Sammy Hagar on Van Halen’s Last Days, Trying to Make Peace With Alex, and a (Possible) Vegas Tribute to Eddie
A little over a week ago, we spoke with Sammy Hagar about his new album Crazy Times, which he cut with Nashville producer Dave Cobb and his longtime band the Circle. “It’s a concept record,” Hagar said. “It’s about how I feel about everything that has gone on since the pandemic started.”
Near the end of the interview, the conversation inevitably turned toward Van Halen and the possibility of a tribute concert to Eddie Van Halen featuring all the surviving members of the band. A few days later, we heard from Hagar’s camp that he wanted to get back on the phone: He had a lot more to say about his former band. “I really think that it’s OK just to speak how I really feel now,” he said when we reconnected, “because there is no animosity left in my heart, in my soul, anywhere.”
We wound up talking about Van Halen for more than an hour. The conversation touched on everything from his initial departure from the band in 1996 to his emotional reunion with Eddie Van Halen a few months before his death in 2020. Along the way, he revealed that Irving Azoff, Van Halen’s manager since the early 2000s, reached out last year to gauge his interest in a possible Las Vegas residency with drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony, and a superstar guitar player. There are no concrete plans at the moment to make that a reality, but he does hope to finally make peace with Alex Van Halen in the near future and reestablish a friendship that has suffered from years of estrangement.
Here’s a slightly edited transcript of the conversation.
Let’s go all the way back to the Twister soundtrack in 1996. The story you often hear is you guys couldn’t agree on the lyrics to “Humans Being,” and everything just unraveled from there. Is that accurate?
Yes, it really is. But that was the temperature of the band at that time. It didn’t matter what we were going to do. We were fighting about everything. That was because, I think, we were poisoned by the management that came in at that time. But that particular argument was about the lyrics.
I talked to the director [Jan de Bont], and he sent me the script for the movie and said, “Study this. There’s some really great terminology that they use in relation to the tornado chasers.” And so I drifted through it and I got a bunch of cool lines out of it. I don’t remember them all now, but I just remember that the chorus was “dropped down.” It was like “Right Now” in that it was a very percussive lyric, and a great phrasing to start the chorus.
But Eddie and Al went nuts and said, “Oh, my God. This is corny. You can’t talk directly about the movie.” It’s not like they had an idea, but at that time they just didn’t want to use too much verbiage about actual twisters. I thought, “Well, I think they’re wrong, but OK, whatever.”
I come back into the studio to do it with producer Bruce Fairbairn. He gets Eddie out of the room and says, “Look, how about just a bunch of imagery?” And then Eddie had said “Humans Being” for some reason. That was the first time he ever really titled a song that I was involved in writing. And I thought, “Humans Being. Yes. That’s fine. I like it.”
So I just blurted out this stuff. I sat on the hood of a car in the back of the studio with Bruce Fairbairn, and I just started writing things down. “You break this, I’ll break all that/You break my balls with all your crap/Spread your disease like lemmings breeding/That’s what makes us humans being.” I had just watched a documentary about lemmings jumping off cliffs in Alaska. I was just thinking of anything and everything that was in front of me. And Ed loves it: “Yeah, yeah. This is what I was talking about.”
Did you quit or were you fired?
Oh, I was fired. I was told that I quit by Eddie. It was Father’s Day, Sunday morning, 9 am. The phone rings and I’m laying there with my brand new baby. He goes, “You know, you always just wanted to be a solo artist, so go ahead and be one. We’re going to get Dave back in the band.” And when he said that, I flew up out of bed like I’d seen a ghost. And I said, “Wow” and a few expletives went back and forth from me. That is not what the song “Eagles Fly” is about, but it’s the opening lines of it. [Sunday morning, nine A.M./I saw fire in the sky/I felt my heart pound in my chest/I heard an eagle cry.]
I called the manager that was poisoning all this stuff and I said, “Guess what just happened?” And he went, “Oh, fuck. He did it? He made the call?” I said, “Yes, he made the call.” And he goes, “Let me get back to you. I suppose you want a golden parachute.” I said, “I want to know what the fuck is going on. I don’t need anything. I just want to know what the fuck is going on.”
That’s what happened. It wasn’t like he said, “You’re fired.” He just said, “You’re quitting the band. You’re leaving the band. We’re moving on without you.” Whatever. It was not my call, whatsoever.
