“Everything I do is . . . kind of like a manual to the way I live,” says the 61-year-old singer, who is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer thanks to his 13 years fronting Van Halen. “Hey, you want to live like me? You don’t have to be rich and famous. You just need to consolidate your time so that you can spend as much quality time doing the things you want to.
“And when you do that, man, life gets really, really fun.”
Since emerging into the public eye in the early 1970s as the front man for hard rockers Montrose, Hagar has amassed a 26-album discography, with 16 of his own — including Cosmic Universal Fashion (2008) — that have occasionally yielded hits such as I’ll Fall in Love Again (1981), Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy (1982) and the anthem I Can’t Drive 55 (1984).
Besides Montrose and Van Halen, Hagar also has been involved in several supergroup projects, including HSAS with Journey guitarist Neal Schon, Foghat bassist Kenny Aaronson and former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve, and Planet Us with Schon, guitarist Joe Satriani, Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and Journey drummer Deen Castronovo.
His latest outing, Chickenfoot, teams Hagar with Satriani, Anthony and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, while Hagar and Anthony — who were the only two Van Halen principals to attend the group’s 2007 Hall of Fame induction — have also played live in groups called Los Tres Gusanos (The Three Worms) and The Other Half.
The “Red Rocker” hasn’t limited his fun to music, however. He had built his Cabo Wabo Tequila into the second-best-selling premium brand in the United States by 2007, when he sold an 80 per cent stake to Gruppo Campari for $80 million. He has opened Cabo Wabo nightclubs and restaurants in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he holds a weeklong birthday celebration every year, and in Fresno, Calif.
“I’m so driven,” the twice-married father of four and grandfather of two says. “There’s so much I want to do, and there’s nothing I feel holding me back, nothing with my age or my physical health or my strength or my enthusiasm, my talent.”
The key, he says, is that he’s having that fun on his own terms.
“When I left Van Halen (in 1996),” Hagar says, “I had fame and fortune enough for 10 lifetimes. I thought, ‘Why do I need to keep going out and doing this?’ It really came down to my love for what I do: for the music, to entertain. I’m not out there to try to grow and get bigger or have a No. 1 record anymore. I just want to go out there and keep my people happy and have this kind of fun and, as long as people want to see it, I’m happy to do it.
“As a matter of fact, I’d be unhappy if I couldn’t do it.”
Cosmic Universal Fashion is an expression of the independence Hagar has carved for himself.
The 10-track set certainly takes Hagar through a variety of creative twists and turns. Among them: a cover of the 1986 Beastie Boys hit Fight for Your Right (to Party) that was inspired by his own 24365, also on the album, which itself was an attempt “to outdo Fight for Your Right, which I don’t think I did.
“My band’s been doing that song for about four years in concert,” Hagar says. “Any time we’re playing a gig and the show starts to feel like it’s getting stale, I kick into that song, just to try to get everybody off the hook.”
Cosmic Universal Fashion is also filled with guest appearances: ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons sits in for Switch on the Light, tour manager Paul Binder sings lead on Fight for Your Right and Michael Anthony, Billy Duffy of the Cult and Matt Sorum of Guns N’ Roses, the Cult and Velvet Revolver rock out on Loud. Two of the songs, Psycho Vertigo and Peephole, hail from sessions for the aborted Planet Us album.
As for the title track, Cosmic Universal Fashion was a songwriting collaboration between Hagar and Iraqi rocker Steven Lost, who were brought together by Miles Copeland, manager of the Police and Sting.
“Miles has this world-beat label,” Hagar says, “and he called me and said, ‘I have this fellow who’s written these songs and he wants you to collaborate on one of them or all of them.’ I don’t normally do that, but he said, ‘It’s awesome.’ He sent it to me, and I was instantly inspired and I instantly finished the song.
Not to him, at least. Nonetheless Right Now (1991), Hagar’s buoyantly optimistic Van Halen hit, was used by the campaigns of both major candidates during the recent U.S. presidential election. Eddie and Alex Van Halen issued a statement criticizing the McCain campaign’s use of the song, but Hagar — who says that he was a financial supporter of president George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign but was disappointed by the president’s second term — says that he was flattered.
“When you write a song like that, that says ‘Right now we need a change’ or ‘Take control of your life right now, don’t wait,’ it’s for the public and for the people and for the world. It works for anybody, including the president of the United States.”
Hagar’s future plans are more musical than political, however: He and his band, the Wabos, plan to tour to support Cosmic Universal Fashion. Prospects for further Van Halen reunions remain “unlikely,” he says, after a tenuous 2004 tour, but Hagar continues to play occasional shows with Montrose.
Chickenfoot, meanwhile, is in the process of finishing an album and will probably do some live shows as well.
Even more projects are possible in both the near and long term, Hagar adds.
“I think, when you put everything together, you feel like, ‘Wow, Sammy’s free. He can do anything he wants,”‘ Hagar says. “It really feels like that more than at any time of my life, really.
“You know, if I never get a new fan as long as I live, I’m OK,” Hagar says. “I just don’t want to lose the ones I’ve got. I want to keep them there, keep them happy, and I’ll be happy and it’s all good.”