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Exclusive: Sammy Hagar Recalls 20 Years of Madness With Van Halen

Surviving Eddie: An excerpt from Hagar’s new memoir ‘Red’

Ebet Roberts/Redferns

When Eddie Van Halen called me in 1985, it didn't come as a complete surprise. David Lee Roth had split a few months earlier, and I'd told my wife at the time, Betsy, "They're going to call me, you watch." Who else were they going to get? There was Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio and me. 

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Fin Costello/Redferns

(no title)

Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen on the tour bus in May of 1979.

 

I walked into their place in Studio City. Alex Van Halen took one look at my short hair and started laughing. "You look like somebody put a doughnut on your head and cut it off," he said. Alex was drunk on his ass. He was drinking a case of tall malt-liquor cans a day. He pounded them too. He would pass out a couple of times a day, wake up and shotgun two or three beers, crack one more, and walk out of the room. Eddie drank all day too. They both woke up, grabbed a beer, lit a cigarette, and that was the way they started their day.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Ron Galella/WireImage

(no title)

Eddie lived in a very humble house with his wife, Valerie Bertinelli, the actress. It was just an ordinary two-bedroom house up in the hills off of Coldwater Canyon with a garage that he'd converted into a studio. They called the studio "5150," after the police code for picking up a crazy person. The studio was filthy. Beer cans everywhere, ashtrays full of cigarettes. I don't think it had ever been cleaned.

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Ron Galella/WireImage

(no title)

Eddie never bothered to unpack. He was always pulling clothes out, finding something halfway clean but wrinkled. I found all this kind of humorous, like, "Far out, these guys really don't care." I thought that was pretty cool. I came from a different world, Betsy's world. My clothes were pressed. My socks were ironed, folded and put in the closet. I was actually wearing a suit — Armani linen jacket and slacks, T-shirt and tennis shoes, kind of Miami Vice.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty

(no title)

We started playing, and the engineer Donn Landee recorded everything we did. I made up the first line on the spot: "Summer nights and my radio." It just popped into my head the first time I heard that riff. The rest of the song I scatted my way through. I did the same thing with "Good Enough" — I really had my scat together. Eddie couldn't believe it. Dave apparently didn't have good rhythm and wasn't a great singer, didn't have any range. I was singing Eddie's guitar licks with him. After five hours, they were freaking out. "We've got a band," they kept saying.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

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I realized it was Cream all over again — my favorite rock band ever. There was something about it that was slow, confident, almost majestic. My rock had always been more intense. They were relaxed into this groove thing, even if it was uptempo. Alex laid back, like Ginger Baker always did. Eddie played the way Clapton played, deep in the pocket. He didn't speed up anything. I'd never played with guys like that before. I decided I was in. 

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

SGranitz/WireImage

(no title)

Eddie and Al were tight as nails. They didn't get too far from each other. Passed their cigarettes back and forth. One wouldn't light one without lighting one for the other guy. They only needed one match. They never walked into the room with just their own beer. They always had a beer in their pocket for the other guy. It was very family, very close. Us against the world. This is our place. We're working on our record. We didn't argue about nothing. It was a dream come true.

It was very family, very close. Us against the world. This is our place. We're working on our record. We didn't argue about nothing. It was a dream come true.From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Ebet Roberts / Redferns

(no title)

Mo Ostin, the chairman of Warner Bros. Records was, let's say, cautious. He liked the idea of changing the band's name to Van Hagar. Eddie and I powwowed about it and decided, no, we're Van Halen. We loved each other. There was no animosity, no egos, no nothing. They wanted me to be in this band, and I wanted to be in it, because we were making the music and we knew we were good.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

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Van Halen performs in Minneapolis, Minnesota on July 30, 1995.


But after their 1995 tour, Hagar's relationship with the Van Halen brothers deteriorated. Hagar left Van Halen the next year — he claimed he was forced out, and the Van Halens claimed he quit. The band foundered — an attempted reunion with David Lee Roth misfired, and an album recorded with singer Gary Cherone sold poorly and Hagar returned to his solo career. Then, around 2004, Hagar got a call about a possible reunion.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

(no title)

Eddie Van Halen in 2006.

