Originally published on October 24, 2000 at Ticketmaster’s LiveDaily.com
Over the past three decades, Sammy Hagar has established himself as one of rock-and-roll’s best-known figures. His history encompasses an early ’70s stint fronting Montrose, a successful solo run in the mid-’80s that yielded such hits as “I’ll Fall in Love Again,” “One Way to Rock” and “I Can’t Drive 55,” and an 11-year term at the helm of Van Halen.
In 1996, the much publicized “Eddie said / Sammy said” split between Hagar and Halen found the former solo artist on his own once again. In the four years since, he has: formed his own band, the Waboritas; recorded and toured behind two new solo albums, “Marching to Mars” and “Red Voodoo”; and gone into the business of distributing his award-winning Cabo Wabo tequila, which was originally served at — and shares the name with — his Baja, Mexico, nightclub. Both are titled after the Hagar-era Van Halen tune “Cabo Wabo.”
The wounds from his split with Van Halen are healed, he says — though some will never quite mend; he had this to say about Ray Danniels, the former Van Halen manager whom he has credited with orchestrating both his ousting from the group in 1996 and the band’s subsequent downfall: “If you side with a guy like Ray Danniels, you know you’ve made the wrong decision and you’re gonna get fucked.” Hagar has also said in a number of recent reports that, according to his sources, a widely rumored attempt at a Van Halen-Roth reunion recently fell apart. The Van Halen camp remains mum on the subject.
So while his former band’s future remains uncertain, Hagar continues to forge ahead. On Tuesday (10/24), he released his third post-Van Halen disc, “Ten 13,” the first release on his newly minted Cabo Wabo record label. The album title is a nod to his Oct. 13 birthday. The musician just celebrated his 53rd, in fact, and did so the same way he has for the past several years: by performing at his Cabo Wabo Cantina before a throng of fans who make the pilgrimage south of the border each year for the annual Cabo Wabo Birthday Bash. Next month, Hagar takes a traveling version of the Birthday Bash on a tour in support of what he says is his most important solo record to date, “Ten 13.”
Sammy: Jon, They’re bombarding me with questions I don’t know anything about! I hope you can ask me something that I can at least give you a real answer to.
JZ: I’m a fan from way back, Sam.
You might ask me something I don’t remember!
It’s entirely possible. So, this is you’re third album since you left Van Halen. Tell me about it.
To me, what finally happened with “Ten 13” — I think it’s my best record, certainly out of the three new ones. I feel anything pre-Van Halen is so dated now that, without a doubt, “Ten 13” is my best solo record. I think what makes “Ten 13” so special stems from the fact that … the end of Van Halen was shocking. I made a record immediately and it was just really … it was like a giant hangover. “Marching to Mars” … I love that record — it’s probably my second favorite record, and at the time it was my favorite record. But, it’s really just a big hangover record.
It’s a heavy vibe.
It’s too much that. It was just too much about what happened, but I can’t help it. I’m an artist and I jumped into it so fast, I didn’t have time to shed any of that weight and any of that anxiety and any of that hatred and that pissed-off-ness. So anyway, “Marching to Mars” is really just a hangover. I got my band together, went out and did the “Marching to Mars” tour, fell in love with my band and went straight into the studio and did “Red Voodoo,” which is basically an extension of the party we throw when we’re on tour. It was just “fun fun fun,” and I just wanted to carry that on. I was so proud of how we had developed into such a fun band, and we were finding ourselves. It was the first record I produced myself, we did it in my studio and we just did it ourselves. And then, I think it was still kind of hung back … it was my first effort at trying to step away from the Van Halen thing and really trying to say “Forget it ever happened.” This record, I just think, really is, finally, the solo record of Sammy Hagar today. It’s the re-birth. I finally got through all that stuff, got over the way I was pushing myself … the “I’ll show those fuckers. We’re just gonna go out and have some fun.” I was just so determined. Now I’m over all that. I mean, after two tours with the band and two CDs. This is the third CD. I’m like, “Phew! Finally! I’ve made it.”
You feel like you’re hitting your stride.
I really am. I think this record is so important. In my whole career, I think this record will be one of those records where everyone will see that. I’ve take what I learned from Van Halen, I’ve taken what I’ve learned from before Van Halen, I’ve weeded out all the crap, and it just surfaced with the cream. This record is the cream of who and what Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas are. This is very much a band record, by the way. You know, the band had a lot of input on this record. I wanted it that way. They all came with a lot of input on their instruments. You know, maybe not songwriting-wise. I’m a songwriter, so I have so damn many songs, I can’t let everybody write songs … otherwise I’d have to do solo records! [laughing] The input they contributed to my songs was phenomenal. Everyone brought something to the party and it was great.
The first single, “Serious JUJU” might be one of the heaviest tunes you’ve ever laid down.
