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06.15.20, 02:56 PM
"Sammy Hagar Does Everything For You"
By: Ken Kurson

GreenMagazine.com (November 9, 2000)

Last year, The Onion ran a story, "Sammy Hagar Discovers Second Way to Rock." But like a lot of their typically hilarious headlines, this one wasn't quite true. After tens of millions of albums sold, many businesses started, kids, wives, and a tour of duty fronting one of the world's biggest bands, Sammy Hagar still only knows one way to rock. Luckily for fans of the curly strawberry-blond-haired good-time guy, it's a way that's fun and frank and makes up for in spirit what it lacks in subtlety.

Example: When Hagar, at 53, shows up to do the interview, he's got bright red futuristic sneakers on and an immutable smile. There happens to be a ruler on the table and he says, " Is this to measure my success or my dick?" His publicist grimaces, and he says, "Hey, I've been away from my wife for two days -- I'm about to go around and sniff the seats." This is the kind of guy one needs at a party.

Green: So what about this 'one way to rock' business?

SH: I guess that's part of my limitations. My taste. My abilities. If I could, I would probably make a jazz record. That's what I want to do. Everyone's got his limitations. I'm a rocker. I know how to do it. I stretch into R&B, a little folk, but I mostly do what I like and can do.

Green: I saw Rick Springfield play "I've Done Everything for You" -- what are the economics of

someone covering your song?

SH: He receives the benefit of having the hit. But I receive the airplay and the publishing royalties. If it sells albums for him, he gets paid for that. It's all equal and try to have a hit with anyone's stuff. I did very well with that song on his record. It sold like 5 million records. I thought his version was great. You can't condemn a hit. I released it as a single and it bombed. We got five adds first week. I was like "This song's a hit," but the record company didn't think so.

Green: That lack of control is why artists are flocking to arrangements like the one

you have with Beyond Records -- more

like partnerships.

SH: I've always had control over my career with the record companies except for the Capitol records era. No one was ever telling me, "You're a soap star, you have to have your face on the record."

Pop stars have a much more difficult time.

Green: My brother interviewed you right after your Van Halen run came to an end. You had a great quote about comparing yourself to David Lee Roth.

SH: It's a fact, number one. The Van Halen part of it is the thing I'll never escape from. Other than both being singers in the same band, we have nothing in common. Other than both having a successful reign. We sold 42 million records, they sold 28 [with Roth]. I was in the band 11 years, he was 7. So stack it up. "Right Now" and all the No. 1 records were with me. They became a teenage phenomenon with him. But people grew up. It was more like 18-30 for me. Their wife and couples came to see us. The fact that I had a career before Van Halen was more important to me.

David Lee Roth didn't have a career before and so he didn't have one after.

Green: At the risk of dating myself, I saw you at ChicagoFest in 1983.

That was the beginning of girls showing their boobs to rock stars, so I thought it was a cool show.

SH: Hey, we had a lot of hits, solo and with Montrose -- "55," "One Way to Rock," "I'll Fall in Love Again" ... When I joined Van Halen, I already had fans. Van Halen was about 85/15 guys, I was 50/50 guys. I brought love songs in and wasn't like this chauvinistic bastard. You got lots more females and the guys were still there.

Green: How much dough have you made?

SH: Total career earnings? Quick math: Over a hundred million.

Green: How much have you blown?

SH: Well, 50% went to taxes. Other than that, very little, a couple million. I bought a car for a million dollars that I never got. An F-40 (Ferrari), about 1987, they weren't allowed in America -- no exhaust system, Plexiglas windows. I never got the car. I gotta be careful what I call these people. Some mobsters in Italy took an F-40 ... They built a showroom in Napoli. They showed brokers in Switzerland and sold these cars to people, the president of Toyota, myself, etc. They took the orders and never delivered. I had a friend in the White House get a permit to get it shipped. Paid the money, 4-5 days later, car doesn't show. My broker went to the plane, actually saw it shipped, but it was being shipped to the Japanese guy who really owned it. After I spent a million, my guy said, Can you afford this? I said, yeah, and they said walk away.

Green: So you have a bunch of business ventures...

SH: I own a great hotel. In Mill Valley, Aqua, a 50-room hotel, stark Japanese/German/Scandinavian Marin County architecture. I really haven't put paper to pencil to that. It makes maybe 14-17% a year on the investment. The main thing is it did it right out of the box. At worst, you've got the property and the building, which has probably quadrupled in value.

Green:What about investments like stock and stuff SH: I don't really do investments. I hate that stuff. I am so unbusiness like. I've got a gut instinct and I have people who run it - I'm a creative person. I make the decisions. I have people I trust who advise me and then I make the final decision. I have a lot of real estate -- I live in Maui, and Mill valley, my mother has a house in Palm Springs, which I bought her so I can go there. Then the Cabo Wabo ... I bought a car for a million dollars that I never got.

Green: Let's hear about that

SH: I built Cabo Wabo. I was living in Mexico and I'd go to town on tequila. Everybody's grown up on Cuervo Gold, but once you've tasted 100% blue agave tequila, you get buzzed on that and you go, Wow, that's tequila. I started to get it made for my club and pretty soon I started making my own bottles. I made a deal with Wilson & Daniels, an upscale liquor distributor. They wanted to go in business. I said I don't know nothing about this except going to Mexico and drinking tequila. Shep Gordon is my partner in the tequila business. He knew about this business a little bit. We've had a success story -- 67,000 cases last year in our second year in business. We could have done 110,000 cases, but we ran out of agave. It's great tequila -- I've won four gold medals, "The Wall Street Journal" rated it No. 2 in the world. I think the difference between my tequila and the people who make it for a living is if I break even with it, fine with me it's a hobby. I'm looking to make the best tequila in the world. Everyone else would like to take over the world. I'm not interested - I make plenty of money as a rock star - I want respect for the tequila.

Green: Did you encounter the problem of people taking it seriously?

SH: Yeah, it's a double-edged sword. People who aren't Sammy Hagar fans - there's a lot of them out there - they say what could his music be, he's making tequila now. But I'm pretty good at tequila.

I'll know 'this needs to stay in the barrel 4 more months.' Or 'this wood's getting bitter.' We beat Patron in EVERY tasting. That's good tequila, don't get me wrong, but you go into a bar; and it's hard to get the bartender to see there's something better there than Patron. They probably do 150-200k cases a year and you can't do it well.

Green: What's your worst money horror story?

SH: When I was in Montrose, we were supposed to get $150 a week and $10 per diem. We went on the road for three years and only came home to make the second record. We did the Wolfman Jack show, everything. I was married and had a kid. We didn't get paid for like six months. We were making $400 a night and it cost probably that to be on the road. We had one credit card with a $250 limit on it. We were on tour with Humble Pie. My phone's turned off at home. My wife's not getting paid, at home with a 2-year-old baby. We tried to check out of a hotel room. They held us there, and said you're not leaving 'cuz our credit card had no money on it.

I said 'I gotta do something.' I called my mom. That's why I take care of her. We finally got our royalty check. I was the songwriter in the band, so I got $5000. That hurt the band. Everyone said, 'Sammy's getting all the money, I wanna be the songwriter.' Eddie Van Halen, Ronnie Montrose, those guys are riff guys.

Green:I want to hear more outrageous rock star money stories.

SH: The first time we went to Japan, in 1987, we held out. Van Halen was so busy, we had to do 3-4 nights everywhere. We'd do America and it'd take 140 nights. We had 10-11 trucks, and we'd lose money. The record company makes all the money and we'd come home with $100,000. At the peak of Japanese financial times, Ed Leffler made a deal for 10 shows, some of them were only 2000-3000 seaters. We got $5 million for 2 weeks and they paid all our expenses. Our manager was an equal partner, so we all came back with a million bucks. For me, that was the most gratifying, we got to see the country, first class all the way, everything was taken care of.

Green: What about amazing stories of debauchery?

SH: I have a hard time. I was married during most of my career during Montrose to the middle of Van Halen - 23 years. And I got married again a few years later. That window when I was a single man, wow. There's a lot of things I wouldn't want to go into. Love is a funny thing though. It's not about sex. I learned that in my second marriage. I was 20 years old when I got married. I had my first kid when I was 21. Even though I was in love with my wife, we kind of grew up together and took each other for granted. So when I fell in love again as an adult, it wipes out everything. It totally blindsides you. Looking at other girls, I didn't even care. You could have brought the finest naked women in the world and it was hey man, where's Kari. I'd prefer that any day over all the lust you can have.

Green: I've read a lot about the breakup but no one seems to really explain why Van Halen dumped you.

SH: Quite honestly, I don't know what happened. Something happened to Eddie and Alex. Alex's brother-in-law [Ray Danniels] started to manage them. If there's any contact to be made, they owe me a phone call. It's up to THEM to call me.

I brought [manager] Ed Leffler in. He died, wonderful, wonderful man. He had one band, Van Halen, he lived and breathed that band. That was the first time they made any real money. They brought Alex's brother in, and I said this guy's not cool, look him in the eye. I said I don't like this guy. They had Gary Cherone [singer from Extreme, also managed by Daniels] all lined up. It was during my wife's pregnancy, she was in the hospital had kidney stones, I had just finished 138-city tour and there I am in the hospital with my wife ... It's been a disaster ever since for them. It's not just cuz of me, it's gotten so crazy and so reckless, I think it's a self-destruction thing.

Green: So what do you think was Danniels' problem with you?

SH: Danniels walked into a band that had already sold 40 million records. He wanted more than equal profits - he wanted a percent of the gross, not the net. If you give him part of the gross, he makes more than everyone. I said fuck you and the guys were like maybe. Ed and Al gave him 2.5% more from their share. I wouldn't. He also wanted a percentage of all the old records. I said NO WAY. His rap was "your old catalog isn't doing what it should, I'll go in and renegotiate."

He wanted us to pay his office expenses and now they're suing him. I make more off the old Van Halen records than Ed and AL. I stand up and sing "Jump" and "Panama" all night and I don't make a penny off the pre-Sammy records, and never asked to. Ed Leffler never asked for it and never took it. So why should Danniels? It's one of the worst business decisions I've ever seen in a rock band.

Green: So you've got your record coming out, the tequila, the club in Mexico, the hotel... Anything else?

SH: I'm finishing a book called, "The Long Road to Cabo." People knowing where I came from, my background. Dick Richmond, an old friend, the entertainment editor at the St Louis Post Dispatch, is writing it. He's been writing my story. I was really poor. I'm not even looking for a deal with it. The reason I'm telling you is Dick's gonna read this article.

Hagar's 12th solo album, "Ten 13," named for his birthday, was just released and was celebrated by a week-long party at his Cabo Wabo nightclub.

Interview 2000 GreenMagazine.com