Dave’s 2020 digital comicbook project combining Roth’s illustrations with Colin Smith of PhotoshopCAFE’s animation.
At the time, Roth told Variety that he preferred to release individual tracks rather than an album. Perhaps this is intention with the ‘Roth Lives!’ Van Halen recordings, and one by one they’ll surface on YouTube. You can check out Roth's new take on Unchained above.