I’m sure you had sympathy for Gary Cherone because you’d been in his position a little over a decade earlier. He didn’t have it easy.
Oh, I have total sympathy for him. He’s such a great guy, and he’s a talented guy. But he was so wrong at that stage of the band. He might have been able to replace Dave [in 1985]. The band still had a lot of legs left back then. When Cherone came, that type of music, even Van Halen, the mighty Van Halen, was going down, because of the grunge movement and all that. I mean, it was kind of over for us. We weren’t getting all the positive press. We weren’t getting the spins on MTV. We weren’t getting the spins even on radio. And so that was bad timing for Gary. So whether or not it didn’t work for whatever reasons, it was just a bad time to be making that move. That was the biggest mistake the band has ever made, I think.
Let’s move onto the Sam and Dave tour of 2002. Did that go as well as you hoped it would?
Yes and no. That tour was successful. I did very well on that tour as far as the comparisons went [between us as vocalists]. And the idea was to get Van Halen’s attention and get us both back in the band and do what was inevitable. A reunion tour with both of us would have been the biggest thing Van Halen ever did.
But it didn’t work out that way because Dave doesn’t play well with others. He just made a mess out of it. It could have ended with us both standing there with our arms in the air going, “Hey, good job, buddy. Let’s go talk to the brothers.” That was my intention, and it didn’t happen. Instead, I got a reunion out of it. It wasn’t my favorite reunion, but that’s what happened.
I read stories in the press that things were so bad on that tour between you and Dave that they physically built a wall backstage to separate you.
Yes. I think that’s production managers and tour managers getting in the middle of our bullshit. They made the wall since we nearly got into fisticuffs one night. They promoters were like “Oh, we gotta keep these guys apart. This tour’s doing too good. We don’t want to see it break up because there’s some lawsuit.” And so they put up a barricade between our dressing rooms.
It’s like you guys are the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Yes. It was the wall that Trump wanted to build. It was so thin though. It was just a bunch of plywood on little stands. If you really wanted to get to somebody, you could just kick it down. I used to knock on the plywood to yell at David when I was getting ready to go on stage because we flip-flopped: He would open one night, I’d open the next. And when he had already played, I’d be beating on the thing and I would say, “Dave, I’m going on. Come on up in about an hour and we’ll play a couple tunes together.” He wouldn’t even respond.
You got into a lot of sordid details about the 2004 Van Halen reunion tour in your book. Eddie was deep into the throes of alcoholism back then. He was a very sick guy. Do you have any regrets about revealing everything that went down?
You know, I was so angry after that tour with everything that had gone on. I wrote about it all, yes. Everything I said was true. I regret it now only because if someone reads it after Eddie’s death, they can’t go to Eddie and ask him about any of it. Back then, it was my word against his. But I don’t remember if anyone in their camp ever spoke up about any of it. I think everyone knew what condition Eddie was in. It wasn’t any frickin’ secret.
Rolling Stone has that whole article about that guy that befriended him. Just read that through the lines, and you’ll see it’s the same guy that I was dealing with. I just wish I knew he was sick at that time. He had had his tongue cut off, but he was adamant that he was cancer-free and he was healthy and fine. He wouldn’t listen to anyone. If someone would say, “Ed, you need to not drink so much, and you need to get some food into you,” he was like, “Fuck you.” Nobody, not even his brother, could get through to him.
But in writing about it, I broke a rule. I broke the locker-room rule amongst athletes and amongst friends and clubs. It was a boys’ club. “None of this gets out of here. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” I was just so angry. I really wanted to get my side of the story out because a lot of people thought, “Well, maybe it was my fault.”
That tour does sound like it was absolute hell for you.
There are things that I can tell you now that I didn’t waste my time on in the book…He was so out of tune and playing the songs so wrong that there were times I couldn’t sing well. I had a hard time staying on key. I’d go over and I would sing with the bass because Mike would always be in tune. I’d sing to the bass, but the problem is they had Ed’s guitar so loud because he would go out there every day during soundcheck and make sure his guitar was screaming. He would insist that his guitar was extremely loud in the mix. Hey, it’s Eddie Van Halen. I wanted to hear it loud too. But if you’re just hearing my voice and his guitar, you’re going, “Man, Sammy’s not singing too good.” Or if you’re really a good musician, you’d go, “Well, wait a minute. Eddie’s not playing so good. So what’s going on?”
You mentioned that recent Rolling Stone article. I want to read a few things that Eddie said about you in it. Let’s start with, “It’s all about the money when it comes to Hagar. He used the band to elevate himself.”
No. That’s when Ed was in that frame of mind where he wasn’t thinking straight. He was being fed weird information. He was doing a lot of drugs and alcohol and he was paranoid. He wasn’t thinking right. Everyone knows it. Look at the pictures of him on the internet from that era. He was a mess. He wasn’t thinking straight, and somebody was poisoning him with that.
I am not about the money. I am about fame and fortune, yes. That’s what I wanted my whole life. Once I got it, the question becomes what you do with it. You use your celebrity to enlighten people and to bring awareness. That’s what I’m all about, and I’ve always been about that.
I’m a business guy. I love business. I love creating things, and seeing them make it. That bothered Ed and Al to death because they didn’t think like that. They just would say, “What are you doing?” “I’m making a bicycle.” “Why are you making a bicycle?” I’m going, “Because I ride bikes. I want to make a good one, and make one better than everything else.” And that’s always my premise. But my ambition and my creativity just drove them nuts because they didn’t understand it.
Here’s what Ed said about Michael Anthony: “When Hagar quit, Mike went with him instead of staying with Alex and me. That was as much of a betrayal as Roth blindsiding us when he quit. We didn’t see either one coming!! All we had was ourselves.”
That is so not true. Mikey didn’t leave Van Halen. Mikey was replaced in Van Halen by [Eddie’s son] Wolfie, and he found out about it in the press.
Ed’s perspective was that Michael essentially quit Van Halen when he started doing gigs with you.
Yes. That’s because he wasn’t in a very good frame of mind. Mikey sat around for five friggin’ years. And then he started coming out with my band as a special guest. It was really cool because it made me feel comfortable, especially on the Sam and Dave tour, to have Mikey there. It warranted me playing more Van Halen material.
Before that I was only playing two or three Van Halen songs. With the Wabos, I was not about trying to be a Van Halen cover band. And Dave had come out with this Van Halen cover band playing all Van Halen. He didn’t even play “Just a Gigolo.” He didn’t even play “California Girls”! These are his biggest hits. And I thought, “What an idiot. I don’t think that’s cool.”
Having Mikey there made it more fun for me to play the Van Halen stuff. And still today, in the Circle, we play more Van Halen than we ever did because Mikey’s in the band, number one. And number two, there is no more Van Halen. So now, I feel great about playing it. It’s part of my life. I was in that band for about 11 years.
And when Dave came back to the band, they pretended like I’d never been in it. There weren’t those Number One albums, those Number One hits. Those 40 million albums never existed. That’s stupid. It’s not what I do right now with Mike.
But with Mike, they just interpreted it that way. The second Mikey would’ve got the call to be in the studio, he would’ve been the first guy there, like he always is. Mikey would join Van Halen today and quit the Circle, if there was such a thing. Mikey never betrayed anybody. He would just say, “I’m going out and having fun with Sam.”
Tell me about getting back in touch with Ed in the final months of his life.
It was the craziest thing. I heard he was sick, and I heard it from pretty good inside information, so I knew it was true. Every now and then, people would send me photos of him on the internet. He did not look good at all. I’d be like, “Fuck.”
So I called up [Steve] Lukather. Him and Ed are dear friends. I said, “How’s Ed doing?” He goes, “Aww, Sam, not so good.” I said, “Would you please give him my phone number and tell him if he wants to, to please call me. I would love to talk to him. I don’t want anything. I’m not trying to get a reunion. Trust me.”
He told me later, “I gave it to him.” And I said, “What did he say?” He said, “He loves you, man.” So then [the comedian] George Lopez calls me and said, “Sammy, you got to call Ed. He’s in real bad shape, and you need to call him.” And I said, “Well, fuck. Here’s the number I have.” And he goes, “No, that’s not his number anymore.” So I said, “Give me his number.”
I had told a couple other people the same thing. I told Irving Azoff to have Ed call me. I left Alex Van Halen voice messages and emails, which he never returned. I said, “I would love to talk to Ed if he’s willing to talk to me.” And I told everybody the same thing. I didn’t want to call Ed in his condition and have him say, “Fuck you, you asshole. You quit the band.”
