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Sammy Hagar: The 10 Records That Changed My Life

The albums that shaped The Red Rocker

In addition to his solo work, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sammy Hagar has been a member of such bands as Montrose, Van Halen and Chickenfoot. The Red Rocker’s new group is called Sammy Hagar & The Circle, and as he explains it, the moniker holds a special meaning for him.

“I called it The Circle because it represents the fact that I’ve essentially come full circle,” he says. “With this band, I get to play music that I grew up on, like Led Zeppelin, along with my whole catalog. When I play with these guys, I feel like I’m standing inside the circle that is my musical history.”

Completing The Circle are Hagar’s longtime cohorts, Van Halen/Chickenfoot bassist Michael Anthony and guitarist Vic Johnson, along with Jason Bonham on drums. Hagar’s high marks for his bandmates is off the charts: “These guys can really play the shit out of the stuff,” he raves. “They way everybody services the material is mind-blowing. In my honest opinion, when I’m standing up there, it’s as good as Van Halen or Montrose ever felt to me. That’s really special.”

Discussing Bonham, Hagar admits that he drummer is sometimes dogged by his family lineage (“People say, ‘Oh, he’s just riding on his dad’s coattails,’ which is unfair”), but he attests that pure, natural drumming ability is in his blood. “Jason’s a monster, Hagar enthuses. “He’s got the sound, the feel and the ear. He’s coming from the same place as his dad did. To me, this is as close to playing with John Bonham as it gets.” 

The just-released concert DVD Sammy Hagar & The Circle: At Your Service offers viewers something of a guided tour through the veteran rocker’s deep catalog, along with a generous helping of Led Zeppelin gems like Whole Lotta Love and Good Times Bad Times. The decision to cover songs by the iconic British band is one that Hagar considered carefully.

“At first, I was a little apprehensive about it,” he says. “When we first started rehearsing and Jason wanted to do some Led Zeppelin, I said, ‘OK, we can do one number as an encore.’ I didn’t want to fuck with sacred ground. But then I came up with some songs that I felt I could be comfortable with, like When the Levee Breaks, because Zeppelin didn’t write it. And we tore it up. At that point, I said, ‘All right, we can do this.’

“What makes it work is, I don’t try to sing like Robert Plant – I sing like me,” he continues. “Putting my own heart and soul into it gave me the green light to do it with Jason, because I wasn’t trying to be Led Zeppelin.” 

Playing live with The Circle is giving the Hagar the itch to record with the band, but he stresses that any new material will be far and away different from anything he’s done before. “At my age, I’m not writing fake lyrics about sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll, driving fast cars and that kind of stuff,” Hagar says. “The lyrics I’m writing now are about my true lifestyle these days and about America.”

The band has been “rehearsing and messing around with some stuff,” and Hagar describes the new songs as sounding “more acoustic and elegant.” “It’s got a hard rock Americana vibe to it,” he says. “Lyrically, it’s like the Band, and musically it’s a more rootsy, folky, bluesy Zeppelin IV approach. I’m digging it.” But fans shouldn’t expect a full album: “We’ll probably do four or five songs,” Hagar says. “There’s no need to do a whole record. I can’t see doing that with where the music business is these days.”

You can purchase Sammy Hagar & The Circle: At Your Service at the Red Rocker Store. (And if your need some holiday stuffers, there’s Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum and his new book, Are We Having Any Fun Yet?)

Below, Hagar runs down his selections for the 10 records that changed his life.

Little RichardHere’s Little Richard (1955)

“When I heard his voice, I was knocked out. I just love the way Little Richard sings. What’s funny is, this is pretty much the only record he ever made. A lot of his other records had the same songs on them, with a couple of new tracks here and there. They were like different versions of greatest hits.

Here’s Little Richard is where the whole thing started. It’s chock full of great songs, and even as young as I was when I first heard it, I said, ‘Fuck man, this is the shit!’ I think I probably dug it out of my sister’s record collection. It was one of those moments when you put something on and you just go nuts. There’s never been anything like Little Richard.”

The Rolling Stones12 X 5 (1964)

“This was the next record that really had a profound impact on me. Because I had older sisters, I heard what they were listening to – Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis. They were kind of the one era, and that led into the Stones. After hearing them, I started playing the guitar and singing these songs.

“I saw the Rolling Stones’ first appearance in America, at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino. I didn’t have any money to get in, but I was hanging outside the venue, just to try to get a look at them. The band pulled up in a school bus, they got out with a bunch of radio people, and I thought, ‘Wow, the Stones are short. They’re my size!’ I snuck up to them and walked right in the place with them. My buddy and I were dressed just like them, because we were total Stones freaks. People thought we were with the band’s entourage. We saw the whole show.”  

DonovanSunshine Superman (1966)

“I wasn’t in a band yet, but me and this other guy were kind of working on playing songs together. I heard Donovan and thought, ‘Yeah, man, I wanna be like that.’ As a young singer and songwriter, I was really inspired by him, even more than Dylan, whom I do love, too. But Donovan seemed magical, whereas Dylan was edgy, so there was a clear difference to me.

