How Sammy Hagar made Van Halen even better, according to Sammy Hagar

Portrait of Rock musicians Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar, Eddie Van Halen (1955 - 2020), and Alex Van Halen, all of the group Van Halen, backstage at the Metro Center, Rockford, Illinois, March 16, 1986
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

After Van Halen parted ways with David Lee Roth in the mid ‘80s, Sammy Hagar stepped in to fill the void. The Californian singer doesn’t look at it like he merely steadied the ship, though – the comically unflappable Hagar is of the opinion that he dramatically improved Eddie Van Halen’s group.

“I had more experience under my belt when I joined Van Halen in 1985 than they had,” he told Classic Rock, which is true because Hagar had already made waves as the frontman in Montrose in the mid-70s, but perhaps overlooks the fact that his moment appeared to have passed at that point – his joining the group all being down to Eddie Van Halen’s car mechanic for recommending they audition him. Anyway, sorry for interrupting Sammy, you carry on: “They’d been together for seven years making records. I had been around for ten years before that.” 

Hagar says that the band were in awe of their new recruit, thinking, “Wow, here’s a professional”. “I knew how to sing, I knew what Eddie was playing, I knew which keys things were in, and the arrangement of the music. Eddie really got off on that, because he never had a musical partner with Dave.” He recalls that their fandom of him spread throughout the extended family, with Eddie’s dad Jan Van Halen telling his son, “This guy sings like I play clarinet”. 

The stats, of course, back up Sammy’s bragging – apart from whether he sung like Jan Van Halen played clarinet, we have no stats on that – as the next four Hagar-fronted Van Halen records all became huge hits, going to Number One and becoming multi-platinum successes. 

It couldn’t last, though. “The ninth year, it got really rough,” Hagar told Classic Rock. “The tenth year there was no more, and the 2004 reunion was a mess. We never got back to that beginning that I loved so much.”

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.