Samuel Roy "Sammy" Hagar (born October 13, 1947), also known as The Red Rocker, is an American rock vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and musician. Hagar came to prominence in the 1970s with the hard rock band Montrose. He afterwards launched a successful solo career, scoring an enduring hit in 1984 with "I Can't Drive 55". He enjoyed huge commercial success when he replaced David Lee Roth as the lead singer of Van Halen in 1985, but left the band in 1996. He returned to the band for a 2 year reunion from 2003 to 2005. On March 12, 2007, Hagar was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Van Halen.
Outside of music, he founded the Cabo Wabo Tequila brand and restaurant chain, as well as Sammy's Beach Bar Rum. He currently resides in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and also has a residence in Mill Valley, California. His present musical project is as lead singer of Chickenfoot.
Named after his maternal grandfather, Sam Roy, Hagar was born in Salinas, California. His family soon moved to Fontana, where his father worked at the Kaiser Steel Mill. Hagar graduated from Fontana High School.
Early years (1967–1973)
Hagar became interested in the burgeoning Southern California music scene, fronting his first band, the Fabulous Castilles.
In 1967, the duo known as Samson & Hagar, backed by the Peppermint Trolley Co., released a 7" promotional record on Ranwood Records with the tracks "Reach Out to Find Me" and "Read My Thoughts".
Later that same year, Hagar joined the Johnny Fortune Band as a vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Hagar was also a member of a string of other pre-Montrose bands including Big Bang, Skinny, Dustcloud, Cotton, Jimmy, and Manhole. Hagar then became a member of the Justice Brothers along with guitarist Bob Anglin, keyboardist Al Shane, bassist Jeff Nicholson, and drummer David Lauser. The Justice Brothers were the house band at a bar called "The Nightclub" in San Bernardino, California, before relocating to San Francisco.
Hagar's first major success came from his work with the group Montrose on their debut and second albums, including the first song Hagar wrote, "Bad Motor Scooter". After difficulties with the band's founder, Ronnie Montrose, during a European tour, Hagar departed from the group. Bassist Bill Church (who had quit Montrose after the first album) and drummer Denny Carmassi would eventually find themselves playing in Hagar's backing band. After the album Paper Money, Hagar left Montrose for a solo career.
In the mid-1970s, Hagar started a solo recording and touring career to increasing success. He enjoyed moderate success on Capitol Records under the tutelage of A&R man Carter, with such albums as Nine on a Ten Scale and hits such as "Red", which would build his persona and style, leading to his nickname of "The Red Rocker". However, Hagar felt that Carter did not play to his strengths as "a heavy-metal guy" and instead tried to generate Top 40 hits (such as a cover of Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay") with little success. Hagar was scheduled to open for Boston in San Bernardino, California, during their 1979 world tour. Prior to the Boston show, Hagar was replaced on the bill by the up and coming Los Angeles club band, The Knack, rather than being an opening act so close to his former hometown of Fontana. Hagar split with Carter for his 1979 Street Machine album which he self-produced. But after it and 1980's Danger Zone failed to break out, Hagar felt that Capitol wasn't supporting him sufficiently.
Hagar left Capitol for the newly formed Geffen Records and made some personnel changes, including enlisting long-time friend and former Justice Brothers bandmate David Lauser as his drummer. His first Geffen release, Standing Hampton, was his biggest-selling album to date and went platinum on the strength of songs such as "There's Only One Way to Rock". The follow-up, Three Lock Box, generated his first pop Top 40 hit and his highest charting solo single on the Billboard Hot 100, "Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy", which peaked at #13 in early 1983.
Hagar continued to enjoy commercial success in the 1980s, with perhaps his best-known song, "I Can't Drive 55", from his 1984 album VOA, reaching #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. By this time, Hagar had become a headlining act in many parts of the United States and Europe.
In 1987, Hagar had his first #1 hit on Billboard's Album Rock Tracks with "Give to Live" from I Never Said Goodbye, released after he had joined Van Halen.
