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Q&A: Sammy Hagar

On the verge of recording an album with hard-rock supergroup Chickenfoot, the super-rich tequila millionaire reminisces on his various peaks of success.

Sammy Hagar found fame in his 20s, having joined the band Montrose for their eponymously titled 1973 album – considered to be one of the great debuts. Having established himself as a solo artist, he participated in a project called HSAS with Journey’s Neal Schon in 1983. Two years later Hagar replaced David Lee Roth in Van Halen. The singer went solo again in 1996, although he did participate in VH’s 2003’s reunion tour. Cosmic Universal Fashion is Sammy’s first new solo studio record since 2002’s Not 4 Sale.

Cosmic Universal Fashion is quite different from the solo albums you made in the 1980s. 

I didn’t want to mimic myself, but I like to think that it touches upon each era of what I’ve done so far, including Montrose and Van Halen. I’m proud to have done a straight-up blues song like Switch On The Light, which features Billy Gibbons [ZZ Top], and Psycho Vertigo is something that Montrose could’ve recorded.

Who is Steven Lost, the Iraqi rocker who co-wrote the album’s title song? 

I don’t really know. We’ve never met. I guess he lives in Iraq, and I’m not interested in visiting that place [laughs]. Steven sent five tracks to me. The idea of working with a fan was very unusual, but his songs were decent. We’ve never even conversed; I took his basic ideas and added my own lyrics and melody.

Although you’ve said that the song “isn’t about supporting left or right, blue or red”, it is political, isn’t it? 

Yes. The world is at a crossroads. We need to relive the old Zen philosophy of right here, right now. People are going hungry and there’s so much you can do, you don’t need to wait for the government to do anything.

So were you happy to see Barack Obama elected?

If he does what he says he will, then absolutely.

The new album is available via the Roadrunner offshoot Loud And Proud. After so long with Warner Bros, Capitol and Geffen are you noticing a big difference? 

I call Loud And Proud a major label, if only because it has worldwide distribution. As I discovered with my last four CDs, which went nowhere, you need promotion and distribution. Although I play huge amphitheatres in America I can’t get arrested in Europe. Roadrunner convinced me that they could rectify all of that.

The last time you played in Britain was with Van Halen, opening for Bon Jovi at Wembley Stadium in 1995. 

Unfortunately, that’s true. Promoters tell me: “We can put you in a small nightclub for 500 people.” What, are you crazy? That would make me feel like a failure. I don’t do this for monetary reasons, but I should at least be playing theatres. When I was offered the chance to play for 40,000 people at the Sweden Rock festival [in 2005], yessir, I'll be there. I tried to do a show in London [at Hammersmith Apollo] but was advised to cancel after it looked like only 500 or 600 tickets would be sold. That was heartbreaking. I will make it back to Britain, I guarantee it.                                            

When Van Halen reunited in 2003, offers must have been made for the band to play shows in the UK?                                                    

We were approached to go to Europe, also to Japan. Everywhere, in fact. But there were some people in that band who were not healthy enough to do international travelling at that point. Nobody wanted to go all that way and have things fall apart. That reunion wasn’t a great experience. I’m happy for the [American] fans that it got done, and we did the best we could under the circumstances, but the relationship had really deteriorated too far.

Van Halen were inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2007, and then got David Lee Roth back in as singer. At the ceremony, did the controversy over who would and wouldn’t be involved detract in any way from your enjoyment?

Leading up to it, most definitely. It was like: “Oh shit. What’s gonna happen here?” It was supposed to be a very special moment in all our lives. We needed to get together, throw all our differences out of the window and play the performances of our career. It didn’t happen.

With the Van Halen brothers opting to stay away, Velvet Revolver ended up taking the stage instead of Van Halen. 

And you know what? I abandoned all my idealism and vowed simply to enjoy the hell out of the moment. It was a wonderful experience. Keith Richards sat in the front row and gave me the thumbs-up; I had tears in my eyes and goose bumps on my arms.

On a happier note, how did you celebrate on the night that you made a whopping $80 million by selling an 80 per cent share of your Cabo Wabo tequila company? 

I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. Just took my wife upstairs and had the time of my life, as I usually do.

By the time people read this you’ll be recording an album with Joe Satriani, former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith in a band known tentatively as Chickenfoot.

We’ve got nine songs ready to go and Andy Johns [Led Zeppelin/Free/Rolling Stones] is engineering and producing. It sounds monstrous and we hope to release it next summer.

Was your mouth running away with you when you likened the project to Led Zeppelin? 

Yes. I’d been doing a tequila presentation in Canada, drinking all day, and by the time I did that interview in the evening I was plastered. The music is awesome, and it’s in the style of early Led Zeppelin, it’s not better than Led Zeppelin. How dare I say something like that?

COSMIC UNIVERSAL FASHION

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