Sammy Hagar has heard it many times over the years. He’s the guy who wanted more keyboards and less guitar in Van Halen. Well, the former Van Halen frontman finally set the record straight on the topic and he had a rock-solid witness to back him up – Michael Anthony.
“I didn’t do any of that. That’s what Eddie did,” Hagar said during yesterday’s interview on Sirius/XM’s “Trunk Nation” with Eddie Trunk. Hagar was speaking to the long-time critics who have been unhappy with keyboards being a predominant part of the music during his first tenure with Van Halen, particularly on his first two albums with the band: ‘5150’ (1986) and ‘OU812’ (1988).
But Hagar didn’t think anyone should be taking the blame. In fact, he praised Eddie’s abilities on the keyboards and is still very proud of the music he and Eddie created.
“[Eddie] liked playing keyboards and he was frickin’ good at it,” said Hagar. “He wrote these beautiful songs like ‘When It’s Love’ and ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’.”
“I kinda always got blamed for the keyboards songs. It was not me whatsoever,” continued Hagar. “I’m a damn guitar player. When I would instigate a song it was a guitar song ‘cuz I don’t play keyboards. It wasn’t me, I just went along with what we had and if it wouldn’t have been good I wouldn’t have gone along with it. I would have said, ‘This sucks!’ But it didn’t. The part that’s most impressive to me is what a good keyboard player Eddie Van Halen is. He’s got a left hand on the frickin’ keyboard that’s as good as frickin’ Bootsy Collins on the bassman. He’s funky with that left hand.”
Joining Sammy on the line was Anthony, the original Van Halen bassist and current bassist in Hagar’s latest band The Circle. He backed up Hagar’s claims that it was Eddie who wanted to play more keyboards and less guitar. In fact, Anthony said Eddie rarely played the guitar if at all during the late 80s.
“Once Ed really got into the keyboard thing he barely picked up his guitar for a long time I remember,” said Anthony. “He’d be just playing keyboards all the time.”
Hagar added that there was someone else who welcomed the addition of keyboards to Van Halen’s music – Eddie’s then-wife Valerie Bertinelli.
“Valerie would come in [to the studio] and validate [the keyboard songs],” said Hagar. “When she heard ‘Love Walks In’ she’s just goin’ ‘Oh my God!’ And Eddie’s goin’, ‘Oh man, my wife’s happy so I’m happy,’ and I’m goin’, ‘Well, I’m happy!’”
While there are those who will always criticize the keyboard-heavy Van Halen songs there’s no denying the chart success those songs achieved. Prior to Hagar joining the band Van Halen with David Lee Roth had a number one single with 1984’s “Jump” while “I’ll Wait”, the other keyboard track from the ‘1984’ album, reached #13 on Billboard. The band then followed with five more top 40 singles featuring keyboards: “Why Can’t This Be Love” (#3), “Dreams” (#22) and “Love Walks In” (#22) all came from ‘5150’ while “When It’s Love” (#5) and “Feels So Good” (#35) came from the ‘OU812’ album. Van Halen followed with a more guitar-heavy sound on their next studio album ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ from 1991. That album did, however, include Eddie on piano for the track “Right Now” which reached #55 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on Billboard’s Album Rock Tracks chart.
You can listen to the segment of the “Trunk Nation” interview with Hagar and Anthony below: