In conjunction with a recent OC Weekly feature, rock legend Sammy Hagar ( VAN HALEN , THE CIRCLE , CHICKENFOOT ) spoke at length about his career with writer Clay Marshall .
On VAN HALEN :
Sammy : "If there was ever going to be one reunion — I'd say, you've got one more shot, one more; you're going to put the guys together — it would be VAN HALEN . Not for a tour; not to make a record; not to go on and on and on, because I don't think we're there. I don't think I can be in the same head space as those guys personally. We're in different head spaces, so I don't think we could create well together, but just one time for the good time? VAN HALEN , number one, hands down. If I said I've only got one more show left in my whole life, who would you want [it] to be [with]? Eddie [ Van Halen ], Alex [ Van Halen ] and Michael [ Anthony ]. The good times and the stuff we made in the band, it was the peak of my life, musical life, career. It was during the MTV [era] — the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll that was the most... People idolized that lifestyle. You ask any actor from that era, 'What would you want to be?' 'I want to be a rock star. Those guys are having all the fun, making all the money.' That was VAN HALEN . MONTROSE , we never made it. It was a struggle; it was fun; it was lovely; I loved it. The first record, one of the greatest records I ever made in my life. Then, solo stuff — hey, it's great. I hit it big time. Double arenas, a couple stadiums here and there. But VAN HALEN — we hit it. All number ones; sell out every frickin' show you'd ever play in your life anywhere, any sized building in the world. It allowed me to build Cabo Wabo [tequila]; it allowed me to be a household name long enough to say, 'I think I'll keep a face in that house. I may have to do it on a TV show — whatever I've got to do...'"
On VAN HALEN 's successful but tension-filled 2004 reunion tour, during which Hagar and Anthony traveled separately from the Van Halen brothers:
Sammy : "Even if I sit and ponder on that, which I don't — I don't take inventory; I don't look back at all, ever. I'm just always looking forward, looking up, looking at the ground, looking straight ahead, and I very seldom look over my shoulder. Even if I did and I think about those times, I have more sympathy for what Eddie must have been going through personally then, because I never found out, because we didn't communicate very well. I was so disappointed with the tour at the time that when I tried to reach out, rarely did we connect and really have an honest love for each other. It was rough. Looking back, I feel sorry that he must have been going through something really bad. He wasn't sharing it with me. I wish him well, and I hope they're okay. One last show — ' Sammy , you've got one more show to do' — boom. If those guys wouldn't do it, I'd go park in their driveway and make them. I'd say, I ain't leaving here. Al 's going to come over eventually, so I'll get him when he pulls up and hog-tie his ass. Me and Mikey will sit in the car out in the driveway until they fold."
On the never-ending debate among fans who prefer the band's albums with David Lee Roth to the "Van Hagar" years:
Sammy : "I have no problem with people saying that early VAN HALEN stuff was more rock. It was raw rock. They were young kids, for god's sake. First band, first albums. I compare MONTROSE to that. They were like MONTROSE . When I joined, I was 45 years old. I'm a grown man. I've got kids. I've got a wife. I'm wealthy already — I've had success. We're not going to be that first album again. But that early VAN HALEN stuff was fuckin' killer. It's just that when I joined the band, Eddie was kind of done writing that way. He had run out of his licks, and I'm not putting him down in any way. He's still a genius, but you only have so many songs in you. Look at THE BEATLES ; look at THE ROLLING STONES . You've got to repeat yourself if you stay together and keep going, and Eddie was about to repeat himself. When I came in there, he was pulling out stuff saying, 'Well, what do you think about this?' He was trying to write new music, and most of the time, he was sitting down at the piano. I'm going, 'Fuck, I didn't know you could play piano like that.' I immediately start singing, and he's