Sammy HagarUnlocking Sammy Hagar
By Naughty Mickie
Photos Courtesy www.redrocker.com
 
Think fast-- what's your favorite Sammy Hagar tune? Mine's "3 Lock Box." I know that's going back a ways, but I've loved Hagar's music for-almost-ever. Tons of stories have been written about him, along with rumors, opinions and everything in between, so as a DaBelly journalist, it was my duty to find out something different about the Red Rocker, which I did by letting him talk with me very one-to-one.
 
Hagar fronts his band, covering vocals and guitar, his group is rounded out with guitarist Vic Johnson, bassist Mona and drummer David Lauser. His second project is The Other Half with Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and again, Johnson and Lauser lending support. Mona also does her part with this group on a variety of instruments (quite impressive range in concert!). He fondly refers to the outfit at the "ultimate Van Halen tribute band."
 
Hagar's history includes Montrose (1973-1976), then solo, Van Halen (1985-1996), solo again, the Van Halen reunion in 2004 and once more on his own. A businessman as well, he owns Cabo Wabo Enterprises which is parent company to Cabo Wabo Cantina and Cabo Wabo Tequila. But he spreads his fortune around even more, donating to charities, such as the Inland Counties Regional Burn Center in San Bernardino, California. The proceeds from special charity tickets for his show last month in Devore were given to help fund a local burn camp for children and to purchase medical equipment to treat burn injuries. He was humble and surprised to learn that, after offering his aid, May 23 was proclaimed "Sammy Hagar Day" in San Bernardino.
 
When we spoke, I decided to start where I like best-- the beginning.
 
"I didn't start playing until I was about 14, which looking back now sounds young, but at the time people that I know start their kids at piano lessons or violin lessons when they're four years old," Hagar relates. "But I started playing guitar at about 14. A friend got a guitar and he was teaching me how to play and I was always a singer. Me and my buddies, we'd be out cruising around and I'd know every song on the radio, every hit that had ever been. They'd say, 'Oh yeah, do you know that song?' and then I'd sing all the words. 'How'd you know that? How could you do that?' I've always been a guy that could sing."
 
"Did you have any vocal training?" I ask.
  
Hagar laughs, "Cruising around with my buddies in cars."
 
He didn't go on to college after his days at Fontana High School in Fontana, California.
 
"I have really no formal education," Hagar states."I know it's not what you're supposed to say when you have a successful business of any kind, but honestly I don't recommend that, it's just that I never did. I couldn't afford to, number one, my parents didn't have the money to do it. I wasn't somebody that had such good athletic abilities, even though I did, I didn't use them I don't think to get a scholarship of any kind. And my grades weren't that good that's for sure.
 
"I was just into playing music." Hagar goes on, "As soon as I got out of school that's all I wanted to do. I just wanted to hole up with my guitar and start a band and just go play any place, any time, anywhere."
 
I know he boxed for a while and I wonder about that as a career.
 
Sammy Hagar"Boxing wasn't a job, it was going to be a profession because my father was a fighter and I grew up being called Champ, so I said, 'Hey, I guess I'll be champ of the world' until I discovered music, then I said, 'This looks like a lot more fun and something I can relate to a little better.' But I still love the sport of boxing," Hagar admits.
 
"But jobs, in Fontana, I worked for the Fontana Herald, I worked for the Mirror News, I used to throw papers." Hagar continues "I had a bicycle and my parents didn't have a lot of money, I didn't get an allowance, so I had to go out and earn my own money for everything I did. I always had either a paper route or I'd work as a dishwasher at a little diner downtown that my buddy's uncle owned, I'd mow lawns around the neighborhood. Man, I'd take the lawn mower up the street and knock on doors. I've always been not afraid to work, I'd roll up my sleeves and go to work."
 
Today he is married. With his wife, Kari, he has two daughters, Kama and Samantha. Hagar also has two sons, Aaron and Andrew, from a previous marriage. He likes collecting cars, but he also likes to get out of the garage.
 
"I really like driving cars and messing around with them, but I'm more of an outdoors kind of guy-- I mountain bike." Hagar tells me, "My wife and I and our girls, we have a five-year-old and a ten-year-old, and Kari, we take our little girls Kama and Samantha and we blast up the mountain. We live on a mountain and it's about 2,700 feet and we live at about 1,100 feet and it's an eight mile hike to the top of the mountain and we do it all the time. We just take a little lunch and water and we go trail blazing. That's one of my hobbies, just getting out into nature.
 
"I love the beach," Hagar goes on. "We live in Cabo part-time. I don't go on boats that much because I get sick and I don't like all the alternatives to not getting sick, they make you feel just as bad. It's kind of like allergy medicine, you take the allergy medicine, you feel just as bad only you don't have a runny nose. So I surf, fish and I snorkel and I cruise up and down the beach in my ATV. I go exploring into the desert with the kids on the ATVs and four-wheeling. I have a really active, young, fun life, there's no question about it. If you put it in a nutshell, it's beach all day; party all night. For me that gets it."
 
Then I learn something new...
 
"But one of my real loves and hobbies is cooking. I'm really into chefs, I've been into them long before the Food Network. I was 15 years old, I used to read James Beard's cookbook, 'American Practice of Cooking.'" Hagar bubbles, "I read it from head to toe and I have a collection of probably 250 to 300 cookbooks and most of them now, the chefs, Emeril and Mario Batali and these guys, they're my dear friends. I have as many chef friends as I have musician friends and we swap recipes and we cook together and they come to my house, I go to their house, I go to their restaurants and I go right into the kitchen.
 
"When I go to New York and I go to Mario Batali's restaurant, Babbo, I'm in the kitchen immediately, we're back there eating," Hagar continues. "When I go to Emeril's place, Emeril's in New Orleans, we're in the kitchen. You don't see me sitting out at a table, I'm right in the kitchen, we're goofing around mixing up things and talking about 'Let's try this, let's try that' and then we sit down, we cook up and we eat. I really enjoy it. If it wasn't for my exercise work ethics, I would probably weigh 300 pounds."
 
Of course I want to know about his favorite cuisine (even though I can guess).  
 
"I'm a Mexican and Italian guy," Hagar shares. "I love Mexican food, authentic Mexican food. That's why I live in Cabo, why I started the Cabo Wabo and why our restaurants is so good because I spearhead that mother. Man, I sit with my chef, I torture the guy. I say, 'The last two months here the shrimp tacos were better, get on it dude.' I do not settle for mediocre stuff when it comes to food. I think people when they go out to eat and spend their money, man, you've got to give it up for them, you've got to do the right thing. Otherwise you're not going to be a success if you're up and down. I run a much tighter ship with my chefs and the cooks at the Cabo Wabo than I do with the manager of the party hall. The party can happen, people can make their own party, you just do a couple of shots of tequila, the party has begun. But when you sit down to eat, you've got to take care and make sure that it's right."
 
I push him to talk about another "write"-- penning songs. Just how does he get inspired?
 
"I lay around or else I go for a big hike or a big run up the mountain and I just let my mind relax and the second my mind relaxes, an idea comes and that's all there is to it," Hagar responds. "I don't meditate, I don't even know how to meditate, but when my mind relaxes and stops thinking about what I have to do or planning this or that, the song or an idea for something comes.
 
Sammy Hagar"Sometimes the whole songs comes at once. Like 'I Can't Drive 55,' I was singing the song, the chorus and the lyrics, the melody, everything in my head. I had to go back to my house and pick up a guitar and learn what was coming out of my head. It goes a lot of different ways. I write more lyrics than I do music, I probably have 100 to 150 binder notebooks full both sides of lyrics that have never ever been songs," Hagar goes on.
 
 "I'm an inspired lyricist. Most of the time it's really inspired by something, it's very seldom made up. I've done that 10 percent maximum of all the songs that I've written, where I've had to make up some lyrics to a piece of music that I had or that Eddie Van Halen had. But most of the time my lyrics are inspired from a real situation, like even right down to when I said 'I can't drive 55.' I got stopped and I said that quote, it happened and I wrote the song." Hagar continues, " The song 'Cabo Wabo,' I saw walking down the street in Mexico, in 1987 I was down there on vacation and I saw this guy bumping into a barbed wire fence and then he would stagger out into the road which was a really narrow dirt road I was going down. I said, 'Look at this guy, he's doing the Cabo Wabo' and I laughed. Then I told a couple of other people, I said, 'I saw a guy doing the Cabo Wabo tonight' and they laughed. And I said, 'I like that word' and I wrote the song for the Van Halen 'OU812' record. Then I started the restaurant, the night club, the tequila came and that's what you call an inspired thought."
 
