In a way, the birth of ‘Van Hagar” was exactly 31 years ago today.
It was during the summer of 1985 that rock fans heard the devastating news that Van Halen and David Lee Roth had split up. There were rumors that the band was going to look for a new singer, but that’s all that anyone knew.
It was September 22, 1985, when “Red Rocker” Sammy Hagar performed at the first Farm Aid, at Champaign, Illinois’ Memorial Stadium. Hagar and his band performed three songs from his solo career, and then suddenly things kicked up about ten notches when the greatest guitar player on the planet walked onstage to join him, to the surprise and delight of the stadium crowd.
They performed one song together – a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” backed by Hagar’s solo band. This performance is historic because it was Sammy and Eddie’s first public performance together. But it’s also historic because of Van Halen’s heavenly playing! Ed deployed many of his usual tricks — dive bombs, hammer-ons, tapping — a melodic melange of jam that surely had the straw-hat-wearing country crowd jaw dropped, with the wheat blades falling out of their mouths.
At the end of the 35 second solo, even Hagar apparently was so stunned that he shakes his head in disbelief at his good fortune, and repeats the first verse instead of singing the third.
After the Zeppelin cover, Hagar declared Eddie “The King,” as Edward launched into an unaccompanied guitar solo that was cut from the live broadcast only moments after he began, due in part to Hagar’s constant verbal obscenities. Upon completion of Eddie’s solo piece and after the live coverage was cut, Hagar announced to the audience that he was joining Van Halen. Soon after it aired, the word spread that Sammy was Van Halen’s new singer, and a new era of Van Halen had begun.
Shortly after Farm Aid, CREEM magazine asked the band what the feedback has been since that memorable appearance:
“Uh, real bad,” notes Sammy. The other members of Van Halen laugh. “Everybody thinks I really fucked up there. And those people are so full of shit.”
“But the actual gig went great,” says Edward. “We’re talking about three-piece suitors, complaining about his language.”
“It was incredible,” Sammy continues. “It was one of the highlights of my career, walking out on stage. The audience was fuckin’ frantic. When Edward came on, it was unbelievable. It was a huge success, it really was. Everything except for the fact that a lot of people didn’t get off on the fact that I cussed, and then some radio station shut down because of it.
“But I just couldn’t think of that when I went out on stage, you know? In all honesty, I’m being naïve about it, but I wasn’t thinking, ‘Hey this is going out all over the world.’ All I saw was 90,000 people, and I said, “I’m gonna rock these fuckers… they ain’t rocked all day like this!'”
So the other members of Van Halen didn’t reprimanded Sammy, or take him aside and ask him to say “darn” in the future?
“Hell no!” insists Edward. “Hey, Sammy and I were both freaked out that anyone got uptight, because it went by me like…”
“Yeah,” says Michael, “in fact, Ed was the one who told Sammy to say most of that shit on stage!”
“It was my fault, “says Edward, “half of it!”
“Shit,” says Sammy, “it’s the way I talk to, you know? Would you do me a favor and print this? Anyone that took offense to that: “fuck you too. No, fuck you again. Because that’s honestly how I feel.
“If anybody doesn’t like the fact that I walk onstage and say fuck, well then, don’t come to a concert of mine, you know? And I don’t feel we’re gonna lose any customers that way, you know?”