"Look, they heard I was here," says David Lee Roth, er, Mike Callahan. Garbed in full Roth regalia, circa 1982, Callahan's sitting outside Chapel Hill rock club Local 506. It's 11 p.m. on a Friday night, and he's eyeing a police car that's making its way up Franklin Street. Holding a customized red and white-striped acoustic guitar with a tiny "DLR" sparkle monogram on the body, he's parked his stool right outside the club entrance--no one can get in without getting an eyeful of his bare-chested, spandex and bandana'd self.
"Let's get some people in here," says Callahan, who's conducting an interview with the Indy about his Van Halen tribute band, Diver Down (formerly Fair Warning). In the meantime a gaggle of gals out for a bridesmaid party--the bride-to-be is sporting a tiara--sidle up to get a their photo taken with "Dave."
Callahan is quick to point out that he's playing David Lee Roth; it's an act. But it's one he takes very seriously, almost obsessively, from owning and studying as many bootleg recordings and films of the group as he can in order to learn Roth's off-the-cuff stage banter to spending hours stretching and practicing Roth's kicks and jumps ("I'm doing the 'spread-eagle high Roth,'" he says). And yes, he does use hair extensions.
"After bleaching and frying and drying with a hair dryer in between sets and playing so many nights, it breaks it off, tears it up and you rip it out," he says. "So after a while you don't care, 'cause that's just exactly the way it was. That's why Dave looked like he did, so I weave it in, man."
For the past three years, Callahan and Fair Warning have toured as Van Halen from "Maine to Miami," he says.
"Oh, it's wild; it's just one big party," he says. "Everybody, for one night, they forget about going to the mailbox and answering the phone and they remember, [sings] 'Running with the Devil,' yeahhh."
The band recently regrouped with a new Eddie and Alex after the last Eddie exploded during a Jagermeister-fueled incident in--as Callahan calls it--"Tallahassle" Florida.
"I was singing, 'Panama,' and he's screaming in my ear, 'You're a fucking asshole.'" he recalls. By the end of the show, "Eddie" and "Dave" had come to blows. "I went, 'Dude, you're not really Eddie Van Halen, y'know? You're not really an asshole, you just play one on TV.' I kept telling him, 'Please don't mash my button, man.'"
The new lineup focuses on the Diver Down era. "We do a replica--the exact show that you would go see if you could jump in a time machine and go see those guys," he says.
In fact, there's even a link to Fair Warning's site on the David Lee Roth Army Web site--Roth and Sammy Hagar are out doing a Van Halen-material heavy tour this minute--and Callahan has permission to use the Van Halen name on shirts and merch.
The Raleigh native wasn't always Diamond Dave. He started as a serious metal drummer. "I've lived everywhere: Been in Detroit, New York, lived in Los Angeles for about eight years, played in a band called Madame X and we were signed to CBS records," he recalls.
But when the "Seattle sound" hit in the early '90s, hair-metal bands were SOL; Callahan came home. "We weren't into not combing our hair and wearing grunge clothes; we didn't know what happened."
Back in North Carolina, he started a band, Cell 7, which featured Callahan on drums and vocals. While they opened once for Van Halen, they didn't mix with the stars. "No, in fact [before the gig with them] we had to sign a contract that said we wouldn't bug or hinder and keep our peace, and we were respectful."
It wasn't until Roth's '97 Filthy Little Mouth tour that Callahan met his alter ego. "I went out and worked the production for him; I unloaded his truck, set up the amps, unloaded the drums, put the keyboards up ... I'd do anything for Dave, y'know?"
It took a member of a KISS tribute band to nudge him into making a career out of being Roth--Callahan filled in on drums one night with tribute band KISS Army. "After the show, I threw all my gear out the back door and there's this Ace Frehley standing there, looking down at me. He says, 'You know, you remind me a whole lot of my man Dave on them drums. You ought to do a Van Halen tribute band, man."
Callahan describes the experience as being followed by "a black spot in the sky. I could feel it up there and it was circling me and it got a little bit closer every day. One day I woke up and it was black--it landed on me, man, and I looked in the mirror and said, 'Damn, I'm going to be David Lee Roth.'"
It's a choice that's cost him as much as he's gained.
"I've been married for 15 years," he says. "I'm married, but I'm not married because I've been through it so much and I've put her through so much. And I have three kids, believe it or not, from 13, 7 and 4. They're excelling in their individual things.
"But Mom's not into it; Mom doesn't promote me doing it. I've pissed Mom off and I've hurt Mom's feelings ... it's really hard to live with your wedding ring thrown at you [holds up the necklace he's wearing with the ring dangling on it] ... things like that. Then they throw your clothes out in the yard, tell you to go live in the street: 'Dave ain't cool, Dave's killing you.'
"You know what?" he asks. "Water rolls off a duck's back. Dave said, 'Quack quack. You get your ass back out there and do what you do best, man.'"
Callahan's quest for Davedom recently attracted the attention of filmmakers working on a Van Halen documentary.
The idea, says local independent filmmaker Brian Winn, is to follow the real band and intersperse it with footage of Diver Down. Winn says the project is now down to lawyer negotiations between the involved camps.
"They want to make a documentary film about Van Halen using us, because I'm lookin' so much like Dave. They came out and filmed us and they liked what I looked like on film--I was the perfect build--I was skinny enough, and I looked good on TV when they played it back," says Callahan.
With so much riding on being Dave, does Callahan ever get lost in the character?
"Oh yeah," he says, nodding. "I swim in it, man. I get myself psyched up, I start stretching--I have to have time alone--get my state of mind right. It takes me two hours to get ready, from the time that I start 'til I go, 'I feel it comin' on, man.'"
Sometimes the guys in the audience don't like their girlfriends getting enthusiastic about Callahan's performances: He's been heckled, had someone "wing a Marlboro ashtray" at him and more. But the gig has plenty of perks, with many fans more than willing to join in on the illusion.
"I'm the first one to start to get ready, I'm the last one to get undressed. I go back to the hotel, and I jump up and down on the bed, take my clothes off 'cuz I'm tired of it--I've had enough monkey suit. Kids are on the hotel roof screamin', 'Everybody wants some!' We go outside and they go, 'Don't eat the brown M&Ms, man.' I'm like, 'Right on dude.'" (Van Halen's infamous tour rider specified that there be no brown M&Ms in their dressing room.)
"When you get back to the hotel and four women have got their pants off before you can shut the door ... they're jumping up and down on the bed with ya, what the hell are you going to do?" he asks.
"I want my cake and I want to eat it too--I want it pre-sliced, pink-iced, delivered and paid for--know what I'm sayin'? Rock 'n' roll all night."
Diver Down will be playing this Friday, June 7 at Local 506 in Chapel Hill.