I cautiously ask him what it's like to be on his own again.
 
"I was the lead singer of Van Halen for 11 years and it wasn't until the last year, when things started getting ugly, that I started saying that it's not worth being in a band with guys you're not getting along, or a couple of people you're not getting along with, and I'd be happier as a solo artist again," Hagar states. "Being a solo artist is a lot more work, but it's a lot more gratifying because you're doing exactly what you want to do when you want to do it, but you've got to do all the work.
 
"Nobody wants to talk to my bass player, unfortunately. I say, let's get Mona in on this, but well the radio station said or the newspaper said they'd rather talk to you," Hagar says changing tack.
 
I tell him that I would be happy to talk with Mona any time because she's talented and she represents women in the industry.
 
"Especially when they represent on the level Mona does," Hagar picks up. "There's been some girl bands in the past that have been successful that weren't great musicians, but they were pretty cute and they had maybe good songs, but really good musicians that have risen to the level of, well Mona's one of the best rock bass players in the world. That's really special because girls get married and get pregnant before that or their boyfriend says no you can't be in that band. It's harder for a woman to really devote herself to an instrument and I'm really proud of her."
 
shift the talk to The Other Half.
 
"Mike's my buddy, he likes to do the same thing I do," Hagar says. "He'll either catch us on the beach or he'll catch us at the Cabo Wabo in Mexico. If we're in Chicago, we'll be in Frontera Grill, which is the best Mexican restaurant there, drinking tequila and then during the day we'll be out by the lake if it's during the summer. We have the same loves.
 
"I feel more comfortable playing Van Halen songs with one of the other bandmates out there with me because I'm not out there trying to be Van Halen without Van Halen." Hagar goes on, "That's what David Lee Roth did and to me that's his downfall, that he pretended he was Van Halen without any other guy. When he went on tour with me, he played all Van Halen songs, the whole show. I was going, 'Are you crazy? This ain't going to work dude.' So for me, when Michael's not around, in my two and a half hour show, which I usually do two-twenty, two-thirty, I do about four maximum Van Halen songs. But when Mike is there, I feel comfortable, I say, 'Hey, let's do an hour. Or I'll split it with you, I'll play an hour-twenty with my band, we'll play an hour of Van Halen and then we'll come out and do twenty minutes of all-requests or anything goes.' That's kind of what we're doing on this tour.
 
"The Other Half is playing a dozen Van Halen songs and we're not only playing the hits, we're playing some of the songs that the fans complained we didn't do on the last reunion tour, like 'Good Enough' and 'Judgement Day,' songs like that that really were the heart of Van Halen's fan base, they're not necessarily the pop hits. We're playing 'Right Now' too, we're playing it different, but we're playing 'Top of the World,' we're even playing 'Running with the Devil,' but Mikey sings it. We're out there saying the fans deserve to hear these songs and they shouldn't just be put on a shelf just because somebody in the band couldn't get their life together to go out and do it. We're going to do it. If it's not user-friendly, I ain't doing it and that's all there is to it.
 
"Van Halen's one of the greatest parts of my musical career," Hagar continues, "it's not fair to those fans who follow me because I'm the only one who's out there touring, it's not far to shut them out so I've decided to pull them with Mike and we call ourselves The Other Half and it's a fun thing to go out and we represent the songs very well.'
 
I remark that I read that he takes his family along on tour.
 
"When you love your wife and kids you can't leave for months at a time without them and for them to go back and forth, back and forth is crazy, so we just do it together," Hagar says. "We pack them up, we take a family member with us to help watch them, I've got millions of nieces and nephews that need jobs, we make it a family affair and we travel together and we live together. As it should be."
 
So what is the real secret to Hagar's longevity in the music industry?
 
"Stupidity," Hagar sighs and then laughs. "Too dumb to quit. I love what I'm doing and most people are too fashionable. I don't think I've ever been fashionable, I've never really been in, but I've never been out. It's not like I've ever been a hair band guy, I mean in the '80s, my hair was cut in a fashionable way, but I didn't hold on to that like a lot of people. They get caught, like the Fonz. I love the Fonz, but he was the epitome of a guy who wouldn't let go of the '50s, that was his role in that series. I'm just never one of those kinds of guys, I change so much. I change my look, I change my way of dress, I get bored so fast. I think that's part of the longevity that I never got caught in an era that went out. By the time the era went out I was already going somewhere else.
 
