Sammy Hagar – 35 years ago and now
As you downsize, a process my wife and I are currently going through, the plethora of items from one’s past that you must classify as keep/store/trash is larger than you think. The number of items in one’s house grows to accommodate available space.
Furniture, clothes, tools – those are just things, with little sentimental value. But books and music – those I keep with me, each one a particular memory that I rustle through every so often, flashes returning of events, real and imagined.
I also apparently kept a set of concert tickets with a rubber band wrapped around them. And sitting through an interview session of Sammy Hagar at this year’s South-By-Southwest conference had me digging through albums and concert tix, flashing back. With tickets in hand to see Sammy and The Circle this weekend in Houston (and with a bottle of Hagar’s Santo Mezquila by my side!), I thought it was time to revisit that session.
March 5, 1982 – Sammy Hagar in Concert
San Antonio, Texas. The Rock and Roll capital of the world (at the time). Floor section A 16th row tickets, for a whopping $10.00 to see Sammy Hagar. Before the Internet age of scalpers getting in to get the choice front row tickets, a group of us (me, Tom, Bob, Dano and others) would wait outside the mall on the 410 Loop at either a Joske’s or Foleys (I can’t remember which, and like it that way), sometimes all night. In retrospect, were we the pre-cursor to the Apple fan-boys who waited in line for new iPhones? When the doors opened, we ran in, assuming other rockers were racing from other entrances to line up at the ticket window. If you look at the ticket montage posted at the end of this article, you can see that we used this method to get some pretty choice seats to see some classic rock bands.
I don’t think this ticket represents the first time I saw Hagar. I would have been a junior in college in 1982, and as you can see, some of my precious ticket stubs are from 1979. But whether it was this concert or a later one, I have this image etched in my mind: Sammy sitting, his feet dangling off the stage, guitar flat on his lap, finger slide on the strings playing a extended intro to “Bad Motor Scooter”. The 1982 show would have been the tour supporting the Album “Standing Hampton”, which had the songs “There’s Only One Way to Rock” and “Heavy Metal” (title song of the movie of the same name). But Hagar always played the songs he wrote for the band Montrose (in addition to Bad Motor Scooter, he wrote “Make It Last” and co-wrote “Rock Candy” and four other songs on the first Montrose album).
With these concerts we were always on our feet…and often standing on metal chairs (and sometimes falling) on the floor so we could see (which meant everyone in front and behind us was doing the same thing). The concerts I’ve been to recently seem more concerned with safety than with enjoyment. Running up the aisles to rush the stage in the 80s was not only a contact sport, it was a time-honored tradition.
I was about the same distance from the stage this past March 16, almost 35 years to the day of that concert, watching Sammy again, this time in Austin at SXSW. We were both obviously older, and this time he wasn’t playing, but talking, being semi-interviewed.
Before Hagar came out, they were playing warm up music…that would have been great for a rap artist…and then a folk singer. The friendly long-haired gent who was sitting next to me said “What is this shit?”…ya gotta dis the warmup music if it isn’t Sammy appropriate. Then they put on some of Austin’s own Brownout (and if you haven’t heard their “Brown Sabbath” covers of Black Sabbath…you owe it to yourself!) to tide us over.
Sammy walked out with Mike Snider (from USA Today), looking bulkier than he did 25 years ago (see the album covers below), but with the same smile on his face. Wearing a leather jacket with a Santo Mezquila shirt (more on that later). he and Mike sat down and did a little walk through Sammy-history.
Sammy’s a guitar player, but, as he put it, he kept winding up in bands with great guitar players: Ronnie Montrose, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani. When he met Montrose, Sammy said they had most of the songs on that first Montrose album completed in two weeks. He also said it didn’t take long for him to learn his biggest lesson in bandmates: never tour or play with anyone you don’t like. I may not have the exact quote, but Sammy said “Ronnie was a bastard, God rest his soul.”
The first Montrose album (1973) has been called “America’s answer to Led Zeppelin.” The second album, “Paper Money”, was not anywhere near has hard core and rocking as the first (IMHO), and, by no coincidence, was Hagar’s last with the band. I still have my vinyl of “Montrose”, and I had “Paper Money” but may have made it into a frisbee long ago.
I also believe this is the last time Sammy was called “Sam Hagar” on an album cover.
Though he had a long (and continuing) solo career, Sammy only mentioned “Red” and “I Can’t Drive 55” during the SXSW session.
Red is all about numerology (“Red’s my number…”), which Sammy said he was into at the time. He was walking down the street after the song came out, and some one called him the “Red Rocker”…and it stuck. And, as you can see in the album covers from my collection below, he embraced the “Red” moniker.
Mike, the interviewer, asked Sammy, given his penchant for fast cars and fast driving, how many tickets he’d gotten. Sammy said “two. You have no idea how many times that song has gotten me out of a ticket.” Obviously “that song” was “I Can’t Drive 55.”
Hagar Schon Aaronson and Shrieve
This didn’t come up in the interview at all, but I’ve got the vinyl of the Hagar-Schon-Aaronson-Shrieve album (1984), and am probably one of the few packrats that kept it. Gratuitous album cover shot, still in the plastic with the $5.99 Sound Warehouse price tag on it! One of the early super groups, this album features Neal Schon, lead guitarist of Journey and early Santana. There’s a good cover of “Whiter Shade of Pale” and the lead song “Top of the Rock” did pretty well, as I recall.
Albums had some pretty slick inner sleeves, back in the day. The sleeve for HSAS show the boys all with their 80’s rocker stares and Sammy living that Red Rocker persona.
Much has been said and written about Sammy and Van Halen. He only mentioned two main topics at the SXSW session – a desire to do a live concert performance with David Lee Roth, where they would trade-off sets as a type of competition (which was met, of course, with approval from the crowd); and that he had reached out to Eddie Van Halen, sending birthday regards.
For background, Hagar was in Van Halen for four studio albums that all went at least 3x platinum (5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, Balance) from 1986 to 1995. Then he and bassist Michael Anthony left (or were dumped, depending on which story you listen to). Anthony still plays with Sammy on both Chickenfoot and The Circle.
This was at SXSW, which features Interactive, Film, Music and Education tracks, so there was quite a bit of discussion about Sammy’s businesses (past and present) and the music biz. Hagar has been a serial entrepreneur his entire adult life, so he touched on several of his ventures, past and current.
- Cabo Wabo. In the 1990s, Hagar started selling tequila from his Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. In 2007, Hagar sold an 80% interest in Cabo Wabo Tequila to Gruppo Campari for $80 million (he later sold the rest of his part for $11 million). So…Sammy is set. And said he really doesn’t play for money any more, and doesn’t do hundreds of live shows a year. He has quite a few charities he works with, including a local annual acoustic set in San Francisco to generate enough dough for a local healthcare organization.
- Beach Bar Rum. Sammy’s former attire (check out any video of The Circle) consisted of “Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum” t-shirts. Four years after he sold the last part of his Cabo Wabo business, Hagar started a Rum business made in Hawaii from locally grown sugar cane.
- Santo Mezquila. Sammy was wearing a Santo shirt promoting his new alcoholic venture. He said he couldn’t do another tequila because Cabo was his baby. However, he told the story of meeting Adam Levine of Maroon 5, and how Sammy doesn’t like the smokey taste of Mezcal and Levine didn’t like tequila. A few (no doubt enjoyable) chemistry sessions later and they had a mix they both enjoyed. Some lucky and forward thinking young lady actually had a bottle with her at the session, which Sammy signed. He said there weren’t that many bottles shipped to Texas yet. I found my own bottle (mine!) at a Total Wine after a hot tip from a friend. On the side it says “50% Distilled Blue Agave and 50% Distilled Espadin Agave.” For tequila drinkers, tequila can only be made with blue agave, but mezcal can be made with several different kinds of agave, espadin being the most prevalent. And, to further complicate things, all tequilas are mezcals by definition. I vote we just let Sammy keep this straight for us. Although the lyrics of Van Halen’s Cabo Wabo does mention going after that “guave worm” there is indeed no worm in Santo. I’ve looked.
We drink Mescal right from the bottle
Salt shaker, little lick a lime, oh
Throwin’ down, down tryin’ to reach the bottom
Where the guave worm, well he’s mine, all mine
- TV show. Sammy has a show on AXS TV called “Rock and Roll Road Trip” which was in Season Two during SXSW. He talked about how he enjoys getting to know fellow musicians outside of the normal “on-the-road” work environment. He’d just finished an episode with John Mellencamp, and had an upcoming episode with Mick Fleetwood.
- The music business today. Since it was SXSW, Sammy was asked what he thought about getting noticed in the music business today. He commented on how hard it would be to get started today, and said that it is obvious that an artist has to have a very active social media presence (Sammy got on Instagram in August 2014, and is up to 94,000 followers).
Cooking, UFOs and ghosts
Sammy is Italian. He calls chef Guy Fieri his “brother from another mother.” During this session he said to the audience that he could walk into anyone’s kitchen, go out to their garden if they had one and cook a great meal. I invited him over…about the same time everyone else in the audience did.
During the Q&A period, someone asked Sammy about his appearance on a Celebrity Ghoststories show. In his bio, Hagar says he is a bigger believer in UFOs and Ghosts. Below is a video of his re-telling of his ghost story, with a bit of the end of his opinion Mexican Mariachi music (which he likes, but only acoustic and not in big arenas).
Then it was time to once more rush the stage. I got as close to Sammy as I’d ever been, close enough to comment on how good his knees were at our age, as he squatted down for a selfie. My comment elicited a quick look and a chuckle. Above all else, Sammy seems happy. A TV show, a place in Hawaii, three bands he plays with (The Waboritas, ChickenFoot and The Circle, which is touring this year), a new mezquila and his rum bars.
Sammy Hagar is on tour this year with The Circle (concert dates on the Red Rocker events calendar), and I aim to see him somewhere along the tour.