In 1983–84 Hagar and Neal Schon formed the supergroup HSAS (Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve) along with former Foghat bassist Kenny Aaronson and former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve. HSAS did a small Christmas tour to benefit local charities and released an album, Through The Fire. The tracks which appeared on the album were recorded live, but crowd noise was removed during the mixing process to create the feel of a studio album. As intended from its start, HSAS was a short-lived project. One song in particular, a cover of "A Whiter Shade of Pale", received some airplay, peaking at #94 on the Billboard Pop 100 Singles chart.
Van Halen (1985–1996)
After parting ways with vocalist David Lee Roth, the remaining members of the band Van Halen contacted many potential replacements. In July 1985, given Eddie Van Halen's appreciation of Montrose and his mechanic's suggestion, the band auditioned and quickly hired Hagar to fill the opening. With Hagar at the front, Van Halen produced four multi-platinum, #1 Billboard charting albums: 5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and Balance, as well as many chart hits, including nine #1 Mainstream Rock hits. During Hagar's stint as Van Halen's vocalist, the band was often informally referred to by fans as "Van Hagar" as a way to distinguish the band from the previous David Lee Roth era.
Internal disputes eventually led to Hagar's departure from the band in June 1996. Hagar disagreed with a decision to record two new tracks for the soundtrack to the film Twister, after the band had agreed to take time off following their 1995 world tour. Hagar was also opposed to the issuance of a greatest hits record at that point in the band's career. These two items were pushed by Van Halen's new manager Ray Danniels, Alex Van Halen's brother-in-law, brought in after the death of their longtime manager Ed Leffler. Hagar wanted instead to record a new studio album, but only after Eddie, Alex, and Hagar's pregnant wife had all dealt with their respective medical issues. Although there are several versions of how the split occurred, Hagar has stated that the final straw came when he was with his wife in Hawaii, where they had arranged for a natural delivery of the baby, and Eddie wanted him back in the studio in California. Hagar claimed to have flown to Los Angeles with his wife only to discover that she could not fly back to Hawaii. In the ensuing argument, he claims that he was fired. Eddie, on the other hand, says that Hagar quit. The end came when Eddie started to work with former lead singer David Lee Roth instead of Hagar, and two new songs were made with Roth for the greatest hits album Best of Volume I. When Van Halen again parted ways with Roth, instead of rehiring Hagar, the band hired Gary Cherone, the former lead singer of Extreme, also managed by Danniels.
Los Tres Gusanos (1993–1996, 2002, 2005–present)
Having jammed as a trio in 1992, Hagar, drummer David Lauser and Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony formed the harmony-singing rock band Los Tres Gusanos (in English, The Three Worms) in 1993. Playing a mixture of Hagar, Van Halen, and cover songs at Cabo Wabo and in San Francisco, the band got together a few times a year. Initially active until 1996, Los Tres Gusanos regrouped in 2002, then again in 2005, and has performed together many times since. Lauser has gone on record to say, "Los Tres Gusanos will never die, and rumours abound that they may resurface in Cabo soon."
Musician Robert Berry stood in for Michael Anthony in 1996 and 1998 while the bass player fulfilled his touring commitments with Van Halen. And being basically a bar/jam-band, it has also hosted a number of guests with them on stage.
Like related project Planet Us, Los Tres Gusanos has played at the BAMMIES (aka the California Music Awards) and is known for its live performances. Similarly, neither band has ever made any official releases, although a number of unofficial bootleg live recordings have been widely circulated on CD and download, though these tend to be credited to Van Halen even when Hagar refers to Los Tres Gusanos by name during the recorded performances.
Hagar went on to produce several new solo records after the split with Van Halen in 1996. He hit #1 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart again in 1997 with the song "Little White Lie". In 1999, Hagar formed a long term solo band, called The Waboritas, consisting again of David Lauser on drums, as well as former keyboardist Jesse Harms, and new to the mix was former The Bus Boys guitarist Vic Johnson, and former Tommy Tutone bassist Mona Gnader. His subsequent tours were known for spontaneity, once doing an improvised version of "Folsom Prison" by Johnny Cash at the IC Light Amphitheatre in Pittsburgh after a train disturbed his show.
In the summer of 2002, Roth and Hagar teamed up in the Song For Song, the Heavyweight Champs of Rock and Roll tour (also known as the 'Sans-Halen' or 'Sam & Dave' Tour). The joint tour headlining both former lead singers attracted media and audience fascination because it seemed more improbable than even a Van Halen tour with Roth or Hagar could be. The tour drew large crowds and featured no opening acts, Roth and Hagar alternating opening as the first act during the tour. In an interview, Roth contrasted his personality with Hagar's, saying, "He's the kind of guy you go out with to split a bottle with a friend. I'm the kind of guy you go out with if you want to split your friend with a bottle." Michael Anthony guested with Hagar's band, The Waboritas, numerous times and sometimes even sang lead vocals. During performances, Hagar would tease Anthony by asking, "Do the brothers know you're here?". Anthony never played with Roth. Gary Cherone appeared on occasion. Hagar released a live album (Hallelujah), featuring vocals by Mike and Gary, and a documentary DVD, Long Road to Cabo, about touring with Roth.
Planet Us (2002–2003)
In 2002, with Van Halen still unreformed at this point, Hagar joined again with guitarists Neal Schon of Journey and later Joe Satriani to form a new side project called Planet Us, along with Van Halen member Michael Anthony on bass and Deen Castronovo (also of Journey) on drums. Despite big intentions, the band only recorded two songs and played live a few times before dissolving when Hagar and Anthony rejoined Van Halen. The two songs, "Psycho Vertigo" and "Peephole," would not see release until Schon's Soul SirkUS released "Peephole" on 2003's "World Play" and Hagar's 2008 effort, Cosmic Universal Fashion.
Reunion with Van Halen (2003–2005)
After the successful tour with David Lee Roth, Hagar started thinking about his former Van Halen bandmates, calling Alex in late 2003 from a tip by a mutual friend. In 2004, Van Halen toured with Hagar while releasing a 2-CD Best Of album, entitled Best of Both Worlds featuring three new Van Halen tracks fronted by Hagar.
The subsequent tour brought on more problems, however, most notably Eddie Van Halen's alleged relapse into alcoholism. The relationship between Hagar and Van Halen eventually got so strained that they completed the tour using two separate charter jets, one for Hagar and Michael Anthony and one for Eddie and Alex. The tour ended with a somewhat infamous final show in Tucson, Arizona. As the show ended, Eddie smashed his guitar on stage sending shrapnel into the audience. This caused tensions backstage after the show and eliminated the possibility of a new album. Hagar said in an interview (and later confirmed in greater detail in his 2011 autobiography) that Eddie had changed and wasn't the same person anymore.
Sammy and The Waboritas (2005–present)
In 2005, Hagar continued to play with The Waboritas as he toured the Atlantic coast and the Midwest and added ex-Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony. Hagar's 2006 tour with The Waboritas also included a segment with Anthony, playing as a band called The Other Half (a reference to Hagar and Anthony being the half of Van Halen that was not Van Halen by name) for a set of songs in the middle of the show, including both Hagar- and Roth-era tunes. Hagar released an album and DVD called "Livin' It Up! In St. Louis" with the Wabos on July 25, 2006. Hagar has a longstanding and strong relationship with St. Louis. He often credits St. Louis fans and the radio station KSHE in St. Louis with helping to launch his professional career.
In 2008, Hagar formed a "supergroup" named "Chickenfoot" with Michael Anthony, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, and guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani. Their self-titled debut album was released in June 2009 and debuted at #4 on the Billboard Music Chart. A brief tour was followed up by a second album, Chickenfoot III in 2011.
Hagar currently endorses Yamaha guitars, which are currently producing a line of Hagar signature guitars named the Yamaha AES620 SH. The guitar is based on Yamaha's AES620 and features a number of modifications requested by Hagar, including a Seymour Duncan JB pickup in the bridge position, a "Cabo Wabo" inlay at the twelfth fret and custom translucent red finish. In addition to his signature model, Hagar also plays a handmade AES920 solid-body guitar. Previously Hagar collaborated with Washburn Guitars, which made a Hagar signature guitar named Washburn RR150, which featured Seymour Duncan pickups and a piezo pickup incorporated into the bridge. In recent years, Hagar has switched to Gibson Guitars, having two signatures by them: the "Red Rocker" Les Paul, and the Sammy Hagar Explorer.
Hagar has used Crate Amplifiers, which marketed a Hagar signature 120-watt amplifier named Crate BV120RH Red Voodoo Amp Head. Currently, he uses Blackstar and Marshall amps, making use of the Marshall Vintage Modern 2466 head and Blackstar Series One 100-watt head.
- In the 1990s, Hagar bought a mountain bike store, then built another called Sausalito Cyclery, soon rated the number one independent bike store in California. Hagar designed a mountain bike called the "Red Rocker", built with a red frame by Gary Fisher and black components; no chrome.
- Hagar owns a nightclub and restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico called Cabo Wabo Cantina, where the video for the 1999 hit song "Mas Tequila" (from the Red Voodoo album) was filmed. Hagar plays at the club during his annual autumn "Birthday Bash". Hagar also has opened another nightclub in the franchise in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and markets a highly successful line of premium tequilas by the same Cabo Wabo name. Cabo Wabo Cantina opened in Fresno CA on August 29, 2008. However, it closed a few months later when the operator had a falling out with Hagar. In November 2009, a Cabo Wabo Cantina opened in the Planet Hollywood Hotel's Miracle Mile shopping mall, directly off the strip in Las Vegas.
- In early 2009, Hagar opened "Sammy's Beach Bar & Grill" at Harrah's Casino in St. Louis, Missouri. Shortly after, another was opened in the Southwest Airlines terminal at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, NV. Hagar donates all of the profits of both locations to local charities.
- It was announced on May 7, 2007 that Hagar was selling an 80% interest in his Cabo Wabo Tequila to Gruppo Campari, the world's seventh-largest spirits company, for $80 million. Skyy Spirits of San Francisco, a vodka producer and subsidiary of Milan's Gruppo Campari, will market Cabo Wabo globally, with continued participation by Hagar. Gerry Ruvo, president and chief executive of Skyy Spirits said "Sammy has done a fantastic job building the brand, so we are going to obviously spend time with him and work with him to continue our efforts to take the brand to an even larger level, both here in the U.S. and, more important, globally." Ruvo said Great Britain, Spain, Australia, Southeast Asia, Japan, Germany and Italy are considered key expansion markets for Tequila. Hagar created Cabo Wabo Tequila to serve patrons at his Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He began to distribute it in 1999. In 2007, his company sold 147,000 cases, making it the second-best-selling premium Tequila in the United States, he said in a telephone interview. Cabo Wabo Enterprises, based in Novato, Calif., earned about $60 million in sales in 2007.
- In the summer of 2010 Hagar will open a beach bar at the Ballys Casino on the Atlantic City beach.
- When asked how he has balanced being a rock star and tequila mogul, Hagar responded: "I always had other people doing everything. It was my palate and my concept. I would go in taste and say, 'Leave this in the barrel a little bit longer.' That was my job. I could do that right before I went on stage. That’s a perfect time to do it, as a matter of fact!"
- In November 2011, Hagar launched Sammy's Beach Bar Rum in Hawaii. It is currently being rolled out to other North American markets.
- In September, 2012, Hagar opened 'Sammy's Rockin' Island Bar & Grill' in Roseville, California, just outside Sacramento. Sammy announced to the crowd at opening, "This is really a cool place 'cause it's got history, it's got soul!"
- In 2007, Hagar starred in a number of National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) commercials with Nextel Cup drivers Michael Waltrip and Dale Jarrett. The campaign centered around Hagar's song "I Can't Drive 55", changing the words to "I Can't Drive the 55", a reference to Waltrip's car number 55.
- Hagar covered the Patti Smith song "Free Money" early in his career. In 2007, Smith and Van Halen were both inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "Free Money" was prominently featured in a video montage of Smith's performances. At the end of the induction show, Hagar jammed with Smith to her song "People Have the Power".
- Hagar appeared in Celebrity Ghost Stories on The Biography Channel. He told of how he was awakened by his estranged father, drunkenly pounding on his door and demanding to see his new grandson. Hagar angrily sent him away. Moments later, the loud knocking resumed but when Hagar opened the door, it was a bandmate telling him that his father had been found dead earlier that night.
- On May 23, 2006, San Bernardino County, California supervisors declared the day to be "Sammy Hagar Day". Hagar showed up at the county chambers with his mother, Gladys. He then gave a short speech.
- Hagar made a one-time guest appearance in the CBS police drama Nash Bridges, assuming the role of a bartender in a gay bar for the season 4 episode "Imposters".
Hagar married his first wife, Betsy Berardi, on November 3, 1968. They had two sons together, Aaron (born in 1970) and Andrew (born in 1984). In 1994, the couple divorced after 26 years of marriage. He married his current wife, Kari (Karte) Hagar, on November 29, 1995, and together they have two daughters, Kama (born in 1996) and Samantha (born in 2001).
Since 1977, Hagar has lived in Tamalpais Pavilion, a modernist house designed by English architect Paffard Keatinge-Clay in the early '60s.
Hagar is the cousin of Christian metal singer Ken Tamplin, who is best known for his work with Joshua, Shout and Magdallan, in addition to his solo career.
Hagar has publicly stated his belief in Paranormal Activity and has claimed to have been abducted by Aliens.
In March 2011, Sammy Hagar released an autobiography entitled Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, written with the assistance of rock critic Joel Selvin. On April 3, 2011 it reached number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list of hardcover nonfiction.
During an interview with the American Rock Scene, Hagar announced the forthcoming paperback version of Red would include an additional chapter, stating that he "didn’t want to release the same book again."
During his solo career, Hagar has had a number of backing bands. Many played with him on a regular basis as more than just guest musicians. Generally these musicians also record most of the backing vocals for Hagar's albums. The most notable and longest standing group of Hagar's are called The Waboritas, who were founded in 1997 for the Marching to Mars Tour. Also, time spent in Van Halen interrupted Hagar's solo career; it was on hiatus from 1985–1996 other than small returns to studio work in 1987 and 1993. When Hagar went on tour with Van Halen in 2004, the band were paid to be held on reserve for Hagar after the tour, despite the band going into a temporary hiatus for the duration
Hagar put the Waboritas on lifetime salary/vacation again with the understanding that when he wants to play with them they will be there ready to play in 2009 following Hagar's involvement in the band Chickenfoot. Initially, Hagar reported he would only occasionally play with the Wabos from then on, for shows at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, particularly his annual birthday concert. However, due to commitments of other members of Chickenfoot slowing the band's progress, Hagar has performed more than he initially planned to with The Wabos line-up.
Note on line-ups: Hagar sometimes played all guitar parts on records, hence the list of guitar players having gaps.
The Waboritas (2003, 2004–2009, 2010–present)
- Vic Johnson - guitar (1997–2003, 2004–2009, 2010-)
- Mona Gnader - bass (1997–2003, 2004–2009, 2010-)
- David Lauser - drums (1981–1985, 1987, 1993, 1997–2003, 2004–2009, 2010-)
Former band members
- David Lewark (1976–1977)
- Gary Pihl (1977–1985)
- Eddie Van Halen (1987)
- Glen Campbell (ex Juicy Lucy)
- Bill Church (1976–1985)
- Jonathan Pierce (1993, 1997)
- Eddie Van Halen (1987)
- Scott Mathews (1976–1977)
- Chuck Ruff (1977–1980)
- Denny Carmassi (1977, 1997)
- Billy Carmassi
- Alan Fitzgerald (1976–1979)
- Geoff Workman (1980)
- Jesse Harms (1984–1985, 1987, 1997–2003)
- "What Sammy Hagar Sez". HM Magazine (66). July/August 1997. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
- Official Sammy Hagar Website
- Van Halen News Desk Sammy Hagar & Van Halen news
- Sammy Hagar Discography
- Sammy Hagar at the Internet Movie Database
- Sammy Hagar at Allmusic
- Sammy Hagar's Political Contributions
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Image from Discogs