Sammy Hagar calls himself “the happiest man in rock and roll.” It’s hard to disagree. After 30 years in rock spent fronting two of the most popular bands of their time, Montrose and Van Halen, and several platinum solo albums, Hagar’s achieved most of his rock and roll dreams.
These days, he spends his time overseeing his Cabo Wabo nightclub, the manufacture of his top-shelf Cabo Wabo tequila and touring the country with his band, also called the Cabo Wabos. He’ll be in Indianapolis tonight, Wednesday, July 16, for a show at the Murat Theatre. (Call 239-5151 for tickets.)
In a phone interview from his home, Hagar said he especially loves playing with his new band. “The Wabos are the most dysfunctional looking band but, musically, we’re the most functional band I’ve ever been in,” he said. “We’ve never had a musical difference. I love this band for its versatility. They can take anything and do it well. They don’t copy Van Halen; it’s a whole renewed energy and enthusiasm for the songs. They love playing and they’re not jaded. This band keeps me very much alive onstage.”
Last year at this time, Hagar was on the road with David Lee Roth for an amphitheater tour of former Van Halen singers. Although heavily hyped, the shows turned out to be a disappointment for Hagar, who hoped they would goad Van Halen into reuniting.
Also, he said, there was an ego clash between the two lead singers. “The shows were awesome, but Dave turned out not to be a buddy,” Hagar said. “I was looking for him and I to become friends and hang out. And then maybe rope the Van Halen brothers into coming out and doing it for real. That would be the ultimate thing Van Halen could do for the fans. But Dave is not user-friendly, so it’ll never happen.”
He said, “Dave was real inconsistent on that tour. Indianapolis was one of the cities where he actually was good. Some nights he’d come out and actually try, and he’d be almost as good as his old self again. Indianapolis was one of those shows.”
He recruited the members of the Cabo Wabos by asking friends such as the Dead’s Mickey Hart for names of good musicians. The group has good chemistry onstage, he said, but so did his former band. “We didn’t have any problems with Van Halen until the very end,” he said.
“I’m not here to praise those guys, because in the end it got about as ugly as it could get. It almost came to blows several times. But for nine and a half years, Eddie and I had one argument, and Alex and I had one argument that was worth mentioning, with ‘fuck yous’ going back and forth. One. Eddie and Alex had about 150 arguments that just about came to blows. We had to break them up several times."
“We did our thing and nobody told anybody what to do. The chemistry was honestly like a jazz band. Each guy played what he wanted to play, when he wanted to play it. Everyone was respectful of each other and no one stepped on each other’s toes. When Eddie was soloing, I wasn’t jumping off the riser like Diamond Dave used to. It was, stand back and let him go. And vice versa. When I was singing, he was back there with Al, making sure the music was right.”
Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony has joined Hagar on several tour dates in the last year. “A year ago, when the band basically disbanded, he called me and asked if he could go out and play with me as a special guest. He’s an awesome guy and an awesome player.”
Despite his extensive back catalog of songs, Hagar said he doesn’t feel pressure to just play hits such as “Right Now” or “I Can’t Drive 55.” “I play a long time,” he said. “I do ‘An evening with ...’ I play everything. I don’t rely on the old stuff. That’s what drove me nuts on the Diamond Dave tour. He’d go out and do 18 Van Halen songs out of 19 songs. I’m going, what? We’d go out and do four or five Van Halen songs.”
Although many rockers have become notable for their consumption of alcohol, Hagar is one of the few who’ve become a producer of it. He takes great pride in his tequila and says it’s the best you can buy. “The reason it’s better than any other tequila is that it’s made by family farmers who’ve grown agave for 88 years,” he said. “They find the best agaves and make it all by hand. They cook ’em in the ovens. Everyone else, it goes in the oven and nobody sees it. Before it ever goes in barrels, I taste it and approve it. No one else makes it that way.”
Cabo Wabo tequila is the second best-selling premium tequila in the United States, Hagar says, but his profit is one-tenth that of other distillers because of the expensive process he uses. For more information on Hagar, his music and his liquor, visit redrocker.com.