It’s basic human nature to seek and obtain new information. As we learn and hear new things, we tend to let what we know take a back seat. We archive old things to clear centerstage for the newest, most relevant news items. It’s funny, though…even when we tuck things away into the back of our mind, we never forget.

It’s never good to forget things, especially the things that have mattered to us for so long. #TimeMachineTuesday is an idea to revive news that once was new and popular. We want to bring back the great works that, at one time, were current and relevant, and show them some love once again. Think of it as a little bit of nostalgia.

Without further adieu, it’s time to kick off this edition of #TimeMachineTuesday with a musician who is very well known in the music industry. Here’s a piece from 2007, by Brian Berk: an interview The Retailer conducted with Sammy Hagar.



He sure can’t drive 55, but he can definitely give a cool interview. And he is possibly the most friendly musician we’ve ever interviewed in this column. Sammy Hagar needs little introduction, so we’ll get right to it. Cut a slice of “Poundcake” to nosh on, have a seat, and enjoy. Where else will you learn how to know “When it’s Love?” OK, Hagar talks nothing about that topic. But he talks plenty about tequila, boxing, and music. And a special note if you’re a Van Halen fan: If you’re wondering if VH will get back together, check near the end of this story. Hagar offers plenty of insight. Trust us, this interview is what “Dreams” are made of.


The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start with your current band, how your birthday party in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, went in October, and the concert there right after New Year’s Day?

Sammy Hagar: Our band, the Wabos, just had our 10th anniversary. It’s so unbelievable to think I left Van Halen in 1995. The band got together in late 1996 and we went on tour in ’97. That’s an amazing period of time when you think my career dates all the way back to Montrose, where I only spent three years.[Laughs] Then, I had a solo career for 10 years. My solo career, from when I was in Montrose until Van Halen, was only a 10-year span. Then Van Halen was 10 or 11 years, and now the Wabos have been 10 years. I’m in shock. How in the world can you even consider the Wabos have been around as long as Montrose? We’re going to have a lot of fun this year with the 10-year anniversary tour.

The birthday bash every year is the finest concert experience for me. Every year it seems to get better. Probably, if you asked my fans, they’ll tell you the same thing. It’s the best concert experience. It’s the best “Sammy” experience, whatever they’d like to call it. We have great parties and it’s some of the greatest shows we have in rock today. When we play at Cabo, we wonder why we can’t duplicate this everywhere we go. But it’s a special place and a special event. Things happen that you can’t plan. New Year’s Eve [was] more of the same. It’s such a small place. The fans who get in have to sleep on the sidewalk for as much as 12 to 24 hours. Anyone who is willing to do that is a serious fan. So when you get 850 serious fans in a room, believe me, it’s an explosion. It’s better than playing for 100,000 so-so fans. You don’t have people who have nothing else to do and say, “Some guy is playing in a band there, let’s go.” [Laughs] The Cabo Wabo is none of that.


M&SR: Let’s go back to your early days. When did you decide to give up your boxing career? Did you make a good decision? [In jest]

Hagar: [Laughs three times] Let me tell you something. My father wanted me to be a boxer because he was a boxer. As a little kid, I grew up thinking I was going to be a boxer when I grew up. I decided not to when I was 16, because I got a car and started taking out girls. The last thing I wanted to be doing was training every day in the gym. When you’re training, you can’t drink, you can’t smoke, you can’t party at all. You’re basically waking up in the morning and working your [butt] off until you go to bed at night, and you have a strict diet. As soon as I got a little freedom when my dad wasn’t driving me around, [laughs] I decided I wasn’t going to be a boxer. It wasn’t until I was about 17 that I started playing in a band, although I did get a guitar at about 15. It was all straight ahead from there. I never thought I was going to be anything else.


M&SR: Do you remember the first guitar you owned and what you liked about it?

Hagar: I liked the first guitar I owned because I had a guitar. It was a Silvertone and cost $39.95 and it came with a case. When you opened up the case, it had an amplifier in it. The case was an amplifier with a four-inch speaker. So you plugged into the case and plugged the case into the wall and made sure it was set up right. [Laughs] It was a Firebird guitar with one pickup. Today, I bet you couldn’t get it in tune if you had to. But I was happy to have a guitar.


M&SR: You’ve certainly had quite a career with Montrose, your solo career, Van Halen, and the Wabos. If you had to advise a youngster today, would you recommend they get into the music industry?

Hagar: That’s really a hard question because I would love to say music is the greatest thing you can do as a kid. I could have gotten into a lot of trouble in my day. Music didn’t keep me out of trouble—I still got in trouble—but music kept me off the streets because I was always in a garage rehearsing. Any place we could go, we’d be playing music all of the time. I really think music kept me out of getting into more trouble. Especially being a boxer who could get into fights. Music is a really great outlet.

But music is really a tough industry now. I hate to say that. I’d love to say the best times are ahead. But I don’t see it as the way it used to be. The record industry is kind of gone. Something new may happen. I guess there’s YouTube, where people can make it overnight maybe. But not really. To me, the way to make it is to put together a great band and go out and play for people. But today, there’s no one to fund it. It’s so expensive to go out on tour. I’m lucky I can go out on tour. Even if you do it in a band with a trailer on the back, you have gas prices, hotel prices, and everything else is so expensive. Someone has to fund it. The record companies used to do that. They don’t do that anymore. It’s a tough road. I would encourage anyone to follow your heart, but I don’t think I could be a good advisor, because the way I did it is gone. I hate to be negative. That’s about the most negative thing you will ever hear come out of my mouth! I feel bad for young upstart bands, they don’t have much of a chance.


M&SR: Everyone of course knows you for your music, but you’re also an entrepreneur. You own a club in Cabo and a tequila. Why did you decide to start those businesses?

Hagar: They’re all connected from the hip and they started from music. I was in Cabo San Lucas in ’81 or ’82. I bought a little condo there. I love Mexican culture, I love good tequila, I love great weather, I love the beach. I’m a beach nut. Give me a palm tree, white sand, and an ocean and this guy is happy. I don’t need fishing or snorkeling, just give me that. [Laughs] So when I discovered Cabo, I spent a lot of time there. I was a musician and I wanted to play there. But there was nothing. Back in those days, Cabo was dirt roads. Most places didn’t even have electricity. Most of the restaurants and bars didn’t have windows. They were just stands to get out of the sun. I had a vision to build a tequila bar there where I can play music. I wanted to put walls up, windows, and maybe even put air conditioning in. So I did it. I came up with this line, “Cabo Wabo.” I accused people who were drunk walking down the streets of Cabo of doing the Cabo Wabo. So I wrote the song with Van Halen on the “OU812” record and I bought a piece of property and decided I was going to build the club. And I did. It was bigger than I thought. [Laughs] This is a funny story. My architect who I hired was Mexican and he was talking square meters and I was thinking square feet. I asked how big the location was. He said, “3,000” and I thought that was great. But 3,000 may be 1,700 square feet. When I went to see the foundation poured I looked and said, “What is this, the parking lot?” [Laughs] But anyway, I built a tequila bar, I started playing there, and Van Halen became partners for awhile. That went sour and I ended up with the whole thing back. But I went into town for tequila and found a bunch of tequilas in the boutique shops I never heard of. They were phenomenal because they were handmade, 100-percent agave tequilas. Today, that’s the trend. But back then, nobody had tasted anything like that. I found farmers who had their own special brew. It was the best thing I ever tasted. I wanted it in bulk and they would send it in five-gallon gasoline cans or five-gallon water jugs. We poured it in porcelain jugs we had and called it Cabo Wabo. A wine critic said in a magazine article that it was one of the best tequilas he ever tasted. I got a call from someone who wanted to distribute it and the rest is history. It was almost an accident. I pinch myself every day. I don’t know how it happened. [Laughs] But I had great tequila, No. 1, and No. 2, I had a great outlet for it. At Lake Tahoe, [Nev.], we call it the Tahoe Wabo, and we sell 5,000 cases a year, and it’s a small club.


M&SR: Tell us about your current equipment. What guitars, strings, and amps do you use and what do you like about each?

Hagar: Oh, my God, you’re talking to the wrong guy. [Laughs] My guitar player Vic [Johnson] is the equipment buff and sets me up. All I really know is my main guitars are Yamahas and they are wired for acoustic/electric, so I just turn a knob. I started playing Yamahas on the Van Halen tour, the reunion we had a couple of years ago (2004). I used to do an acoustic number in the middle of the set. Everybody does their own solo. I chose to do “Eagles Fly” and songs like that. Since Van Halen plays so loudly, you can’t even consider playing a real acoustic guitar. I went to Gibson, I went to Yamaha; I went to every guitar maker out there. They all made me electric guitars with an acoustic pickup in them, an acoustic facility if you want to call it that. Yamaha came out the best. So I made a deal and started playing it. And pretty soon, I started getting them to tweak my electric side of it because there was another brand that I liked the electric sound of better. So they told me they would find out what pickup that was and Yamaha was so cooperative. They worked with me and we came up with a great guitar. I’m happy with my guitar.

As for amps, I use Crate amps, but they’re Red Voodoo amps. They made me amps since 1999 when I was putting together my “Red Voodoo” album. I asked them to make me all red amps and they did. They said, “Tell us what you really like and we’ll make you a custom amp.” They kept sending heads out and finally came up with a great amp. I’ve used it on all of my records since 1999. In my studio, I have every amp head going back to vintage Fender, vintage Marshall, Soldano, Wizard, Hounddog. You name it. We’ve got every amplifier in the world. When we do a CD, Vic puts them all up, cabinet after cabinet after cabinet for his solos. I don’t. I just plug in. I’ve got my guitar, I’ve got my amp. I don’t use any pedal board or special effects. I don’t even use the button that changes from clean to dirty sound. I don’t change my channels. I’ve got a cord, and that’s the way I like it. I plug my cord into my guitar and into my amp. I know what it’s going to sound like. The more variables you have, the bigger risk you have of getting into trouble on tour. If the sound is too sophisticated, it can sound differently in different venues. I just want a normal sound and crank everything up. Overdrive it and make sure the volume is up loud enough that the overdrive isn’t “thin” and “buzzy.” You get the “fatness” and you push the speakers. You get a little speaker distortion and a little tube distortion—I’m a tube guy—and a big fat chord going into that mother. That’s where it’s at to me. It talks. You turn your volume back a little bit and you get a nice, clean sound. But it still has an edge to it.


M&SR: Is there anything you’d like to see manufacturers improve on a guitar?

Hagar: They can always improve the tuning. I’ve never had a guitar that tunes up perfectly up and down the neck. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know why they haven’t quite got that down. Maybe it’s me. I don’t like jumbo frets. But I do like big frets. I hate those little flat frets. But with those bigger frets, if you squeeze too hard, no intonation gets out. The chord doesn’t sound right. I play aggressive and really hard. So I have to have the right setup on my guitar. It has to be tweaked right. If they hit the “Big E” string easy on the tuner and get it in tune, and I hit it real hard, it goes all sharp. I’m not a technical freak, so I’m an easy guy to work for, but that bugs me. If you hand me a guitar and it’s out of tune, that really kind of pisses me off. I wish they had a thing to make it easier for everyone to tune a guitar. They have those electrical tuners, but they’re [so-so].


M&SR: Speaking of being in tune, as a rock singer, it must be tough to keep your voice in tune. Are there any products that help you with that?

Hagar: Yeah, Cabo Wabo tequila. [Laughs] You know, what happens to a voice is if you aren’t loose, if you’re uptight, you’ll strain your voice. The worst thing to do is to tighten your voice up. You’ve got to be confident and loose with your voice. I hate to say it, but a couple of shots of tequila helps me get loose and helps me goof off. It makes sure I don’t think about my voice. If you start thinking about it, your voice will start tightening up. Three songs into the set, you’ll start losing it. It happened to me in Montrose and it happened to me in Van Halen sometimes. I was a professional by then, but you get in an uptight situation and you walk out on stage in a town, for example, where you had a bad show before. If your head is in the wrong place and you go out there and are tense, you’re going to lose your voice; you won’t sing well. I don’t drink all day, but our band has a ritual that right before we go out, we drink a little and we feel loose and happy. It really helps you play. It helps your fingers get loose. But in dry climates, like Phoenix or Albuquerque in the summer, I sip a little bit of ice-cold Coca-Cola. Or any syrupy cola actually helps my throat when it gets dry. Add a lot of water, and I’m fine. I’m OK because I sing a lot. Unless I get sick of course.


M&SR: When you were a kid, did you get out to music instrument stores a lot? Where did you go?

Hagar: In San Bernardino, (Calif.), there was a place called Lear’s Music. I practically lived there. Me and my buddies would go over there and hang out all day. They’d throw us out. But there were a couple of cool sales guys there that if you bought an amplifier and guitar from them, there was a room in the back they would let you use once a week for an hour with your band for free and rehearse. We were there so often that a sales guy would say, “Go ahead, there’s no one here. You can go back there and play.” I hung out in music stores the way people hang out in malls today.


M&SR: We’ve seen a lack of Guitar Gods today compared to the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then, people like your former bandmate Eddie Van Halen were considered guitar heroes. Do you think the day of the guitarist will return, and is today’s focus, which seems to be more on the singer and the band, good or bad for the industry?

