At 55, Sammy Hagar 'Not 4 Sale'
Van Halen reunion 'inevitable,' but not so with Roth
By Geneen Pipher
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- In an industry where images are manufactured and marketing execs create pop stars, Sammy Hagar says he is the real deal -- an authentic rock 'n' roller.
Hagar, former Van Halen frontman, said true rockers, like blues or jazz artists, play for the love of the music.
"The blues guys -- John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters and all those guys -- they sang and played the blues until they died," Hagar said in a recent telephone interview. "They got onstage and played the blues and no one asked them, 'Hey are you getting too old for this?' But for some reason people think rock is different. Well, it's not."
At 55, when many his age are planning for retirement, Hagar is picking up steam.
Hagar owns the famed Cabo Wabo Cantina in the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas, he manufactures his own brand of tequila, owns a hotel on the California coast, started a record label and, of course, he plays music too.
In late August, Hagar wrapped a successful summer tour with former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth, and he and his band, The Waboritas, recently released "Not 4 Sale," his 16th solo album.
'A wonderful place to be'
As the album title suggests, he has reached a place in his life where he can do what he wants, when he wants, without having to worry about his next paycheck.
"It's a wonderful place to be in your life," he said. "I'm not money-driven. I'm not success-driven. I'm not thinking, 'Oh if I do this I'll make a bunch of money or if I do that my record will sell a whole bunch.' I'm just driven by creativity and fun and doing what my band and I do best, and that's playing -- we love playing."
The critics have not always been kind to Hagar's brand of rock. A 1997 Entertainment Weekly review called his music "a mix of macho bloat and navel-gazing vagueness." But his earnest attitude and focus on fun keep his fans coming back for more.
"It's all about fun," he said. "If you can't have fun, what's the point? The title track of my new album says, 'my friend's worth a couple million and he's miserable as any man can be.' And, I know so many people like that ... I'd rather be happy rummaging in a dump than miserable with a million bucks."
Now that he can pick and choose his projects, he lets his instinct be his guide. But he ignored his gut instinct that teaming up with Roth was a bad idea.
"When he called me, my stomach went wrench!" Hagar said. "[I thought], Maybe Dave and I can buddy up and all of a sudden I'll just get in a car at the end of the tour and drive down and see Eddie and Alex [Van Halen] and say, 'OK, guys, off your asses, let's go! We're going out and doing this.' "
Not happy with Roth
Hagar said the possibility of rekindling his friendship with the Van Halen brothers was his primary motivation for touring with Roth, but he quickly realized a reunion would be impossible.
"Seeing what kind of person Dave is, now I know why they have never been able to do the reunion with him because he is unreasonable," Hagar said. "He's a complete nut. He is not an average bear. He's on the moon. He's unreasonable and he's shot."
Roth, who stopped giving interviews halfway through the tour, was unavailable for comment.
Though the Hagar-Roth-Van Halen "happy family" reunion he had hoped for didn't pan out, Hagar believes he will eventually reunite with the band.
"To me it is inevitable," he said. "I am not saying it is in the oven right now, but I know it is inevitable. It's just a matter of time when Eddie and Alex get their lives together ... You can't let such a great band like that just go away and die."
A little bit 'retro'
While "Van Hagar" fans await such a reunion, they can listen to Hagar's new tunes.
"It's kind of a groovy record," Hagar said. "It's almost a little retro. It's not '80s-type fist-in-the-air Sammy Hagar -- well, a couple of songs are always like that because that's where I came from -- but it's almost more '70s rock."
The 1970s shine through in Hagar's tribute to Led Zeppelin, "Whole Lotta Zep," a song that puts a new spin on some of Zep's classic cuts.
"With Van Halen we used to play 'Whole Lotta Love' and I used to play 'Rock And Roll' with Montrose," he said. "In the Cabo Wabo ... we play 'Black Dog' ... so I just kind of threw them all together and tried to make it a little sexy in the choruses and bring it down to ... a kind of a groove."
While he has his '70s groove on, the music is quintessential Hagar: guitar-laden, no-holds-barred rock 'n' roll -- music he hopes will uplift and inspire.
He wrote his favorite tune, "Halfway to Memphis," to give courage to those at a crossroads.
"I like to give people hope and confidence ... to maybe help them walk right through that door," he said. "And then they just spread their wings and go. And that's the best thing in anyone's life when you make that step that takes you there."
"I like to be the person who writes the songs for when you need that. And that's my gift ... if I can do that for the rest of my life, man, that makes me feel good."