Sammy Hagar has stayed steady in the perpetually unstable world of rock ‘n’ roll. After first making his name fronting the band Montrose in the mid-1970s, the Red Rocker launched a successful solo career, fronted Van Halen for a decade, then went solo again before hooking up with his buddies in the supergroup Chickenfoot, a hard rockin’ band featuring former VH bassist Michael Anthony, guitarist Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.
Hagar is like a cat — whenever he falls, he lands on his feet. And with a highly successful tequila business and two small bar/restaurant ventures bringing in extra green (some of it for charity), Hagar seems set for life. Here is Part Two of ADD’s exclusive interview with Sammy Hagar, where he talks more about tequila, music and the best advice he can give to young rockers. Part One can be found here.
I heard that you sold off a majority of your shares in your Cabo Wabo tequila company to Gruppo Campari recently?
I sold 80% of it. They wanted to buy all of it, and I only wanted to sell enough of it to get worldwide distribution. The hardest part about any product is getting it on the shelves. You can buy your own trucks and go to the grocery store, and they’ll go, “We’re sorry, we don’t have any room.” Distribution is tough for a record company or for anybody. It’s a physical product, and it takes up space. I didn’t jump into the distribution game. I always had a distributor, but I never had a worldwide distributor. So Compari came in, and they’re the third biggest distributor in the world. I said I’d sell it to them because I want to see it in the rest of the world. We came to do an 80/20 deal. I didn’t really want to sell that much of it, quite honestly, but that’s the only deal that they would make because it takes millions and millions of dollars in investment to get a worldwide distribution system going. There’s a lot of credit involved, a lot of shipping and handling. It’s a big job. Too big for Sammy. But it’s working fantastically. I’m a pretty happy guy.
I guess you have to find a way to get tequila on tap so you can sell to bars.
If I ever found a way to open another tequila bar, I would probably have some kind of situation where they would have a small distillery at the place. The problem with tequila is that if you put a title on and its tequila, 100% agave, it has to be grown, bottled and produced in a [specific Mexican] region, otherwise you can’t call it tequila. You could call it agave nectar or agave spirit or something, but you can’t call it tequila. You can, but someone’s gonna mess with ya.
Is there a specific area where tequila is made?
Jalisco. It is the domained area where tequila is bottled and produced. If you’re not 100% agave like Cuevo and a few other ones, there are a lot of mixtos that only have to be 51% tequila, and you can get the agave there and bottle it wherever you want. You can mix up a little bit when you’re doing that, but something has to come from the region.
It’s interesting that you also have gone further into the restaurant business with Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill.
I did this for charity. When you have anything successful, like my Cabo Wabo Cantinas and the tequila, people come to you and ask if you have any more ideas. The first thing you do is go, “No.” Or, “I could get one.” So I did it for charity. For me, I always look for things I can do to give back. I’ve done a lot for charity — not enough, by any means — but I’ve done my fair share, and it always bothers me when I see a little kid that’s poor. It breaks my heart. I’ve got kids, so I’m pretty sensitive to kids. Terminally ill children are the number one priority in my head. If I can do anything about anything I would try to fix that. You can’t really fix it, but you think about how sad [it is] for the parents and how expensive it is. It just breaks a family to pieces. So it became my mission to try to help two families a year in each city where I have a Beach Bar & Grill. I give every penny from it to the community. In Maui, I only deal with Maui. In Las Vegas, it only goes to Las Vegas. St. Louis only goes to St. Louis. So that’s my mission with Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill — wherever I can open one, that money goes to the community, and one or two families a year can really benefit from it. You can’t fix the whole world, but you just fix one family, you know how good that makes you feel.
After all of these years you and Mike Anthony still have a really strong friendship. There’s a lot of loyalty there. Now you two are in Chickenfoot together. Why do those ties remain so strong?
We’re just kind of the same kind of guys. It’s so weird… you can relate to this. You can meet someone and say, “I really like that person.” Or someone will make you say, “The fucking guy drives me nuts.” In Van Halen, Eddie always used to go, “Man, I’m so jealous of you and Mike. You guys always seem to get along and are laughing about everything and having so much fun.” I’m going, “It’s just the way it is.” From the day I met him, we had on shorts and flip-flops and T-shirts and were talking about going out and having a couple shots of tequila, eating some Mexican food with hot peppers and then hitting the beach. We both have the same kind of vibe. We [like to be on the] beach all day and play music at night. Anytime I would call Mike and say, “I’m going down to Cabo, you want to go and jam?” He was there. We just have the same kind of lifestyle. It’s pretty cool.
So what’s coming up for Chickenfoot then?
I’m pretty much going to wait for Chickenfoot now. I was asked if I wanted to go out and do some [solo] shows this summer and was offered a great package with somebody that I thought would be really great. I thought I’d put Mike in the band and we’d go out and do it for fun, then just this morning I woke up and said, “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to wait for Chickenfoot.” It’s something special. I might go out and play 25 or 30 concerts this summer, and if something were to happen with Chickenfoot in the fall, I might not feel like touring because I just toured. I want to save it for my passion right now, just like I said when we first started talking. I’ve got a passion for Chickenfoot. I woke up one morning and said, “I want to play with Joe Satriani, Chad Smith” — who I had been jamming with a lot at the Cabo — “and Mikey.” I wanted to put together this band, and I was so overwhelmed with it. It’s all I wanted to do. I did it, it worked and I want to do it some more now. I want to keep that passion and not burn myself out on something else. Right now that’s my band.
Do you think you guys are going to record anymore stuff?
Oh yeah. In April we’re supposed to go in the studio. Chad has a little window from the Chili Peppers, and we’re going to go in and start recording a second album. We’re not going to rush it, we’re going to start. Joe and I are always writing. We’re definitely going to try to do it again.
Do you ever see yourself mentoring younger rock stars?
If they want it, man, I’ll tell anybody anything I know.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to an up-and-coming musician?
Figure out what you want to be or even who you want to be like. A good example is Davey Knowles, a 22-year-old British guy who opened for Chickenfoot on the whole tour. To me, he’s the next Eric Clapton. He’s a hard blues guy, great guitar player, great singer. He kept saying, “Give me advice. Give me advice.” Well, what do you want to be? I can’t give you advice unless you tell me what you want to be because whatever you want to be is what you need to be. And if you don’t know what you want to be, keep doing what you’re doing until you figure out who you want to be. I said, “Would you be happy if you were B.B. King and were 80?” He said, “Fuck, mate, hell yeah! I don’t even dream that big.” I said, “Then stay true to the blues. Then you can be B.B. King. Because you’re good.” That’s the only advice I can give to anybody. Just stay true to your heart and soul and what you want to be, and make sure that you’re as good as you can always be and just don’t bullshit. Bullshitting ain’t going to get you nowhere, man. The only thing you can be is an individual, and how you be an individual is to go with your own taste. Just like my tequila thing. This is the way I like it. If someone next to me says they like Patrón better, fine. I don’t. Otherwise I would’ve made tequila that tastes like that. If you want to be the Beatles, then you’ve got to be the Beatles, but there’s already the Beatles. You can try to be like them, but you’ll always be something less, so the only way to go about being the Beatles is inventing it and becoming it with your own personal tastes and who and what you are. So find what you want, who you want to be and what you want to be and go for it, man.
So after all of these years, what do you think your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
[laughs] I think they know it all. I know they know I’m for real. I think they might be surprised to know that I’m kind of a lazy bastard. It seems like I’m always doing something, and I’m the hardest working guy in the world, but I’m not. I think I’m lazy. I like to lay in bed as long as I can. I never get up before 9:30 or 10, and that’s early sometimes. I really just like to lay around and think and daydream. I think they probably don’t know that, and maybe that might be the only thing. In every other respect, they know what kind of soul I am. But they don’t know that inside I think I’m lazy.