Vinnie Vincent Helped Gregg Bissonette Land David Lee Roth Job
Gregg Bissonette first gained national attention as the drummer on David Lee Roth's full-length solo debut, Eat 'Em and Smile, and he has former Kiss guitarist Vinnie Vincent to thank.
As Bissonette told Rolling Stone, he was auditioning for a spot in the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, unaware that Vincent had already decided on Bobby Rock. "Afterwards he said to me, 'I already have a drummer, but I really enjoyed jamming with you. You’d be great for Dave Roth,'" he recalled. "I go, 'Dave Roth? Isn’t he in Van Halen?' He goes, 'Not anymore. He left Van Halen. He got Billy Sheehan from Talas [on bass] and Steve Vai on guitar. They are looking for a drummer. I think you’d be great. Call Steve Vai.'"
According to Guitar World, Roth had been working with Vai's drummer, Chris Frazier, but decided against giving him the full-time gig. So auditions were set up at Hollywood's S.I.R. Studios, with, as Bissonette remembered, "this huge line, just down the block" of musicians. Bissonette recalled seeing future Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum leaving the auditions; Sorum realized the job wasn't for him because it required playing with two bass drums.
“So I walk in the room, and it’s Steve and Billy and this funky old drum set," Bissonette said. After playing a solo, they jammed to a guitar part Vai had written. “This piece would end up being ‘Hot Dog and a Shake.' Steve wanted me to hit these breaks with him and Billy, and during all that, he would solo. So, as Steve was talking, I reached into my backpack and took out a Sharpie. I’d brought my own snare, so I started writing out these figures on my snare head. Steve goes, ‘Whoa! So you can read and write music? This is amazing!’”
Vai called him a day later, saying the next step was playing for Roth. That was followed by a third audition, in front of producer Ted Templeman. They were particularly impressed with Bissonette's jazz background, which would come in handy with the new direction Roth was taking in his choice of cover songs.
"The first thing we did when we got the gig was go into Dave’s cool car and we drove to get some Mexican food," the drummer said. "He put on a cassette of Frank Sinatra’s 'That’s Life' and he said, 'You played with Maynard Ferguson’s band. I’m sure you can handle this.' I went, “Wow, Sinatra’s 'That’s Life’!' It was big band with horns, and he said we were going to record it on the album."
According to David Snowden, who was running Vincent's fan club, Roth and Bissonette later showed up at Vincent's house with a platinum award for Eat 'Em and Smile. They presented it to the guitarist as thanks for hooking them up.