SAMMY HAGAR On The VAN HALEN Brothers: 'I Wish We Could Be Friends'

November 23, 2019

During his November 19 appearance at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, veteran rock vocalist Sammy Hagar (VAN HALEN, THE CIRCLE, CHICKENFOOT, MONTROSE) discussed his career at length with the facility's artistic director, Scott Goldman. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET):

On believing in himself during the early days of his career:

Sammy: "I'm so optimistic, it's to a fault. I don't ever see a downside, and I just thought that there's no way that I'm not going to make it somehow. I'd work as hard as I had to work. I'd get in a car and drive 500 miles to audition to sing in a band for one night. I didn't care — I'd do anything. I'd carry my guitar and my amp across town to my buddy's house to rehearse. I just was driven. I just couldn't see nothing else. I had jobs — paper route, and I even washed dishes or collected garbage one time for two months in New York.”

On his eventual success as a solo artist:

Sammy: "I became addicted to going on tour and playing in front of people. I didn't even care about making records. After MONTROSE, we toured and toured and toured, and I saw how we kept getting bigger and bigger, and pretty soon, we were a headliner in some places, and it was from going back again and again. I said, 'That's the way to do it.' I didn't know anything about a hit record. I didn't want a hit record. The music that was Top 40 back then wasn't my stuff — it was very soft music, and my manager would say, 'Well, you can't get a hit with [your] kind of music.' I said, 'Well, I don't want a hit then. I'm just going to go tour... I went on tour, came home, made a record [and] went back on tour. I'd say, 'I've got 12 songs,' run in and make the record as quick as I could and go right back on tour. I was getting somewhere — I was starting to sell more records, but I never 'broke.' When David Geffen started [Geffen Records], he signed John Lennon, Elton John, Donna Summer and me. It was unbelievable — I was honored. He said, 'You're over there making these lousy records. You've got to take your time.' They gave me ten times what I was getting from Capitol Records — they gave me a million dollars. I go, 'Wow. I didn't ever even dream that.' I was broke, basically — I was living tour to tour. He said, 'Here's a million dollars. Go away as long as you need and write me some great songs.' I wrote 26 songs. John Kalodner was the A&R guy, and he kept listening — 'There's a good one. 'Fall In Love Again'. We like that one. 'One Way To Rock' — yeah, that's good.' I wrote all these songs, and they said, 'Okay. Let's make a record.' They gave me Keith Olsen, [a] top producer, and we made a record and it went gold, and it went platinum. Ever since, [I've had] gold and platinum records. I learned, 'I've got to get down and write some good songs and take my time.' I learned from that, and that was David Geffen and John Kalodner. They taught me a real lesson. My manager was trying to teach me that all the time, but I wouldn't listen to him."

On joining VAN HALEN:

Sammy: "I was getting rich and famous. I was digging it. I had worked my whole life in bands from '72 to '85. I had been on tour, making records, on tour, making records. Took a couple vacations, but not much. I saying, 'I'm going to take a big, long break.' I shaved my hair off and came home from tour, and the next day, I get a call from Eddie Van Halen. It's like, 'Oh my god. I don't want to do this.' I was thinking about wearing suits. I was going to change my whole image. I really don't know what I was thinking — I just know I was buying suits and nice shoes and stuff. The good part is that Eddie and Alex [Van Halen] and Mike [Anthony] saved me, because when I walked into their studio, these guys were like bums — beer bottles and cigarette butts. It was the filthiest, most rock 'n' roll thing. Eddie comes out of bed — [he] fell asleep with his clothes on, got up and went right back to work with the same clothes. I went, 'Man, these guys are the real deal,' and fell into the program."

On the group's success — and its perils:

Sammy: "I think I saw rock 'n' roll fame and stardom on the highest level. We were probably [one of the] top three biggest bands in the world, and we made so much money and had all that success and fame, and I saw how drugs and alcohol abuse can take anyone down. What I really learned was that when you have the freedom to have anything you want whenever you want it, that's when you've got to really be careful. That's what I got out of the whole thing other than great music, and I love those guys still. I wish we could be friends, but unfortunately, we can't. I don't know why, but we just can't seem to... it's just some kind of a rub. It's really weird, because Mike and I don't have it, but Ed and Al, they can fight like cats and dogs. You get in there and try to break it up, and you end up getting in a fight with one of them. It's like, 'Hey, man, I'm just trying to get you guys separated.' They're really tight — they're really close, and [it's] hard to break that through. I can say that I really learned that that's when you need control the most, when you have the opportunity to have anything you want whenever you want it."

On his comment that his career has been "backwards":

Sammy: "I go from a solo artist to a band. That's the first thing. When I first really made it as a solo artist with 'VOA' and three platinum albums in a row and headlining two nights at every arena in America, blah blah blah, I join a band. Even David Geffen said, 'What are you doing? Are you crazy? We've worked five years with you, getting you where you are, and now you're going to join a band?' It's kind of different. I don't study anything. When I do my TV show, I don't do any research... Don't tell me anything. I don't want to know nothing I don't know already about this guy. I want to go in there completely stupid, with an opening question, and I want to ask that question and take it from there. It's just the way I like to do things. I really like to be on the edge. I don't want to rehearse, and I don't want to be too good, and I don't want to practice. It's not because I'm lazy, but I just kind of like winging it and being on the edge and making myself nervous."

On what he's brought to the groups of which he's been a part:

Sammy: "I'm really quick. If you play something for me that gives me goosebumps, I can come quick with something great. That was what Eddie Van Halen and I had, more than Ronnie [Montrose] and I, more than even Joe [Satriani] and I. Eddie would play me something that would just make my brain and my emotions come apart, and I could write almost effortlessly. The songs spoke to me. I remember once on 'OU812', I was coming down to start the record. Al and Ed picked me up in a car and they said, 'Hey, check this out — [it's] something we put together last night,' and they played the keyboard part to 'When It's Love', just [Eddie] and Al. I immediately said, 'How do I know when it's love?' Instantly, it just said it to me. By the time we got to the studio, I'd finished the song. It was done. If you touch my heart and my emotions, I'm [fast]."

On his work ethic:

Sammy: "I love to work. I'm not doing manual labor. The hardest thing I do is get on stage and work out for two hours. That probably is half the reason why I'm still pretty healthy at my age, because of the exercise that I've gotten my whole life. Honestly, I don't know what drives me. I like helping people; I like keeping my fans happy; and I love success. I don't mean, like, in a greed fashion — I love what success allows me to do for myself and my family and other people. Friends, family, fans. That's it — Sammy's big three."

On the ill-fated 2019 edition of his High Tide Beach Party festival:

Sammy: "I thought that was going to go on for years. That was my way of doing a birthday bash [in America] — right before the birthday, it was always going to be the Huntington Beach party, but the promoter I was involved with didn't pay the city, and they wouldn't give a permit. I don't know why he didn't do it — I want to break the guy's neck, but that's a whole other story. He made a lot of people's lives miserable, including mine for a day."

Hagar's current band THE CIRCLE — which also features drummer Jason Bonham (BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION, JASON BONHAM'S LED ZEPPELIN EVENING),guitarist Vic Johnson (THE WABORITAS) and Hagar's VAN HALEN and CHICKENFOOT bandmate Michael Anthony — released its debut album, "Space Between", in May via BMG.

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