The Last Word: Sammy Hagar on James Brown, Trump, His Ideal Van Halen Reunion

Singer also opens up about his parenting style, the pitfalls of fame, the best meal he ever ate and more

Sammy Hagar discusses his love for James Brown, what kind of Van Halen reunion he'd like to see and more in a revealing Last Word interview. Credit: Illustration by Mark Summers for Rolling Stone

Shortly before hitting the road for his most extensive tour in recent memory, Sammy Hagar phoned up Rolling Stone to share the wisdom he's learned over the years as part of our ongoing Last Word interview series. We talked about everything from the pitfalls of success to his occasionally lavish spending habits, but it was inevitable that the conversation would eventually turn to Van Halen. "Most people I talk to I say, 'No comment, no comment,' when Van Halen comes up," he says. "And then I talk to you and it's free speech. But I'm good. I have no regrets."

What are the best and worst parts of success?
The best part is that you get to live your dream. The only downside – maybe – is that someday you're not as relevant as you were. There are times when I go, "Wow, I can see it winding down. I'm not gonna have a big hit record, I'm not gonna be this hottest-rock-star-in-the-world kind of guy ever again." I'm not having a hard time, but some people can't deal with that.

Do you feel any sympathy for young stars like Justin Bieber complaining about paparazzi and all the unwanted attention?
No, I don't. Guess what? Keep that shit up and it'll be gone pretty soon anyway. And then you're probably gonna go, "Damn, where'd it go?" The workload of the climb can be tough, especially when you've gotta go out on tour and you've got a family and all that. So there's some times that are, "Damn, I'm kinda tired of this." But take a break. That's what I always do.

Who is your hero?
Elvis, man. He was a great singer, and he dressed far-out for his days; people wanted to beat him up. The Beatles were fantastic, but they were four guys that got away with what they were doing. Brian Epstein kind of created it. Elvis created himself. Even when he was old and fat and doing all them crazy things, I still liked him.

What's the most indulgent purchase you ever made?
My fucking plane, man. It's a Bombardier Challenger 300. Holds nine people, goes seven and a half hours in the air at 525 miles per hour. So it's very indulgent. And it's a huge luxury, it cost a lot, and it costs a lot to operate. Without it, I couldn't do half the shit I do. If I had to jump on a commercial flight two days ago to go to Dallas to meet with Mark Cuban [about Hagar's TV show], I would have said, "Fuck you, I ain't coming." Same with touring. If I had to be on a bus and commercial flights, I couldn't tour the way I do. I can jump from East Coast to West Coast, it don't matter. It allows me to spend more time with my family, and spend more time on creative things. So it's a great purchase.

What are the important rules you live by?
Keep your finger on where you started, and don't ever lose sight of that. Family over fame and fortune. People that get too caught up in the fame and fortune thing think they're better than other people. They think they're better than the people where they came from. You can turn your family members off because all of a sudden they look at you like you're a different person. The truth is, if you stretch your arms out from there to there and you measure that, that's how big you really are. If you're only who you are now, that's just a little dot. And that's not very big and that's not lasting and that won't serve you well.

Describe the best meal you've ever had?
I had a damn good meal in Seville, Spain, last summer that was at a restaurant where just the ibérico ham they had was just nothing like I've ever had in America anywhere. And these ibérico pig cheeks that were grilled, and just a little mustard sauce the guy made. I'm just trying to remember everything that I had. Then we had some kind of paella, but it wasn't like traditional paella. It was very expensive and I had a '75 Vega Sicilia Unico with it, which is one of the greatest bottles of wine ever made, in my opinion. Pretty much, when I left that place, my wife and I just went, "Wow, that was a good meal." I don't remember the name of the place. I also wouldn't recommend anybody going there unless they had $1,000, maybe $750 per person in their pocket, maybe more.

If you were on death row, what would you want as your last meal?
If they're gonna put me down, I would take osso buco, which is braised veal shanks with the marrow in the middle. Not with saffron risotto; I like it over linguine. With a little bit more sauce so it's a little bit soupier. And with a great loaf of Italian bread. With probably an '85 Conterno Barolo  ...  that would make me very happy.