Hagar: Well, I think it’s bad for the guitar industry, because you’re absolutely right, there are not two or three bona fide guitar heroes out there today. There’s always Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Jimmy Page. And there was Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani. A guy like Eddie took the guitar so far. I don’t think you could take it any further than that. [Laughs] But then again, I’m sure somebody thought that with Hendrix too. Then guys like Eddie came along with things like the Fingertapping technique. Eddie’s got just about everything out of a guitar I think you can get. What I saw happen after the guitar hero was the bass hero, Flea and all of these guys. A lot of the bands were driven by the bass player. These grunge bands had bass players who were all of a sudden getting these big huge sounds. They were expanding on the bass. Because in the old days, bass players were playing on the 1 and the 3 with the kickdrum. That was it. If they had a great drummer, the bass player played more. I don’t know; drummers have had their era. Everyone’s had their era. Now, you’ve got Flea on bass, Eddie Van Halen on guitar, Neal Peart of Rush on drums and you’ve got Sammy Hagar singing. You focus on the band. I think it’s OK. I think it’s that good bands are more of the focus. Singers have always been the focus. I’m not saying that because I’m a singer. Singers have always been accused of being the stars of every band, and singers are always the ones who leave the band and go solo. But I love seeing bands like U2. It’s not a single entity. It’s a band. Pink Floyd in the old days. I didn’t know who the band members were. I just dug the band. I like the trend. It’s better than pop stars! They don’t even play instruments. I think bands are good. I don’t know what has happened to the music store industry, because, needless to say, people just send me anything I need. And even if I choose to buy it, I get so much stuff I can try out that I don’t need to walk into a music store anymore. Plus Vic Johnson spends half the day in music stores, so he brings all of the latest and greatest toys. I have everything at my disposal.


M&SR: Of course we had to ask you, do you see any reunion for Van Halen in the future?

Hagar: I don’t know. I hope so. I look at it this way: If enough water goes under the bridge from that last tour [in 2004], we can do it again. I don’t hold grudges, but there were so many things wrong with that tour that I would insist some things changed before we did it. Ticket prices were too high. I know, I accepted profits and was an equal partner, but I wouldn’t have had them so high. It was bad for the business. And I love Eddie as a player and all that, but he wasn’t very user friendly on that tour and I think I’d love to see him get himself cleaned up a little bit and straightened out a little bit. Then I’d be open to it. But right now, I don’t see that happening. I talk to Michael Anthony all of the time. I don’t talk to Alex [Van Halen] that much because he’s Ed’s brother and I don’t want to try to get between them. But Alex knows how I feel and Al and I can pick up the phone and call each other any time. Al is a great guy. I wish he were my brother. Not only is he an amazing drummer, but he’s loyal. If it weren’t for Al, Eddie probably would have self-destructed by now.


M&SR: Any favorite memories of Van Halen or anything no one knows about the band, even though it was so well covered by the press?

Hagar: Well, in the beginning, when I first joined the band, it was amazing. It was phenomenal. It was like a rocket ship ride. When I went down to check them out, they asked me to come to the studio and try out. They [actually] didn’t want me to try out, they wanted me to join the band. But I didn’t want to because I was playing two nights a week in arenas myself at the time. I said, “Gee, why would I want to join the band?” Plus, I didn’t like Dave [Lee Roth] so much, so I didn’t like the band that much because of that. But I loved Eddie’s guitar playing. But I didn’t realize how good the band was.

So when I went down, it was something I’ll always remember. I walked into the studio and they had worked up some songs—well not really songs but some jams—and when we started playing it was like, boom, magic happened. It was a magical thing like no one has ever experienced except the four of us. And we just said, “Wow.” There was no question about it. We were high-fiving [each other]. Within about two hours, we knew this was a done deal. And I never left. I mean I went back home that night but that was it. The next day I came back and we started. Something a lot of people don’t realize is that they think Van Halen would be thinking it over. We never even discussed what we did until “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” and that’s when we started getting into trouble. “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” was a great record, but we overthought it. We spent three years writing and recording it, mixing it, re-recording it, going back and re-recording it [again]. Up to that point, we never did that. We just did exactly what we wanted and exactly what we felt in our hearts and didn’t even second-guess anything. No one ever said to the other person, “Why don’t you try this?” Everyone just did their thing and it was done. I wrote my lyrics, I went and did my vocals, Eddie would do a guitar solo, and it was done. That was amazing. It was the best band in the world. It was the best way to make music. And then Eddie just wanted control and we overthought everything. If I said “black,” he said “white.” And I’d say, “OK, white.” He’d say, “No, I want it black now.” It was just so [messed] up that it just ruined a great band. And that was the demise of Van Halen. For any young bands—if I could give advice—the whole problem is when people start changing and become power freaks and control freaks. The magic of a band is when members get together and everyone does their own thing. Other people stay out of it. That’s what makes the chemistry of a band. When another person tries to tell people what to do, or tries to, it causes friction No. 1, and No. 2, if they allow that person to tell them what to do, you basically have a solo record. And they should do that outside of the band. That’s the secret to a great band. Let each other do their thing

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