I know man! [laughter] Talk to me, brother! Let me tell ya: That’s why it’s the first single. I don’t think that anyone at the record company really believes that that song should have been the first single.
They were wrong.
I know. I fought it. When you record a record, what happens is, you play the songs over and over again, you spend two or three days mixin’ ’em so you run it through 150 times in those two or three days. At the end, when it was all said and done, that’s the one that kicked my ass every fuckin’ time. By the time the record was done, I threw one song off ’cause I was tired of hearing it. If I’m tired of hearing it, everyone else is going to get tired of hearing it. There’s two songs on the record that I still love, but I probably won’t play them live because I’m kind of tired of them already.
Which songs are those?
One of them is “Protection.” It was the second song I wrote. I heard it the most. I still like it. I think it’s a great song. It’s starting to grow on me again, but when we were finished with the record, I was sick of that song, because it’s long. It kind of wore me out. “Tropic of Capricorn” is the other one. It wore me out. That’s the only song that we labored on. I recorded that song four different times on this record. I’ve never done that in my life. That’s something Van Halen would do. I’ve never done that. And I recorded it twice when we were making “Red Voodoo.” It’s my favorite song. That’s why I spent so much time on it. I couldn’t get it right, so I got sick of it. I can’t listen to those two songs right now. The rest of the CD, I still like all of ’em. But “JUJU,” every time, it’s gets my ass off. I’m goin’, “This has gotta be the single.” It grows on me. It’s better and better every time. It’s like, “Fuck!”
I get the fur standing up when I hear that one.
Yeah, me too! I tell ya, that song, I sang that in one take. It was a demo. It was what you call a rough vocal, ya know, after you get the track down. You do a rough vocal so everyone knows where it’s supposed to be so when you’re overdubbing some of the other stuff, people don’t step on you. I put a rough vocal down … phhhh … done. You know what I mean? It was just like … in my heart and soul … it was so easy. It was just like, “Yes, this is how I feel right now, inside.” It just was a magical track.
That’s just rockin’. Then there’s “Let Sally Drive,” which is a return to car songs for you.
Right now, there’s a radio station here in San Jose that didn’t want to play “Serious JUJU.” Why, I don’t know. They’re just playin’ it once a day. They’re sayin’, “Well, we know it’s Sammy’s hometown, but, you know, we don’t really like that song that much.” I’m going, “What the fuck?” They heard “Let Sally Drive.” Now they’re playing “Let Sally Drive” 15 times a week. I’m going, “Wait a minute! That’s not the single!” It’s probably going to force my hand to make that the next single … which is fine with me! I love it. I wrote that song almost last. I said, “You know, it’s time for the Hagar fans out there to get a new car song.” I haven’t written ’em a car song since before Van Halen. All through Van Halen, I didn’t write car songs. I wrote songs that sound good in a car! [laughter] You know, good driving songs, but not a “car” song. I’m still a car freak. I’m still into that whole thing. I basically wrote it about my car, and a chick driving it. [laughter] I have a 427 tunnel-port Shelby that’s original.
You’ve had that one for a while, right? Your red one?
Yeah. I just had a whole new header flowy exhaust system put on because the engine was sitting a little bit wrong in it because the headers were bumpin’ into everything. The car, when you would hit it, the engine would torque was so hard, it would bang into the hood and the headers would bang into the drive-train. It would make it just rattle and shake. It was just impossible to drive. So I had it all redone, and this fucking car is so unbelievable, I wrote a song about it! [laughter]
“Protection” was a song you mentioned before. Lyrically, that seems to have something in common with “Privacy” from your 1987 solo-release, “Never Said Goodbye.”
You know, it was the second song I wrote for this CD. I honestly didn’t even really know what I was quite trying to say. “Privacy,” I might have had a better handle on it. “Protection” was … first, I was talking about, basically, we need protection from protection. You sit there and watch TV and you see these high school kids today that are dressed like rappers and like gang members and they’re goin’ around and if they get caught in the wrong neighborhood and the cops pull you over, they assume they’re gang members, but that’s just like fashion. That’s like the Fonz, from the old days. In the ’50s, you dressed like a hood because that’s what was in. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen fashion be like that, where it can incriminate you in the wrong place. It’s the same thing like, I was a hippie. You’d be driving down the street, late at night, long hair, psychedelic clothes on and the cops would pull you over. “Hey!” You’re automatically searched for dope, and it’s assumed you’re stoned just ’cause you look that way. “Where’s the dope? In the trunk?” They search your car. These cops are really supposed to be protecting us.
