It’s easy to rag on the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen, snarkily refer to it as “Van Hagar” and wistfully recall the band’s heyday with the dynamic but erratic David Lee Roth at the helm. No point arguing one way or another at this point. But there is no doubt that Sammy Hagar is the humblest guy in rock ‘n’ roll, and he deserves a medal for surviving his collaboration with the combative Van Halen brothers and for graciously fending off the verbal blows thrown by Roth.
I spoke to Hagar in January 2007 on the day that it was announced that Van Halen – both eras – would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His publicist patched me through to him at his Mexican retreat in Cabo San Lucas, and we discussed potential scenarios for what turned out to be an anticlimactic induction. Only Hagar and soon-to-be-ousted bassist Michael Anthony (the No. 2 humblest guy in rock ‘n’ roll) showed up. See the picture above.
CONGRATULATIONS. I GUESS YOU KNEW THIS DAY WOULD BE COMING SOONER RATHER THAN LATER?
Yeah, y’know it’s really true. Every year it’s kinda like you’re sitting there goin’, ‘Well, it will probably be this year!’ Cos it’s been over 25 (years) hasn’t it?
UMM. YES. THE FIRST RECORD (VAN HALEN) WAS ‘78
I thought it was the second or third year we were eligible, but’s it’s cool.. It definitely was inevitable, wasn’t it?!
IT’S GREAT TO GET THE RECOGNITION, BUT I GUESS THE BIG ISSUE IS THE ON-STAGE REUNION WITH YOUR FORMER FRIENDS. HOW’S THAT GOING TO WORK OUT?
I don’t know! It’s pretty unpredictable. I’m not sure it will even happen. I’m an easygoing kinda guy. I’m living in Cabo (San Lucas, Mexico) right now. I’m sittin’ here. I was just at the Cabo Wabo (Cantina) last night, playing with people I don’t even know. So if I’m willing to do that, I’m willing to play anywhere. Michael Anthony’s down here as well. We were playing all week down here, playing with Chad Smith from the Chili Peppers, this band called the Wonderbread 5 from San Francisco, played my wife’s birthday party. We like to play, so all that’s good. But I wouldn’t go up there if there was some animosity, which you never know about. It’s a strange bunch of people y’know?
YEAH, IT’S KINDA TRAGIC HOW THE WHOLE THING UNFOLDED
Right now, it’s completely dysfunctional and just scattered all over the place. After that last reunion tour I did with them (in 2005), it just seemed like nobody was really happy with each other. So we kinda go our separate ways and do whatever. This is a great thing, though. Dave … deserves this even more than I do. He was in the band first. I just hope no one tries to make it into something other than a great, really honorable event, like it should be.
IT’S A PITY THAT YOUR SUCCESS IS ALMOST OVERSHADOWED. I GUESS IT’S A CHALLENGE TO KEEP THE FOCUS ON THE ARTISTRY AS OPPOSED TO THE SOAP OPERA.
And the celebration, I think, together that we should really have. Under these circumstances, everyone should be proud of this and everyone should be respectful to each other: ‘Jeez, couldn’t have done it without you.’ Everyone should have that attitude. That’s what it’s supposed to be anyway! My contribution will be to try to make it like that, the best I can. If it turns into an ugly event I’ll just leave. I wouldn’t ever be part of something that wasn’t respectful and honorable, my God. It makes me nervous, to be honest with you! … If it’s not functional, I wouldn’t even be part of it.
I FEEL NERVOUS FOR YOU. I GUESS PHONE CALLS WILL HAVE TO BE MADE OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS BY PEOPLE TO PEOPLE TO REACH SOME SORT OF YALTA-TYPE AGREEMENT
There is time. If anybody even tries to negotiate with me about how it’s gonna go, I’m gonna go, ‘Wrong!’ We all should just be there and go there and do what we’re supposed to do and do it with a smile on our face, because everyone should be very happy. If anyone says, ‘OK, we’re gonna do it if Sammy will do this,’ it’s like, ‘Wait a minute. What the fuck?’ I dunno.
IT WOULD BE NICE IF THE FIVE OF YOU CAN MAKE PEACE AND SMILE AND BE COOL ABOUT IT.
I think the biggest problem is between Eddie and Dave (pictured above in 2007), more than me or anyone, and then me and Dave. So you throw that little trio together. And then for them saying they threw Mikey out of the band, I don’t pay much attention to any of that stuff. Having Mikey being there, he’s the only bass player that’s ever been in Van Halen! Eddie — who knows? — might want to bring Wolfie up and debut Wolfie or something. If it’s used for that kind of a platform, it would be ugly. I hope for the best. It’s really a cool thing. I was in the band for 11 years and then another year reunion, for God’s sake, so I would think I would be voted in as well. But it wasn’t mandatory because I had only been in the band 21 years (since his debut), or something like that. So there was a little quirk to it. The fact that they overlooked that — 44 million records, or something, with me — I think that probably was the right thing to do!! I’m not blowing my own whistle, but it’s really true! But at the same time, I am humbled by it, and it’s very cool that they did. If they would have said, it was just the four other band members I could have lived with that.