going, 'Wow.' It allowed him as a musician to grow. Just playing guitar in the early stuff and those real simple things in Dave 's range of singing, you run out. '1984' was the peak. They would have never outdone that record, and some people don't even like that record because of 'Jump' . I'm going, 'Get out of here — that's a fuckin' great song. I wish they would have played me that fuckin' riff.' I have no ego in that whole thing. If it wasn't for what Dave did with that band, I would have had no band to join. I was running out as a solo artist at the time. I cut my hair off. I said to Ted Templeman , who produced my 'VOA' record — it was a multi-platinum record, and I did my biggest tour ever... He goes, 'What are we going to do next?' I said, 'I'm taking a year off. I'm going to figure out... I've got to write some songs. I don't know what I'm going to do. It's time for a change.' Then jumping in there, it was just perfect. Eddie was running out the same way, I'm sure; I wasn't sure which way I was going to go; we got together, and bam — it was like lightning. It was just beautiful, and the timing couldn't have been better. I wrote songs to the music I was given. I wrote lyrics and melodies to the music I was given by Eddie . I didn't force none of that. It is what it is. We sold plenty of records, and I'll tell you what — when I play 'When It's Love' or 'Right Now' , the ballad, softer side of VAN HALEN , all I know is that I've got about 15,000 people with lighters in the air singing, so somebody likes that shit. [ Laughs ]"
On whether he'd enjoy performing a VAN HALEN album in its entirety:
Sammy : "I'm starting to see so many people do it... I just interviewed DEF LEPPARD for my 'Rock & Roll Road Trip' [TV show]. They did some shows where they played the whole 'Hysteria' record. Everybody's kind of doing that. REO [ SPEEDWAGON ] just did it with 'High Fidelity' , their biggest record. It's such a trend, but man, I don't think I could play a whole night without moving all over my career, because I'm so used to it with THE CIRCLE and I'm so happy about it. Every night, we can go, 'Let's play 'Best Of Both Worlds' . No, we played 'Best Of Both Worlds' last night. Let's play 'Top Of The World' .' 'Let's do 'When It's Love' — no, let's do 'Right Now' tonight.' 'Let's do 'Rock Candy' instead of 'Bad Motor Scooter' .' On and on and on. There's so much that we can do, and it's so... It's the set list from heaven. Every single song, I look at the audience. When we kick each song off with THE CIRCLE , these guys — or a guy and a girl, or two girls — they look at each other and shake their head like, 'Yes. All right. They're playing that one. Oh my God — they're playing that.' Song after song, you see that response. I would love to do it, and I kind of do that in Cabo — the only thing I do in Cabo is not a whole record. I've done 'Marching To Mars' in Cabo, and I've done 'Space Between' in Cabo, the whole record. Just those two, oddly enough. What we do, a lot of times, we would just go out and start playing MONTROSE — as many MONTROSE tunes as we know. The first hour is just MONTROSE , mixed up [on] shuffle. Or we play VAN HALEN . Many times, I went out with either band and just said, 'Let's play every VAN HALEN song we know.' Before the night is over, we start mixing it up. It's never one album, but it's, like, 20 VAN HALEN songs in one night. I've done that before. With THE WABOS this year in Cabo, one of the nights, it's going to be pure Sammy — no MONTROSE , no VAN HALEN . It's going to be deep Sammy tracks... It's going to be pure Sammy . I only get, like, five Sammy songs in THE CIRCLE set, and I get a lot of shit for it. [ Laughs ]"
Hagar replaced Roth in VAN HALEN in 1985 and recorded four studio albums with the band — "5150" , "OU812" , "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" and "Balance" — all of which topped the U.S. chart. The highest-charting Roth -led VAN HALEN album was a No. 2, and it took until "1984" to achieve that. (2012's "A Different Kind Of Truth" also landed at No. 2.)
Hagar , Anthony , Alex and Eddie Van Halen last teamed up in 2004 for a U.S. summer tour. In exchange for taking part in the tour, Anthony reportedly had to agree to take a pay cut and sign away his rights to the band name and logo.