Sammy Hagar"And what I'm doing now, everyone knows I enjoy what I'm doing." Hagar goes on, "You don't go out and charge $10 lawn seats like I'm doing and play for three hours unless you love what you're doing. And you don't have a place like the Cabo Wabo and play for two weeks on my birthday in October, for two weeks we play for free and it's first come, first serve. I fly my band, my crew, that costs $150,000 if it costs a penny to do that and I'm willing to do that for free for my fans. That means I appreciate them and that means I love them and that means I love what I do and I'm willing to do it for free. I think that's how you have longevity."
 
Is the key to success motivation?
 
"Oh, I'm motivated like a mother, man, I grew up poor and I'll never be that again," Hagar states. "That's how I started, but there's a certain point where I'm not money-driven at all any more. I'm motivated by cool things and fun things and lifestyles, so I willing to spend my money that I make from my tequila and from my Cabo Wabo stuff, I'm willing to say, 'OK, I'm going to sponsor myself.' Most bands on my level will go out and get a sponsor, a beer sponsor, a pop sponsor, whatever, some chain sponsor, an Internet company to sponsor them and they give them millions of dollars to be the sponsor for the tour and they put that money in the bank and then they go out and charge $135 for a ticket. I'm going, boy, I'm just not going to do that. I take and I sponsor myself and I took the kind of money for myself that I would get from a sponsor and I said oh, here's what I'm able to do with it. I'm going to take this money and I'm going to pay everybody like we're charging in my band and my roadies and my crew, it's an expensive thing to do out on tour. So I'm going to pay everybody like we're making $100 a ticket, but I'm only going to charge 20 bucks a ticket. I basically just take the money and I spread it out, that's what I'm doing on this tour. I'm really proud of that, I'm happy to do that and I think it's awesome."
 
Now he has me wondering if he runs his businesses the same way.
 
"No, my businesses are run like businesses by people that do that," Hagar admits. "I don't do that, I stay out of it. I'm the creative guy, I say I want to do an ad that says this or looks like this, I don't let people deal with any creative things with it. But they run it like a business-- a bottle of tequila costs this much to make and we sell it to this guy for this much and then that guy sells it for that much and it's in the stores for this much and so on. I let everybody take care of that.
 
"I'm not a business man." Hagar goes on, "It's so funny, everybody goes how can he not be a business man and have the number two premium tequila in America? I'm a lucky guy and I come up with some great ideas. I'm an artist, I'm creative as hell and I'll stay up all night, I'll stay up for three days working on an idea. I'm a hard worker, but I'm just not a business man. Once the idea is off the ground I find a guy that I trust, usually a family member or a close family person that knows that business and I go 'Run it. Here's the money, I'll pay you well.'
 
"I've been offered more money for my tequila company than I ever thought anyone could have. In my lifetime nobody I know will have that kind of money. No, it's like, no, I like this little business, it's fun. I like bumping heads with these people. I like these billion dollar companies that are trying- there's 44 new tequilas on the market this year and they're owned by billion dollar companies, I mean liquor companies, I won't mention names, but every major liquor company that's been around for 100 years have all come out with new tequila and I'm kicking all their asses all by myself. Now if you don't think that makes me stand there with a big smile on my face," Hagar laughs. "I'm serious. It's not because I'm smarter or anything, I'm honest. My fans, they believe me because I've never screwed them and I never will."
 
His comment about caring for others leads me to question him about "Sammy Hagar Day" and his charity efforts.
 
"Well any time that you do something in your hometown, I figure, coming back to your hometown is the most important thing of the show on the tour." Hagar pauses and then levels with me, "Everybody says where's your favorite place to tour, well it's not my hometown, I'll tell you that much, because you always are nervous. You go, man, I've got to be great. I've got to do this for these people, I've got to do that, it's my hometown. It's almost nerve-racking. If I had my own way I probably wouldn't play in my hometown it's so bad. I don't mean that I don't like it, I love it, but it's just so hard. Your family members, everybody and you're going I've got to make it so special. And then I sit back and I say, 'Sammy, self, you can't make it any more special than you do every night.' But that stress, you lie awake at night going what can I do? What can I do? First thing you do, you do something for the city, for your town, you build a library, you make a free concert, you have a parade, you do something that makes people have a little more fun or people that need help in your town.
 