“I heard Catch the Wind on the radio and went out and bought the album [What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid, 1965], but the record that had the biggest influence on me was Sunshine Superman. That’s when he brought everything together and went electric, just like Dylan. I said, ‘OK, I can do that.’ On my first two solo albums, I did Donovan songs.

“I thought he was so cool and elegant. I went to see him at a club called the Trip when I was 15, and he came out with an acoustic guitar, all dressed in velvet from head to toe. He looked like an angel. Then he did the second set with his band, and he played a Strat through a Fender amp. I freaked out. I wanted to be that guy.”

CreamDisraeli Gears (1967)

“After Donovan, Cream were the next big influence on me. I loved Fresh Cream, but Disraeli Gears was the album that really got me into digging into Eric Clapton. I wore it out. I played it over and over learning those guitar solos, and let me tell you, every solo on the record is spellbinding.

Sunshine of Your Love is a desert island classic. I go back to that song again and again and again. Outside Woman Blues, Strange Brew, We’re Going Wrong – oh, fuck, what amazing songs! And SWLABR – holy shit, how good is that? Between those psychedelic-ass lyrics and those mind-bending solos, that’s a trip.”  

Van MorrisonMoondance (1970)

“All of a sudden, I got into Van Morrison. I was totally into the rock thing, but the mystical singer-songwriter vibe was very appealing to me. I considered being that kind of artist. Moondance was a big album for me when I was really learning how to write, sing and play guitar.

And It Stoned Me, Moondance, Caravan – what beautiful songs. Into the Mystic is probably my favourite track on the record. That one sets a mood that just holds you. Gorgeous, timeless music.”

The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

“This was the peak of both the Beatles’ and my own psychedelic eras. We kind of peaked together. I used to sit up all night and into the morning with some of my buddies, doing acid and listening to Sgt. Pepper. I mean, the record itself took you on a trip – you didn’t need anything else to get you there. Without a doubt, it’s the all-time greatest psychedelic record ever made.

“The musical arrangements, the sounds, the way the album unfolds – as great as the Beatles were, this was such a departure for them and a giant step into the future. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to George Martin, too. The Beatles wrote the songs, but he arranged the fuck out of them. He knew how to interpret their ideas and enhance them with orchestration. Genius work.”

Jeff BeckTruth (1968) 

“I look at the Beatles and the Stones as coming out at the same time. Same with Bob Dylan and Donovan, and Jeff Beck and Led Zeppelin. Music is kind of like that: There’s always a white-light band and a dark, edgy band.

“This is almost like a Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart album. When I heard the Truth album, I tried to be Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck at the same time.  I learned every song on it. I knew Beck from the Yardbirds, and I was a big fan, so I was primed to hear him doing his own thing. This record totally blew my mind and changed my life.”

Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin (1968)

“I was a big Jimmy Page fan, as well. I loved him in the Yardbirds, but Zeppelin took it to a new level. I sort of combined my whole trip with these records that were coming out. I wanted to sing like Rod Stewart, and I wanted to play guitar like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. And Eric Clapton, too – him most of all. I wanted to put them all together in my own music.

Good Times Bad Times was the first song I heard from Zeppelin, and I knew I had to go and get the whole record. My whole band and I were sleeping in one room on a hardwood floor. We had a little bullshit record player, and that’s how I first heard the album. And even on that no-fidelity record player, it still sounded great. I was like, ‘How can I get that guitar sound?’ Man, it was so heavy.”   

Pink FloydWish You Were Here (1975) 

“I listened to this record religiously, and I wanted to be this kind of artist. I wanted to have mystique. Peter Gabriel, too. Between him and Pink Floyd, I thought, ‘If I can just make that kind of music…’ But it wasn’t me. I’m more about jumping all over the stage, singing and playing as fast as I can. I’m not dark.

“Still, I love what Pink Floyd did. This is one of their best records. David Gilmour’s guitar playing is incredible. His sound and style, the way he gets all vibey – it really works for me. Pink Floyd were deep. They took you to new places.”

David BowieThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

“This was a very important record for me. When I left Montrose, my first band was called Sammy Wild and the Dust Cloud. I had the fictitious name and everything. I put together a space-age, psychedelic science-fiction show. There was no production – all I had was one of those fucking star machines – but I went for it. 

“I got signed and the record company said, ‘No, you’re Sammy Hagar.’ So I said, ‘OK,’ and I went with that. If they would have said, ‘You’re Joe Blow,’ I would have said, ‘No problem.’ But I was into the David Bowie thing, the whole glam period. Ronnie Montrose came to see me when I was in a soul band called the Justice Brothers, and I had glitter all over my face, lipstick, eye makeup, nail polish, the whole bit. I was wearing satin pants and jewellery, high-heeled shoes – not like a cross-dresser, but a glam rocker. That’s what I was. I was into it big-time. 

“Bowie had a huge influence on me. If you listen to my first solo albums, each one has a science-fiction song. First one was Silver Lights, and then there was Little Star/Eclipse. Then I did Crack in the World, which was my Pink Floyd rip-off. I was always writing about the future, like Bowie did. I wanted to do a concept record so bad, but I never got around to doing it.”

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