I’d have a hard time not grabbing the rope and arguing with him. So I didn’t know what his headspace was because that’s where we left off, and I didn’t know if he was still there. So anyway, I called George and I said, “George, I’ll do it.” And he goes, “You’ve got to do it Sammy. You’ve got to do it.”
So I hung up and called Ed. I said, “Ed, man. How are you, man?” He said, “I’m hanging in here, dude. I’ve been fighting this for fuckin’ 15 years.” I said, “I know, it’s terrible.” And we went right into that. We didn’t try to bury any hatchets or apologize for anything. We just went right into how he was doing and he told me.”
I said, “I’ve been wanting to reach out to you. I just didn’t know what kind of headspace you’re in. I called your brother. I called Lukather. I called Azoff…” And he goes, “Why didn’t you call me?” And I go, “Well, that’s a good question, and I’m calling you now.” We had a big laugh about it. He said, “You want to talk to me? Talk to me.”
I felt like he was in a really good headspace. It really touched me hard when he said it like that. “If you want to talk to me, call me.” He was never that kind of guy before. Ed was always a humble, quiet, sweet little guy. Then he went crazy…with a different kind of attitude, too.
But this time he was purely solid in his head. He had really come to terms, I felt, with his illness. I told my wife, “Ed really sounded like the most together Eddie Van Halen I’ve ever known, of all times.”
He said to me, “I’m going to beat this shit… I think I’m going to need to finish up [my treatments] this year, and maybe next year we can get together and make some noise.” I said, “Ed, that’s not what I’m calling about, but if that’s going to happen, then you can always count me in to play music with you, my friend.”
So then a couple other times, about a week later, I started texting him and sending him pictures of funny shit that I had stored up, things that happened when we weren’t talking. He started sending me stuff and we texted a lot back and forth, maybe a couple of times a week.
And then all of a sudden, I didn’t hear from him and he didn’t answer my texts. I left him a voicemail. “Ed. I ain’t hearing from you. Don’t make me nervous.” And so he gets back and says, “Dude, I just got out of the hospital. I got a fucking tumor on the side of my neck that just popped up that they had to remove.” I said, “I want to come and see you, Ed.” He’s going, “I’ll let you know when.” I said, “I’m going to come over. I’m going to cook for you and fuckin’ make a big old pot of spaghetti, man.”
When he lived next door, I used to cook for him all the time. So I said, “I’m going to come over and cook for you and really catch up and hey, maybe we can even write a song. Blah, blah, blah.” And he said, “Yeah, I’ll let you know.” And then I started getting less and less communication. I think the last one he wrote said, “Sorry. I’m not responding. I’m in the hospital.”
We had been doing FaceTime and shit before that. I’m looking now and the last video I sent was October 1, 2020. He died that week.
That must have been just an unimaginable gut punch.
Yes. [Choking up a bit] I don’t think I’ve cried that hard since my mother or father’s death. Even when you know it’s coming, you always have hope. You always hope for that miracle. You hear about people that had stage four cancer, and had friggin’ everything removed but their brain, and all of a sudden, a miracle, they come back. So yes, you’re always hoping. Ed had the money, he had the fame to where any doctor in the world would’ve dropped anything to try to save his life. So obviously, he had the best you could get, and it didn’t work.
In those e-mails Rolling Stone recently published, he said he wanted to do the big tour with you, Dave, and Michael. Wolfgang confirmed this in many interviews. It’s going to go down in rock history as one of the best tours that never happened.
What a shame, huh? I mean, honestly, the shame is that Eddie Van Halen’s no longer with us. That’s the shame. But if we would’ve done that…All the damage that I did with my book, the damage Ed did with his actions and his stuff he did in public, and the Cherone shenanigans, and the Roth reunions, my reunion… That would’ve righted everything, if we would have did that tour. That would have righted everything, and I wanted that so bad. Just to all of us to go, “We’re clean again. We’re angels. We’re spotless.” I’m sure this’ll become clickbait if you run it, but there was a time there where I was embarrassed to say I was in Van Halen.
When was that?
About six or seven years ago, when they were out with Dave, and Ed was still really in bad shape. They were out there making a lot of noise as Van Halen, and somebody would say, “Sammy Hagar from Van Halen.” And I would go, “Hey, hey. Just Sam Hagar. That’s enough.” I wanted people to know, but it was almost like it was a black mark because Roth was doing crazy stuff, and Ed was doing crazy stuff. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was Diamond Dave.