WELL, THERE’S A FEW GENERATIONS OUT THERE WHO ONLY KNOW YOU AS THE VAN HALEN SINGER, SO IT WOULD BE WEIRD OTHERWISE. IT WOULD BE LIKE INDUCTING AC/DC WITHOUT BRIAN JOHNSON
Exactly. So they did the right thing. So now it’s up to the band to do the right thing. The good news is we’ve got Irving Azoff as our manager. He’s been my manager for a long time, and he took Van Halen over on that reunion tour. A guy like Irving’s a very strong character. He can get a lot done, and get a lot out of people. Look, he got the Eagles back together, and he got Van Halen back together. If nothing else, that guy needs a feather in his cap for all that! So, he can probably make this thing work.
HE’S HANDLING VAN HALEN AS WELL, OR JUST YOU?
Well, he mainly handles me. But since the reunion, I brought him in as a manager. He put the reunion together. No one asked him to do it. He just went around and lobbied to each member, and we all acted like we were in agreement. ‘Sure, I’d love to do it if everybody’s into it.’ And he got it together, and he put us out there. And then it was dysfunctional. About halfway through, it went sour and he kept it together to the end. In the end, it was falling apart. It was frayed on the edges, and it was beat up and bruised, and he kept it together to the last show. We didn’t cancel one thing. If he can do that, he can put us all together for one time only. The problem is that he doesn’t manage Dave. I think Irving could manage anyone.
I’M SURE DAVE WOULD LIKE THE RECOGNITION
I think this is Dave’s night. I think Dave wants it more than anyone, and rightly so. He hasn’t had it that easy since Van Halen. He didn’t get a chance to go out and reinvent himself. So that makes it pretty difficult, and I would imagine he’s gonna try to work this in every direction he can. As long as it doesn’t get ugly, as long as he’s cool about it and respects everyone, and says, ‘Hey, I couldn’t have done it without Eddie, Alex and Michael.’ And I say, ‘I couldn’t have done it without Eddie, Alex and Michael and yourself, Dave, because you were there first. You set us up to be what we were. And they couldn’t have done it without me when Dave left.’ So I think everybody should take that attitude. I think that’s the only hope here, is that everyone wakes up for two seconds and goes, ‘You know what? We did this together, and without one another we probably wouldn’t be in this situation.’
I JUST HOPE HE DOESN’T BRING OUT HIS MIDGETS AND STRIPPERS!
That’s inevitable. Hello?! I might be the agent to book the circus for him. I’ll be, like, ‘Look, Dave. Let me take care of that for you. I know a few freaks down in Mexico. We can bring up the real ones!’ When we did the Sam and Dave tour (in 2002), when I took Dave out there on that tour, for the press conference he shows up with triplets and a couple of midgets and about five bodyguards.
I WAS THERE FOR THAT, AND WONDERING WHAT’S THE OVERHEAD ON THAT ENTOURAGE?
Well, as the tour went on, they disappeared! C’mon, that’s Dave. That’s why we love Dave. It cracks me up. We had a meeting before that — and I can see this (the induction) being like the same event, which is why I’m bringing it up. We all got together, Dave and I, and our managers, and we sat in a room, and everybody was so low-key, and it was very cool. I’m going, ‘Dave, it’s really great that we can sit in a room like this and shake hands.’ ‘Oh yeah, it’s all good, it’s all good.’ And then the press conference comes, and here he comes, like he just walked out of Van Halen 1984. And I go, ‘Here we go! This is gonna be a night-. This is gonna be one of those rides. You say one thing and do another.’ If he came by himself, all humble. I would probably go up and give the biggest, most beautiful speech for this man he’s ever had in his life. I’s go up there and say, ‘He deserves this more than anyone. This is his night.’
THAT WOULD BE COOL. IT WOULD MAKE YOU LOOK GOOD AS WELL
That’s the way I feel. Dave is highly responsible for starting this band, getting it to that point. There’s no question about it. He deserves as much credit as Eddie, any day. Eddie’s a genius guitar player, but as we all know a genius guitar player without a great frontman is just gonna be on a gold level, not a hundred-million-record level! And that’s all there is to it. And a genius frontman with a bad band ain’t gonna get anywhere either, so don’t get me wrong. Dave’s proved that too, hasn’t he?!
THAT’S QUITE THE TIGHTROPE THAT YOU AND IRVING WILL BE WALKING. I HOPE NO ONE FALLS OFF INTO THE SEA OF SHARKS.
It’s all good. Like I said, if it turns ugly beforehand, if I see something coming, I wouldn’t even go. That’s the way I am. It’s an honorable thing, and it’s a cool thing, and I’m happy to be there, but not if it’s going to be embarrassing. After all these years and all this success, to go out now and embarrass yourself and tear it down, ugh! I’m getting butterflies just thinking about that! I hope that doesn’t happen.
I’M SURE IT WILL BE GOOD
It will be entertainment, no matter what!
KEEP THE ALCOHOL AWAY FROM SOME PEOPLE (I.E. EDDIE VAN HALEN), AND IT WILL BE FINE
Oh, that’s impossible! Wait a minute, I own a liquor company. How are you gonna keep it away from me?! I’m gonna furnish Cabo Wabo (Tequila) for the whole damn party! Are you crazy?
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2007, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING