Hello, My Name Is Sammy
Q&A With Sammy Hagar
IE: What were some of the highlights from your 60th birthday celebration?
Sammy Hagar: The highlights were two things: 1) They had huge surprises for me, I mean everyone kept calling me or leaving me messages or e-mailing me saying ‘Hey, we can’t make it. Tell Sammy we love him” — people who have been coming every year, people like Toby Keith. They all told me they weren’t coming. I didn’t mind, though, because sometimes too many people come and it makes it very hard for me and my band because we have to share the stage, and we like to play! And the fans are there to hear certain songs and sometimes we don’t get to play enough.
So I thought, “This might be a low-key birthday bash this will be great.” Well, a bunch of lyin’ ass friends of mine — everybody came! I mean Chad [Smith], Criss [Angel], Michael Anthony, Ted Nugent, Toby Keith came. It was really great. So the highlight was that they all showed up on my birthday. I came walking out of this interview room and there they all were, man, and it was kind of almost an emotional thing. And then my management and my wife and my friends put together this birthday video that was about 20 minutes that we played in front of the whole audience. They sat me down and it was every walk of life! Jay Leno. I mean, I’m going, “How the hell did you guys get that?” It was some of the most creative stuff you’ve seen in your life. Everybody had their own little versions of what they did, and it was just some real surprise guests on there. Those were some of the highlights, and other than that it was just the fans, and the party was just the most awesome party of my life!
IE: It has been a huge year for you. You were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. How did that feel? Did you know it was coming? Was it important to you?
SH: We knew it was coming, and it’s a huge importance. It’s like the final validation I think for any rocker 25 years later to be remembered and honored, like, that is huge validation, “Yes, I have made it!” STAMP! Now, it almost stops the struggle of saying, “I gotta make it I gotta make it!” Because no matter how much fame and fortune you have you don’t really feel it, believe me you don’t. The only time you feel it is when you walk out on that stage and that’s why it’s so addicting. But every time I walk past my piano and I see my Grammys and my American Music award and Hall Of Fame trophy and all those validations I go, “Yeah, I made it!” And thank God I’m one of those guys who is still able to go out and do it, you know?
IE: You formed a partnership with Campari Group for your Cabo Wabo tequila this year. Tell me about that.
SH: It’s pretty huge. Absolutely. They were all at the birthday bash. Gruppo Campari is an Italian company, Worldwide Campari. You can go from Asia to Africa to Russia and if you look at the back bar you’ll see a bottle of Campari back there. They’re one of the world’s biggest distributors and brand owners. So hopefully in the next few years you’ll see a bottle of Cabo Wabo sitting next to the Campari! And they want me basically to still run the company the way I have and to do everything I’ve done the same. They said, “We don’t want you to change anything,” but they had to buy a certain amount of this company in order to put the investment of worldwide distribution which is huge! I would never know how to do it, I don’t have the capital or the infrastructure to do it, so I made the deal with them for that very reason and I love that company for that very reason. The owner of the company is 38-years old! His father started it and he owns it and he and the people on his staff they’re all in their late 30s. These are a bunch of young, fun guys. We have a blast together.
IE: You’re also about to launch Cabo Wabo Radio?
SH: Yeah, the radio is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time. The old style of radio, of just having a big old tower and a signal is an outdated thing. And it’s all about the Internet now and satellite radio. And it’s finally come to a place that I can understand how to do it. And so we’re doing it and it’s just fun, fun music. There is no death rock, there is no punishment to listen to this channel. The idea of it is that you’re gonna hear a lot of music — a lot of world music — that you don’t know who it is, but you’re gonna go, “Who is that? I like that song!” It’s gonna be full of surprises, it’s very fresh. It’s not just about playing Sammy Hagar music; every hour we’ll play a Sammy song, but it’s not gonna be about me as much as about my taste in music — a lot of world beat and stuff you’ve never heard, songs that are the number one in some other country that never got out of that country. Fun, upbeat music. It’s all up, all the time!
IE: Will there be DJs or announcers?
SH: Oh yeah! We’re cataloging everything I do. Every show I do is being filmed and recorded to live stream. When you log on you get “x” amount of hours free, but if you want to see the live shows or have access to the interviews — to the six-hours-a-day live from the Cabo Wabo with DJ Woody going around town with his microphone and his camera and interviewing people and just really having the sounds and the sights of Cabo — there will be a monthly fee. It’s live from the Cabo Wabo, I mean what more do you want, baby? It’s down and dirty, folks! He’ll be interviewing people comin’ walkin’ through the door, and people being thrown out of the door! Hahaha! You grab ’em on their way out! Cabo Wabo radio is groundbreaking; it’s really a new concept and I’ve got great people working with me and it’s fun.
IE: How is it different being a rocker at age 60 than it was at age 30?
SH: It’s more fun; it’s a little bit physically harder, you might say. But I can honestly say that I’m better now than I was at 30. I’ve got more sense about me. I’ve got this voice where I can still sing every note I ever sang. When I was 30 I was insecure trying to make it. I was out there doing all these crazy things, and I wasn’t totally being myself. Now I know who and what I am, and that’s what people really want from me. If someone says, “I like Sammy Hagar” it’s because they got a glimpse of something that I am that they feel like, “I’m the same as that guy, I have something in me that I can relate.” And I’ve let more and more of that out as I get older. I just think doing it now is so much more rewarding and honest; it just feels so good. When I come off the stage now I feel like I completed my mission. In the old days I would walk off and almost want to trash my dressing room, thinking, “Oh I wish I did this or I should have done that.”
IE: Really? So you were critical of yourself back then?
SH: Oh yeah, and rightly so. I was trying to be myself, but I just didn’t have the confidence. You know, it’s hard to walk out onstage and be naked to the world; it’s very hard to expose yourself and be honest and vulnerable. But as I get older and I’ve done this so many times I walk onstage and they see me and I know this is all anyone really wants from me. They don’t want me to see me go up there in a fake costume and pretend to be somebody else, unless it’s Halloween. And the more I can expose myself the more value that show has. Because I’m singing the same songs — I have some new songs, but the songs don’t change that much. It’s the way you present yourself and the songs, and that’s what keeps the fans sleeping on the sidewalk down there. That’s what keeps the fans coming to see me.
IE: You’ve kind of made of living of having fun.
SH: Not “kind of”! [Laughs.]
IE: You’ve got all these businesses. Have you always been an astute business mind, or did it happen by accident? When you were younger did you ever imagine you’d have all these businesses?
SH: Yeah, I’ve always been a creative thinker and I’ve always been a survivor. It started back when I was a kid, when I was pretty poor. My family was really poor. I was raised by a single mother who did ironing and anything — clean houses and stuff — to raise four kids because my father was an alcoholic and he just became a bum in the streets. So the humiliation of that and the fact that we didn’t have any money, I wanted to be somebody from the time I was a little kid for some reason. I thought I wanted to be a champ fighter or I thought I wanted to be Elvis Presley. I had those ambitions. But to be a poor kid I had to go out and earn things. So from the time I was really young I used to go around and knock on my neighbors doors and ask if they needed their yard mowed or their trash taken out or their car washed and I’d go out and hustle to make enough money to go buy a new bicycle for that year. I always did what I had to do and figured out what I had to do to get what I wanted. And I’m a good mathematician so I’d figure out what it took — A plus B equals C — and I got it. And I continue to live my life that way, I still see things I want and I just go after it. I ain’t afraid to roll up my sleeves and work my ass off to get it.
IE: You have these country stars as friends, and you have some country songs on your last record. Have you always been a country fan? Or a closeted one?
SH: My father was born and raised in Texas, and my wife is from Austin, so I grew up with my dad listening to Hank Williams and Hank Snow and all that kind of stuff. So I grew up hearing that before I ever heard rock. But then I became a rocker. But you know rock is very closely attached to country; people don’t like to admit it but it really is, especially certain kinds of rock like Creedence and even The Stones are very country blues. So when I met Kenny Chesney or Toby Keith or Wynnona Judd, those people became my friends really fast! It was so easy to relate to them and I think it’s because of my dad being a Southern boy, made me kind of a country person and I could relate to the way they grew up. I can’t say I really love country music; I listen to it once in a while and there are some great songs and some great artists. Some of the country singers it’s unbelievable how good they are. You watch the Country Music Awards and you listen to all those people singing live, they all sing dead-on key, man! Then you watch the rock music awards and you go, “Oh, lord listen to that guy! Oh my God that’s so off-key!” [Country artists] are really good, safe, talented artists; they don’t get outrageous too much. But on the side, Toby and I have a pretty good time, I’ll tell you that much! You can call him “safe” onstage but don’t take that man into a bar, he’ll take you down!
IE: [Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil is selling a new tequila called Tres Rios.] Have you tasted Vince Neil’s tequila?
SH: No I haven’t. I only drink Cabo Wabo unless somebody tells me to try something — every now and then somebody comes and says, “Have you had this tequila? It’s really, really good.” Well, no one has said that yet about Vince’s, so I haven’t gone to the trouble of tasting it. More power to Vince, but I think he should be a little bit embarrassed about what he’s doing. The difference is that Vince doesn’t own that company and he didn’t start that company. Some people came to him with a story and a tequila and said, “Let’s pretend like it’s yours, look what Sammy’s done,” blah blah blah. I’m not making fun of him, but he doesn’t really know how that’s made, and he doesn’t know where it’s made, and he has probably never even been there. I’d be a little bit embarrassed to do it the way they’re doing it; they’re just doing everything that we did, and uh, I hope it’s good, that’s all! Haha!
— Penelope Biver
Sammy Hagar plays Chicago Theatre November 10th.