I had been waiting at 5150 studios for more than an hour when Eddie finally showed up. I hadn't seen him in a decade. He looked like he hadn't bathed in a week. He certainly hadn't changed his clothes in at least that long. He wasn't wearing a shirt. He had a giant overcoat and army pants, tattered and ripped at the cuffs, held up with a piece of rope. I'd never seen him so skinny in my life. He was missing a number of teeth and the ones he had left were black. His boots were so worn out he had gaffer's tape wrapped around them, and his big toe stuck out. He walked up to me, hunched over like a little old man, a cigarette in his mouth. He had a third of his tongue removed because of cancer and he spoke with a slight lisp.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Michael Bezjian/WireImage

(no title)

He may have lost a chunk of his tongue to cancer, but he was still smoking cigarettes. He claimed the cancer came from putting the guitar pick in his mouth while he used his fingers to play. He walked around all day drinking cheap shiraz straight out of the bottle. That's why his teeth were all black. "Ed, why don't you get a glass for that?" I said. He held up the bottle. "It's in a glass," he said.

He was living with a pathologist, who kept taking slices off his tongue, to check for cancer. He beat the cancer. He told me he cured himself by having pieces of his tongue liquefied and injected into his body. He also told me when he had his hip replacement, he stayed awake through the operation and helped the doctors drill the hole. What a fruitcake.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

(no title)

Whatever he was doing, he kept it out of view. I never saw what it was, but he was doing something. Plus drinking wine all day. He would never be in one place longer than 20 minutes. "I'll be right back," he would say. "I gotta take a shit."

This was Eddie Van Halen, one of the sweetest guys I ever met. He had turned into the weirdest fuck I'd ever seen, crude, rude and unkempt. I should have walked, but Eddie's got a very charming, cunning side to him, where you feel like he's got a good heart. He's going to come through. He's going to clean up and we're going to get this thing done.

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

(no title)

We brought in producer Glen Ballard, who made Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, a total pro who really tried to make things happen. We had [new songs] ready within one week. It took three months for Ed to do the guitar parts to three songs and a couple of solos. The Eddie Van Halen I first met could have done that in an hour. When they finally laid down the rhythm-guitar tracks, that was all I needed to sing. I didn't need his guitar solos. As soon as they got that, I went in and knocked out my vocals on all three songs in two hours. Mike came in and we did all the backgrounds in another two hours. Eddie was still asleep. By the time he came down, we were finished. They spent the next three months doing Eddie's guitars.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

(no title)

Eddie Van Halen with his son Wolfgang in 2004.

Our new manager, Irving Azoff, agreed to hold an intervention with Eddie. He brought a big, beefy security guard and met Al and me at 5150. Eddie walked in, carrying his wine bottle. Irving did all the talking. He told Eddie the [2004] tour was going to be difficult, that he needed to go away for a week or two, that we could postpone some dates if we needed. We all agreed Eddie needed to clean up.

He smashed the bottle. "Fuck you," he said. "I will kill the first motherfucker that tries to take this bottle away from me. I left my family for this shit. You think I'm going to fucking do this for you guys?"

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

(no title)

From the start of the tour, Eddie made some terrible mistakes and it seemed like he couldn't remember the songs. He would just hit the whammy bar and go wheedle-wheedle-whee. 

Whenever he came out with no shirt and his hair tied up samurai-style, he seemed fucked up. That was his little signal. I don't know what it was. He would come out first with his hair down, go back to change guitars, or after Al's drum solo, and come back with his hair up and shirt off. I'd look at Mike and we'd roll our eyes — here we go.

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

(no title)

One time, we got on a plane after a show and he spent practically the whole flight in the bathroom. When he finally came out, he had this hairbrush, the kind with the fur bristles, twisted up in his hair, hanging down. He was soaking wet, covered in water, like he tried to take a bath in the airplane sink. He flopped down on the floor, fussing with the brush caught in his hair, and never went back to his seat, landed that way. Hospital-crazy. 

After one show, Mike and I stayed back, like we normally did, and showered. Ed didn't shower. He jumped into the limo right off the stage and went straight to the airplane. When Mike and I rolled up, laughing, joking, eating a couple of barbecue sandwiches we had ordered, Eddie was sitting there drinking his wine out of the bottle. He went off on us. "Don't ever fucking make me wait," he said. "Without me, you're nothing. You need me. You'll see. At the end of this tour, you guys will have nothing. You're going to have to call me if you ever want to tour again."

