Sammy Hagar might be the nicest guy in rock 'n' roll.
As a musician, he's been the voice of Montrose, one of the most underrated rock bands of all time, enjoyed a strong solo career, and led Van Halen during one of the band's most successful periods. Most recently, he fronted the supergroup, Chickenfoot, with Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, guitar hero Joe Satriani, and Van Halen alum, Michael Anthony, on bass. As a philanthropist, Hagar has given immense earnings to benefit hunger and outreach programs in the cities he performs, seeking the most local of food banks and causes in each city while sidestepping large non-profits. He's a true champion of the underdog. As a businessman, Hagar has enjoyed the type of success that allows him to lecture marketing seminars and rub elbows with the likes of Warren Buffet, all while wearing Crocs and a T-shirt. To say Sammy Hagar has had a charmed life would be a gross understatement: Sammy Hagar has lived the dream.
We were fortunate enough to chat with the iconic singer about everything from his new collaborations album to his astonishing experiences with extraterrestrial life.
New Times: Let's start with the new record: How did it feel returning to the studio with your former Montrose bandmates, and how exactly did that cover of "Personal Jesus" come to be?
Sammy Hagar: First of all, I'll start with the Montrose thing. Denny and Bill are a special rhythm section, and every time you play with those two guys, you get what you get, and it's always great! It's got its own special sound. On one of the songs on the record, Denny Carmassi played with Mona, and it's totally different; when Bill plays with Denny, there's just some kind of a magic. We all miss Ronnie, it was just really a shame what happened, and that's kind of what provoked me using them on this record, because I thought, "Hey, while the three of us are still alive, we're going to do some stuff together and keep that friendship and musical connection together."
So, it was great, and I think it came out fantastic! That song's the heaviest song on the record, man! I wanted to do a kind of "Rock Candy-esque" song and when I listen to "Rock Candy" compared to "Not Going Down," "Rock Candy" is like a pop tune, man! "Not Going Down" is heavier than shit! Carmassi's got that foot on him that is just second to nobody!
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It feels like a very modern take on the Montrose sound without losing the band's spirit, and I have to say, it's such a shame that you guys couldn't do something with Ronnie again before he passed.
Yeah, I was trying to, too. My last birthday -- I just had a birthday in October in Cabo where we had all of the friends come down -- the year before that, I tried to get Ronnie to come down, he was coming, he and Denny and Bill -- we were going to do a Montrose reunion for my birthday on October 13, 2012, and he took his life before that, so it didn't happen.
But Depeche Mode, now I know how that's crazy, man, I'm so glad that you're OK with it! So many people gave me shit about it and I'm going, "Listen, that's a badass blues song! Listen to that riff!" That could have been written by John Lee Hooker, or someone, you know? Or Lightnin' Hopkins could have wrote that riff! And the lyrics are really, really cool, and it's a different kind of lyric that wouldn't have come from me, and so, I was driving to the studio to jam with Neal Schon and Michael Anthony and Chad Smith and we were going to jam "Going Down," which we did, and I heard that song on the radio, and I hadn't heard it in years and I went "Wow, what a cool song!"
So we get to the studio, and I say let's try and do it and Chad goes "Hey, let's listen to Johnny Cash's version first," and I said OK and we downloaded Cash's version and it was acoustic and really cool, but I said "I want to rock it up, man!" and everybody jumped on board and we blew it out! That's a live vocal on there, only thing we overdubbed was Neal did some guitar overdubs and we brought in the gospel singers, and I think it's just pretty damn cool -- and it's really becoming a great live song for me too!
It's very unexpected!
It's fun to sing, I gotta tell you! As a singer, if I'm going to do a cover tune, it has to be something that really is fun to sing, I wouldn't do something just because it sounds like a hit or something, you know? To me, it's all about, is it fun to sing? It borders on blasphemy, but it's really powerful, and I'm really impressed with it and I'm happy those guys wrote that song, and I hope they're OK with me recording it, because you know, sometimes people think their songs are sacred, and I certainly don't, but some people do.
So, you have finally covered "Margaritaville" -- which I think has been a long time coming -- but I have to ask if you're a Jimmy Buffett fan, as the two of you have developed similar lifestyles at this point.
Yeah, we do, and I am a fan, not in the sense that I've been following him my whole life. I had no idea what he was up to and when I first met my now wife, she told me I kind of reminded her of Jimmy Buffett and I was like "get out of here, look at me... I remind you of Jimmy Buffett?! You gotta be kidding!" And then I realized he had this underground thing going that was huge and I was just really impressed by how he went around the system and without having current, relevant hits, he became really big.
The reason I covered that song is because everyone tells me all of the time that I'm like Jimmy Buffett, so I took Jimmy Buffett's song and brought it down even farther! I went mellower! Toby Keith and I -- in Cabo -- we sung that song about twenty times, and Toby's quote about it was that's the song we would play right before we would pass out! I thought it was pretty funny, so I got Toby to sing on it.
That was the idea of the Sammy Hagar experience: This is what I really do, in life. This is the musical side of my life: I get with different people and I play music with different people a lot. It's one of the things I truly love and enjoy to do, just getting with people that I (originally) didn't know and playing!
We have a Margaritaville resort coming Hollywood, FL, and it's a source of a lot of contention, because it's really going to stomp out a lot of the city's personality. It's no secret that you really put Cabo San Lucas on the map, and I was curious as someone involved in major marketing and business on a similar scale and in a similar way, do you have anything to say about preserving a place's natural personality and vibe?
