Sammy Hagar's new autobiography Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock (in stores on March 15th) traces the singer's long career from his days in the 1970s hard rock band Montrose to his insane ride in Van Halen through the formation of his supergroup Chickenfoot.
The new issue of Rolling Stone (on sale and in the online archive Friday) has an exclusive excerpt focusing on Van Halen's disastrous 2004 reunion tour that was nearly derailed due to Eddie Van Halen's alcoholism. We chatted with Hagar about why he decided to write the book - and whether or not he'd ever return to Van Halen. (For more on the book check out Hagar's website.)
What made you want to write a book?
I've been maybe one of the most misunderstood rockers of all time because I've always been kinda quiet on my personal life. I've never really been a press-hound. There's never been a lot of stuff written about me, quite honestly. Flying under the radar's always been my philosophy. If you're never in, you're never out.
At some stage in your life, though, you go "I want my story to be told," and here it is. I think that's why people are gonna be surprised when they read. You know we know all about Tommy Lee. We know all about Keith Richards. But, we don't know that much about Sammy.
Tell me how you worked with your co-author Joel Selvin.
He's a longtime friend, and a critic in the Bay Area where I grew up. He'd come in and go, "Okay, let's talk about Montrose." And we would for three or four hours. He'd transcribe it and go, "I need to know more. Let's talk about what your wife was going through" or "More about your mother now" or "I need to know more about what happened on tour."
You really spill the dirt on Eddie Van Halen. You clearly weren't too concerned with burning bridges there.
I don't consider them burning bridges at all. When I first joined the band, dirt was going back and forth between us and the former lead singer. I didn't burn any bridges. They eventually put the bridge back. Time washes everything clean. To be honest, Valerie [Bertinelli] said almost all the same stuff in her book about Ed.
The only thing I did was talk about my personal relationship with him. I had almost 10 fantastic years in that band. It was a dream come true for any musician on the planet. We had the greatest relationship and the greatest run and wrote some of the greatest music. We had five Number One albums and sold 50, 60 million records together. We practically sold out every venue in the world.
The last two years were really rough. Everyone immediately goes to the dirt, but quite honestly being in Van Halen was one of the greatest experiences in my life. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I'll take the dirt right with it.
Back to burning bridges: If you choose to write an autobiography, which I did, then you only have one shot. If you don't tell it all then you sit there for the rest of your life telling stories and people are like, "Well why wasn't that in the book?" I don't wanna have to do that. It's all right there.
Are there things you didn't put in the book because you didn't want to piss off Ed or David Lee Roth?
Oh, hell no. I didn't really consider that, because they know what happened. I didn't make up anything. I didn't embellish anything. The only thing is that I didn't go as crazy as I could have about the sex, drugs and rock & roll part of my early years. I have a nine-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old daughter. I'm cringing as I'm writing this book going, "Oh, jeez. I really don't want them to read this." But how can I not? My wife looked at some chapters and went, "You're not going to put this in there, are you?" I'm going, "Yes I am!" I hope my daughters understand. I might have them read Keith Richards' book first.
What do you think the percent odds are that you'll ever play in Van Halen again?
I'd say it's up there around 90 percent. I would love to make another record with Van Halen. If Eddie was totally cool and was back to the guy I used to know, or a new guy, not the guy I knew the last time [laughs]. He can't be that guy. I wouldn't do it if he was like that. It's below zero, minus zero. But if Eddie really got his life together, which it seems he has judging by the pictures I've seen, then definitely.
You really think there's a 90 percent chance?
There's no rumor. There's no reason to say, "Yes, I've got this vibe going on." Right now, zero chance. When my book comes out, zero for a while. But someday, before we all die, f**k yeah. We might be in our nineties though.
Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty