View Full Version : Sammy Does Cabo - October/November 2001

06.15.20, 03:05 PM
"Sammy Does Cabo"
By: Richard J. Botto

Razor Magazine (October/November 2001)

The Red Rocker on The Mexican Meltdown, the power of tequila, the greed of Eddie Van Halen, the madness of David Lee Roth and the possibility of VH IV.

During the first two weeks of October, Razor Magazine will be co-sponsoring Sammy Hagar's birthday bash, the Mexican Meltdown, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I visited Hagar at his California home and found him relaxed, focused and reflective. Additionally, I found him more than willing to talk openly about everything from his family, his enormously successful Cabo Wabo nightclub and tequila company, his band and especially, what REALLY caused the breakup of the second reincarnation of Van Halen.

Razor: Let's talk a little about the evolution of Cabo Wabo. Which came first, the song, the cantina or the tequila?

SH: It was a whole vision. I've had a house down there since about 85-86 and I would go down there two or three times a year to celebrate my birthday in October. During the early Van Halen records, 5150 and OU812, when I would get stuck on lyrics I'd go down to Cabo for a week or two where nobody knew me.

One Sunday morning I was going to breakfast and there was a local guy just wobbling down the dirt road. He was bouncing off this barbed wire fence and he was ripping his pants and his shirt...he had blood all over him. He wasn't hurt bad, but he kept ripping himself up. He was so trashed and probably out all night drinking with his buddies. He was staggering so much. And I thought, man this guy is doing the Cabo Wabo. Just like, Bing! The light went on. And I started thinking to myself Cabo Wabo, Cabo Wabo.

I get back to my place, pick up my guitar and I start writing the lyrics to my old song Make It Last, one of the first songs I ever wrote for one of Montrose's first records. I'm playing the guitar riff in my head, (sings) Da, da, da, there's a sleepy town, da, da, south of the border, and I get excited, I called up Eddie that evening and said, Eddie man, check this out! I got this song called Cabo Wabo. He's going, cool title, what's it about? I start to hum it and he goes, You aren't going to believe this, but Alex and I have beeen working up this thing. And he plays me, over the phone, some of the music to Cabo Wabo. I'm going, Ed, it's magic. It fits. Over the phone! I flew back to the studio and walked in with my lyrics. They had cut the track. I sang it the first time through, just sang right what I was thinking in my head and it fit right to the end of the song. That doesn't happen very often in a collaboration. It was magic.

Razor: The bar was the next part of the vision?

SH: Well, after recording the song, I kept thinking of Cabo. I said to myself, I'm going to build a club down there. I'll make this tequila bar. I will build the Cabo Wabo.

One thing led to another. I bought the land and got a Mexican architect, a friend of mine, Marco Monroy to design it and we started building it.

Next, I got all these different hand made tequilas. I wanted to have all these tequilas that no one had ever tasted. You see, to get down to the root of the thing, I'm a tequila fan forever. The first time that I tasted real tequila - real hand made, 100% pure agave, like what Cabo Wabo is - back in 1985, I flipped out. It'll blow your mind if you've never tasted pure tequila because most of it is 51% tequila and 49% sugar water, chemicals and all this crap.

I would go around to all these little boutique tequila makers and I would taste all these tequilas because I was looking for Cabo Wabo tequila, and I found it. I started bottling it for myself and sold it at the club. Then everybody started flipping out and now the Cabo Wabo tequila company has exploded in America. You know, it's huge.

Razor: Has the agave plant shortage hurt your business?

SH: When I started making Cabo Wabo, the whole industry jumped all over it and people started drinking fine tequilas. So, what happens is that all these people start making tequila that is 100% agave. It caused a shortage because no one saw this trend coming. People started drinking tequila like crazy, and since it takes ten years to grow a plant they were caught short. They started planting and planting, but they were way behind. We're still about two to three years away from the shortage changing and now unfortunately, my tequila is expensive. When it first came out it was about $20 a bottle or less. Demand has been so high that I can't make enough so I'm kind of stuck with having to pay premium prices for agave. My tequila should retail at $80 or $90 a bottle right now if I wanted to keep my profit margin. Instead I throw a lot of the profits back in to keep the price down because I don't want to gouge my fans. You know, Cabo Wabo is unbelievable stuff at $42 a bottle, but at $90 a bottle it ain't so good anymore. It's like, $90? Now this shit better be good! Tequila should be - my tequila should be - $32 or $35 a bottle. Then it's the best shit you can buy for that money. For $35 you ain't going to get a better high or better tasting shit.

Razor: I'll vouch for that...those Waboritas you serve down there knock you on your ass.

SH: Tequila is a special high and my love for it comes from the fact that I like to get high. I don't like to get drunk. When you drink three or four shots of pure tequila, no mixer, just shoot 'em or sip it any way you want to do it, man you get a good buzz. I'm telling you, you'll be on the dance floor with your shirt off. With tequila, you get this really nice little spiritual buzz, and I think it's because it's made from a plant that takes ten years to grow. It takes the agave plant ten years to mature before it becomes sweet and all the sugars and everything develop. It's got soul, man.

Razor: You recently announced the planning of a second Cabo Wabo in Vegas. Is that still a go?

SH: Yeah, we made the deal. I've been asked to build similar Cabo Wabo's in 37 cities, but I'm not interested in doing that. The original Cabo Wabo is a bad-ass joint! I've put so much heart and soul into it for thirteen years, and millions of dollars, to make it this really great place. You just can't cookie cut that.

The Sunset Station Casino people came to me with a whole different concept. It's going to have a 60-lane bowling alley called Cabo Wabowling, psychedelic video screens, boxing, sports and a 5000 seat indoor arena. The club will have 1500 seats. They even came down and looked at my house in Cabo and so they're making it like Cabo Wabo MiCasa. We had planned to open for Cinco De Mayo 2002, which is May 5th for those who don't speak Espanol. I don't know if we're going to make it. But I hope next year, middle of the year, summer. We're going to do a big, free concert out in the street and open the doors that night and say, come on in! We'll kick it off pretty damn good.

Razor: You've been doing the birthday bash for thirteen years, ever since the club opened and have had a who's who of the music business celebrate with you...care to drop some names?

SH: There's been lots. I would throw together bands and I would call them diferent things. One of the famous ones was Los Tres Guzanos, which means Three Worms. It was Michael Anthony, the bass player from Van Halen, myself and David Lauser, my drummer from the Waboritas.

Sometimes I jam with other people. Stephen Stills, Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, Matt Sorum who was in Guns n' Roses, Lars Ulrich from Metallica, all would come down and play. It would be a different line up all the time. You didn't know who was going to be there. John Entwistle from the Who has done it twice. Ever since Van Halen ended, I just do it with my band. My older fans that maybe didn't like me in Van Halen - I don't know what happened - but they all started coming down to the club.

We get like 4000 to 5000 people trying to get into this 650 seat venue. That's actually really sad to me. People fly from all over the world and they get there and they find that they can't get a ticket.

I really look forward to this every year. Once I hit the stage it's the most fun gig I ever do. It's complete spontaneity. You can fuck up all you want, it's all forgiving. You can't do that when you're in concerts someplace where people pay $45 for their seat. Then you have to give them the real deal.

Razor: How long do you usually play on your birthday? Do you roll until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning?

SH: I usually don't. I can't play for more than a couple of hours because there's smoke in the place, I lose my voice, there are no monitors and my ears ring so bad because it's so loud. It's not professional, so it wears you out a lot more. And it's so hot with all those people that have been in there all day. The second the doors open there's 600 to 700 people, boom! We got air conditioning, but it doesn't cover it, man. The air conditioner is for about 400 people coming and going.

Razor: One of the things you mentioned that I find interesting is that the fans who didn't like you in Van Halen are coming out now. What do you attribute that to? I mean you hear all this new Van Halen versus old Van Halen, this was softer or that was harder...

SH: It's different things. There's no question that with Roth, Van Halen was unique and that got the band off the ground, but it had this glamorous, dated image about it. When I joined, I wasn't into that whole heavy metal fashion thing. I wasn't a leather king or doing the glam thing like Roth and Van Halen were before the Van Hagar era. I like to call it the Van Hagar era just to clarify it, not because I try to change the name.

There's still that hard core Roth army that say, Hey, the Roth years were it. Fine, and I'm OK with people thinking that. I just know that what we did was good. It wasn't a matter of what was better, but was what we did good? Yes, it was good.

Every record was number one. We sold 42 million records. We sold out every arena in the world. You can't do that if it's not good and they proved that with the Gary Cherone record, I mean, they died. We sold 7 million records every time out. They sold 400 thousand.

Razor: What did you think of that record?

SH: It stunk. It was terrible. It was a horrible and it wasn't Gary Cherone's fault. He's a decent singer. It was just an Eddie Van Halen solo record. The only thing I won't get into in this article is burning on Eddie, but he deserves it because he is the problem. He changed at the end of our era. He flipped out and I don't know what happened. We got a new manager and suddenly Eddie, that manager and Alex decided that they were going to fucking control the world and make so much money. They thought they were going to try and make $50 million instead of $5 or $6 million we were always making each. I mean, we made plenty of money. That wasn't a problem with this band, ya know? (chuckles) They all got greedy. They thought, we'll bring Roth back and we'll get Sammy to go along with it. Fuck you, I said. I ain't going along with no kind of stupid shit greatest hits record and all this stuff. Get out of here! We don't need to be doing anything cheap to our fans.

We had already done the milk commercial and other stuff. I wouldn't do it, so they got Roth. He came back and the whole thing was a farce, so then they got Gary Cherone, who Roth claims in his book was already in the band, right? It was a damn marketing trick. They thought they were going to get all the old Van Halen fans back and keep all the Van Hagar fans and then get a new singer and not have to pay Dave and Sammy. Then Eddie and Al would split the money. I mean, can you believe they would be this crazy? The whole thing kicked them in the ass. There is a God you know. (laughs) You don't do this kind of stuff. People aren't stupid. Your fans aren't twelve year old kids, for God's sake. They've been with us for ten years with me and seven years with Roth before that. Seventeen years. They know what the fuck is going on here.

So 11 years, I'm going, OK it's time to go on and do something else. With my band the first thing I said, I'm putting together an anti-Van Halen band. I did not want to do what Roth did and go out and try to imitate Van Halen AT ALL. So my old fans didn't like me in Van Halen because it was different. I joined a band. I wasn't doing my trip. I was doing my trip in a band and it made it different. When I left, a lot of the old Montrose and VOA and Three Lock Box people came back, which is great. They love my new band. It's a pure Hagar band again and we've developed a lot of new fans with hits like Mas Tequila and Little White Lie.

My audience age group would blow your mind. The average age is in the low 30's or late 20's, that's the bulk, but we've got people in their 50's and we've got people in their teens. It's fuckin' great, man! It brings generations together, what I do, because it's fun.

Razor: The stunt with Roth at the MTV awards - Roth appearing on stage with the rest of the band unannounced - was that after you were gone? Were you aware that that was going to happen?

SH: Oh, I knew that that was going to happen but I was gone. It was a done deal long before that. They were doing that to promote the greatest hits record, which, as I mentioned, is why I'm not in the band, because I refused to be part of the package. Every record when I was in the band went to number one, right? Sold 5, 6, 7 million records? So the fans have it, right? So to get together to write two new songs that our hard core fans have to have and make them buy a double CD set at twice the price because it's got all these songs on it, Roth tunes, Sammy tunes, it's a scam.

You know who does that? The record companies do that. Every band has a record company contract, and when you leave that label or the band breaks up or when your career is over, the record company has a right to do it. Well, Van Halen had that in their old contract. When I joined the band, we took that out of the contract, no greatest hits record. As soon as our manager, my manager, Ed Leffler died, they brought in Alex's brother in law I can't even find the right words. But this guy took the mighty Van Halen DOWN. They fired him now, too. They found him out. First thing he does is go to Warner Brothers and make a new contract, sell them a greatest hits record for ten million bucks. I got my 2.5 million bucks, but I didn't need the money. Did anybody else need they money? Why did we do this?

Razor: Didn't this start with Eddie demanding that Humans Being be part of the Twister soundtrack, something you were completely against?

SH: It was the same issue. Why put one song on the soundtrack with a bunch of people like KD Land and Stevie Nicks? Nothing against those people, but I don't know a Van Halen fan that has a KD Lang or Stevie Nicks record sitting next to 5150 or 1984, you know?

We're going to make our fans buy this soundtrack for one song? I was against it. I did it to keep the band together. I was being threatened, If you ain't here tomorrow morning we assume you quit the band. So I did it, unhappily. But I refused to do the greatest hits.

And once I was out, I knew what they were going to do. They were going to do every cheese ball, fucking thing that a band could possibly do. But here's a band, the biggest band in the world coming off five number one albums in a row and they willingly put out a greatest hits record. Come on man! Chicago does that. There's one original member. The record company does that with bands like that. They did it to me on the Unboxed record. Ten years after I left Geffen, I finally let them do it.

But really, in hindsight, fuck, it was time to break up. We stopped getting along. We stopped agreeing. They had a different agenda. I still had my golden vision of the biggest, greatest band in the world not doing anything wrong. Don't ever cop out. Don't EVER sell out. Don't EVER fuck your fans. Don't EVER go out and do a bad show. Don't make a bad record. You don't do it! Take five years off like the Rolling Stones do if you have to, until you feel like doing it right. And these guys just went crazy the other way, so we went separate directions. Long story short, it was time.

Razor: How did you hear about Eddie's cancer?

SH: Oh, I had known about that for years. They've just been keeping it under wraps because they didn't want to make any public statements. He's OK. It's a bummer for anybody to have anything like that, but it's not like he's at risk of dying any minute. He's not on his deathbed.

Razor: In retrospect, now that years have passed, obviously there was a lot of bitterness, a lot of BS thrown back and forth, he blames you, you blamed him, but now that years have gone by...

SH: Straight up, let's get over the blame thing. Everything they said was a lie. The first song I wrote after I left was Little White Lie. Those guys started lying, saying that I quit. I wasn't a team player. But the team was doing some unethical things in my book and I don't do that. I didn't quit. I was fired from that band because I wouldn't go along with their big scam. And their big scam backfired, fucked them, bit them in the ass. And if I had still been in the band, I would have been just like them. I would have been an asshole to the fans, and I would have lost some credibility, as far as I'm concerned. If I tell the fans this is the way it's going to be, you can count on me. If I say, buy my tequila, it will blow your mind, it's going to blow your mind. I'm not going to send them out to buy some bullshit. I'm not going to put milk on my lip and tell them to drink milk if I don't drink milk.

Razor: So you think they're going to go back and do a Roth record?

SH: They've tried with Roth three times. Van Halen can't do Roth. They've already tried again and again and again. Obviously it hasn't worked yet. It ain't gonna work. So I don't know what they're going to do, but I am not interested. Seriously, the only thing I am interested in doing...

Razor: Have they approached you?

SH: Kind of. No...I shouldn't say that because I have not talked to Eddie or Alex. I haven't talked to them since the end. I do talk to Michael Anthony all the time. I've talked to their attorney. I talk to their accountant. I talk to their tour manager. I talk to their roadies who tell me things. But I don't want to lead anybody on. I am NOT interested. And they haven't ACTUALLY asked me. If Eddie called me up tomorrow and said, I'm sorry, I want you to join the band. I would say, well, I accept your apology and I'll tell you what, you guys fly down to Cabo unannounced, not on my birthday. Let's jam for a week at the club. No money involved. No fucking ticket sales. Don't tell anyone, and let's see what we got. And if it was beautiful like it used to be, great; I'd consider it. But just to go do it for the money, for the whole business end of it, no way man. I ain't gonna get caught up in that crap with these guys again.

Everyone knows we hate each other right now. We're still pissed off, so it would look bad unless we made a friendship. We would have to get together for a week and we'd have to see if our friendship was still there and if the music was still there. Then, hey, it's all fine. I would hate to burn my fans though. I think my fans now would be really pissed off. They'd say, Sammy don't take us on this trip again, man! The Waboritas - I would feel bad for the band. So I don't know if I could ever do it.

The thing that I would LIKE to do, that I keep saying jokingly in the press, but I'm serious, is the Sam and Dave tour. If Dave was cool, if him and I could get together...I'd say, let's just all get together. Forget about a record. Forget about the big business. Let's just go book a stadium in every town. $25 tickets, ya know, like Cabo Wabo time, so everyone could come. Do an hour with Dave, a half hour with Ed and Al doing their solos. They've always got to do their silly-ass solos. They aren't silly-ass solos, actually, Eddie's solos are brilliant and so are Al's, but I don't like sitting at a concert for twenty minutes watching a drummer beat the shit out of his drums. It should be shorter, but that's OK. Then, I could come out for an hour and do the Van Hagar era, and then at the end Roth and I come together and I'll sing one of his songs and he can sing one of mine like Finish What Ya Started, you know it's about the only one that would fit his range. And we'll do Dancing in the Streets, and maybe we'll do Hold On I'm Coming by the original Sam and Dave.

We don't even have to call it the Sam and Dave tour, but nickname it that. Give the fans at least something special. I'm down with that.

Razor: So there's no blood feud with Roth? He's been pretty outspoken in his lack of regard for you.

SH: I don't hate the guy. He kind of has a little thing for me because I replaced him. If Gary Cherone would have went on and taken the band even farther, I would probably have a little attitude about Gary, too. So I can't blame Dave. He has got no reason to dislike me because I don't even know the guy.

Razor: How did the band's break-up affect the Cabo Wabo situation?

SH: It was simple. They just took a tax write-off on their little percentage and gave it back to me. Cabo Wabo was my trip and everybody knows it and they'll admit it too. We dissolved everything in the marriage and I got Cabo Wabo. In the divorce they got the little VH logo with the rings on it, which was partly mine, and things like me having no attachment to the Van Halen name. I mean, I could have sued them. I was a partner. I could have said, oh no, you can't use the name Van Halen anymore; you should pay me. But I'm not into all that crap. It's Eddie's and Al's fucking last name for God's sake. I wanted Cabo Wabo. That was my baby. So I got Cabo Wabo and it's turned out to be quite a success story.

Razor: Obviously. You seem almost reluctantly successful as a business man.

SH: Yeah, reluctantly. You know, I HATE business. I've been fortunate to always find good people to run things for me. If I had to run the club, I wouldn't have one. If I had to watch over the production of the tequila, distribution and all that, I wouldn't do it. Don't get me wrong, I taste the tequila every time it comes out of a barrel. But I don't run the day to day business. God, that would be so boring.

Razor: Looking forward, what's going on with the Waboritas? New album? Some touring?

SH: I took this year off because my wife and I had a new baby girl, Samantha Pastel Hagar, my second daughter, born March 24th. I have a five year old also, her name is Kama. I kept my band on pay all year and they don't like just taking the money. They want to play, so we're doing two weeks and we're warming up for the birthday bash. We're also re-recording I Can't Drive 55 for Nascar. I've got six GREAT new songs and we'll probably start recording right after Christmas and hopefully get a record out May or June. Then we'll do an extensive tour. The Waboritas, we're a party band. We throw a party. We throw an event. I have a stage that looks just like the Cabo Wabo. It's killer! And 50 to 60 people ON stage. We've got four or five waitresses, a couple of bartenders, twenty cases of Cabo Wabo tequila, and we serve the people drinks just like in the bar. I'm in my bar. I'm in the Cabo Wabo. I'm playing a 500 to 600 seat bar, you might say, and we have 10 000 to 12 000 people out there watching us. it's interactive. I bring people in and out, put them on stage and it's just like this party. I talk to people. We have a REAL party.

The Mexican Meltdown is what we are starting to call it. You come, we drink tequila, we party and we play festive music and we have a blast. This is about touching people's hearts and souls and making them feel good.

The main thing is when you leave that place you're going to be smiling and laughing. It's going to make you feel good for days! For $50 or whatever you're going to spend that night, you can't have a better time. And that's my guarantee. That's my stamp of approval. That's what the Waboritas do.

Razor: And as far as the writing and recording process now...I know you said you were a party band, but do you feel a need to pump out an I'll Fall In Love Again or Why Can't This Be Love...Something that crosses over?

SH: Quite honestly I don't feel a need to do anything except for what I'm doing. My record company would love for me to get a big hit, to cross over and sell five or six million records again. I am not interested.

It could happen by accident, like how it happened with Carlos Santana. You would have never thought that Carlos in this day and age would sell 17 million records, so God bless him. Great! I would love a fluke like that.

But I love my little fan base. I sell my three or four hundred thousand records, and I'm happy. And I go out and play a 3000 or 4000 seater instead of a stadium. I have ten to fifteen markets where I can play 15 or 20 thousand, but the rest of the places I'll do 2700 out of 3000 sometimes. I like playing as long as I can until I'm worn out and giving my fans what I do without compromising. That's more fun than anything.

I'm the only guy doing what I do. I never think about fashion, what's in and what's out. I'm not in, so I'm not out! I'm not out. I'm not in. I'm just there. I don't fit anywhere, but I just am. I like that.

Razor: You said you change your set every night. But what are the songs that YOU have to play every night? Not the ones the fans have to hear to go home satisfied, but the ones you personally have to play before you leave the stage?

SH: I gotta play Heavy Metal. I gotta play One Way to Rock. I gotta play Top of the World, Finish What You Started, Why Can't This Be Love, Poundcake, Amsterdam, and 5150 from Van Halen. Dreams would be a standard set, but that's a tough song to sing every night. From Montrose it would be Rock Candy, Space Station Number 5 or Bad Motor Scooter one of those has to be played. Mas Tequila, 55, they have to be played. I can't NOT play them. Eagles Fly, I don't think I can get by without playing that either.

Razor: Hard to change the set every night with that many 'must' plays.

SH: You know, it's really cool to have that many songs to choose from so when you get bored...or at that moment you feel, you KNOW, what song right now would just kick ass, and you're thinking about the concert...because I'm IN IT! I'm doing the show. I'm IN the concert. I'm in the middle of this shit. And all of a sudden I'll say, oh fuck, watch this, watch this! I yell, Poundcake right now! And some chick throws a pair of panties up on stage, and I hold them up...(sings Poundcake) and this fucking place goes crazy. That's the way I play and that's a party, man. And without that I wouldn't be doing this anymore.

If I HAD TO go out and do a show every night exactly the same, just work like a job, I wouldn't fucking tour. I would just go play when I wanted to and that was it. I'd get so worn out and tired. I'm doing it right, believe me.

Interview 2001 Razor Magazine