You've got to hand it to Sammy Hagar. A man less sure of himself might have crawled under a rock in shame after being ignominiously dumped by Van Halen in 1996, a full decade after replacing David Lee Roth as the mega-band's lead singer. (The three other members of the group--Eddie "Husband of One Day at a Time star Valerie Bertinelli" Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony--initially announced that they were getting back together with Roth, who joined them for two tracks on Van Halen's Greatest Hits, Volume 1 CD, put out last year. Roth was subsequently ousted in favor of Gary Cherone from the quartet Extreme.) Hagar, however, responded to this humiliating turn of events by proudly telling his tale of woe to MTV and other national media outlets and by issuing Marching to Mars, a jaw-droppingly dreadful solo album that nonetheless has sold rather well. (Both the disc and its lead single, "Little White Lie," are still on assorted Billboard charts four months after their release.)
In a conversation with Westword, Hagar insists that he has no interest in revisiting the Van Halen drama, but immediately after making this claim (and with virtually no provocation), he goes into colorful and profane detail about it, divulging several new particulars. He also makes it plain that despite receiving consistently lousy notices over the course of his quarter century in the rock-music game, he still has a mighty high opinion of himself. Read on to see if he can convince you, too.
WW: In a way, the Van Halen situation seems to have been beneficial for you. I'm reminded of the way Jane Pauley was pushed off the Today show in favor of Deborah Norville and how Jane Pauley came out of it smelling like a rose. Do you see any correlation there?
Hagar: To be honest with you, I don't even know who those people are. You're probably going, "Come on, Sammy," but I'm telling the truth. I don't watch TV. It fucking drives me crazy. If I sit on the couch and watch TV, I'm either going to sit there in a stupor for two or three hours, or I'll get pissed and turn the thing off.
WW: So you wouldn't shoot it, like Elvis?
Hagar (laughing): No, I wouldn't shoot it. I've got a pretty expensive TV. Maybe in a hotel room, though. Still, I understand what you're saying, and I think I probably did benefit a little bit. But I got hurt as well, because any time a guy like Eddie Van Halen is saying bad things about you, you're going to have people saying, "Fuck Sammy Hagar. If Eddie says he ain't cool, then he ain't cool." But you'll also have an element of Van Halen fans--and certainly Sammy Hagar fans--who'll go, "Wait a minute. We like Sammy." And then I came out and told my side of the story, and anyone who saw both of us speak our piece on MTV probably realizes who's telling the truth and who got fucked on this deal--and it sure wasn't Eddie. Being more honest and more truthful and sticking to the same story worked for me, but the whole thing has been very negative for all of us, because true Van Halen fans are sitting on a fence right now. It's like a divorce. They're like, if we go to Sammy's concert, we'll feel like we're cheating on Van Halen. And the same thing goes for them. When they go out, they're going to have a rude awakening. Without Sammy out there, it's not going to be the same band. People aren't just going to sit there and watch some cat who they don't know singing "Right Now." It's got to be weird.
WW: Do you feel any sympathy for David Lee Roth?
Hagar: Fuck, no.
WW: He got jobbed, too.
Hagar: Yeah, but unlike me, David Lee Roth quit the band, because he thought he was the guy; he quit the band and tried to fuck them. He was a bad guy. He said shit about that band and about those guys that was bullshit--and I know, because I was in the band then. We had a wonderful time with each other for ten years. But then these guys--I don't know if they got greedy or what, but they went and made some weird-ass decision because of their new manager to get David Lee Roth back, and I became the enemy. And to me, that's like walking in on your wife blowing her old boyfriend. You know what I mean? I'm like, "Wait a minute. I thought that shit was over." But that's what happened. These guys went and got Roth back behind my back, because I didn't want to come down to work. I had a brand-new baby and I didn't want to do a greatest-hits record, so they went and got Roth back and told me about it later. And that's grounds for divorce. So the point is, it's a different scenario. I don't feel sorry for Roth, because he chose his trip, and I don't feel sorry for myself, either. But for them to get him back, as far as I was concerned, was giving him another lease on life. That guy was history, you know? I don't have anything against him--I just don't respect him as an artist.
WW: Do you think one of the reasons they ditched him is because as soon as they got him back, they thought, "Hey, now we remember why we were glad to be rid of him in the first place"?
Hagar: Totally. But it was a little bit of a trick in the first place. It was like, "Fuck, let's try it, and if it works, let's go for it." And when it didn't work, they didn't go for it. They thought it was going to be the biggest thing since sliced bread, getting David Lee Roth back. They figured, "Sammy don't matter. We'll get all the old fans back and we'll be bigger than God." This is what they were thinking. But those two new songs they did [on Greatest Hits, Volume 1] were shit. Those were the worst songs Van Halen made in twenty years. And let me give you another piece of information about one of them, "Can't Get This Stuff No More." I wrote that song with Van Halen. It was an outtake from Balance [released in 1995].
WW: And they didn't give you a song credit?
Hagar: They rewrote the lyrics and they used some of my melody, but no, they didn't give me a song credit. But they paid me off like a motherfucker the first time I heard it on the radio.
WW: You called them on it?