You know, when I went to Cabo, it didn't have a personality -- there was nothing there. So it wasn't like interfering with the direction it had. It was just a sleepy little fishing village, it didn't have anything. Today when I see people coming in to Cabo, the place is totally overbuilt, there's hotels from one end to the other, it's wall to wall, and it's like, one side of me is going, "Man, they're ruining this place," and the other side is going, "Jeez, it would have happened whether I would've come or not," I just happened to see it early and got in there, and it happens to look like I put the place on the map.
But, it's really a tough one. It's like Joni Mitchell's song "Pave paradise and put up a parking lot." I'm not down with that, I'm really not down with that. But if a place needs something, I think you give it to it. If a place doesn't need something and you're just going in to capitalize on it and it doesn't need it, when that's just one more thing cluttering the place.
My biggest bitch about business people coming into a market is like, right here in my home town of Mill Valley, there's a Save On drugstore and right across the street they put another big drugstore up right across the street, which is purely cabbalization saying "we're going to put these people out of business." It's like, why do you do that to each other?
I was offered in Las Vegas to put a Cabo Wabo right next door to Jimmy Buffett, and I said "Fuck you, I would never do that!" I'm not that kind of developer dude, I don't do things just for fame or fortune or money and not consider anyone else. I waited for the right opportunity and put a Cabo Wabo a couple of miles down the road, you know? I know it sounds crazy, but I'm really that kind of person, and I'll always be that kind of person. It's hard to say when you come into a place and do it good, or you come into a place and ruin it. I don't want to be the guy that comes into a place and ruins it!
Between your philanthropy and your beach-centric lifestyle, you've seemingly made a home for yourself somewhere between Jimmy Buffett and Warren Buffett...
(laughs) That's funnier than shit, man!
The philanthropy you take upon yourself is really inspiring. Have you selected a food bank in South Florida for your donation yet?
No, because that's going to come through the people that research that for me. I wish I knew, but probably the most local, not the biggest. A lot of times, there's like a mothership that does the whole state or something, but I like to find the little guys that are struggling, that trying to do the right thing and don't have the funds to do it, whoever that is.
Between the story of your father's life ending, drunk in the back of a cop car, and the role alcohol has played in your relationship with Eddie Van Halen over the years, do you ever feel weird about your involvement in the alcohol industry?
Yeah, I know it's really weird. Some people have a problem with it, and some people don't. I'm one of the people, I wake up in the morning, I don't go pour myself a drink, and I don't even want to. I'm a social drinker and I feel that anything that I do is coming from my place -- I'm not trying to cater to alcoholics with low end brands. For instance, I would feel guilty if my stuff was really cheap -- and I know that sounds crazy -- but if it was the really cheap stuff that people drink just to get drunk, you know, I wouldn't be good with that. I try to make a product that's on a really high level that is for the connoisseur, and it's really good, and it's not the kind of stuff people just grab and chug.
Like when I made my tequila, everyone said, "Oh, my God, it's too expensive, your fans would drink anything, just give them the mixed deal." And I said I wouldn't just sell anything, I wanted to make the best tequila in the world. I know it's a weird place to draw the line, but I don't have a problem selling booze if it's on a high level like that, and if you're an alcoholic, you're going to find something drink somewhere somehow, whether it's mine or somebody else's.
The thing with my father -- my father would drink rubbing alcohol, he was such a bad alcoholic. Eddie and his brother Al were both really bad alcoholics. Al took the cure immediately, but these guys would pound malt liquor, man. Al -- I saw him shotgun ten cans of malt liquor (I talked about it in my book) and then try to jump through a broomstick. It's hilarious at the time, but it's really not funny, you know. Alex took the cure, man, he's a wonder! Eddie's been back and fourth, up and down, up and down.
Honestly, Eddie and I's problems weren't really alcohol, because we both would drink and we would be fine. It was when other things started happening in between our lives, it was really a struggle about him wanting to control the band, and me arguing about it because I thought they were making bad decisions. When I first came into that band, I controlled the band, when Dave was in the band, he controlled the band. Not like controlled it, but like, the leader. Eddie was not a leader, he didn't want to be a leader. He was like "Give my my fucking guitar, give me my amp, and I'm happy. Give me some beers and put me on stage, I'm good" you know? And when he wanted to do everything his way, he was making bad decisions, so we started arguing about that. It really wasn't the alcoholism until the reunion tour when he was in such bad shape that he couldn't play well enough to be selling tickets for that price and making me feel pretty guilty -- that's where we started having problems.
Do you ever get tired of journalists asking about your experiences with extraterrestrials?
No, because they were awesome, man! I almost wish it would happen again, you know, sitting around waiting, you know?
How would you want it to go if it happened again? Do you have questions for the aliens?
Oh yeah, man! The whole thing is, when it happens, it's such a surreal state, it was a dream state, so I wasn't really able to do anything except go, "What the fuck is going on?" I became aware and when you first become aware of something, you go, "What's going on?!" So, my dream encounter would be to be in a state of mind like I'm in right now and actually sit and talk and be able to have a conversation. I'm sure it would telepathic, it wouldn't be a language I don't think. Boy, I would love that. Just have a conversation and ask some questions.
"Hey, what's god? What are we here for? What happens next?"
Did you become a serious sci-fi fan after the first experience?
Totally! I became an astrology fan, a numerology fan, a semi-religious seeker. I didn't become religious, but I started reading about Buddhism, I started reading about Jesus, Krishna -- anything I could get my hands on! Then I became completely interested in psychic powers, fortunetellers and people that could see the future. And then I became interested in outer space; I bought a telescope and sat up all night looking at the skies. All of that! It still drives me to figure this whole thing out.
To say we're alone, the only ones here -- that's an ego trip.
Sammy Hagar & the Wabos, 8 p.m. Thursday, November 7, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $44 to $74. Call 954-797-5531, or visit hardrocklivehollywoodfl.com.
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