10 Questions with ... Sammy Hagar
January 26, 2016
1. Before we talk about your music, radio show and other projects, when did you know that being a Rock n Roll singer was going to be your destiny?
I think the first time I picked up a guitar and learned a song to play and sing which was "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles. I just felt that that's what I wanted to do once I learned how to play guitar and sing. I was 15 years old.
2. Before you did your solo "Red Rocker" stuff, you fronted Montrose who I had the pleasure of seeing at Winterland in SF back in the day. Ronnie Montrose passed a few years back. How did that experience working with Ronnie and that band prepare you for your successful solo run and work with Van Halen and Chickenfoot?
I always wanted to be a lead guitar player and every band I ever joined, I said ..."Who's gonna sing?" I said I could sing and the next thing you know I was the singer and someone else played lead guitar. When I met Ronnie and we started Montrose, he said I'm just looking for a singer so I didn't play guitar in the band. When I left Montrose I began to sing and play lead guitar again, and then when I got the call for Van Halen, all they needed was a vocalist and they didn't need a lead guitar player obviously. It was tragic what happened with Ronnie's death, but if it wouldn't have been for Montrose, I would have always thought of myself as a guitar player/singer and probably wouldn't have wanted to put the guitar down. Fronting a band was always a little uncomfortable for me. I've gotten used to it over the years, but it's still more comfortable for me to have a guitar around my neck.
3. You also had great success back in 2011 with your autobiography "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock." What made you decide to write a book?
I have wanted to write a book my whole life because my life was very interesting. I knew there was a great story there and in my late 20s/early 30s I wanted to write a book because I think when you're a famous person they only know you through your fame and have no idea where you came from. It wasn't until Joel Selvin, the music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle said, "Come on, Hagar, let's write a book," that I went ahead with it. I did the interviews with him and he helped me dig down deep into subjects and make it more interesting and really helped to keep it chronological. I loved writing that book and it made a lot of people upset and angry and got me in a lot of trouble ... but hey, it's my life, what are you going to do?
4. Now let's talk about your new radio show Sammy Hagar's Top Rock Countdown. When did you begin to entertain the idea of doing a radio show?
I grew up on radio and I wanted to do a radio show because I wanted to help radio, which seems to be struggling now with all the options out there ... like video games, TV, iPhones ... you name it, to distract people. Radio is an important vehicle to spread music to people in a very personal way. To be honest with you, from a business point of view, it's also a good way to advertise some of my endeavors like my rum, restaurants and cantinas. It's also a great way to communicate with my fans and play some of my new music and music that I love.
5. Speaking of radio, what radio stations and personalities did you listen to when you were growing up?
The first guy who got my attention on radio was George Babcock at 590 AM in San Bernardino, CA. He brought the Rolling Stones to the Swing Auditorium in the Inland Empire, as well as The Seeds and Iron Butterfly and other cool bands from back then. Seeing the Stones back then for my first real Rock concert blew my fricking mind. The next guy who made a big impression on me was Tom Donahue from KSAN in San Francisco. He was just incredible, playing all this eclectic music, going from Otis Redding to Big Brother and the Holding Company to Led Zeppelin all on the same radio station. And his voice was cool. Montrose did our first live performance for Tom on KSAN. He was a legend. And of course, Wolfman Jack, too. Those are the three radio personalities who I'm staying out of their way!
6. This Top Rock Countdown show has been gaining lots of great radio stations and market affiliates. For those who haven't heard the show, give us some highlights of special features and music you feature on a regular basis?
My radio show is based on themes, and my co-host/engineer Jamie Dewar does all the research for me. Just this morning we talked about doing a show on the greatest side men in rock n roll, such as Eric Clapton when he was in The Yardbirds or Cream and Phil Collins who was the drummer in Genesis. I like themes like songs when driving in cars, drinking songs, etc. When you listen to Sammy Hagar's Top Rock Countdown, you're gonna hear a theme of some kind. It's good. If you're missing it, you're missing something. If they don't have it in your town, get it!
