Sunday, April 03, 2011

Book Review: Sammy Hagar - Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock

I mowed through Sammy Hagar Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock in two days. It was pretty riveting. Sammy co-wrote it with Joel Selvin from the SF Chronicle, which probably means Sammy dictated it to Joel and Joel banged it into shape.

But however they did it, the book is very conversational and is a great read. Sammy is indeed a funny guy and I was laughing before I even turned to the second page.

Hagar's family history is pretty interesting. I usually want to skip over the childhood years in music bios, but this was a good one. Sammy had a pretty tough childhood yet he presents it with a refreshing objectivity and it shows how his strong work ethic and easygoing nature were formed.

Also, he grew up in a very rural area (Fontana, California), and he paints a vibrant picture of what life was like back in the 50s as kid.

His teenage years were spent in the 60s, and he got the rock and roll bug in time to attend the Monterey Pop Festival and take all sorts of the usual chemicals of the time. The cool thing is, after a close call with the law, he decided to clean it up and really focus on his dream of making it as a rock and roller.

In fact Hagar reminds me of Tom Petty (from Running Down A Dream) and Don Felder (from Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles), who both were so driven to succeed that they left wreckage in their wake - wives, bandmates etc.

Hagar marries young and his wife sticks with him through the poverty and selfishness of living on nothing to chase a dream that few ever achieve, all the way through the payoff before and during the Van Hagar years, where Sammy is gone so much his kids never see him. And of course he ultimately dumps her for a newer model. There is more to the story than this (the wife train wrecked a bit), but it's a common theme and was the only bummer in Sammy's  story.

Otherwise, you'd be hard pressed to find a more easy-going, motivated, smart guy in rock and roll. Most know of Hagar's Cabo Wabo venue and tequila franchise, but he was starting businesses all the way back in the late 70s. Some tanked and others did OK, but he diversified and invested wisely. Very few rockers grasp that concept without the nudge of the accountant!

Of course the big dirt in the book is all about Van Halen. If you believe Sammy's story, he was the great motivator behind getting the songs written and recorded on the numerous Van Hagar albums. The Van Halen brothers were disorganized and dysfunctional - basically rich rock stars who never grew up and always had some screws loose. The magic was prevalent from the start of their collaboration, but the seeds of the breakup were already sown as well, namely in the form of the Van Halen brothers' alcoholism.

Talk about head trippers - mostly Eddie, but Alex was a major enabler. I mean, I already knew Eddie has zero respect for his fans and is generally a clueless genius with no manners - that was clear from his Guitar Player interviews in the 80s. But Hagar really tears the cover off of it and it's pretty astounding. Did nothing to change my opinion of Eddie Van Halen as a human being, which was already pretty low.

I knew very little about Alex Van Halen, though. According to the book, he was a major alcoholic (possibly cleaned up at this point but hard to tell) and very co-dependent with Eddie. Not as off the rails as Eddie but didn't do anything to help him put the brakes on either.

And David Lee Roth? Wow, what a weird dude. Another deluded head tripper but I guess we knew that already. The stories of the Sam and Dave tour, and the Van Hagar reunion are worth the price of the book alone.

Hagar also talks about his breakthrough with Montrose, the arc of his solo career and his recent new band, Chickenfoot. The book inspired me to listen to that CD again and it's a good band. Great chemistry. I reviewed that CD here in 2009.

Overall, the book paints a solid picture of Hagar - an amazingly successful, talented, driven, slightly ego-centric rock and roller and business man. Despite some of the lifestyle and personal choices I wouldn't have done myself, I came away with a lot of respect for the man. And overall, the book is a fun, easy read.

1 comment:

Don Capone said...

I liked this book too, and read it quickly. Sammy is likable and a hard worker, and has had success for many years now. His hard childhood and his later investments in real estate, etc were interesting. Can't help wanting to hear the other side of the Van Halen story, though.