Sammy Hagar has one of the most instantly recognizable voices in rock. His work these past three decades as lead vocalist for the seminal mid-70s rock act Montrose, then for 10 years as a solo artist, followed by another 11 fronting Van Halen during that groups most successful period, and since 1996 as a solo act again has left Hagar's rowdy rasp indelibly imprinted on our brains.
Yet Hagar the guitarist is often overlooked. While he is certainly no Edward Van Halen on the fretboard, Hagar is no slouch on the six-string either. He proves it on stage at every show whether on tour or at his famed Cabo Wabo nightclub in Baja, Mexico and he amply demonstrates it on Ten 13, his third post-VH release, which hit stores Oct. 24th.
Recorded in his home studio with a more complete group effort from his Waboritas keyboardist Jesse Harms, guitarist Vic Johnson, bassist Mona, and drummer David Lauser than on either Marching to Mars or Red Voodoo, Ten 13 shows a much more consistent and confident Hagar than we've seen since Van Halen's 1991 nugget For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.
Hagar picked up his first guitar, like many of us, in his mid-teens, copped licks off the radio, and, according to family members, almost immediately showed a knack for the instrument. His initial influences leaned toward Elvis and the surf guitar hits of the mid-60s, The Ventures and Dick Dale in particular.
After briefly considering boxing as a career possibility, Hagar wisely chose to pursue music. He moved from his family home in the suburbs of Los Angeles north to the Bay Area in time to experience the height of the hippie, flower-power era. The late-60s may have been a time of questionable fashion sense, but love was free (other equally intoxicating substances cost only slightly more), and popular music was going through a phase that can seriously be argued was its most creative period ever.
After a few years perfecting his craft in the clubs around San Francisco Hagar hooked up with former Edgar Winter lead guitarist Ronnie Montrose, recorded the influential album Montrose, and took off on a ride that still hasn't ended. In this exclusive Guitar.com interview and don't miss the video Hagar discusses his career, his music, and his guitar playing.
Guitar.com: Ten 13 is rocking. What's going on here?
Sammy Hagar: Well, I've really never been satisfied with the way my records sound, but I really didn't know what to do about it my whole career. Not that they all sounded bad, but in my ears, whenever I wrote songs, I would always talk to the producer like, I wish there was more bass, I wish the guitars could be louder, how come my voice doesn't sound this way or that way?
So finally these last two records I just started producing myself, with the Agave Brothers my keyboard player Jesse Harms and myself and going for what I hear in my head when Im writing the songs. And so were just doing it all ourselves. Finally we hit on it. This album is rockin because this is the kind of record I want to make. I tried to do this with Red Voodoo as well but Red Voodoo was the first time we had done it and we were in a learning process, quite honestly. It was good, but this one is the way I want it to sound. I want it to be meaner and heavier than anything you're going to put on your CD player before this. When you put this on, afterwards, you're gonna have to turn it down or else let it go and you'll blow your speakers up. That's the idea of it.
Guitar.com: Tell us a little bit about your band.
Hagar: The Waboritas on this Ten 13 CD have really come to being. We have become a band. If there was a member change in this band now after this CD, it would change the chemistry of the band. We would be different to where, as a solo artist for me before and even up until this record, I could've changed member always and it would not have changed anything. We became a band and I let them express themselves on this CD.
When you hear the CD youll know what I'm talking about. This doesn't sound like a solo artist, this sounds like a band. It was intentional, it's what I want. After Van Halen, the only reason why I went back to being a solo artist is, number one, I was frustrated from being in a band. It wasn't getting along.
That's it for me, just like in Montrose no more bands. Truthfully, if I would have had this band on ice and been able to make my first record with this band and sign a record deal, I probably would have just called ourselves a band name, if I had a good one like the Waboritas or something. I'm not stuck on an ego trip being Sammy Hagar. I'm OK with it, but I like bands. I like having the same band members.
This band Mona on bass, Vic Johnson on guitar, David on drums, and Jesse Harms on keyboard are six different characters. We are such a dysfunctional looking band you would think, "No way does this band love each other." We are so tight and so close it's ridiculous. This band is the coolest. They really came to the party on this record.
Guitar.com: Having come from a career that's been successful three or four different incarnations over, starting with Montrose, what is your view of the whole business the hit song and all that?
