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Sammy Hagar Still Stands on Top of the World

Rock & roll tequila tycoon Sammy Hagar gets the best of both worlds

November 1, 2000 12:00 AM ET

Right here, right now, Sammy Hagar wishes he was sleeping. Three days ago, he flew into New York from his home in California for a week-long blitz of early morning TV appearances to promote his new solo album, Ten 13, and all this waking up before dawn nonsense has left him a little frayed at the edges. "It's a rock & roller's nightmare to travel from one coast to the other and then have to get up early the first day," he says as a make-up artist touches him up for an appearance on the Fox News Channel. "It just throws you off the whole time -- you fall asleep in the afternoon, stay up until 3 a.m. and have to get up again at 5. I don't even know what day it is."

Other than that, though, Hagar's life is a lot like a big bowl of M&Ms with all the depressing brown ones picked out. Think that whole Van Halen mess a few years back threw him out of whack? Guess again. Since then, Hagar has released three solo albums, formed a new band (the Waboritas) that he loves to death, launched his own booming tequila business and partied (and played) to his heart's content at his phenomenally successful Cabo Wabo club in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. "I like to have fun," he admits without apology. "I like fast cars, mountain bikes, good food, great wine, great tequila and I love playing. That's it." In other words, the occasional early morning interview notwithstanding, Hagar's day-to-day life is the stuff your dreams are probably made of. "Sounds indulgent, doesn't it?" he laughs in a matter-of-fact, self-aware way that makes him come off as one of the most likeable lucky rock & roll bastards in the world. "I'm kind of spoiled rotten . . ."

Perhaps even more so than most rockers, you give off the impression of a man who parties for a living.
Well, party meaning drugs and alcohol? No. Party meaning having a good time constantly? Absolutely. I mean, I drink and I'm an occasional puffer, but I have a wife and kids, and they travel with me constantly. I'll drink a couple of shots of tequila, but I haven't puked in twenty years -- I know when to stop. But I love having fun with other musicians. The reason I got into this wasn't to be a rock star or be a billionaire, it was just to play music. The first time I ever picked up a guitar, I dug it. My first band, we could only play one song, but we played it all day -- that was "Miserlou" by Dick Dale. Finally we learned another one, and then we had two songs we'd play again and again and again. I still really dig playing music, especially today with guys like a hero like John Entwistle, who's come down [to Cabo] for my birthday thing two years in a row. Shit don't get any better than that. I've done it with Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, doing "Man in the Box" with Lars Ulrich on drums and Stephen Stills on guitar with me -- what a combination of people! That's what I'm into.

On top of all the fun, you've kept very busy since leaving Van Halen -- three albums, touring, running your club and a tequila business. What's the secret?
I'm a real driven person, but I'm a terrible businessman. If it were up to me, I'd just do everything I wanted to do and spend all my money. But I just happen to have made some clever creative decisions, like building a club in Cabo back when it was a dirt road, and the town's exploded and all of a sudden my club makes six, seven million bucks a year. And then the tequila, it's a thing that just exploded. When I made my tequila for my club for five years, I made two thousand cases a year -- all the little factory could make, just for my club. Then it got all these reviews -- "Best tequila in the world" -- so these distributors hit on me to bring it to America. This year is our second year in business, and it's 67,000 cases. We ran out in August. The financial people at CNBC want to do an interview with me because it's the liquor success story of the last twenty years.

What do the locals in Cabo San Lucas think of you?
They embrace me because I've brought a lot of business to town. We employ seventy people at Cabo Wabo -- it's a very big organization, and we only employ local people. So everyone likes that about me, but probably they should hate me, because quite honestly, I ruined their town. I hate to say it, but I did. Now there's pizza delivery places, 31 Flavors, everything. A Planet Hollywood came and went. Everyone saw it as a gold mine. But I don't care -- all the competition in the world can come down there. I've got my little corner, it's my Mecca. It's the best place in the world to play for me.

You don't seem too bothered any more by your ugly split with Van Halen. Did the song "Little White Lie" from your first post-Van Halen solo album, Marching to Mars, get all the demons out of your system?
Totally. I got them all out. I was watching Eddie and Alex on VH1, going, "He quit . . . he didn't want to work. His work ethic sucked. All he wants to do is party and take time off." That really wasn't what happened at all. So I started writing, thinking, "Those lying motherfuckers!" It really angered me, and when I sing that song on stage, it's such a great vent. I thought that was a classy way to do it. I'm still living in the shadow of what happened. I can't stand to talk about it. I don't mind talking about the good times with Van Halen, because God knows there were nine unbelievably great years there with great friends. That's the part that hurt the most, was all that was just thrown out the window for some bullshit business decision -- a greatest hits record with a couple of [David Lee] Roth tunes on it. That flushed one of the greatest rock & roll bands in the world. I'm glad it happened now, because now I'm having a great time, but I'm just sorry about the friendship.

Do you think that friendship will ever get you talking to each other again?
It's got to. You know what it's going to take? Not a reunion. If they called me up, I would puke. I would say, "After all this, you want to talk about what? You guys need money or something?" But I bet you in a few years I'll run into one of these guys somewhere, and we'll see each other from across the room, and it won't be animosity, it'll be, "Ah fuck man, there's Alex!" Like excitement and a big hug. It'll start like that. It'll be like, "I'm in Cabo -- why don't you guys come down and jam?" It could come together like that. I'm not hoping for that, but if I were psychic, I would be saying that's how we'll become friends again -- totally by accident, because if it's business, I'm not interested.

You seem extremely proud of your new band. What makes the Waboritas click?
It's a fun band. I would do anything for these people. When we took a year off and just made this record, I supported them out of my pocket. Not a lot of people would do that, but I wanted this band to stick around. I wanted musicians who weren't -- Van Halen were real glamorous, and I didn't want to be compared to them. When Roth left Van Halen, he put together a glamour band with Steve Vai and people like that, and some people think it was a smart move, but I think it was a terrible move. All of a sudden you're compared. My band, people say, "I guess we can't make a comparison here!" We've got this black, bald guitar player, this little fire-stub bass player chick and a hippie for a keyboard player . . . we're an oddball band. But Ten 13 is as strong as any Van Halen record I ever made, because we're a band now. I let everybody free, and said "Go for it. I'm not telling you what to play -- play what you want to play."

On this album, you're still screaming in a way that makes my throat hurt. Have you ever seriously hurt your voice?
Never. I've never had nodes, never had an operation. It does take a lot of strength and conditioning in your stomach -- I do 150 sit-ups a day; otherwise I can't sing like that. But I prefer putting songs in high keys because, one, I'm insecure, and two, I know it sounds stupid, but I can be so much more convincing straining like that. I can be singing about cat food and I'll make you think that I mean it, because to get to those notes, you have to put your heart, dick, balls and soul into it.

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