Uncompromising and determined, singer Sammy Hagar has followed his own creative impulses throughout his more than 25-year career, in spite of criticism and disrespect. He began as the frontman for a band called Montrose, which gained recognition after its demise. After being fired from the band, Sammy Hagar moved on to a 10-year solo career and became known as the “Red Rocker.” In 1985, he joined the already successful rock band Van Halen as the group’s controversial new lead singer. Then, in 1996, when he was once again ousted, Sammy Hagar quickly and successfully resurrected his solo career.
Sammy Hagar was born on October 13, 1947, in Monterey, California, the youngest of four children. His father was a bantamweight boxing champ the year he was born. Hagar spent most of his childhood in Fontana, California, just east of Los Angeles. His father inspired him to pursue his own boxing career until he was a teenager, and he continued to maintain much of his physical training for many years afterward. At the age of 18, he learned to play guitar, and began his long career in music.
Hagar performed in nightclubs in San Bernardino, California, before moving to San Francisco in the early 1970s. He discovered that an up-and-coming guitarist named Ronnie Montrose was forming his own band, and Hagar started singing for the band Montrose in the summer of 1973. Before the end of the year, Montrose, Hagar, bassist Bill Church and drummer Denny Car-massi released their self-titled debut on Warner Bros. Records. The LP included long-lasting tracks such as “Rock Candy” and “Bad Motor Scooter,” which would occasionally be played on radio stations decades later.
In 1974, the Montrose band released Paper Money and the band began to gain momentum. “As a high-energy quartet, Montrose succeeded where others have failed due to the accessibility of their material and their razor-sharp arrangements,” wrote Barry Taylor in Billboard. Later that year, guitarist and bandleader Montrose fired Hagar as the group’s lead singer. Hagar and Montrose had a dispute over the band’s musical direction and their egos clashed. Montrose said Hagar was “too limited,” while Sammy felt stifled. “I was creatively constipated in that band,” Hagar later told Evan Hosie in Rolling Stone, “but Montrose influenced me a lot.”
Eventually, Church and Carmassi both left Montrose to join Hagar’s solo project. In 1976, Hagar released his first solo album called Nine on a Ten Scale on Capitol Records, and began a fast-paced career. He released his next effort, Sammy Hagar —also known as “The Red Album”—in January of the following year, which
Born October 13, 1947, in Monterey, CA; son of a boxer; married Betsy, c. 1969, divorced 1992; married Kari, November 29, 1995; children: Aaron, Andrew, Kama.
Singer for the band Montrose, 1973-74; released solo debut, Nine on a Ten Scale, Capitol, 1976; released five more LPs on Capitol, 1977-80; released Standing Hampton, Geffen, 1982; released five more LPs on Geffen, 1983-94; joined Van Halen, 1985; released five albums with Van Halen, 1986-95; split from Van Halen, 1996; resurrected solo career with Marching to Mars on Track Factory/MCA Records, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Track Factory/MCA Records, 70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.
included the songs “Red,” “Crusin’ & Boozin’,” and “Rock N’ Roll Weekend.” Then in October of 1977, his next release, Musical Chairs, arrived in stores.
From the beginning of his career, Hagar sparked the interest of a wide variety of audiences. Hereceived some criticism for his accessibility, while others condemned him for being too heavy and loud. Evan Hosie wrote in Rolling Stone, “It’s hard to reconcile such a charming, articulate fellow, who casually talks about life after death and his love of science fiction, with the guy yelling to a half-crazed crowd.” His music often reflected his belief in life on other planets, as well as his interest in other mystical subjects.
Early in his career, Hagar toured with popular rock bands such as Kiss and Boston. In 1978, he won the Bay Area Music Award for “Musician of the Year” in San Francisco, California. With his live performances adding to his popularity, he began headlining his own shows in 1979. At the time, his band included Bill Church, guitarist Gary Pihl, keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald, and drummer Chuck Ruff. “One could actually feel the warmth and rapport he had with the audience, especially when he jumped off the stage into the crowd,” John Deegan wrote of Hagar in Billboard.
“I’m the kind of performer who happens live,” Hagar told Jack McDonough in Billboard. “It’s more coherent for people. People would hear the records and see me onstage and not put the two together.” When he went back into the studio to record Street Machine, he decided to produce the album himself. It included the tracks “Trans Am (Highway Wonderland), “”Plain Jane,” and “This Planet’s on Fire (Burn in Hell).” During the same year, singer Bette Midler performed Hagar’s song “Keep On Rockin’” in her movie The Rose.
In March of 1980, Sammy Hagar released the live album Loud and Clear, with performances of Montrose hits like “Bad Motor Scooter” as well a selection of his solo songs, such as “I’ve Done Everything for You” (which was later made a huge hit by singer Rick Springfield). In June of the same year, he released his next effort, Danger Zone, which included tunes like “Love or Money” and “20th Century Man.”
