Whatever your feelings on “Van Hagar”, the Red Rocker has been doing it longer and harder than most. He explains why you should never try a mic stand throw without practice and what it’s like to expose yourself to thousands of KISS fans at Madison Square Garden.
All of us rock stars are so fucking vain, especially when we’re on our way up in the business. We’re trying to become somebody and trying to be the coolest guy in the world, so that when shit goes wrong, it is really a bad feeling. Looking back, I’m able to laugh now, and I wish I could have handled both situations better. The first story was when I was in my first recording band, Montrose. It was my first time on a big stage, as I came from playing small clubs and backyard barbecues. When Montrose happened, it was a big jump for me. We made a record with Ted Templeman and toured the world.
We had a really good relationship with Bill Graham, and he gave us our first big shot. We played a couple clubs just to get our shit together, made a record, and then Bill puts us on at Winterland, opening for Humble Pie. I had a microphone stand that I had gold-plated with my advance money. I thought it was just the coolest thing in the world. I was a big fan of Rod Stewart, and I loved the way that he used to take his three-legged microphone stand, twirl it around, and throw it up in the air. I had never done that because I had never been on a big enough stage to try it. The ceiling where we used to rehearse wasn’t even tall enough for me to jump fully in the air, so I had literally never even experimented with microphone stand acrobatics.
At soundcheck, day of the Winterland show, I didn’t even practice my mic stand moves, but I knew I was going to do it during the show. We get on stage and, during the very first song, I flipped the fucking gold-plated mic stand into the air. The heavy end of it came right down on our bassist Bill Church’s head, and it fucking knocked him out cold. I’m talking unconscious, with blood rushing down his face. The stand broke the headstock of his Fender bass, the instrument that had been on all the Van Morrison records.
I couldn’t even sing because my voice was quaking so badly. We kept playing, but I was a stuttering wreck. Bill Graham was onstage with an icepack, icing down Church who was flat on his back. Graham was glaring at me with this look that said, “You goddamn fucking idiot.” It was so humiliating that I couldn’t have sex for six months after that. Honestly, it was one of those things where everybody was over it in no time, but not me. I was haunted. I’d be hanging out, lying in bed, walking down the street, or driving my car, and it would come back to me. I’d fucking cringe all over again.
Graham got Church all tightened up, got him another bass, and by the second song, Church was up and playing like nothing had happened. It wasn’t until the third song that my voice had settled down, and I could actually attempt something like singing. It was brutal, and I never threw my mic stand again. That was my punishment for trying to copy Rod Stewart.
My other story is from 1977, and I had my second solo record out. KISS was starting a tour, and it was their first headlining show in New York, their hometown. They sold out Madison Square Garden, and they asked me at the last minute to be the opening act for the ten-show, East Coast run. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were both fans of Montrose, and they liked my first solo record. I go on stage to open Madison Square Garden, but nobody knew who I was, or even that I was on the bill, because I was added last minute. I didn’t even have any fans yet anyway.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sammy Hagar!” The place immediately starts fucking booing. I was still green from Montrose, and I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near famous, so I just tried kicking as much ass as I could. During the third song, which was a Donovan-balled cover called Catch The Wind, people started flipping me off and really losing their shit. I was looking out at the crowd, and I stopped the song. I yelled, "You fucking assholes! You didn’t even give me a chance. You started booing me before hearing the music. Fuck you!"
Everybody in the audience was dressed up like KISS. As far as I could see, they had all the makeup on too. Since it was New York, I said, “I see they’ve flown in an audience from Los Angeles for this show.” That really pissed them off, and they started throw- ing cups at me. I pulled down my pants, dropped my drawers, and pulled out my dick. I shook it at the crowd, then smashed my 1961 Stratocaster to pieces, and walked offstage.
Gene and Paul were standing backstage, as they had heard all the commotion and wanted to know what the fuck was going on. Bill Graham, God bless him, was in New York on his way to the airport. He heard on the radio that I had been added to the KISS show, so he had told the driver to turn around and take him to the show. So he’s backstage and had just walked in during my meltdown. He’s shaking his head, and his hand is covering his face. Gene and Paul were doing the exact same thing.
I unloaded on them, too, saying, “Fuck you guys too!” And that was it. I didn’t do any more shows with KISS. I stomped away to my dressing room. Paul was saying, “You can’t talk to people like that, man! You gotta go out and prove yourself. You can’t do it like that.” I’m still going, “Fuck you and your makeup and your fans!” Bill Graham was in my face, but I was furious.
That night almost made me want to quit the business. It was humiliating and disheartening, and my poor band didn’t know what to do. One of the guys, my rhythm guitarist who was the newest to the band, quit after that show.
Those are the two most embarrassing moments in my career. After that, things got pretty good. I never had that much hard luck, and I learned how to win over hostile audiences. As for my Jim Morrison, whipping-out-my-dick moment, I didn’t get in any trouble. Hell, it was New York, and they don’t care. They see that every day. Jim fucked up because he did it in Florida.
No Encore by Drew Fortune is out now (opens in new tab) in the US, and available for pre-orders (opens in new tab) in the UK. It includes hair-raising stories from Alice Cooper, Dee Snider, Dave Navarro, Mike Shinoda, Al Jourgensen, Lita Ford and many more.