Do you trust the prison not to screw that up?
No! I'd say, "Hey, I wanna cook it." I'd need a full-blown Wolf stove. I'm a real gourmet chef. I've cooked for Emeril Lagasse, I've cooked for Mario Batali, I've cooked for Julian Serrano – uppity chefs. I blow their minds.

What music still moves you the most?
Blues. Old R&B. Otis Redding. Then you listen to John Lee Hooker or Lightnin' Hopkins or Jimmy Reed. Listen to James Brown. Oh, fuck! I got goosebumps on my whole body just now saying his name, because last night I was watching my AXS TV show, and they showed an ad for a James Brown special they've got coming up. And seeing that bad motherfucker hit that stage and start dancing and giving it up and screaming and leading the band and going down and back up and splits and back up. Man, there was nobody better than James Brown. I mean, he is the man.

"Listen to James Brown. Oh, fuck! I got goosebumps on my whole body just now saying his name."

Your daughter just turned 16. Do you feel differently about speed limits now?
That's a tough one. I care so much about my kids. But if I'm driving my LaFerrari, for instance, the things it can do at 100 miles per hour, some big tractor-trailer can't do at five miles per hour. It's safer.

Describe your parenting style.
Oh, I'm big fun. I wrestle my kids and tease my kids and goof off all the time. But I'm really stern, and my wife is even more stern. If you lie to me and I find out, you're gonna get punished worse than if you just told me the truth and it was something that really pissed me off. They don't lie to me, so they're afraid to do things that they're going to have to tell me about. It's a real interesting way to raise kids without having to use the iron fist.

How do you feel about turning 70 in October?
Fucking out of sight, man. If I'd have known when I was 30 that things would be like this at 70, I wouldn't have been so worried. Not that I was worried, but you get insecure and go, "Ah, I wonder what I'm gonna do when I'm 60. What if I have to go back to work or something?" Piece of cake, man. I can sing as good and play guitar as good as ever. I'm functional. I have sex as much as I ever did.

How would you grade Trump as a president so far?
I don't think you can grade him yet, because the poor guy can't get anything done. The opposition has become so crazy that they're not gonna even give him a chance. I'd like to see him have a chance. He's the president of the United States, and without getting any changes he ain't helping us. So maybe he makes some changes that don't work, and then maybe the next guy will come in and say, "That didn't work, I'll do it this way." Because I don't think anybody knows what the fuck they're doing out there right now.

Have you spoken to Eddie Van Halen since the final show of the 2004 reunion tour?
Nope. The closest thing we've had to a conversation was I wished him a happy birthday two years ago [via Twitter], and I said, "I hope you're doing good." He got back and said ... I'm sure his publicist or his social media person probably did it, but with his blessings I'm sure, and he said, "Hey, thank you, I hope you're doing well too," or something like that.

There are rumors every few months that you're coming back to Van Halen.
I haven't talked to anyone, and I'm not reaching out. I'm gonna tell you exactly what my dream would be, though. It would be Sam, Dave, Mike, Al and Eddie [the band's 1984 lineup, plus Hagar]. If [Eddie's son] Wolfie's band opened, that's fine.

I'd say, "Dave, you go out and play two songs, then walk off the stage. I walk out, I'll do two songs. I'll walk off, you do two songs." Can you imagine the competition of that? Dave goes out and does "Jump," and "Ain't Talkin 'Bout Love." I go out there and blow out something like "Good Enough." You gotta hit it hard, and you better be good. I would give my money to food banks if they would do the same. I would love to give the fans the greatest Van Halen show they could possibly have today. And then say, "OK, I still don't like you guys." 

Do you think this is likely to happen?
I think it could happen in a second. I think there's so much money involved that somebody will make it happen. Think of the promoters, managers, T-shirt guys, you name it.

Irvzing Azoff is a pretty smart guy.
Not a smart guy. He's the smartest guy. 

He's made the impossible happen with bands before. He just needs to convince Eddie this is a good idea.
Yeah. I really think it's kind of inevitable. And if it doesn't happen, it's getting kind of late now. If it doesn't happen by next year ... Here I am making predictions again. But at 75, I don't want to do a Van Halen reunion.

But at 71, sure?
Exactly.