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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 Hagar’s 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 years—there 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 success—hence 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 Eddie’s 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 wasn’t the case and that Anthony would have been sacked in 2004 if he hadn’t 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 Halen’s 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 Anthony’s presence won’t be missed. As for Hagar, you know what he’ll be doing—playing and making the music he loves while touring for the fans that, in turn, love him. If he should ever tire of that….well…there’s always Cabo….

KNAC.COM: There aren’t 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 Earth—which 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, I’m going to put a new band together; I will put it together and make sure that it’s 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, “it’ll never work.” 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, we’d come back and do a record, and then we’d 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 I’ve kind of always been willing to do that. That’s just part of what it takes to be successful. There are enough crazy bastards out there going, “I’m gonna put out a record and if it doesn’t sell, then fuck em’.” It’s like, “fuck you, buddy.” (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 isn’t stepping up to the plate in some way? Do you think it’s harder for you to tolerate that kind of behavior---like you are pulling a disproportionate amount of weight?

HAGAR: Yeah…I won’t work with people like that anymore, but I have in the past. It’s 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. That’s 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 don’t feel that way, and I won’t work with anybody anymore who is like that again…ever. They are just too inconsistent. A person who has a chemical dependency or a bad drug problem, it’s like they are just too inconsistent. It’s like one night they could be great and you could go, “wow, that was awesome--I don‘t know how the guy did it,” and the next night is just horrible. Then, the next day you’re 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 it’s 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 can’t even do the professional one anymore because I just can’t put myself in that type of position anymore. I can’t 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 people…or kill myself…maybe jump off a cliff. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Isn’t 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: That’s 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 I’m 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 week’s worth of shows. When I go out under those circumstances and maybe don’t do a good job, it breaks my heart. Then, backstage after one of those shows, I’m on a bummer until I can sing again. Sometimes it takes a week or ten days to come back, and I’m here to tell you that those are a miserable week to ten days. My wife will tell you, “when this guy is sick on tour…I just go home because you can’t be around him.” I’m just miserable, and that is the only time that I am. That only happens when I can’t give the people a good show. It gives me the shivers. I just don’t 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 Anthony….or David Lee Roth’s original hair?

HAGAR: I wouldn’t do it without Mike. On the last reunion, and I’m telling you this straight up—this is stuff I’ve never really said actually—they wanted to throw Mike out then. Why? I don’t know. I still can’t understand why Ed has it out for Mike. Mike is the nicest guy in the world, and he’s an unbelievable player. He’s also an incredible singer and a professional. Mike is a guy who goes out every night and does a perfect job—a 10 every night—it’s not even a 9.5. Why would you want to get rid of a guy like that? I don’t know what happened between them somewhere when I wasn’t around, but I just said, “no, I won’t do it without Mike.” My manager said, “you put a gun in Mike’s hand to negotiate with these guys.” I said, “you’re damn right because I’m 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.” Obviously, someone else doesn’t feel that way because Mike isn’t there. Honest to God—it’s 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 it’s a shame. At the same time, I just think the fans are gonna walk away with a little bit of a disappointment because Mike’s a big part of that band. The good news is that he gets to come out with me, so I’m happy. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I think it is really important that you said this because I don’t think I was alone in assuming that Mike wasn’t included because of his friendship with you.

HAGAR: Well…I think that’s the excuse now, but I’m telling you that back in the reunion with me that they didn’t want to use him. I was like, “are you nuts? If you want a new bass player, get a new singer too.” I don’t know what it is, so honestly, I can’t answer that question, but I bet you if you asked one of them, you’d get the wrong answer.

KNAC.COM: My guess would be that we’ll probably never know, but it’s 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 you’ve got people smiling and laughing and having a good time before you even do anything, that’s worth its weight in gold, and I love Mike for it. He just brings the party to a whole new level. I’ve 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, it’s just special. He kicks it to a whole new level, and when he isn’t there, I miss him, man. Sometimes, I will just think, “I can’t take this any farther.” We’re having a blast--don’t get me wrong, but I just couldn’t help wondering what would happen if Mike stepped onstage. It’s awesome though--I really rely on him. I wouldn’t have it any other way--I’m glad he got kicked out. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Isn’t 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 one’s life acrimoniously?

HAGAR: Yeah, sometimes you just come to the end of a thing. Sometimes, it’s 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 I’ve worked with over the years, when it’s going great, there is never an argument, and you’re just kicking ass. Then, when it starts burning out and you start seeing a recycling thing or start losing interest, or you aren’t as excited anymore, that’s when the bickering starts. Pretty soon, you aren’t getting along anymore. I’ve gotten smarter in my old age, and when I see it going in that direction, you just say, “I love you man, but it’s done--I’ve got to do something else. I’ve got to split.” Above all, Mike and I are friends, and we just go out and have fun. We don’t even collaborate together on material because, quite honestly, Mike isn’t a songwriter, but he’s out of sight as a bass player and a singer, so we haven’t 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) It’s purely just a good time. When we go out to Cabo, we go out fishing or goofing off on the beach or we’re 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? Doesn’t 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 ain’t buying. It’s like the Stones--you’ve got to see Keith and Mick up there and Charlie or whatever, but when you’re 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. It’s 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 don’t know, when you say Van Halen here, what you’re really talking about is Eddie. Alex sticks by him because that’s 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 it’s tough. Mine have too, but I’ve got other brothers and sisters and uncles, but they are pretty alone. They are very close, and I think that’s awesome, but I think it’s Eddie that makes those kinds of decisions. In the old days, it wasn’t like Eddie was going, “it’s my band this is what I want!” When I was in the band, it was our band, and everyone did what they wanted. For the good of Van Halen, I wasn’t looking to be a solo artist, and Eddie wasn’t 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, “this is my band,” and it is, so he can do whatever he wants, but I think if they wouldn’t 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 isn’t going to be the big, mighty arena act, and that’s 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, he’s gonna be down here doing what I’m doing playing theaters in most cities and be lucky if he’s selling them out. For him to keep rolling with the mighty Van Halen, he needs either Dave or myself. They’ve been trying to get with Dave, since they threw me out in 95’. Then, they hadn’t done anything until I came back. Now, they have Dave again, and I wish them the best because I think it’s their only hope. It’s the right thing.

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