If Motley Crue’s collective autobiography, “The Dirt,” is the epitome of the modern rock ‘n’ roll tell-all — sex, drugs, sex, rock, sex, drugs, ad uninterruptus — then Sammy Hagar’s new memoir, “Red,” represents a radical departure from the norm.
Yes, “Red” has the obligatory “I fucked everything that moved” line.
And there’s no doubt the book’s now widely reported tales of the sex tents that Sammy and his bandmates in Van Halen kept near their stages (so they could engage in orgies between band’s guitar and drum solos) helped push the “I Can’t Drive 55” author’s tome over the speed limit to the No. 1 spot on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list this week.
But there’s another less conventional side to the Hagar tome that may also be driving sales, one that Hagar describes as “a manual for success,” and it elevates “Red” from being just another secretion-to-depletion recitation of the numbers of groupies serviced and drugs ingested.
This is the tale of the unusual rocker whose forays into straight business haven’t fizzled, but rather sizzled: Hagar has made a huge profilt on his Cabo Wabo tequila brand, which he developed, to Gruppo Campari, and is launching his new Sammy’s Beach Bar rum, while also overseeing a string of bar/restaurants at airports from Maui to Las Vegas.
He’s proud of that last venture, but not because of the money it makes, but the money it generates for children’s charities. All of it, according to Hagar, “100%.”
It may also help that Hagar isn’t overexposed in the world of entertainment journalism. Happily married for the second time, with a young family, Hagar’s not exactly the ideal celebrity rehab patient or Charlie Sheen-esque tabloid favorite.
He was the front man for, as the book attests, “the biggest band in the world,” a safe assumption of Van Halen’s status during the Hagar Era, as the book is co-authored by respected music historian Joel Selvin. But even with that distinction, Hagar has also operated, at least in the eyes of some of the band’s fans and critics, somewhat in the shadow of Van Halen’s charismatic original lead singer, David Lee Roth.
And since we don’t know everything about Hagar, as we do about Mick and Keith, Paul and John, Elvis, Michael, et al., finding out that’s he a genuinely down-to-earth rock star with both street smarts and biz sense comes as a great and pleasurable surprise.
On the phone with Hagar in between book signings, it becomes clear that the author’s voice in “Red” is truly Hagar’s, but he’s also quick to credit his co-author, who he says, “Helped me from day one make sure this was a book that didn’t pull any punches. I didn’t want to skirt the issues like I’ve done in interviews my whole life and at the same time, Joel also saw this an uplifting success story. I recommend Joel to every rock and roller who wants to tell their story.”
One surprise that’s not in the book, but totally in keeping with Hagar’s unpretentious, direct manner, is the revelation that his real name might not be Hagar.
“I don’t have any real proof, but when I was a kid I was told about a split between my grandfather and his brother,” explains Hagar. “We grew up being told by my Dad that we were Irish. But the story is that we’re not. We’re Dutch.”
And Hagar’s REAL name? Eddie and Alex, are you listening?
Sammy says it’s … wait for it … “Van Hagar!”
“Joel didn’t want me to put it in the book,” laughs Hagar, who laughs a lot, but even over the phone it comes off not as a nervous laugh, but as the easy guffaw of the guy who’s having more fun than you, which is a decent summation of Hagar’s durable Every Party Animal persona.
Hagar hails from Southern California, but his hometown, Fontana, wasn’t the typical sunshine, ocean waves and good times popularized by the Beach Boys. It was a blue collar berg on the edge of the desert, centered around the now-defunct but once smoke-belching and fire-breathing Kaiser Steel mill.
As Sammy recalls about his formative years in Fontana in the 1950s and ’60s, “You didn’t go to college, you went to work at the mill.”
But he didn’t.
Hagar remembers he “saw the Rolling Stones at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, which was their first gig in America. After that, I knew what I wanted to do.”
Hagar’s obstacles to achieving that goal include a father who he poignantly portrays as a victim of post-traumatic stress syndrome from World War II, but who he also mercilessly describes as “the town drunk” and still refers to in conversation as “a guy who was totally messed up.”
When given the challenge of naming five things that his blue collar upbringing contributed to his current success, Hagar gamely responds and quickly offers up an inspirational message for anyone who looks around a dreary hometown and dreams of rock star poses on international stages, and yes, maybe even the occasional sex tent as well:
SAMMY HAGAR’S FIVE REASONS HIS BLUE COLLAR ROOTS GREW INTO A BRIGHT “RED” SUCCESS STORY:
1) My mother always told me that no matter how big I got, I needed something to fall back on. She said every showbusiness success story ends up with the star broke from alcohol or drugs or something. So I started building businesses, like buying apartment buildings in Fontana, almost from the very beginning.
2) I learned that to succeed, you don’t have to be the smartest guy, or rich or famous or come from a powerful family or go to the best schools, if you’re willing to work hard and you have a passion to do something you love. And you NEVER give up.
3) In a steel town you learn how to take the hard knocks and keep going. Fontana made me tough. I can take a punch.
4) Blue collar people know how to party and so I relate to my audience not as some big rich guy, but as someone who knows about boozin’ and cruisin’.
5) I had a big vision and big dreams. I knew there had to be more out there and when the mill closed down, I saw a beaten-down town go further down. It gave me a big drive to get out.