Van Halen‘s 2004 reunion tour with Sammy Hagar made a lot of sense, on paper. The group had been in hibernation for six years following their ill-fated LP and world tour with Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone, and fans were hungry to see the band again. David Lee Roth may have seemed like the obvious choice for a vocalist at this point, but private attempts to reunite with him earlier in the decade quickly fizzled. With no other viable option, they reached out to Sammy Hagar, who was quite willing to forgive and forget.
The tour could have been a huge triumph, but problems emerged before they played a single note together. Eddie didn’t want to include Michael Anthony, and Hagar wouldn’t agree to anything unless the bassist was on the tour. Anthony ultimately signed a contract that drastically reduced his income for the tour. “I had to also concede a bunch of other stuff like percentage cuts and any claim to the trademark,” he told Rolling Stone in 2007. “I didn’t need the money. I decided to suck it up because I thought if this was the last time Van Halen was performing, I wanted to be out there with them and with the fans.”
Michael Anthony was on board, but Sammy Hagar was shocked when he saw Eddie in the flesh for the first time in a decade. “He looked like he hadn’t bathed in a week,” he wrote in his 2011 memoir Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock. “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.”
The group decided to cut three new songs for a Van Halen compilation album, but Ed kept disappearing and Sammy started to fear the whole thing would fall apart. “He had turned into the weirdest fuck I’d ever seen, crude, rude and unkempt,” he wrote. “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.”
With help from producer Glen Ballard, they managed to cobble together three songs. They then assembled a set list that was heavy on material from the Van Hagar era, a handful of songs from the Roth era and the three new songs. (Here’s video of the group performing “Panama” at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.)
It was clear to most people in the crowd that Eddie wasn’t in the best shape, but few knew the depths of his drinking problem. Hagar and Anthony barely spoke to Eddie backstage, but by some miracle they didn’t miss a single date on the tour. When it ended in Tucson, Arizona in November of 2004, they went their separate ways. Sammy hasn’t spoken to Eddie since, and Anthony learned he was fired from the band when he read reports online a few years later that Eddie’s son Wolfgang was the new bassist.
Despite all the trouble, Sammy Hagar has no regrets about his time in Van Halen. “Everyone immediately goes to the dirt, but quite honestly being in Van Halen was one of the greatest experiences in my life,” he told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ll take the dirt right with it.”
He even told us another reunion isn’t totally out of the question. “Someday, before we all die, fuck yeah,” he said. “We might be in our nineties, though.”