Hagar: The easiest way to put it is, if you're Sammy Hagar, in order to have a very hugely successful record 10-12 million records I would probably have to do what Carlos Santana did. I'd have to hook up with all the latest and greatest people. And I'm not interested in doing that. I think he did a brilliant thing don't get me wrong. If I was just a guitar player, I probably would [do the same].
But as a singer I just can't see having other singers sing for me on my record. Or you have to do something crazy or whacked out, like start rapping or something, cause it's very in. Im not down on it: It's whats happening. Or I'd have to just do some really gimmicky thing. I'm not interested in any of that.
I'm into what I call real rock. I play real rock. It started with bands like Montrose, a real rock band; Zeppelin, a real rock band; Van Halen, a real rock band. That's where I consider myself coming from. I'm a real rock artist and I like to stay true to my roots, and I like to expand a little bit sound-wise and experiment, but it has to be something that I really dig. I wouldn't do it just to try and get a hit because my records are successful enough.
That's all I really care about. If I did something stupid, I could lose my fan base and then I couldn't do this anymore. It's not that I'm afraid to take a chance, it's just that I don't care. I don't care if I sell five million records. I've sold 62 million records in my career. That's more than I thought I could ever sell. I'm successful. I make records cause I make them for my fans and I make them for me and my band. I think it's the best way to do it. It's not like I don't care, I care very much about my records, I care a lot. That's why I make the records I do.
Guitar.com: Do you play most of the guitar on Ten 13? I know you have Roy Rogers on here. Is Vic Johnson on here?
Hagar: Roy Rogers and Ivory Johnson are the only two guests on this CD. They both played on the song called "The Real Deal". Otherwise, Vic and I share the guitar chores. I have a new system on this record; it was like being in Van Halen. A lot of these songs sound like they could have been on Van Halen records. It wasn't intentional, but it was something that I did when I was in Van Halen.
Normally I would write a song on guitar, I'd finish the song, I'd teach it to the band and I would play on the basic track with the drummer and the bass player Mona and Dave and we'd do the track and I wouldn't sing until later. But a lot of the songs on here, I taught them to Vic, and he played the guitar while I worked out my vocal parts and got my melodies together, just like in Van Halen. I didn't play guitar on basic tracks in Van Halen, ever. I just worked out my vocal parts so while the band was putting it down, I was singing.
It gave Ten 13 a whole different thing cause Vic was playing the guitar and I could just sing. It caused me to sing different melodies and go for it a lot more than if I was playing the guitar and trying to sing, so I let Vic play a lot of the basic tracks and then I came back and did some of them myself. He played probably half the solos. I don't put on there who played what, because I think it's so stupid. I put on the CD, "All instruments played by the Waboritas, except for Roy Rogers and Ivory Johnson on 'The Real Deal'."
Guitar.com: You used Roy Rogers on Red Voodoo or was it Marching To Mars?
Hagar: Both. He played on Red Voodoo he played the slide part on "Don't Fight It," the Wilson Pickett tune, and the slide guitar on "Little White Lies" from Marching To Mars as well. He's such a brilliant player that I always want to have him play on a song. I want to give him exposure first of all, and second of all, I just love hearing him play. He brings something out of me and out of the band that is very bluesy and R&B that we normally wouldn't quite venture into. When Roy comes over for the day we get all blues-ed out, cause hes the king. That guy is one of the best Delta slide guys.
Guitar.com: I've seen you tear it up on a lap steel guitar
Hagar: I tear it up, I don't play it very well. [laughs] I make some good noises. It's a fun thing. You get it all cranked up and you got that bar and the steel guitar, the Hawaiian steel, you can get up so high on the neck that it's like the dogs start coming. It's pretty cool, you can make some crazy sounds and you can twist it and turn it. I play it with an open tuning, tuned to an E. You can go slightly flat and bend it ever so slightly sharp and really get some good emotion out of it. Thats all I'm good for. I don't have a bunch of chops. I don't have a technique where I can play a real song on there. If I'm playing with the rest of the band, it doesn't work because I'm usually so far out of tune, cause I don't hit it pure. But Roy is right on key. He's got it down like a fretless bass player. He knows where the notes are.