Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Sammy Hagar talks Clearwater concert, tequila and Van Halen drama

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The Red Rocker calls on time, and he is all kinds of fired up.

"Hey, Jay, Sammy Hagar here. Are you ready for me?"

Is anyone ever truly ready for a phone call from Hagar, the flame-haired, motor-mouthed ex-Van Halen singer who once dubbed himself the CEO of Rock? But okay, sure, I got my questions. I’ll give it a shot.

"Are you gonna tape it, or we gonna … ?"

Yeah, I say, if that’s okay.

"Oh, I highly prefer it. I talk real fast, Jay."

He’s not kidding. We’re supposed to talk about his concert Tuesday at Clearwater’s Coachman Park with the Circle, a supergroup with former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, guitar whiz Vic Johnson and drummer Jason (son of John) Bonham. But we also have to get to his bar and restaurant empire; his recent humanitarian award from the metal site Loudwire; his new concert film shot at his recent 70th birthday bash in Cabo San Lucas; and his lines of rum, tequila and a proprietary blend of mezcal and tequila he thoughtfully dubbed "mezquila."

"It’s f---ing good," he says. "You go back and try to taste tequila, and it makes it taste like it’s watered down, kind of tasteless. I hate to dog it, because I’ve been making tequila so long in my life. I’m not dogging tequilas. But it’s kind of hard to go back. It’s like when you have a really flavorful meal like Emeril Lagasse might cook, and then you go back to Denny’s, and you go, ‘Hmm, that hamburger ain’t as good as the one I just had.’ That’s the only way I can explain it."

Hagar is a guy who knows a thing or two about comparisons. Apologies to Gary Cherone, but Van Halen fans (and bandmates, it seems) generally fall into two camps: Those who prefer split-kickin’ original singer David Lee Roth, and those who prefer his red-headed replacement.

As the original singer, Roth, who’s since returned to the fold, is the popular choice — but the Van Hagar oeuvre should not be dismissed lightly. The era from 1986’s 5150 to 1995’s Balance produced several massive hits — Right Now, When It’s Love, Dreams, Best of Both Worlds, Can’t Stop Lovin’ You — that moved tens of millions of records and are hugely enjoyable live to this day, especially delivered by the always-on Hagar.

But if you want to hear them, you’re going to have to come to the Circle. Because a Van Hagar reunion isn’t happening anytime soon.

"Those boys have still got it against me and Mike for some reason," Hagar says. "Whatever."

You know that birthday bash, the one that featured guests like Toby Keith and Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger? It probably will not shock you to learn Eddie Van Halen did not send a fruit basket.

"Oh, hell no, man," he says. "If you want to go into those waters right now, I can just say that it pretty much confirms it when Mikey’s grandson died (in April, from a heart defect) — a brand-new baby died — and they didn’t reach out to him. And my 70th birthday, they didn’t reach out to say happy birthday. Yeah. Pretty much says it all."

Not even Hagar’s new bandmate Bonham, who grew up surrounded by rock-god intra-band drama, has offered to intervene.

"Jason makes more money with me playing 20 shows a year as he does with his own band in 100 shows a year, and he’s happy about it," Hagar says. "So I don’t think he wants to see a Van Halen reunion."

Hagar can spread all that cash around not because of his years in Van Halen or his own robust solo career. It’s because he’s a canny and enthusiastic businessman who’s earned untold millions in radio, television, hospitality and especially liquor.

"I don’t like to do things that aren’t successful," he chuckles.

He’s given a lot of it away — hence Loudwire’s humanitarian trophy — including writing checks to local food banks in each city he visits. After a gig in Hurricane Harvey-ravaged Houston, "I quadrupled it," he says. "And I’ll do it in these Florida dates, too.

"There’s always been conscientious artists, if you look back — Bob Dylan, Joan Baez — and a lot of us rockers used to dog them, like, ‘Oh, man, they’re always trying to be political, always trying to put their nose in the country’s business,’?" he says. "Now it’s groups like myself and Metallica and people like that are doing it. It’s obviously a new age.

"The pretentiousness of being a rock star from the ’70s and ’80s is kind of going away. It’s certainly gone away for me. It’s not even in my wheelhouse at all. I’m just an artist. I can sing. I can play guitar. I’ve got a wonderful repertoire of songs I can play in concert, and I still love to entertain, so that’s what I am. Whatever you call a guy that has that, that’s what I am. Rock star? Eh, probably used to be."

For once in his life, Sammy Hagar is selling himself short. Sure, he’s rich enough to retire to his empire and sip mezquila till he’s 90. But good luck slowing down the Red Rocker within.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Sammy Hagar and the Circle

Night Ranger and Drew Hagar open at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Coachman Park in Clearwater. $45 and up. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com. His concert film, Red Til I’m Dead: Sammy Hagar’s Rock-N-Roll Birthday Bash, screens in movie theaters on Dec. 5. For theaters and tickets, see fathomevents.com.

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