Sammy Hagar shares his first impressions of Van Halen: ‘I didn’t like David Lee Roth’s antics, I didn’t see how any guys could’

VH 1980
(Image credit: Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Sammy Hagar shares his early memories of Van Halen, with and without him, in the forthcoming Eddie Van Halen biography Eruption (UK) / Unchained (US). While Hagar’s recollections in each instance are hugely positive, he confesses that his predecessor David Lee Roth’s flamboyant, theatrical showmanship with the band left him cold.

“From the outside, I was impressed by Van Halen,” Hagar tells writer Paul Brannigan. “What I liked about them was that they wrote hard rock pop tunes. Eddie’s guitar playing was so musical, and because he used major chords, it was very unique, very cool, edgy but yet sweet. It was almost wimpy and heavy at the same time. Ted Templeman production made the band sound heavy, and in the same way that John Bonham always made Jimmy Page sound heavy, so Alex always made Eddie’s playing heavy, even when he was playing cutie pie riffs. [But] I didn’t like [David Lee] Roth’s antics: I didn’t see how any guys could like him, but I guess they did. It’s like Howard Stern once said, ‘If David’s biggest fans ran into him in a bar they’d kick his ass!’“

As Brannigan notes, from the early ’80s, there was no love lost between the two alpha male vocalists. At the dawn of the decade, when Roth wondered aloud to a journalist “quite what manner of a man was Sam, writing songs only about cars and not women”, Hagar responded by calling Roth a “f*ggot”, and suggested that Van Halen’s frontman wanted a ‘relationship’ with him.

“Dave always hated Sammy,” Eddie Van Halen later revealed to his friend, Guitar World writer, Steven Rosen. “I never understood why. Dave would always talk shit about him: ‘Ahhh, that little mother, he ain’t got nothin’ on me.’ I’d wonder, Where’s that even coming from? Why the animosity?”

As Hagar remembers, he was initially tipped off to internal problems within Van Halen in the mid ’80s by producer Ted Templeman, who had a long-standing, and hugely successful, relationship with both artists.

“I’d been working with Ted Templeman [on 1984’s VOA album], and he was telling me about all the bad blood in Van Halen,” he tells Brannigan. “He’d be saying, ‘Oh boy, those guys man, they’ve got a lot of problems.’ And when Ted said, ‘I think Roth is gonna leave the band’, I thought ‘They’re going to call me.’ I mean, look, this is one of the biggest rock bands in the world, who can they get? They can’t just get some kid off the street, because Roth was too big of a character… I’m not saying I’m psychic, but I get feelings about things, have done my whole life, and I just knew.”

As he relates to Paul Brannigan, Hagar had a strong gut feeling about the rebooted band’s potential from his very first jam with the Van Halen brothers and Michael Anthony at Eddie Van Halen’s 5150 studio.

“We just cranked up,” Hagar recalls. “They had written some ideas for the music to Summer Nights and Good Enough, and I just start scatting and singing. Alex is making fun of my haircut, cos I’d just had most of it shaved off apart from a little poodle pouf on top, and I’m going, [jokingly] ‘Fuck you guys, let’s step outside…’

“We ran cassettes all day, recording what we did. I got home at two in the morning and played one of these cassettes, and it was so rock ’n’ roll. I went: ‘Fucking wow!’ When I heard how musical Ed and Alex were, and how Michael could sing above me, it just sounded really fresh. I thought ‘Wow, this is like Cream.’ It was really tasteful and melodic, and I thought ‘This is wonderful, this is fucking good, this is better than what I can do on my own.’

“I was looking for inspiration and Eddie Van Halen brought me inspiration.”

Eruption + Unchained

(Image credit: Faber / Permuted Press)

Titled Eruption in the UK, where it’s being published by Faber & Faber on September 23, and Unchained in the US, where it’s being published by Permuted Press on December 14, the biography is now available to pre-order. The book is already available in Germany, where it is published by Ullstein as Eddie Van Halen: Ein Leben.

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