In late 2011, Van Halen announced a new full-length album with former singer David Lee Roth was on the horizon for early 2012, finally putting an end to the often-agonizing wait for long time fans of the band. Depending on which school of thought you come from as an appreciator of Van Halen, you have either been waiting sixteen, fourteen or eight years for new material from your favorite band (Roth last recorded songs with the band in 1996, the last full length album was released in 1998 and Hagar last took the mic in 2004). Personally, I’m a rare breed of Van Halen fan, appreciating all eras and albums in their own way. I never got into the Roth vs. Hagar argument – I saw them as two different bands, each with some really excellent material. Plus, I liked the Gary Cherone-fronted Van Halen 3, unlike just about most of planet Earth. Additionally, I enjoyed the solo output of both post-Van Halen Roth and Hagar, even during their shakiest moments. In short, I am a fan of this band and all its current and former members. Well, at least until recently, that is.
Since Van Halen announced their intention to release new material with David Lee Roth, a seemingly scorned Sammy Hagar has done nothing but open his mouth and spew his opinion in the press, tarnishing his reputation as a laid-back, party-loving rocker in the process. In most cases, I have zero problem with somebody expressing their thoughts on a subject they have been close to at one time or another. After all, it seems logical for Sammy Hagar to hold an opinion on the current state of Van Halen, given the fact that he fronted the band for a number of years. The trouble is that Hagar has done nothing but speak in contradiction and fuzzy truths to make himself and his current project (the supergroup Chickenfoot) look like the better option. I suppose nobody told Sammy that nobody is required to choose one over the other.
When Van Halen announced this past November that they had signed with Interscope Records to release their new album is when Hagar first chimed in. When asked by Rolling Stone magazine what his thoughts were regarding the signing and subsequent album, Hagar answered, “How long has it been since they did a record? And that last one doesn’t count.” Clearly, Sammy isn’t a fan of Van Halen 3, which is no bold stance considering its large commercial and critical failure. But unlike the general public, Hagar has shared a stage with Cherone. During Boston stop on the the joint Hagar/Roth tour in 2002, Hagar had Cherone join himself and former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony to perform two Van Halen hits, “Dreams” and “When It’s Love.” Hagar’s introduction to Cherone that evening? “I can’t sing this…ladies and gentlemen, local homeboy, Gary Cherone.” So, if Cherone wasn’t good enough to front Van Halen and you suggest his time in the band should be forgotten, why have him participate in your live show and perform Van Halen songs you admittedly can’t sing any longer? And what’s more, Hagar included the performances from that night on his 2003 live release, Hallelujah!
If that wasn’t enough to illustrate how Sammy Hagar might be somewhat disingenuous, he has continued to insert his foot firmly in his mouth in the press since. When music website Radio Metal asked the singer what he thought of the new Van Halen album A Different Kind of Truth upon its release in February 2012, Hagar had this to say: What I’ve heard so far, I wasn’t impressed with at all, personally…I think they chose to take the easy route and take some of their old stuff and and re-record it instead of writing new songs.” Now, by the band’s own admission, some of the songs on Truth were reworkings of those that appeared on their 1976 and 1977 demo tapes, prior to the release of their first album, Van Halen, in 1978. In most cases (illustrated by listening to said demos) the original music is slightly rearranged and Roth’s lyrics and melodies are almost entirely new. But this practice was only used on six of the thirteen new songs, or fewer than half. The others are completely new songs, which negates Hagar’s statement that the band did not write any new material.
While we’re on the subject of reusing old material, let’s take a look at Hagar’s 2008 solo release, Cosmic Universal Fashion. Three of that album’s ten songs (“Cosmic Universal Fashion,” “Psycho Vertigo” and “Peephole”) were previously recorded and shelved for years, presumably having not made the cut for any of his other records. The final track on the album is “Dreams/Cabo Wabo,” a medley of two Van Halen hits recorded live in concert. Also included is a rote cover of The Beastie Boys’ 1987 success, “Fight For Your Right To Party.” So, out of ten songs, five of them were actually written by Hagar for this particular release. Now, I’m not the best at mathematics, but Hagar seems to be phoning it in at a slightly higher percentage rate than he claims Van Halen is. I suppose, then, the statement that followed applied to himself just as much as he suggests it does for Van Halen: To me it makes a strange statement. It kind of says, ‘We don’t have anything, we’re not a band anymore, we’re not creative.’ Isn’t it a strange statement to you?” It certainly is, Sam. And it also shines a very bright light on why Cosmic was your last solo release before you formed a new band, Chickenfoot, in 2009.
Speaking of Chickenfoot (the supergroup featuring Hagar, Michael Anthony, guitar whiz Joe Satriani and Chili Pepper Chad Smith), Hagar felt the need to compare his new band to his former band in yet another public forum. While speaking with Ultimate Classic Rock, Hagar let this little gem make it to press: “If you take Joe versus Eddie, you take Dave versus me, Wolfie versus Mikey, Chad or Kenny versus Al… I mean, come on! You know what I mean? Man for man, who can sing the best? Dave or I, today? Who can play the best? Joe or Eddie, today? Who could play or sing the best? Wolfie or Mikey?” Okay, so Sam’s proud of his new band. And he should be, too. Chickenfoot has released two excellent records thus far and have given alot of rock band’s a run for their money in terms of music quality. But if you take a second to think about it, Hagar is essentially doing to Van Halen the same thing he bemoaned David Lee Roth for doing back in the late 80s, when Roth would compare his then-new solo band (featuring another guitar whiz, Steve Vai) to his former band, the Hagar-fronted Van Halen. That’s right…Hagar is currently doing the very thing he bitched about David Lee Roth doing back in 1986. How’s that for integrity and consistency?
If his most recent statements regarding the current state of his former band aren’t enough to demonstrate Hagar’s penchant for hypocrisy, more evidence can be found in his version of what happened before, during and after the ill-fated 2004 Van Halen reunion tour. By all accounts, Eddie Van Halen was in really bad shape during that tour, allegedly behaving in a very abusive manner and turning in mediocre performances due to his excessive drinking. Hagar would later recount the events of the tour in his 2011 autobiography, “Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock,” where the contradictions are abound. First, his statements about meeting with Eddie to attempt to bury the hatchet and get the band back out on the road: “I had been waiting at 5150 studios for more than an hour when Eddie finally showed up. I hadn’t seen him in a decade. He looked like he hadn’t bathed in a week. He certainly hadn’t changed his clothes in at least that long. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. He had a giant overcoat and army pants, tattered and ripped at the cuffs, held up with a piece of rope. I’d never seen him so skinny in my life. He was missing a number of teeth and the ones he had left were black. His boots were so worn out he had gaffer’s tape wrapped around them, and his big toe stuck out.” So Eddie turns up to your first meeting looking like a homeless junkie and you still entertained going out on tour with him? He justifies it like this: “This was Eddie Van Halen, one of the sweetest guys I ever met. He had turned into the weirdest fuck I’d ever seen, crude, rude and unkempt. I should have walked, but Eddie’s got a very charming, cunning side to him, where you feel like he’s got a good heart. He’s going to come through. He’s going to clean up and we’re going to get this thing done.” Okay, fair enough. Eddie is clearly in no shape to tour, but your past experience leads you to think he’s going to pull it together. Fair enough, Sam. You worked with him for years, you know him better than most.
Benefit of the doubt provided, let’s see what unfolded following that first meeting: “Our new manager, Irving Azoff, agreed to hold an intervention with Eddie. He brought a big, beefy security guard and met Al and me at 5150. Eddie walked in, carrying his wine bottle. Irving did all the talking. He told Eddie the tour was going to be difficult, that he needed to go away for a week or two, that we could postpone some dates if we needed. We all agreed Eddie needed to clean up.” Again, fair enough, Sam. You saw there was a problem and attempted to address it. Clearly, Eddie was in no shape to tour unless he went to rehab for a little while. Seems straightforward enough – no rehab, no tour, right?
Let’s check back in with Hagar: “From the start of the tour, Eddie made some terrible mistakes and it seemed like he couldn’t remember the songs. He would just hit the whammy bar and go wheedle-wheedle-whee.” Okay, so clearly Ed wasn’t up to it from the first night. If a man who has a reputation for his guitar playing and consistent performance quality comes onstage the first night playing poorly and acting strangely, something might be seriously up. Perhaps you should have pulled the plug then and tried harder to intervene and save a guy that you profess was once such a good friend and a genuinely nice guy. But no, instead: “They kept us apart as much as they could. We flew in different jets. We stayed at different hotels. We had our own limos. They had their bodyguards. Mike and I had ours. I stayed in my own dressing room on the other side of the hall. The only time I saw that guy was when we stepped out onstage.” Excellent…so instead of getting Ed off the road and into rehab, you soldiered ahead and had zero interaction with the guy except for when you went onstage. You couldn’t stand the guy, yet you performed with him every night. And you question the motives of the current Van Halen camp? Seems like you were in it for the money just as much as you suggest they are now.
I could continue on for quite a while longer pointing out the hypocrisy of the latter day Sammy Hagar, but it honestly brings this longtime fan alot of sadness. I always thought Sam was a real stand-up kind of guy and made sure to buy all of his post-Van Halen solo records to show him support for all the great years of music he afforded me while he was in the band. And for the most part, I really liked his post-Van Halen material. But from now on, I will always have a shade of utter disappointment whenever I hear or read anything about Sammy Hagar from this point forward. For a guy that regards himself as such a fan-friendly guy, he certainly let this one down considerably.
Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas – Livin’ It Up!
July 25, 2006
Victim of Loudness War? Yes
Before listening to Sammy Hagar’s latest release, Livin’ It Up, one thing must be understood: Sammy is now in this business to please himself. He’s not trying to win new fans, he’s not trying to break new ground – he’s simply trying to do what makes him and his dedicated following of “Redheads” happy. And given that basic premise, Living It Up can certainly be considered a success.
The album kicks off with its lead single, “Sam I Am,” a song that is Hagar’s own testiment to what he is and what he isn’t. The lyrics are pure fun, surrounded by a driving riff and catchy runs on a lap steel guitar. The song sets the tone for the entire record by essentially saying, “I don’t really care what you think of me, this is what I am.” You may not like it, but you have to give Hagar the respect for staying true to himself nearly thirty-five years after his career got started.
Make no mistake about it – Livin’ It Up is a typical Sammy Hagar album, in as much as it features some really brilliant moments and some really disappointing moments. But the good news is that for the first time since 1997’s Marching To Mars, the brilliance far outweights the disappointment. Some of Hagar’s best tracks are featured on this set, including the touching “Halfway to Memphis” and the beautiful closer “Someday.” Conversely, there are only a handful of duds, the most notable of which is a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” A definite crowd-pleaser when included in Hagar’s live set, the studio version heard on Livin’ It Up is an absolute mess. But when all is said and done, there are only three songs on the album that miss the mark, a percentage rate that most other bands could only dream of approaching.
The bottom line is that if you didn’t already like Sammy Hagar and enjoy his music, Livin’ It Up will not be the record to turn you around. It’s an album for people who not only like Hagar but subscribe to his lifestyle, which consists of good times, open minds and as little stress as possible. Hagar knows who his fans are, knows what his fans like and caters to those two things throughout Livin’ It Up. At 59, the man is still in great voice and seems to be at a very happy place in his life. After such a successful run in the music business (and a lucrative dabbling in the tequila business), Hagar doesn’t need to be making records and touring; he does it because he wants to. In short, Sammy Hagar is the new Jimmy Buffett – a true free spirit that does what he wants, when he wants…because he wants to.
Livin’ It Up will not break any sales records or make a crossover to the latest commercial scene. It won’t stop naysayers from continuing to make fun of him, nor will it earn him any more respect with the usual batch of critics. But what it will do is thoroughly satisfy his faithful fanbase from start to finish, which is the goal Hagar seems to really be after.
– Ian Rice
To purchase a copy of Livin’ It Up, please click here.