Sammy Hagar


Sammy Hagar's autobiography, "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock," could serve as a how-to and how-to-not for musicians. Interwoven in this rags-to-riches tale are the 63-year-old rock singer's lifelong passion for cars, fascination with numerology and dreams, and interest in outside business ventures from fire sprinklers to a bike store and even tequila (Hagar sold 80 percent of his Cabo Wabo tequila business for $80 million in 2007.)

Co-written with music critic and musicologist Joel Selvin, with a foreword by fellow ousted Van Halen member Michael Anthony, there are also some "how cool!" mentions of seeing the Rolling Stones on their first American concert tour and some "you gotta be kidding?!" revelations, such as Van Halen's "sex tents" under the stage. Hagar also gets personal about his childhood. He grew up in poverty in Fontana, California to a supportive mother but an abusive, alcoholic father.

Of course, the crux of the book is rock & roll, including his latest band, Chickenfoot, with Anthony, Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers and guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani. Their new album is due in the fall. MSN sat down with Hagar during Canadian Music Week to speak about the book; the premiere of his new doc "Go There Once Be There Twice" and how to go from rock & roll star to wealthy entrepreneur.

You are a "celebrity interview" at Canadian Music Week (Saturday, March 12 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto). You're also premiering the Cabo Wabo documentary, "Go There Once Be There Twice" (Friday at 5 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox). There will be a roomful of musicians and people in the music industry; are you going to tell them to go into the booze business?

If they want to get filthy rich, yeah! No, that was such a side product of my musical career. I don't know how that happened. There was no plan whatsoever. I was going down there [to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico] and said, "I need a place I can play," so I built Cabo Wabo cantina and then said, "I could probably have my own tequila here." It was one step at a time.

And $80 million later...

Everybody goes, "Oh you're such a good businessman. You're so smart. I'm going, 'No, I'm not.'" It was such an organic growth. Next thing you know somebody offered me this stupid amount of money for it.

You had a difficult childhood, but you don't write about it in a woe-is-me way. It's very matter of fact. How did your upbringing impact you?

It's where all my drive comes from. That's where a guy, who could have retired 15, 20 years ago, kept going because of that beginning. It was like, "I ain't going back there," and anyone around me is not gonna be around there. The reason there's no woe-is-me to it is because, quite honestly, there was no woe-is-me. It was a blast, growing up. Once in a while it was a little cold or we got a little hungry. And once in a while I felt like, "Gee, I'm not as good as those people." Once in a while I felt that.

There are so many kids out there living with an alcoholic parent and they don't end up so well...

I gotta say, I feel really fortunate. It didn't have a negative impact on me. All of that had a positive impact on me. It made me want to be more. It made me not want to be like that. It made me want to say, "I'll be somebody. I'll climb out of this place." As soon as I got one little taste that there's a better life, that this isn't the way everyone lives, I instantly went there. If nothing else, I'm driven and I'm still driven.

So when Eddie Van Halen was saying you didn't work hard enough during your last years with Van Halen...

I hope everyone has a good math sense in this business because when those guys said my work ethic was not up to par, since I left that band, I've done about a billion different things and they've done one -- Gary Cherone and two friggin' reunion tours in 15 years.

In the book, you really capture the tumult and negativity of Van Halen when it all was going to shit. You go into a lot of facts and figures people don't normally talk about.

I wanted my book to be truthful. I've never exploited myself in the press very much. So I think that this book, what makes it so great, is even my hardest core fan will go, "Wow, I didn't know that." I just gave you the meat, man, all the big stories, the things that, in my heart and mind, said, "This is what happened. This is why the band broke up."

You told "Rolling Stone" recently that you would reunite with Van Halen, if Eddie had changed.

Absolutely.

With everything you went through, why would you want to?

Because in my opinion, during the "Van Hagar" era, [Van Halen] was no question one of the greatest bands in the world and, certainly at the time, one of the most popular bands in the world. It was special and really great. Everyone likes to look at the dirt, but the truth of the matter is the good years were fantastic.

They were unbelievable, beyond anyone's hopes and dreams in rock & roll -- on a very high musical level, on a very high success level and on a fun level. On a party level, man, we broke the rules. I would love to do that again on that level, in a good way. But if Eddie was the same guy that I left on the reunion tour, not a chance. I wouldn't do it for a billion dollars.

What would have to change?

Eddie would have to probably not be the guy I met when I joined the band. We've all grown up since then, but he would have to turn a corner and get off the crazy madness he was on. I'm not exaggerating in the book; if anything I left a couple of things out. I've never ever been onstage in a band that was that screwed up in my life. There are too many ups and downs; it was too inconsistent and it was too much turmoil. So I would only do it under great circumstances. If we could get back to where we were or take it to a new place that would be fantastic.

And the likelihood?

The likelihood, with this book being out, is below zero. It's like [Canadian] weather in mid-January! I wouldn't even consider talking about it to anybody, but in a few years, you never know. Look, when I joined the band, the former lead singer [David Lee Roth] was the enemy. It was one big giant feud but now they're back together. Not that they're on friendly terms, I have no idea, but I do know that they're doing it. They did a tour.

You toured with him and saw first-hand what that turned out like.

He's more unreasonable than even Ed -- as unreasonable as Eddie was, for sure.

You say there are things left out of the book, but there's still some stuff that even the reader goes, "Really, did that have to be in there?" such as Alex Van Halen going to see a doctor who put his hand up Van Halen's ass to work the vertebrae. Was that necessary to include?

To me, if you're gonna write the book, you gotta write the book. I don't wanna be 20 years from now writing my autobiography again and people go, "Why wasn't that in there the first time?" I pretty much put it all in there. Things like the thing about Al, that isn't derogatory at all.

It's about being human beings and having to go through the same crap as everybody else! Big rock gods in Paris playing two nights in some big arena and you gotta go see a doctor and get adjusted up. I love that kind of stuff. It's one side of me that shows a little bit of a dark humour, but I'm not poking fun at all.