"The burn center came up, it was brought up, and a dear friend of the family, Scotty Bennett, my big sisters went to school with his parents, elementary school all the way to the top. His mother and father babysitted me when I was little. Scotty Bennett died in that burn center. My biggest fan is my nephew, Jimmy Herald from Fontana, I would say he would probably beat the hell out of somebody if they said something bad about me. And they should be by the way," Hagar laughs. "And Scotty Bennett was his dear friend and Scotty Bennett had a truck that had Sammy Hagar on the back and the license plate said Red Rocker, things like that. He had a tragic burn accident working in his father's welding shop and he died in that burn center and there you go. You always look for something and my nephew brought it to my attention and I just said that's what I'll do then. All these different things were offered when I said I wanted to do something for a charity or a hospital that deals with children, something where somebody needs some money, I'm going to take care of them.
 
Sammy Hagar"It's a little tough, I'm going to go visit them. I'm a softie and I don't know if I can take it, but I'm going. I'm taking my mom with me and I'm taking my sisters and my brother who all came from Fontana." Hagar speaks humbly, "I'm a softie, I've got to tell you. I don't know why, it's just part of my nature. I know people don't want to hear this about Sammy Hagar the big tough rock star, but I cry at the drop of a hat and I don't want to be walking through the damn place crying at everybody's bedside, but if that's what I have to do, I'll stand up to it."
 
Changing pace, I ask Hagar what the future holds.
 
"After the tour, straight to Cabo," Hagar replies. "I lived in Cabo for eight months until I started rehearsing for this tour and I came back and forth and worked on the record once in a while. I had written all the songs and my band was were working with the producers, it's hard to explain that whole process, but we did a very unique process of recording long distance. I'd just fly back and forth and do vocals and a guitar solo. My band's been with me so long, we're so rehearsed, we have so many shows under our belts, that we don't even have to talk about anything.
 
"For me, it's after the tour, straight to Cabo and then I'm going to come out with a new product of tequila, another really upscale Cabo Wabo tequila. There's only one more way you can make better tequila than I make and that's very expensive, but it's by wasting a lot of the product and you get about half of what you would get." Hagar explains, "We make the best we can make it as it is, but if you cut down certain stuff and you only use the center part and you do all this stuff, it's kind of like going to buy a watermelon, you eat the inside and throw the rest away, you know where the seeds are? I'm going to do a brand that way and it's going to be called Cabo Uno and it will be out hopefully in the fall if we can get it done and it's very limited and very expensive. I'll go down to Mexico and work on that until we've got it perfect. It's going to be aged for three years and it will be the finest thing you ever put in your mouth. I can tell everybody right now that you're not going to find very much of it because we're only going to have about 1,000 cases in the whole world and it's going to be really expensive, not because I'm greedy, but because that's how much it costs to make."
 
 "Is there anything that we didn't talk about that you'd like to?" I offer, wrapping up our conversation.
 
"That's the question that you ask a psychic when you're talking to a psychic because it's illegal for them to come and tell you stuff and interfere with your karma, so if you're smart, you should ask them that," Hagar answers.
 
We share a hearty laugh and then he boasts about the upcoming stop at the Hyundai Pavilion in Devore, California.
 
 "I can't wait for the show. It's going to be an all-day event. It's going to be the first one of the tour. I'm used to playing six nights at the Tahoe Wabo at my place up there, the show is what we're going to do, but we couldn't do the village." Hagar clarifies, "I built the Cabo Wabo village where when you walk in there you're going to smell carne asada and grilled shrimp tacos and grilled chicken and salsa and burning tortillas and mariachi bands pumping and strolling around. And you see no shirt, no shoes, no problem, a lot of bikinis, a lot of bathing suits and volleyball. We're bringing in sand, we're making it Cabo Village. If you've ever been to Cabo, well, this is going to feel like it. If you've been to Cabo, you're going to be going, 'Wow, this is as close as it gets.'
 
"All that happens before the show and the show is going to be a two and a half, three hour show after all that. I just want to say this will be the best party that's ever been thrown in this venue or any other place across the country and I can hardly wait," Hagar laughs.
 
And it was a terrific party... just read the reviews posted in Guts & Glory.
 
Find out what Sammy Hagar is up to now at www.redrocker.com and take time to visit www.madanthonycafe.com too.

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