In 1981, drummer David Lauser joined Hagar’s band, and the group began recording Standing Hampton for Hagar’s new record label, Geffen Records. The record escalated Hagar’s popularity with “I’ll Fall in Love Again,” “There’s Only One Way to Rock,” and “Heavy Metal.” The latter track also appeared on the Heavy Metal film soundtrack. Later, Hagar also contributed songs to other soundtracks such as Vision Quest, Footloose, and Over the Top.
Hagar began to climb higher up the Billboard charts with his next LP, Three Lock Box, which included hits like the title track and “Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy.” However, Hagar decided to take a slight departure from his solo career in 1984. He teamed up with Journey guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve to form HSAS (derived from the first letters of the members’ last names). The group played a number of West Coast concerts and recorded the album Through the Fire.
Hagar returned to his solo project in 1985 with his highly successful record VOA. Sparked the by the popularity of the hit single “I Can’t Drive 55,” VOA reached platinum within the year. After more than ten years on his own, Sammy Hagar had begun to truly make his mark in rock n’ roll.
Then, one day in 1985, Hagar’s auto mechanic, Claudio Zampolli, was doing some work on Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s Lamborghini. Van Halen was looking for a new lead singer to replace David Lee Roth. Zampolli suggested Eddie Van Halen call Sammy Hagar, which he did, right from the mechanic’s shop. “I had a gut feeling that it was going to happen,” Hagar recalled to David Fricke in Rolling Stone. “I told Betsy, my wife, ‘These guys are going to hit on me to join this band.’ When Eddie called, I got butterflies in my stomach the second he said, ‘hi.’”
Hagar flew down from his home near San Francisco to jam with Van Halen in Los Angeles. By the end of the session, Hagar had decided to give up his solo career and join the band. The decision was met with controversy from critics and fans of Van Halen. He had such a different style and persona from David Lee Roth that few thought he could maintain the group’s success. In 1986, Van Halen released 5150 with Hagar center stage. The album became Van Halen’s first number one album and the new configuration sold out every concert on the tour.
The camaraderie between Hagar and Van Halen was highly publicized, and the foursome displayed an obvious unity in their concert performances. “We had an instant rapport,” Hagar commented in Guitar Player. “It’s a funny thing. I feel like I’ve known Edward, Michael, and Alex for a long time.”
Hagar’s enthusiasm and positive attitude revitalized the members of Van Halen. “Sammy’s got a very up attitude about everything,” 5150 producer Mick Jones told Rolling Stone. “He’s extremely positive, and that shook everybody out of the doldrums.” Eddie Van Halen later told David Wild in Rolling Stone, “From the first second, Sammy could do anything I threw at him. Things I had in me that I wanted to express, I was able to do with Sammy singing them.”
After the release of 5150, Hagar had to release another solo album to fulfill his contractual obligations with Geffen Records. Eddie Van Halen played bass on the album and co-produced it with Hagar. Originally released as Sammy Hagar, the name was later changed to I Never Said Goodbye as a result of a name contest. Van Halen released their next effort OU812 in 1988.
Two years later, Hagar led Van Halen into another international business venture. The band opened their own nightclub in Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of Baja California in Mexico. The called the club Cabo Wabo after the song of the same name on OU812. “That place had dirt roads when I started going there,” Hagar later told Contemporary Musicians. “I thought, ‘God, if Van Halen ever played down here….’ When we stood onstage, it was so exciting to me because it was the fulfillment one of my dreams.”
Hagar later started the tradition of celebrating his birthday at Cabo Wabo every October. Hagar, Van-Halen bass player Michael Anthony, and Hagar’s former drummer David Lauser formed a side project that performed at Cabo Wabo several times each year, called Los Tres Gusanos (“The Three Worms”). Hagar eventually bought out the other members of Van Halen and took over the club. Cabo Wabo later became the originator of its own brand of tequila, which began to surface around the United States in 1997.
Around the same time Cabo Wabo opened, Hagar also ventured into the business of fashion. He started his own line of “Red Rocker” clothing and designed a “Red Rocker” mountain bike after becoming an avid cyclist. Eventually, he limited the clothing to sales in shops around Northern California and later just sold it at Cabo Wabo. “It’s just a hobby,” Hagar told Contemporary Musicians. “It’s fun, but it’s not the way I make a living.”
In 1991, Van Halen returned with their next release For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and the monstrous hit “Right Now.” After Van Halen’s tour for the album, Hagar and his wife Betsy divorced. During the same year, their son Aaron Hagar joined a band called Bloodline with the offspring of other popular musicians from the Doors, the Allman Brothers, and Miles Davis.