Hagar: You bet I did. I was so shocked. That song wasn't good enough to be on Balance, and what I did with it was so much better than what Roth did. If I played them for you or anybody else, you would go "Wow." But they used his anyway. That's how desperate they were with this guy. I think Roth's fucking washed. So obviously they were struggling. They saw that it wasn't working, that it was a big mistake, and it was too late with me. Obviously, they weren't going to call me up and say, "Well, Sammy, we're sorry." And I wouldn't have gone for it anyway, because I was well on my way. So their manager suggested Gary Cherone, because he managed him, too.
WW: What's the manager's name?
Hagar: Ray Daniels. He's a piece of shit, this guy. But he's also Alex's brother-in-law, and he managed Extreme, which shows you what a great manager he was. And when the Roth thing fell apart, he's like, "I've got a guy." The whole thing just reeks of bullshit.
WW: Van Halen was going to have a big tour in conjunction with the Hits album. Does it give you some satisfaction that they had to pull the plug on that?
Hagar: I don't get any satisfaction out of seeing those guys struggle. Those guys were my buddies for ten years, and Eddie and I wrote some of the greatest songs in rock. So I don't like seeing them screw up, because that's not the kind of person I am. But don't get me wrong: I'm not interested in being back in the band. Besides, their record is never going to come out. They've been working on it for almost two years, since before I left, and they've been through three producers already. But I don't get any satisfaction out of that.
WW: Really? Even though they got rid of you after ten years with just a phone call?
Hagar: That's right, they did. But I'm happy. I like what I'm doing right now. I'm proud that I was the lead singer in that band for ten years, and we sold 52 million records. But I knew there was no way that tour could happen, because fans weren't going to put up with not hearing ten years of hits. I mean, it's not like we disappeared. All of our albums went to number one, and we sold 52 million of them. You can't pretend that never happened. I mean, with "Running With the Devil" and "Jump," people would have been happy for about twenty minutes. But then they would have said, "Okay, what about 'Why Can't This Be Love'? What about 'Dreams'?"
WW: Does it give you a chill to think about what David Lee Roth would sound like singing "Dreams"?
Hagar: He couldn't even do it. That is a fucking scary thought.
WW: Of course, some people could never really accept Van Halen without David Lee Roth--like the guys in Nerf Herder. Is it true that they wanted you to be in the video for their song "Van Halen"? [The tune includes the lines, "Sammy Hagar/Is this what you wanted, man?/Dave lost his hairline/But you lost your cool, buddy/Can't drive 55/I'll never buy your lousy records again."]
Hagar: Yeah, they asked me to be in it, which to me was the biggest joke in the world. I wouldn't do that. I don't have anything against Nerf Herder. I listened to that record, and they're kind of a cute little pop band. But I don't think anyone should ever make fun of someone who's sold 50 or 60 million records and who's had a 25-year career. I think the worst way to break into the business is to make fun of those people. It'd be like me coming out and ragging on Elvis Presley.
WW: Some people have taken that approach.
Hagar: You're right, but I don't think they should do that. I think it's a negative. You might get three or four thousand people who hate Sammy Hagar to go out and buy your record, but probably half of them aren't going to like you, either. They'll be like, "Yeah, I agree with you, but you suck, too." To me, that's a very narrow approach to music. Thirteen years from now, if those guys are making platinum albums and want to make fun of me, then I'll be glad to be in their video. But not before.
WW: Do you see the tour you're on now as a way to remind people that there's more to you than what you did in Van Halen?
Hagar: Sure, but this is an anthology show. I do eight new ones, and I also do two songs from Montrose, the first band I was ever in, and I play six old Van Halen songs and six old Sammy Hagar songs. But when I do the old ones, I do them with a smile on my face. It's fun playing "I Can't Drive 55." I swear to you, it's a blast. But when I sing it, I don't shove my hand in the air and mean it like I did in 1984. Because I meant it then. Now when I play it, I play it in a nostalgic way, in a fun little tongue-in-cheek way, and we all have fun and sing it. But songs like "Little White Lie" I sing with my dick, balls, back, neck, face, ears, eyes, brain, feet--everything.
WW: As you've mentioned, you've been at this a long time; I remember hearing a rumor back in the mid-Eighties that you were actually about sixty years old and were lying about your age--which would make you over seventy now.
Hagar (laughing): Not yet.
WW: Are there any other funny rumors you've heard about yourself?
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Hagar: Shit, man, I don't know. I mean, I'm the most misunderstood guy in the whole world. Everyone thinks I'm some kind of a crazed maniac--which reminds me of a rumor I really disliked. At the end of the last Van Halen tour, there was a rumor that I was in drug rehab. And that really bothered me, because I don't take drugs. I was going, "How could someone actually think I was a drug addict? How can you be my age and be in the kind of shape I'm in and do what I do and be on drugs?" Give it up. And there was another wild rumor around the time of OU812 [a Van Halen album released in 1988]. There was a picture on the cover of the National Enquirer that they said was me making out on the courthouse steps with a girl who was in some TV series.
WW: It wasn't Valerie Bertinelli, was it?
Hagar: No, it was not. Don't you be startin' no shit, brother.
KBPI's Infest '97, with Sammy Hagar, Naked, Vallejo and Slash's Blues Ball, featuring Slash of Guns 'N Roses. Sunday, August 31, Red Rocks, $18.50, 830-