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From Halen to Wabo Wailin' - Kerby's Chat with Sammy Hagar

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, September 26, 2007 @ 5:35 PM


There are enough crazy bastard

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Sammy Hagar has always proven to be a consummate vocalist given to the spirit of the party while remaining, at all times, a musician who possesses a work ethic conducive to enormous success in the music business. It is because of these attributes that I have never quite understood why some hard rock fans have patently refused to accept the Hagar fronted Van Halen. I mean, look at it--all the guy did was join an established, legendary band that was still reeling from their split with gregarious frontman David Lee Roth and proceed to contribute to an album entitled 5150 that exceeded all expectations both in regard to listenability as well as sales. Throughout the years, the trend continued as OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance consistently delivered hook-laden rock to the masses. Basically, even Hagarís most staunch detractors would have to admit that he essentially made it possible for fans to enjoy Van Halen music live and in the studio again for the next ten yearsóthere might not be another singer alive who could have pulled that off. In fact, it is probably because the transition from Roth to Hagar was so smooth that Eddie deluded himself into thinking he could just trot out any vocalist and have the same type of successóhence the Gary Cherone debacle.

Now, of course, Van Halen is slated to hit the road with the aforementioned Roth but without its founding bassist Michael Anthony who is being replaced by Eddieís son, Wolfgang. Many out in the rock world assumed that the dissolution of the Anthony/Van Halen relationship had something to do with Mike playing numerous gigs over the years with Sammy while Van Halen was in hiatus. According to Hagar, this wasnít the case and that Anthony would have been sacked in 2004 if he hadnít insisted that either Michael be kept for the reunion tour or else VH could get another vocalist. On many levels, excluding Anthony seems unwise, but Sammy will be the first to assert that Van Halenís loss is his gain as Michael is now still available to tour with him in on a regular basis. Only time will tell whether the Roth-VH reunion will be a success, but it would be unwise to believe that Anthonyís presence wonít be missed. As for Hagar, you know what heíll be doingóplaying and making the music he loves while touring for the fans that, in turn, love him. If he should ever tire of thatÖ.wellÖthereís always CaboÖ.

KNAC.COM: There arenít many people out there who could be as successful in as many different situations as you have been over the years. What do you attribute your versatility to?

HAGAR: I could just be the luckiest man on Earthówhich I think has a lot to do with it. (laughs) Really though, I think I just have the ability to work really hard at something. If I say, Iím going to put a new band together; I will put it together and make sure that itís really good. Then we will go out, and we will work hard. We play for the people. The main thing I can say I did besides making a couple of incredibly risky but successful moves--like joining Van Halen at that time--is that I knew I could make it work if I put in the effort. People were out there the whole time saying, ďitíll never work.Ē I knew it would work though because I went in there and played with the guys. We went out there and did 125 to 130 shows a year, every year. Then, weíd come back and do a record, and then weíd go back and do that again and again and go to every city. We worked it really hard--we made the videos and did the interviews, and Iíve kind of always been willing to do that. Thatís just part of what it takes to be successful. There are enough crazy bastards out there going, ďIím gonna put out a record and if it doesnít sell, then fuck emí.Ē Itís like, ďfuck you, buddy.Ē (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Does it make it that much harder for a guy like you who has an exemplary work ethic to deal with someone in your band who might have a substance abuse problem or who just isnít stepping up to the plate in some way? Do you think itís harder for you to tolerate that kind of behavior---like you are pulling a disproportionate amount of weight?

HAGAR: YeahÖI wonít work with people like that anymore, but I have in the past. Itís not about carrying the weight as much as it is just being responsible and feeling confident that this person is going to go out there and do the job. When you sell tickets or you are looked at as a legend or a superstar, there is a responsibility that goes along with that. Thatís what bugs me. My work ethic is always good, and when I step on the stage, I always want to be as good as I can be--some people donít feel that way, and I wonít work with anybody anymore who is like that againÖever. They are just too inconsistent. A person who has a chemical dependency or a bad drug problem, itís like they are just too inconsistent. Itís like one night they could be great and you could go, ďwow, that was awesome--I donĎt know how the guy did it,Ē and the next night is just horrible. Then, the next day youíre just waiting to see if the guy can make it onstage before going up there and making a fool out of himself and you. That is just an uncomfortable feeling, and itís not worth it. There is an easier way to do this. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: When you are dealing with someone like that, what is the first to go--the personal relationship or the professional one?

