Sammy Hagar Releases His Tell-All Memoir

Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
03/23/2011 9:28 pm

"I've been maybe one of the most misunderstood rockers of all time…"
Sammy Hagar

Sammy Hagar is ruffling feathers with his new autobiography, Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, which hit stores last week. Part rock 'n' roll tell-all, part motivational manual, Red recounts the rags-to-riches story of Hagar and his Forrest Gump-like trip through the rock world. Hagar slaps a backstage pass on his reader's thigh and grants full access to all the sex (Van Halen allegedly set up tents under the stage where they would have trysts during their live shows with women who were hand-picked by roadies), drugs (you name it, Hagar has snorted, smoked or ingested it), and rock 'n' roll (he's played with some of the biggest names in music, including The Grateful Dead and Kenny Chesney) of his four decades in music.

While we may know our fair share about the lives of many of his peers (Tommy Lee, Keith Richards and Ozzy, off the top of my head), Sammy Hagar—he of the Shirley Temple ringlets and one of the most powerful, distinctive voices in rock music—not so much. And he prefers it that way. His philosophy has always been to fly low on the radar. "If you're never in, you're never out," he says. But at 63, Hagar is finally ready to talk. And boy, does he ever have a lot to get off his chest.

Much of the ballyhoo concerning Red stems from Hagar's no-holds-barred account of his years fronting Van Halen, one of the most beloved bands in rock history. He dishes plenty on the group's debauched tours and messy parties, the divided friendships and dysfunction within the band, and, of course, his controversial exit (Hagar says he was fired, the Van Halens say he quit). But Hagar is especially brutal in his treatment of guitar icon and the band's incorrigible namesake, Eddie Van Halen, comparing his former bandmate to a vampire and calling him a "fruitcake" for claiming to have cured his cancer (Van Halen was treated for and beat tongue cancer) by having pieces of his tongue liquefied and injected into his body, and that he stayed awake through hip replacement surgery and even helped the doctors drill the hole. Hagar goes so far as to suggest the legendary axe man is musically impotent due to drug and alcohol abuse.

Written with friend and San Francisco-based music critic Joel Selvin, who describes Hagar as having a Labrador personality, "bouncing up with his paws on your chest and licking your face," Red sets the record straight on Van Halen, at least as far as Hagar sees it. But lest you think the book is all gossip and Eddie bashing, Red is also an underdog story, the tale of a guy who grew up "bone poor" in post-World War II California and ascended through the ranks—from his days in the '70s hard rock band Montrose, to his multi-platinum-selling solo career, to his roller coaster ride with Van Halen, to his Cabo Wabo tequila and Cantina and the formation of his supergroup Chickenfoot—to reach the pinnacle of the rock world on the back of sheer perseverance. "[Red] is my manual for people who are going through rough times to tell them, 'It can be accomplished. If you can dream it, you can attain it.' I know that sounds trite, but I'm living proof that you can do anything if you just keep at it."

Sam Roy "Sammy" Hagar, affectionately known as The Red Rocker for the red leather outfits he almost always wore onstage, wasn't always bound for rock stardom. Born in Salinas, California, Sammy grew up in Fontana, a steel mill town in the southern part of the state. His father, a boxer who captured the Bantamweight title in the mid-forties, groomed his son to follow in his footsteps. "I was raised an athlete and I was really into sports. I was boxing all the time when I was about fourteen. I was getting ready to go professional until I took a good look at the guys in the gym one day and decided there had to be a better way."

Hagar first learned to play guitar from a friend who would come over to the house and teach him how to play. His mother bought him his first guitar on the conditions that he learn to play the song "Never On Sunday" (from the Greek film of the same name) and that he get any silly notions of becoming a rock star out of his head. Although she was very supportive of her son's interest in music, she worried deeply about his financial security, even while Sammy was buying her cars and houses and sending her on vacations as a member of Van Halen. "I hope you have a backup plan," she'd tell him. "I hope you're saving your money. You have to invest."

After giving up a boxing career, Hagar began singing in the late '60s, performing with various California bands including Skinny, the Fabulous Catillas, Justice Brothers, and Dust Cloud. In 1968, Hagar joined his first professional group, the Johnny Fortune Band, as a vocalist and rhythm guitarist. During this time, he built up a solid reputation in the California hard rock scene.

Hagar's first taste of success, however, came when rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose left The Edgar Winter Group to form his own band. Sammy weaseled Ronnie’s number out of somebody and called him up. "He invited me over," says Hagar. "I had 'Bad Motor Scooter' and 'Make It Last' written at the time. I played them for him and sang a little bit and we jammed it up and he said you got it."

Sammy joined Montrose in 1973. Six of the eight songs on the band's debut album, Montrose, were penned by Hagar including "Bad Motor Scooter," the first song he'd ever written. The band released only one other album together, Paper Money (1974), before Sammy went solo in 1976, taking Bill Church, the group's bassist, along with him. Montrose's drummer Denny Carmassi later joined Sammy's band along with keyboardist Geoff Workman.

Hagar's solo career met with increasing success with albums such as Nine on a Ten Scale and his self-titled second album, also known as The Red Album. Over the course of the next four years, he would release six more albums including Musical Chairs (1997); Street Machine (1979); Danger Zone (1980); Standing Hampton (1981); Three Lock Box (1982); and VOA (1984), the last three of which went platinum, gold, platinum respectively. Hit singles like "There's Only One Way to Rock," "Your Love is Driving Me Crazy," and "I Can't Drive 55" made Hagar a headlining act in many parts of the US and Europe.

Hagar also hooked up with Journey guitarist Neal Schon, Foghat bassist Kenny Aaronson, and Santana drummer Mike Shrieve in 1984 to form the short-lived supergroup HSAS (Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve). The band released the live album, Through the Fire, which was recorded from a small Christmas tour to benefit local charities, as well as a studio version of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

In 1985, after an exhaustive tour, Sammy retreated to his home outside San Francisco to rest and plan his next album. A phone call would put those plans on hold for over a decade.

Coming up, surviving Van Halen.
# 1

Please register with a free account to post on the forum.