The back cover of your autobiography, Red, describes you as “someone who’s spent decades bringing the party with him wherever he goes”. Was that always your mission?
Well, kinda, but it evolved over the years. My style of performing live has always been about entertainment, but that was born out of nerves, because I always felt a bit stupid just standing there singing, so I’d run around and try to get everyone involved. So I became known as a high-energy performer and entertainer. And then pretty soon I owned a bar in Mexico and a brand of tequila, and my friends and I would go down to Cabo, get drunk, and get up onstage and play, with no rules and no setlist, and I guess that enhanced my reputation as The Party Guy. So in 1995, when I was thrown out of Van Halen, I decided to bring that party on the road. I throw a pretty damn good party, I have to say.
Your father was an alcoholic when you were a kid. Did that put you off drinking in your teenage years?
I didn’t start drinking until I was in my mid-thirties. I know that sounds odd. And I’ve always said that the day I wake up with the shakes, wanting to have a drink, is the day I quit drinking forever. I’ve seen alcoholism up close with my father and some former bandmates, and it’s rough: when you have that gene, it’s tough. People might expect me to have some guilt being in the liquor industry considering my father died an alcoholic but, y’know, people will drink whether I make it or not.
What made you start drinking?
Being nervous before going onstage. I’d take a little shot of cognac, and maybe a shot of Jack Daniel’s, but I wouldn’t drink once I went onstage. But then I discovered fine wine, via a nice British gentlemen named Freddie, who married my son’s schoolteacher. They invited me to dinner one night around 1975/’76, and we had a ’61 Latour, and a ’45 d’Yquem and a 1927 Martinez Port – just a little of each – and it just changed my life. I was like, “This isn’t drinking, this is living!” I think I have a good palate – I can smell someone’s wine and guess what variety of grape it is, what country it’s from, and sometimes even the vintage. And once you’ve had something really spectacular, you can never go back to that bad stuff.
You opened your bar Cabo Wabo in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico when the ‘town’ was just a handful of houses. What did you see that convinced you it’d be a fun place to party?
I just had a vision. I can see stuff when it’s nothing and envisage it as something. When I went there first it was all dirt roads but I just fell in love with it. I wanted a place to play music and a place where I could turn my friends on to gourmet, boutique tequila, so I built the cantina. I knew that anyone who visited Cabo would fall in love with it like I did, and I wanted there to be a place for them when they did.
What’s the best party you’ve ever thrown?
My birthday bash every year is the best party ever. It’s gone from a one-night thing to one week and now two weeks, and those are some of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my entire life. New Year’s Eve doesn’t even compare. It’s pretty fucking special.
And what’s been your worst party experience?
Come on, there’s no such thing as a bad party! I’ve had mornings where I’ve woken up on the floor in the dressing room at Cabo Wabo and some guy has walked in with a bucket and mop. But I’ve only passed out like that once or twice in all the years, so even then, the party was a blast. I’m sure I’ve only ever thrown up, like, three times in my life from drinking. I’m the party Zen Master.
Who’s your favourite partying wingman?
Michael Anthony, without a doubt, and Chad Smith, though he doesn’t drink any more, but he’s still so much fun. But Mikey, he’s my favourite guy in the world to party with. There’s no more fun rock star than him.
And if you could invite anyone to party with you at Cabo Wabo, who would you pick?
Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page – tell them to get their British asses down to Cabo! If they called me right now and said they’re on a plane, I’d be there before them.