Let’s move into the present now. Joe Satriani jammed with Alex and Jason Newsted last year. Did Joe call you up before doing that to say it was happening?
No, because the Van Halen camp is 100% secrecy. I bet when he walked through the door, they made him sign something, and I’m dead serious. Alex is a very, very secretive guy. I don’t know how he can keep his lips so sealed. I could probably say something horrible about him right now and he wouldn’t even respond. Don’t take that the wrong way. I have nothing bad to say about him. I’m just talking about how stubborn he is. He does not budge.
But Joe told me about it later, after it happened. I knew there was talk of it because Irving Azoff had called me. He said, “I want to do a residency in Vegas with you and Mike and Al and a superstar guitar player.” And I said “Like who?” And he said, “Like Joe Satriani.”
I said, “It just sounds like Chickenfoot with Alex Van Halen instead of Chad Smith.” I wasn’t much for that, as much as I love Joe. He could do that job best, without a doubt, because he’s so friggin’ anal about the way he plays, and every single note. I said to Irving, “I’m going to call Joe.”
When I did, he told me what happened. And I said, “Jason Newsted? What the fuck is going on here, man? Whose idea is this? This must be a Dave idea.” And Irving said it was a Dave idea.
Why would he want anyone but Mike? It’s probably because he knows that Mike and I are so close. I would imagine if they would’ve called Mike, Mike would’ve said, “Yes, I’ll do it with Sam.” Because without Ed, there is no Van Halen to start with. So now, you’re going to go out and just play the early songs, and not play the second era?
That would be the biggest failure Van Halen ever had if they call themselves “Van Halen” if they didn’t have Mikey. If it’s just Alex with other guys, that’s like what Jason Bonham does with Led Zeppelin. There’s a million bands out there doing that. It would be totally nuts. Also, I’d prefer that nobody attempts to replace Eddie Van Halen. I think that’s blasphemy and should be illegal.
Anyway, I think that Irving boohooed it, and Dave went around him and did it anyway. I’m surprised that Alex went that far, but Alex might have just been his methodical self and said, “Well, let’s see what this is like. Let’s see how it feels.”
If they wanted to do a Vegas residency, or any kind of tour, with you and Alex and Mike, is that something that you may be interested in pursuing?
Not a tour, no. I wouldn’t leave what I’m doing for that. I would make myself available to have a rehearsal, and see which guitar player would work the best. I’m telling you, Joe would be the best. But like I said, then it’s just kind of Chickenfoot with Alex, which there’s a problem there. And I think that’s probably what they were thinking when they tried to get a different bass player, but that’s stupid, too.
I would definitely love to play with Alex and Mike with a great guitar player that doesn’t try to just mimic Eddie perfectly. There’s so many great guitar players. There’s Steve Vai. There’s frigging John 5, who is a great guitar player.
Do you like the idea then of a short Vegas residency or are you thinking of merely a one-off tribute show?
I’m thinking of one-off weekend or something where we give the money away to some cause. It can’t just be, “Hey, we’re going to grab some money.” I got plenty of money. There’s nothing that I would do for money that I just wasn’t in love with the idea of doing. And I’m not in love with the idea of being Van Halen without Eddie Van Halen.
Matter of fact, I’m dead against it. But I would love to play music with Alex and Mike again. I would love to play those song agains. And if we did a residency or a tribute, I would sing 50/50. I would sing half the Dave songs too for the Van Halen fans. And those songs are great. I don’t mind singing some of them. The lyrics don’t fit in my life today, but neither does “Rock Candy” or “Bad Motor Scooter.”
I think at this point, I’d rather hear you sing “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” than Dave. He just really can’t sing anymore.
It sure sounds that way to me, everything I’ve heard. But I just think it’s crazy to do anything that’s called Van Halen without Eddie. I would love it if Dave wanted to do a tribute where he’d sing ten of his songs, and then I’d come out and do ten of mine. That would be great with Alex and Mike and maybe a bunch of different guitar players. Look at what Dave [Grohl] just did for Taylor [Hawkins]. That’s one of the greatest events in rock history. That’s right up there with the early Farm Aids, and right up there with Live Aid. That was a great event, and that could be done for Ed with everybody playing.
Why don’t you just call up Alex and talk this stuff over?
Well, I’ve left him many messages, but not for this one. But I always think about Alex. I just dreamt about him two nights ago. I dream about people constantly. I believe it’s real cosmic shit that happened on another dimension. I dream about Eddie all time. But Al, I dreamt about him and it was so wonderful. It was friendly. I said, “Come on, Al. Let’s do something and let’s do it right.”
The only way to do it is to put both eras together and do it for a cause, for a purpose, not for a money grab, not like the whole tour, where we’re going to make 10 million bucks apiece. None of that shit. It could be a residency, it could be two or three nights. I wouldn’t do more than that unless the rehearsals blew my mind and I’m going, “This is the most fun I had since the original Van Halen.” That would cause me to be more open. I mean, if we do it and it’s wonderful and successful and the fans love it, I’d go, “OK, let’s go and do 10 cities.” But I couldn’t just go out as Van Halen. There’s no friggin’ way.
When’s the last time you spoke with Alex? Was it 2004 on the last tour?
Yes. At the end of the tour. We finished in Albuquerque, and Ed went completely off the rails. Irving Azoff grabbed me at the end of the show and said, “Get in the car and get the fuck out here.” We were supposed to go on the same plane together. We had a plane and we were going to fly home, and he saw what was going on earlier and he chartered me another plane by myself with my wife and my tour manager.
I was walking off the stage, somebody goes and grabs me and said, “Keep on going. Get the fuck out of here, right now. Go.” Well, he just knew a fight would have broken out because Ed was so belligerent on that last show that I wanted to beat his ass.
So Alex came up to me right there at the same time and gave me a big hug and said, “I love you, man. Thank you. Be careful. Safe flight.” And that was the last time. And I think we talked on the phone a little bit, but I don’t know what happened with Al. He kind of drank the Kool-Aid or something.
They haven’t done much with the catalog from your era of the band. Are you hoping they re-release it?
Well, I think it’s going to have to be inevitable because we sold 46, 47 million records with me in the band. They were all Number One albums. You can’t just leave that and have it sit in the Dumpster. Warner Brothers has been pushing forever to do something, but I know Dave is against it. Dave likes to pretend like I was never in the band.
Alex is not active. He’s not out there pushing it and talking to people like you. He’s not making plans. I think he’s still licking his wounds from his brother’s death, and God bless him, man. I don’t know how he could deal with it. I’m having a hard enough time myself.
I think when Alex comes out of his shell, he’ll probably do it. And like I said, I’m thinking about reaching out to Alex. You’re pushing me in that direction, and I’m feeling it because it’s time. It’s been a couple of years now that I gave up on him.
Do you think the albums need to be remixed or just remastered?
Remastered. Remastering can bring out more of what’s on that tape that you don’t hear in the old mastering. It doesn’t hurt anything. I don’t like changing things too much from the vintage. I’m a purist. That’s why people love vinyl. They like to put them on and have them sound like the old records…I’m thinking of the early stuff like OU812. That didn’t have enough bottom on it, and it had no bass. It was one of those…I hate to tell you why, but everyone was so fucked up. They had the bass so loud in the studio since everything was really loud. It was so loud on the playbacks. But if you turned it down, the bass was not there. It needs to be remastered more than any of them.
Album box sets are also a chance to release demos, studio outtakes, and live stuff from the era. Fans would love to hear that.
I don’t know how much of that stuff is around. It’s all in 5150 studios somewhere. I shouldn’t be saying where it is, but I know it exists. And I do believe Wolfie is in charge of it. I heard things were turned over more to Wolfie than to Al.
Have you spoken much to Wolfie since he was a kid on the 2004 tour?
Yes, but not a ton. I really gave him a lot of love when he made his first record, and he gave me some back. It was very cordial, not like, “Hey, let’s get together” and stuff like that. I mean, Wolfie blows my mind. Look what he did over in London for that Taylor thing. When he played Eddie’s stuff, man, that was fuckin’ really good. He just keeps impressing me with his talent. That song “The Distance” is so soulful. I had no idea he could sing like that.
He’s really got his pop’s talent. It’s kind of like Jason and John Bonham. I mean, Jason’s just like his dad, man. He plays fuckin’ that good. And I think Wolfie, maybe not as innovative because nobody is, but yes, he’s definitely doing it right. I praise him for not trying to be Eddie.
But now, I’ll make a statement. If there was ever a situation where there was a Van Halen tribute in some kind of way with Alex, Mike, myself, Dave, if he would cooperate, and Wolfie playing Eddie’s parts, now that would be worthy of calling “Van Halen,” for a moment. Wolfie would be crazy to drop his life and his creativity and his career to be his dad’s mimic. But for a moment, it could be great.
Just to clarify a few things, when did Irving Azoff call you with the idea of the Las Vegas residency?
I’m trying to remember. It was six months ago or something. It was probably a month before [the rehearsals] hit the press.
There’s been nothing since then?
Irving said, “Alex isn’t yet ready to do anything. He’s still in mourning.”
In your mind, it’s still a possibility though?
I guess so. But it’s not on the top of my agenda. Waiting on someone from Van Halen, I don’t care which guy it is, it’s how the band broke up to begin with.
Roth was asked recently about a tribute show. He said, “I was the one who named the band. Are you talking about a tribute to me?
[Huge laugh] There you go! [Even bigger laugh] I should start following Roth. He would keep me laughing, I’m sure. Oh my god, this guy! What the fuck? Just imagine if I said that. I was in the band. I wrote all the songs with Eddie, just like he did. He wrote the lyrics and the melodies. Warner Brothers mentioned wanting to name the band Van Hagar when I joined. Eddie and I said, “No, no, no. This is Van Halen.” I was joining Van Halen. And so imagine if I went around talking like that? I’d get thrown out of the business. How can Dave get away with that shit? Oh, what a fuckin’ screwball.
In that same little interview at the airport, he said you’d need two of everything for a Van Halen tribute. He mentioned Lukather and Satriani, Jason Newsted and Michael Anthony, Tommy Lee and Alex Van Halen.
They don’t need two bass players. Michael is a better bass player today than he was in Van Halen. He’s as good a singer, if not better, than he was in Van Halen. I’m sure Alex can play as good as good. He’s a great, great drummer. I know what I can do. I’m probably better than I’ve ever been. I think Diamond Dave is the one we want to worry about here.
He mentioned Pink as one of the possible singers.
I love her. I bet she could crush his era of songs. She’s got that husky voice. She’s got the range and the power. She would erase him if she jumped up there and started singing that shit. I wold love it. I would throw my hat in the ring with Pink any day.
The reality is that Dave is basically retired. Wolfgang is wisely doing his own music. Alex is off the grid. You and Michael are the only ones keeping the music alive.
One hundred percent. Alex, he’s not going to try to put a Van Halen tribute together. He would never. Alex has got more dignity, and it’s not his style. When Dave goes out, he just does his stuff. But Mike and I together, we’re the other half. There’s two of us from the band. We’re two out of four. And it’s that vocal sound between Mikey and I, with his background vocals, and my lead vocals, that really has all the identity for the Van Hagar era.
Jason Bonham’s father was Alex’s hero. All he ever wanted was the John Bonham drum sound on “Poundcake” and these other songs. Those songs are pure Led Zeppelin as far as the drumming, and Jason plays this stuff as good as anyone on the planet. Vic Johnson is a genius. He’s the most underrated guitar player in the world, in history. I think we play it as good as anybody except Van Halen…
And look, everyone thinks I changed [Van Halen]. This is really important. I’m glad you put this into my head. Those ballads, Eddie presented them to me. “When It’s Love,” “Love Walks In.” Eddie was so horny to show off his keyboard playing because Roth hated it. And Eddie was a good keyboard player, almost as good as he was on guitar. And when I heard what he was doing, I’m going, “Holy shit.” I got inspired. And we wrote those songs. When he played me “When It’s Love,” the words just started pouring out of me.
If you were to get Alex on the phone today, what would you say to him?
I’m going to say what he always said to me. I’m going to say, “Alex. We ain’t getting no younger.” Every time he came to me for a reunion or to get back in the studio after taking a break he’d say, “Sam, we ain’t getting no younger.” So I would tell him that. Then we’d have a big laugh and catch up. I wouldn’t start with business things since they wouldn’t be first on my agenda. I’d want to see how he’s really doing. Hopefully he’s doing well, and then we’d be able to reconnect instantly, like we did for the reunion.
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Alex is a really sweet guy. He’s just tough. He’s really hard, man. He’s Dutch, man. You know what I mean, he’s like some old 1700s kind of guy. He’s really a tough, old-school kind of person. He’s closed up, but he has a big, big heart. That’s probably why he’s so closed up.
The fans really want this tribute show. It’ll be really cathartic, and it’ll be closure.
I agree. I think it’s necessary.