7. How is the music chosen on the show? Do you have the final say on everything that's played?
Yes, I have the final say on all the music, but sometimes people will write to me with ideas for themes and give me a list of songs which I will usually change. Some themes I like and some I don't. Most of the time, the people I work with and I have close to the same tastes. I keep it pretty much classic, but I also like to throw in a song by a band like The Black Keys or Kings of Leon, two of my favorite bands, as well as The Rival Sons.
8. What's your take on current Rock music? Is it as good now as it was in the '80s and '90s?
I'm not sure how I really feel about this. I know there's a lot of really bad music out there in my opinion from people who aren't really musicians. That whole pop scene about just taking a good looking 15-year-old kid who can dance and try and make him a big star. I'm okay with all of that, but at the same time I like bands like The Black Keys, Kings of Leon and Rival Sons, who get out there and play rock n roll live. I think live music is the most important thing. Recorded music with Pro Tools and different tools can make anything and anyone sound good and create anything you want. I like that creative electronic music and stuff. It's cool but I still want to see somebody play live music like Led Zeppelin, Montrose, Van Halen and the Grateful Dead ...that's what I'm into.
9. Besides your music and radio career, you've had monster success with your Cabo Wabo Cantina's and Tequila, and now you have an award winning silver rum called Sammy's Beach Bar Rum. Besides obviously loving your tequila and rum, where did this entrepreneur spirit come from?
The entrepreneur spirit is the same creativity that writes songs and puts bands together, that even picks the clothes I wear on stage. It's creativity. I was raised poor. I was dead-ass broke in Montrose. I had nothing. My family never owned a home. I struggled to pay the rent every place I was. I was determined that if I made some money that I wasn't going to die poor. Every time I made a little money, I invested it, not in other people's ideas, but in physical things. I bought a house, and I bought my Mom a house. I bought a car that was more valuable 10 years later because it was a rare car. I started collecting things and buying rare wines and started building apartment buildings. I bought bicycle stores when the mountain biking craze took off. I saw it. I looked at what was going on in the world and I found a good product that the world needed and I'd start a company for it. I still do it and love doing it ... it's exciting. I don't do things for fame and fortune anymore. I give most of my money away from my restaurants and do a lot of charitable things with my money, because that's the way I feel about it. That entrepreneurial spirit was born out of creativity and necessity, more necessity than anything, and then creativity came into it.
10. Finally, you're also a dedicated philanthropist. I understand your Hagar Family Foundation has donated more than $2 million to children's charities and local food banks in every tour city you play. What's the Hagar Family Foundation working on now?
I believe in philanthropy and not just socking away money that you don't use. You want a nest egg so that you're comfortable and know that you and your kids are okay, but after that you have to give to others to help people that need help. The best place to do it is in your own community. Just giving to a big giant organization that does things for the whole world is just a drop in the bucket. Even people like Warren Buffett who gives away half of his fortune can't feed the whole world. I think you should give away what you can in your own community. If you can't help financially, go down to your local food bank and hand out food or go down to the local mission and feed people. I just think giving is what makes man on this planet different than animals. We can help each other. Just showing that you care sometimes is all that it takes to help someone get back on the right track. That's philanthropy as much as giving away money. I give the money away that we make at Sammy's Beach Bar and Grills across the country to the local communities. It's been in the millions of dollars. I also do it for awareness ... to make other people that have money like me, give back and to do more ... we all need to.
As if you aren't busy enough ... I understand you have a TV show on AXS TV that just debuted on Jan 24th. Please elaborate.
It's called Rock & Roll Road Trip with Sammy Hagar. I go visit my friends in the music industry and interview them at their homes. I ask them what they like to do. Like Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. What does Tommy Lee like to do when he's sitting around his house? He likes to cook. So he'll cook me something. Then we'll go to his studio and Michael Anthony is there and we jam. I ask him what he wants to play and we jammed to Rock Candy from Montrose. That's what the show is about. I've visited with Mickey Hart and Bob Weir from the Dead. I visited Nancy Wilson of Heart and Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains and we talked about the Seattle music scene. It was really cool. These people open up to me because I'm their friend and we're in the same business. We respect each other. It's not just some interviewer asking them about their favorite color. And then we always play music and jam together. I did the Alice Cooper interview in Phoenix. I love going to their hometowns. We went to Mexico for my Birthday Bash, too. It's a pretty cool show. You gotta check it out on AXS TV!