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Steve Granitz/WireImage

(no title)

When we arrived at the next hotel, Eddie started asking everybody what my room number was. He didn't know the alias I used when I checked into hotels. The tour manager reached me on the room phone and told me Eddie was looking for me. "Bring that motherfucker over here," I said. "I quit. This is done. I'm going home tomorrow. I'm not going to work with this guy ever again. He's got no respect for anything or anybody. Fuck him. I'm done with this tour."

Eddie apologized, but they kept us apart as much as they could. We flew in different jets. We stayed at different hotels. We had our own limos. They had their bodyguards. Mike and I had ours. I stayed in my own dressing room on the other side of the hall. The only time I saw that guy was when we stepped out onstage.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Steve Granitz/WireImage

(no title)

Once in a while, I'd go over to his dressing room before the show and see how he was, and the times I did that it was usually great. He'd start playing, I'd start singing, jamming around, like old times. Other times, he'd start telling me crazy shit, like, "I pulled my own tooth — this thing was bugging me so I got a pair of pliers and pulled it out."

I didn't think he could make it. I kept thinking each week would be the last. He was going to land in the hospital. He collapsed a couple of times. He told us one time that he had been hit by a car. He was lying down, and he was so fucked up, he couldn't get up. "I got hit by a car," he said. "You guys don't understand."

His solo turned into a disaster. It used to be the highlight of every show. Now he would play nothing, just garbage. He would try to play "Eruption," one of his greatest pieces, and screw it up. He would just grab the whammy bar, hit the sustainer, and start making all this noise. The audience wasn't buying it, either.

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

(no title)

I didn't go near him onstage. No more Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. If he's over there, I'm over here. When he comes over here, I'm going over there. No bad vibes, just no vibes. It seemed to me that Ed was going through the motions, like he didn't care about his playing. He didn't care about the way he looked. He just went out there and took the money. He was embarrassing. Al, Mike and I did it from the heart. We played our asses off every night. Ed went out there and jerked off.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Mark Weiss/WireImage

(no title)

Toby Keith with Sammy Hagar in 2007.

Ed and Al hated every other band — everybody else sucked. When I hear a musician I like, I want to embrace him, bring him backstage, make him welcome. I brought Kenny Chesney backstage on that tour and took him to meet Eddie. Eddie shook his hand and turned around. "I gotta take a shit," he said. He walked into the john with the guy standing right there.

Another time, Toby Keith came to see us in Oklahoma City, not far from his hometown. I decided to do his "I Love This Bar" during my acoustic segment and Toby would walk out midway through the song and sing the rest of it with me. Toby told me that while he was waiting backstage, Eddie cornered him and tried to keep him from going out: "Why would you want to go on with him?" Ed asked. "Why didn't you come out with us?" "You didn't invite me," Toby said. "I'm inviting you now," Eddie said. "Why are you wearing that cowboy hat?" "I'm a country guy," said Toby. "No, it's because you're bald," said Eddie.

Toby walked out onstage halfway through the song and the place exploded. Eddie went crazy the rest of the night. He destroyed his dressing room after the show. His son, Wolfie, was in my dressing room, scared and crying.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

(no title)

The last two shows were at a small amphitheater in Tucson. The second night, Eddie unwound completely. He knew it was the end of the tour. He knew he was done. He came up to me before the show, when I was talking to Irving, and rolled my sleeve down over my Cabo Wabo tattoo. I didn't even acknowledge him. I just rolled it back up. He rolled it back down. I rolled it back up. "Don't be fucking with my shirt, dude," I said."That thing ain't gonna last," he said, showing me his Van Halen tattoo. "See that? That's better. That's going to last longer."

 

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

Ron Galella/WireImage

(no title)

Eddie and Sammy in New York City, September 12, 1985.

Irving took me aside. "When this show's over," he told me, "I'm getting you in a limo, and we're getting out of here." My plane was waiting to take me home. It was the worst show we'd ever done in our lives. Eddie played so bad. He smashed his favorite guitar to pieces. Sprayed shrapnel into the crowd. He got on the microphone, crying. "You don't understand," he said. "You people pay my rent. I love you people."

They tell me he pulled some crazy shit on the plane home. My man was completely gone and out of it. I went straight to my plane after the show and home to San Francisco. I never spoke to him again after telling him to keep his hand off my shirt.

 

 

From the forthcoming book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2011 by Sammy Hagar. To be published on March 15, 2011 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

For more from RED, click here

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