HAGAR: I canít even do the professional one anymore because I just canít put myself in that type of position anymore. I canít complain about anything that even happened in the Van Halen reunion in 2004 though. Fortunately, we had enough great shows to make it seem as though it was ok, but I was still sitting in a trailer most of the time wanting to kill some peopleÖor kill myselfÖmaybe jump off a cliff. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Isnít it even more frustrating though when you know what Van Halen as a collective is capable of? Why would you want to settle for less that that as the lead vocalist?

HAGAR: Thatís true. You always want to live up to your expectations, and anything that falls short of that will bother you if you care. On a night when I go out and Iím sick--which has happened many times--I will want to go out and see if I can sing before I go out and cancel a weekís worth of shows. When I go out under those circumstances and maybe donít do a good job, it breaks my heart. Then, backstage after one of those shows, Iím on a bummer until I can sing again. Sometimes it takes a week or ten days to come back, and Iím here to tell you that those are a miserable week to ten days. My wife will tell you, ďwhen this guy is sick on tourÖI just go home because you canít be around him.Ē Iím just miserable, and that is the only time that I am. That only happens when I canít give the people a good show. It gives me the shivers. I just donít see how anyone can do that--

KNAC.COM: Speaking of giving the people a good show, I know you love playing music with Michael Anthony, so that being said, what does a Van Halen reunion mean to you without Michael AnthonyÖ.or David Lee Rothís original hair?

HAGAR: I wouldnít do it without Mike. On the last reunion, and Iím telling you this straight upóthis is stuff Iíve never really said actuallyóthey wanted to throw Mike out then. Why? I donít know. I still canít understand why Ed has it out for Mike. Mike is the nicest guy in the world, and heís an unbelievable player. Heís also an incredible singer and a professional. Mike is a guy who goes out every night and does a perfect jobóa 10 every nightóitís not even a 9.5. Why would you want to get rid of a guy like that? I donít know what happened between them somewhere when I wasnít around, but I just said, ďno, I wonít do it without Mike.Ē My manager said, ďyou put a gun in Mikeís hand to negotiate with these guys.Ē I said, ďyouíre damn right because Iím telling you, the agency, the promoters and the band that I will not go out and do a Van Halen reunion show without Michael Anthony.Ē Obviously, someone else doesnít feel that way because Mike isnít there. Honest to Godóitís none of my business. If Eddie wants to play with his son, fine. I love my son too, but I got him a different job. (laughs) I just think that it should be Mike. They will do good without him, and itís a shame. At the same time, I just think the fans are gonna walk away with a little bit of a disappointment because Mikeís a big part of that band. The good news is that he gets to come out with me, so Iím happy. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I think it is really important that you said this because I donít think I was alone in assuming that Mike wasnít included because of his friendship with you.

HAGAR: WellÖI think thatís the excuse now, but Iím telling you that back in the reunion with me that they didnít want to use him. I was like, ďare you nuts? If you want a new bass player, get a new singer too.Ē I donít know what it is, so honestly, I canít answer that question, but I bet you if you asked one of them, youíd get the wrong answer.

KNAC.COM: My guess would be that weíll probably never know, but itís interesting to hear your perspective. (laughs)

HAGAR: Listen, Mike brings such energy and life to the party. He is so much fun--the minute he steps onstage with me, the fans start smiling and laughing. When youíve got people smiling and laughing and having a good time before you even do anything, thatís worth its weight in gold, and I love Mike for it. He just brings the party to a whole new level. Iíve been throwing this party since 97 or 98 when I started bringing waitresses onstage and all that stuff and throwing the big Cabo Wabo party, and when Mike joins it, itís just special. He kicks it to a whole new level, and when he isnít there, I miss him, man. Sometimes, I will just think, ďI canít take this any farther.Ē Weíre having a blast--donít get me wrong, but I just couldnít help wondering what would happen if Mike stepped onstage. Itís awesome though--I really rely on him. I wouldnít have it any other way--Iím glad he got kicked out. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Isnít that the way it is though in music? There are those that you will bond with for life and others that you might share a spectacular, finite period of time with but who nevertheless are still destined to leave oneís life acrimoniously?

HAGAR: Yeah, sometimes you just come to the end of a thing. Sometimes, itís like a relationship that just ends. When you try to fight it and make it longer than its natural run, then it becomes a real war where you just go at it. When you really have a great relationship with someone in a creative way like Eddie and I or Ronnie Montrose and I or people that Iíve worked with over the years, when itís going great, there is never an argument, and youíre just kicking ass. Then, when it starts burning out and you start seeing a recycling thing or start losing interest, or you arenít as excited anymore, thatís when the bickering starts. Pretty soon, you arenít getting along anymore. Iíve gotten smarter in my old age, and when I see it going in that direction, you just say, ďI love you man, but itís done--Iíve got to do something else. Iíve got to split.Ē Above all, Mike and I are friends, and we just go out and have fun. We donít even collaborate together on material because, quite honestly, Mike isnít a songwriter, but heís out of sight as a bass player and a singer, so we havenít even attempted to write anything together. We just play music. If I was ever to sever that relationship with Mike, it would have to be because we were just having too much fun. (laughs) Itís purely just a good time. When we go out to Cabo, we go out fishing or goofing off on the beach or weíre in a restaurant doing shots and eating tacos. Whatever we are doing, we are having a good time and making everyone around us happy.

KNAC.COM: How cool is it for you to know though that if you ever were to find yourself in another position where you were in a band or a project of any kind, that you could just walk away whenever you wanted to and be alright? Doesnít that give you a lot of freedom within your mind?

HAGAR: Absolutely. The awesome thing about being a solo artist over being in a band like Led Zepplin or Van Halen, is that when you go messing around with the members of the band, people ainít buying. Itís like the Stones--youíve got to see Keith and Mick up there and Charlie or whatever, but when youíre a solo artist like Peter Gabriel or Sammy Hagar or Sting, people expect you to go out and do some different things every now and then. Itís pretty cool.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that Van Halen just got too lucky when you replaced David Lee Roth? Do you think they deluded themselves into thinking they could just trot anyone up there and have the same type of success?

HAGAR: I donít know, when you say Van Halen here, what youíre really talking about is Eddie. Alex sticks by him because thatís his brother, and I love Alex for it. I would never try to come between those guys. Those guys are brothers, and they are the end of a line in a way. Their parents have passed, and itís tough. Mine have too, but Iíve got other brothers and sisters and uncles, but they are pretty alone. They are very close, and I think thatís awesome, but I think itís Eddie that makes those kinds of decisions. In the old days, it wasnít like Eddie was going, ďitís my band this is what I want!Ē When I was in the band, it was our band, and everyone did what they wanted. For the good of Van Halen, I wasnít looking to be a solo artist, and Eddie wasnít looking to control everything. Instead, everyone did whatever they wanted to do in that band and it worked. When it stopped working, it broke up. Since then, its like Eddie says, ďthis is my band,Ē and it is, so he can do whatever he wants, but I think if they wouldnít have got Dave back, they would have been in trouble. The only thing I can say that may sound like sour grapes is that without Dave or myself, Van Halen isnít going to be the big, mighty arena act, and thatís all there is to it. If he wants to go out there and just be an instrumentalist and just get whatever singer he feels like, heís gonna be down here doing what Iím doing playing theaters in most cities and be lucky if heís selling them out. For him to keep rolling with the mighty Van Halen, he needs either Dave or myself. Theyíve been trying to get with Dave, since they threw me out in 95í. Then, they hadnít done anything until I came back. Now, they have Dave again, and I wish them the best because I think itís their only hope. Itís the right thing.


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