Life after Van Halen was at first a nightmare for Sammy Hagar. He was bounced last year to make way for original Van Halen singer David Lee Roth, who was then dumped for Gary Cherone. The Van Halen soap opera has been ugly, but Hagar, against all odds, has survived to make the most engaging solo album of his career.
“There was a three-week period where I wanted to break a few necks,” says Hagar, who had been with Van Halen for 10 years.
“But I’m so proud and happy with this new record that I have no regrets now. Without all the turmoil, I couldn’t have made this album, so I’ve got to thank Van Halen for that.”
Hagar may have lost his friends in Van Halen, but found many others to make the expansive “Marching to Mars.”
Not only does Hagar sound renewed, he’s joined impressively by Slash and Matt Sorum of Guns N’ Roses fame, Ronnie Montrose, Bootsy Collins, Huey Lewis, and the real ace in the hole - Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart, whose spicy polyrhythms color Hagar’s hard-rock base on half the tracks.
“Mickey Hart is my new mentor,” says Hagar. “When Van Halen was over, I took two weeks to go to Maui to chill out. Mickey was on the airplane. We had met a couple of times, but just in passing. He said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I told him I was going to chill and then decide. He said, ‘Man, you’re crazy. When Jerry Garcia died, I jumped right back into music and rediscovered myself. It pulled me through it. So take all your feelings of being angry and sad, write them all down, and bleed them onto a record.”
That’s just what happened.
The new disc takes some not-so-veiled shots at Van Halen in “Little White Lie,” “Leaving the Warmth of the Womb,” and “Salvation on Sand Hill” (about snakes that bite). Hagar’s anger was poured into some edgy, transporting rock ‘n’ roll.
Hagar says he was fired by Eddie Van Halen last year on Father’s Day. It came after Hagar sought two months off following a year-long tour, so he could spend time with his wife and 3-month-old baby.
He suggested that Eddie take time to have hip surgery (which he’s since done) and Alex Van Halen tend to the ruptured vertebrae that forced him to wear a neck brace on tour.
“Instead Eddie and Al went right into the studio. They said they had to make money, but I said, ‘Whoa, are you crazy? We’re not hurting for money.’ I wanted to spend two months with my new baby, then make another record. … But Eddie said, ‘I’m frustrated because you never do what I ask you to do.’ “
The real culprit, Hagar believes, was new manager Ray Daniels (Alex’s brother-in-law), who was “trying to squeeze every nickel” out of the band.
Thus began a “cheapening” of Van Halen, he says, when the group released a “Greatest Hits” album (with Roth on two new tracks), plus did Nissan and milk commercials, all of which Hagar opposed.
These days, he wishes luck to new Valen Halen singer Cherone, formerly of the band Extreme. “I don’t know Gary, but everyone says he’s a great guy. But he’s got a tough job ahead of him. I had a hard enough time replacing David Lee Roth. For Gary to replace Roth and Sammy Hagar will be really difficult. If he doesn’t mind standing up and singing other people’s songs, he can be happy. But it’s not going to be easy.”
Meanwhile, Hagar is doing some small club shows, then will tour theaters later this summer with a stage set produced by Jonathan Smeetin, Peter Gabriel’s high-tech designer.
“I’m a whole new guy, man. I’m going out and leaving the past behind,” Hagar says. “I can’t wait to do this new album onstage.”