Heavy Load: Why Sammy Hagar Is 'A Better Protest Singer' Than Dylan

If Sammy Hagar looks younger than his 61 years - a good 20 years younger, in fact - it's hardly surprising. This all-American hero, one of rock's all-time great vocalists, enjoys the kind of life that most can only dream of: two years ago he sold 80 per cent of his Cabo Wabo tequila business for $80 million and today he fronts rock supergroup Chickenfoot alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and guitar legend Joe Satriani.

**Do you have a philosophy you live by? **

Yeah. It sounds a little pretentious, but I went on a quest when I was thrown out of Van Halen in 95. I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I moved to Hawaii first and then to Mexico. I built a place there – the Cabo Wabo Cantina – and it’s really enhanced my lifestyle.

**Do you believe in a higher power? **

Oh yeah, I think you have to. You got to have a little fear in you. Maybe there is a God that’s gonna punish me at the end of this fucking road! I hate trying to define religion or belief in God, but I would have to say that it is in everything. It’s the ‘I Am’ consciousness: acknowledging the God in you. It sounds like the biggest ego trip you’ve ever heard in your life, but you feel that God is in you and working through you.

**Where do you stand politically? On your recent solo album Cosmic Universal Fashion you collaborated with Iraqi musician Steven Lost, yet in the 80s you called yourself the Voice Of America. **

Oh fuck, I’m a long way from there. In the 80s everyone thought I was so conformist and right-wing but I thought I was so radical. I was actually willing to stand up and say, “We’re Americans and we’re a good country!”. In my head, that was as radical as the hippies protesting against the war. Now I don’t believe in war.

Your 1984 hit I Can’t Drive 55 was a protest song that actually worked – the speed limit in the US was changed. Does that make you a better protest singer than Bob Dylan?

Ha ha ha! Not a better lyricist, but a better protest singer! Bob, I read his book and he was just moaning and groaning about how he didn’t want to be the fucking guru. But my song wasn’t a premeditated thing. I was driving to Lake Placid at 2am and a cop pulled me over and said, “We give tickets around here for going 62 miles an hour”. I thought, I can’t drive 55, man – oh, that’s good! When that song was a big hit, fans were spraying the speed limit signs. I was asked by the cops to do a public service message to stop ’em, and I said, “Fuck you! Change it, man!“. Eventually they did.

**Standing Hampton is your finest double entendre – what’s your favourite by someone else? **

Hmmm, maybe Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door. There’s so many silly rock clichés that we’ve all used. Like a song I wrote, Dick In The Dirt [from 1984’s VOA], it’s so stupid it’s really clever – not just anybody can get that many clichés in one song!

What do you and David Lee Roth agree on about Van Halen?

That Eddie’s a fucking nut! Dave won’t agree about it now because he’s trying to buddy up with Eddie, but as soon as he’s thrown out again he’ll be back with me going, “That fucking guy is out of his fucking mind!”. Dave is a real character, one of those true rock stars. He’s as nutty as Eddie, but he’s consistent – consistently an asshole!

What is the best feeling in the world?

Sex, absolutely. Coming. But I can only get a couple out in one sitting nowadays. And the next best feeling – honestly, I really do mean it – is the feeling of unconditional love. My little girl, she’s eight now, but when I saw her being born I was at an age where I was no longer just thinking about myself. You hold that baby, cut the umbilical cord, and you go, “I will do anything for this child”. When you release all selfishness, that’s a pretty special feeling, an interesting high. You’re so happy, you cry.

What can Sammy Hagar do that nobody else can?

Start his own tequila company and sing at the same time! What will be your epitaph? I would like to be remembered as someone who made people feel good and brought love and joy into this world.

What is the meaning of life?

What I found in life is that once you’ve acquired all those things you were after as a young boy – being rich and famous, having all the girls and the cars and the houses – you don’t really know what you want anymore. You really have to dig down. You either turn to drugs and become a maniac, or you start looking for what really makes you happy. It can be the simplest thing: growing tomatoes, walking on a beach, whatever. You find the things that make you happy, and you stop doing the things that make you miserable. It’s that simple. That’s as profound as I can be.



*Although released in 1973. the iconic debut album from Montrose took until 1984 to pass the 500,000 sales mark in America and go gold.

  • The one HSAS album Through The Fire was actually recorded live. But the crowd noise was then removed to make it seem like a studio affair.

  • Hagar once appeared on the Celebrity Ghost Stories TV show in America, relating how he’d once had a visitation from his father, who’d just died.

  • Hagar played a bartender in a gay bar during one episode of Nash Bridges.

  • His cousin is Christian rocker Ken Tamplin.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”