Taking a break from the studio, Van Halen released a live album in 1993, called Live: Right Here, Right Now. The following year, Sammy Hagar released a greatest hits collection of his solo work, called Unboxed, which also included two new songs, “High Hopes” and “Buying My Way into Heaven.” He returned with Van Halen in 1995 for the release of Balance, which included the hits “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” and “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You.”
After the tour for Balance, Van Halen began to go through some turmoil. The other members of the group demanded Hagar record the song “Humans Being” for the Twister soundtrack, while he was expecting his new wife Kari to give birth. After several more business and personal disputes, Hagar split from Van Halen. According to the band, Hagar wanted to be a solo artist. However, Hagar insisted that he was fired. Van Halen rejoined with original singer David Lee Roth to record a few songs for a greatest hits record. Then, former Extreme singer Gary Cherone took Hagar’s post. The break-up became highly publicized with no common ground. Although Hagar was devastated by the betrayal, he quickly picked up the pieces. “I can say it was 10 of the greatest years of my life. One miserable year,” Hagar told Peter Tilden in Live. “I’m more disappointed in how it ended than anything else.”
Not long after the split with Van Halen, Hagar met former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart on a plane to Hawaii. Based on his own experience with the death of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, Hart convinced Hagar of the importance of getting right back into making music. Hagar took his advice, and in May of 1997 released Marching to Mars on Track Factory/MCA Records.
On Marching to Mars, Hagar recruited contributions from several of his friends, including Mickey Hart, singer Huey Lewis, Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, Brother Cane guitarist Damon Johnson, and Bootsy Collins. He also recorded the song “Leaving the Warmth of the Womb” with the original members of the Montrose band—Ronnie Montrose, Bill Church, and Denny Carmassi. The first single “Little White Lie,” based on his public squabbles with Van Halen, debuted at Number 18 on the Billboard charts. It was followed up with the single “Both Sides Now.” “I felt like I had something to prove in 1975, when Montrose broke up,” Hagar told Melinda Newman in Billboard after the release of Marching to Mars. “I felt like I had something to prove when I joined Van Halen in 1986, because of David Lee Roth, and I feel the same way now.”
Hagar toured with a newly formed band, which included his former drummer David Lauser and his former keyboardist Jesse Harms, along with guitarist Victor Johnson and bass player Mona. At the age of 50, Sammy Hagar had struck out on a new path in his career, without missing a beat. “I don’t feel any different from when I was 12 years old,” Hagar told Contemporary Musicians. “In some ways, nothing changes. Rock n’ roll allows you to feel and act any way you want. If I were a lawyer, I wouldn’t be able to be the way I am.”
Nine on a Ten Scale, Capitol, 1976.
Sammy Hagar, Capitol, 1977.
Musical Chairs, Capitol, 1977.
Street Machine, Capitol, 1979.
Loud and Clear, Capitol, 1980.
Danger Zone, Capitol, 1980.
(Contributor) Heavy Metal (soundtrack), Asylum, 1981.
Standing Hampton, Geffen, 1982.
Three Lock Box, Geffen, 1983.
(Contributor) Footloose (soundtrack), Columbia, 1984.
VOA, Geffen, 1985.
(Contributor) Vision Quest (soundtrack), Geffen, 1985.
(Contributor) Over the Top (soundtrack), CBS, 1986.
Sammy Hagar (a.k.a. I Never Said Goodbye), Geffen, 1987.
Unboxed, Geffen, 1994.
Marching to Mars, Track Factory/MCA, 1997.
Montrose, Warner Bros., 1973.
Paper Money, Warner Bros., 1974.
Through the Fire, Geffen, 1984.
With Van Halen
5150, Warner Bros., 1986.
OU812, Warner Bros., 1988.
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, Warner Bros., 1991.
Live: Right Here, Right Now, Warner Bros., 1993.
Balance, Warner Bros., 1995.
Billboard, March 5, 1977; December 24, 1977; February 11, 1978; February 3, 1979; March 17, 1979; January 19, 1980; June 7, 1980; July 12, 1996; April 26, 1997.
Entertainment Weekly, May 23, 1997; April 22, 1994; May 30, 1997.
Guitar Player, September 1980, October 1987.
Library Journal, February 15, 1982.
Los Angeles, August 1992; November 1993.
People, September 3, 1984; June 23, 1986.
Rolling Stone, March 24, 1977; April 1, 1982; June 5, 1986; July 3, 1986; October 22, 1987; February 18, 1993; June 30, 1994; April 6, 1995.
Playboy, October 1991.
Scene Magazine, July 17, 1997.
Stereo Review, June 1982, May 1983, September 1997.
Variety, July 16, 1980.
Wilson Library Bulletin, January 1985.
"Hagar, Sammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hagar-sammy
"Hagar, Sammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hagar-sammy
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