I feel sorry for a lot of young kids nowadays who are really into the fashion of it and get pulled over at the wrong time, like I said, and probably get harassed pretty heavy. “Out of the car!” you know? They get one look at ’em and start diving down behind their car doors and pulling their guns out and say “Step away from the car.” The guy’s probably going, “Fuck! What was I doing?” ya know? [laughter] In a way, it’s a funny thing, because we need protection, but we don’t want to need protection from the people that are supposed to be protecting us! [laughter]
I wrote that song kind of about that, and then it got into gun-control in my head, and it got into a lot of other issues about peace and love. It’s almost a vague song, but, really, it’s kind of universal. It means a lot. That’s why it’s so long. There’s so much information that I had to bring a lot of musical information into it as well. But it’s too heavy. That’s why I got sick of the song. Sometimes message songs just kind of bum you out. I’d rather make people feel happy. It’s not a happy song, but it’s a heavy song. If that’s what you want, there’s one right there.
What happened with the postponement of the initial six dates on your tour?
Well, there was a week of shows that we were doing. They were supposed to be promotional shows, so we wanted to play little, small places so we could have kind of like a private party and just have some fans, but my stage, you know, I’ve got a pretty elaborate stage, which you’ve seen, the Cabo Wabo nightclub stage. So I sent my production manager [up to scout out the first six venues] and not in one of those venues would my stage fit. I was told by the promoters and other people, “Oh, sure, we’ll get it in, don’t worry about it.” Well, half these places, my stage wouldn’t even fit in the whole damn club! So I had to just blow all those out ’cause I can’t do that to the fans. They’ve seen the stage, they’ve seen the party. I’ve played on the stage, I’ve played with the party and I can’t do without it. So I blew ’em out. I don’t know if they gave the people their money back or if they told them to keep their tickets and we’ll come back … I don’t know how they worked it. I hope the fans don’t get pissed off. This is for them. I’m doing this for them. There’s no reason to do–on my level, and the kind of show I do–to go and do something lesser than I’ve already done. I’ve always gotta move forward. I’ve redesigned my Cabo Wabo stage. You should see it this time. It’s killer. We’ve got three different layers of scrims to make it look like three different versions of the club. I have a stage designer that goes down and recreates the entire stage from the club for me. It’s really cool. We’ve got three or four different looks now. We used to just have the one look. I just don’t wanna go out without it. I had it in trucks. I was going to be bringing three truckloads full of stuff up there and they were just gonna sit. I said, “No, no, this doesn’t make sense.” So we’ll just re-book it. I’ll come through bigger venues. I may still play in New York at the Plaza because that was a planned party.
Do you still look forward to getting back out on tour?
Oh, fuck yeah. That’s why I make records. Everybody’s gotta know that by now. The reason why I pump out records so fast — everybody’s going, “How can you do it?” I’m going, “Fuck, I wanna go back out on tour.” Without a new record, it’s stupid to go out on tour, because nobody wants to support you. If you’re selling something, your record company will support you. If the radio stations have a hot new song of yours, they’ll support the show. If you don’t have a hot new song or you don’t have a new record, everybody runs and says, “Well, we’re not that interested.” Until I get to the point that the Grateful Dead were at — which is my goal, to just be able to tour whenever I want — I can, but to really have the support that I need … I don’t want to go play for 300 people in a 10,000-seater because nobody knew I was coming.
The Dead and Jimmy Buffett both have that kind of following. You’re actually becoming sort of the heavy-metal Jimmy Buffett.
The heavy-rock Buffett would be a good example, too. I hate to use Buffett as an example, because so many people from the younger generation would be going, “He’s like Jimmy Buffett? I ain’t goin’ to that show!” [laughter]
Right. Musically, it’s much different, but the vibe is similar.
Yeah, it’s the vibe. My fans are so into what I do and we’re so close. We’ve got all these inside little things. It can work anytime, anyplace, but they’ve gotta know I’m coming. You can’t just put the flag up and have them go, “Oh, Sammy must be in town. The flag’s up!” [laughter]
Do you think you’ll keep crankin’ new albums out for a while?
Yeah, for now. It depends on what happens in the industry. Things are changing so much, with the whole downloading thing and the whole freebie thing — which, I don’t want to totally get into the whole thing, but, until there’s a handle on that, I’m not going to spend a half-million dollars on a CD and have it just be given away. That’s not good business. If I choose to give it away, I’ll give it away, and I’ll be happy to give it away if we can find a way to pay for the expenses of doing it. So it depends on what happens with that. If that doesn’t change, and the record companies end up stealing more from the artists — you know, like making deals with MP3.com and suing them for 200-and-some-million dollars and then not sharing that money with the artists? Wait a minute; how did you sue them? They were stealing the artists’ music. They weren’t stealing your fucking music! But you sue them, you get the money and then you don’t pay the artists? If things like that keep happening, it’s enough to run me out of the recording industry. I’d probably make records for myself and let people just download them for free from my website. I don’t like all the big business of the recording industry, so that’s the only thing that would make me stop making records. Not because I’m tired of doing it. I love doing it.