November 11, 1979
By David Huff
Sammy Hagar - Sammy Hagar, Pat Travers, Scorpions
There is one thing that musicians and groups learn very quickly in the music industry' to roll with the punches and cope with adversity. You have to, or you won’t survive. Sammy Hagar has learned to cope. He has counterpunched his way through misery and, at times, seemingly hopeless defeat to come out a winner.
This fall marks a new beginning for Hagar. After years of being an opening act (except on the West Coast, where his name is a household word), Hagar has finally emerged as a headliner.
"It feels all the same to me," said Hagar as he sat in a recording studio near his home in San Francisco. "I think that people are going to get their money's worth, because I don't think they can pay to see a better rocker in concert. The show is really good, it's going to be a knockout."
If Hagar seems a little arrogant, he has the right to be. He's toured hard and heavily over the years to get his name and music out to the people. Last year, he spent nine months on the road opening for Boston.
“The Boston tour did us a lot of good," remarked Hager. "First of all, nine months of intense playing really got the band together. It made me see what works with this band. Going like, 'Hey, we really do this well. We don't do this well, so we should do more of this and not do that.' It made me...like I said, that is why I produced this album.”
"After that tour, it made me so aware of everybody in the band's playing capabilities and what the band really stands for. Besides doing that, it exposed us to about three and a half million people who have probably never seen me before -- and we got them all off. Every place that we played, we got accepted really well except two or three places, and they don't even count compared to three million people getting off and jumping up and giving you an encore and calling you back two or three times.”
"You know, it was fantastic, all the way around. I don't care how much or how hard of work it was being on the road for nine months, that's the only way you can get that. A hit record won't do that for you."
Each one of Hagar's four albums has steadily done better than the last. His latest release, Street Machine, has been in Billboard's Top 100 for the past several weeks.
“Well, Street Machine is the best album I have done so far,” explained Hagar. "Now I know that is what anybody would say about their latest album, but it is better for a lot of reasons. Number one, the Material on the record is some of the best songs that I have ever had. The reason they are the best songs is because I had a live album out for almost a year and also I had a year and a half to write songs. Putting together this album. I has 22 songs to choose from and I picked the ten best. They are really good songs.
“My band got so much better by being on that nine month tour with Boston that the overall playing is better. I produced the LP myself. I know everyone's personality in the band, and I tried to capture all of that on record. When you use an outside producer, he doesn't know nothing from nothing, He just knows, 'Yeah, that's a good hook, and hey yeah, that sounds like a hit and yeah, people will like that.”
“You know, it is all these contrived methods of making a hit record, where, to me, the best hit records are the ones that are real. You know, the ones that the band just plays like magic. For all those reasons, this is just a really good album. Plus Pete Henderson, the engineer who produced the new Supertramp album, incorporated sounds onto the new album that are fantastic, really good."
When Hagar talks about his new album, you can see the exuberance in his face. His wife Betsy, a songwriter herself, even contributed a tune to this album.
“Yeah, she did," laughed Hagar. "It's called 'Wounded In Love.' It's a good one, a sort of Bad Company-ish type of a song. I don't let her sing on it, though. She has a sort of pretty little voice, and I don't like pretty little voices. I like mean voices."
This album does mark a change for Hagar, not only with the songs, but also the arrangements.
"I don't know if this album will be the launch to superstardom," said Hagar. "I thought that every album had it. This album, I think, just has better songs. That's all I can say.
"As far as the hit single goes, there is so much involved there. There's luck, there's timing. There are so many different aspects that go into a hit single, that you can have a song that should be one and it won't necessarily be one I am in the same situation always: you are always faced with it.”
"I will sophisticate my music as far as chord changes and melody goes. As time goes on, I will write better songs. But, as far as being a musician trying to sophisticate my musicianship, it doesn't appeal to me that much. I hope that my band always progresses as players so they will be able to play and do justice to any songs that I write."
Hagar started out with Ronnie Montrose back in 1971. Montrose had left the Edgar Winter Band to strike it out on his own and needed a guitarist. Hagar found out about it through the grapevine, called up Montrose and went over to his house ore night and jammed. He was then asked to join and appeared on two albums, Montrose and Paper Money. After three years of heavy playing and touring, he split from the group.
"Ronnie and I went into two different directions," said Hagar. "I wanted to build the group more towards singing and he wanted to build it around guitar playing. I was a guitarist, but I also sang. I got bored and wanted to do other projects. We started having bad vibes, and they got so ugly, I split."
Hagar went out and formed his own band, building it around what he wanted to do musically. He found them in Bill Church, bass, vocals and former Montrose band member; Gary Pihl, guitar, vocals, and Chuck Ruff, drums. "I got guys in the band that could play those kind of things that I wanted to do. When I left Montrose, I decided I was going to do what I wanted to do, period. So when I split, I was looking for guys who could do what I wanted rather than put a band together and say 'Okay, here is what we are good for so this is what we will do.' I already knew what I wanted to.”
One thing that Hagar prides himself on is the ability to change his music from a hard rock number to a soft ballad without losing the intensity of the music he is trying to portray on stage.
"My music has three qualities," replied Hagar. "It has a really high energy intensity which is realty hard rock and as intense as you want to get. But, at the same time, I try to project very strong emotions into it. We can turn around and really do an emotional song, a soft ballad.
“The difference between Ted Nugent and myself is that I think that I can rock as hard as Nugent or anybody else, but, I can also turn around and do a ballad as soft and as tender as, say, the Eagles. That is what I try to project, the extremes on both ends.”
"I just don't want to go out there and beat my head on stage for an hour and a half. Some people who don't rock as hard as we do, don't bring it down to a point of an emotional low. That's the way I described it. We cover both ends and don't do much in between."
It has not been an easy life for Hagar. Growing up in the California steel town of Fontana, trouble seemed to follow his very footsteps. In fact, Hagar almost became a professional boxer before he took up music, His father, Robert, was a bantam-weight Golden Gloves in the middle 40s.
There is one thing though that came out of Fontana that has stayed with Hagar through most his life. His wife Betsy. She has muddled through thick and thin with Sam for over ten years now, and though times have been difficult for them, she has learned to cope.
"Sure, I have had some trying moments," said Betsy quietly. "Every wife or girlfriend who has a relationship with anybody has those moments when they would like to deck their partner. I just have to relax and let it all pass. Either you call it quits, or you stay in there and wait it out, which I definitely will do.”
"As far as the relationship being ideal, 'ideal' means to me 'total perfection.' In that sense, I would say this relationship is not. No relationship is perfect, but I would say that ours is as close as we could get while we are physically on earth. I think that our relationship has been strengthened over the years. I think that any relationship gets strengthened by adversity in lite, as long as you stay together and wither it I have learned to be more patient and more tolerant, which is great, because those are things you have to have in your life Those are the main things.”
Despite the adversities Betsy has encountered while traveling with her husband on the road, she says that one day she will be able to look back on this part of her life and know the whole thing was worth it.
"I have enjoyed it," she said, "but I would have chosen a different lifestyle myself. I would not recommend this to anybody. It has been a big trial for me, honestly, to adjust. I have no tricks on how to cope with it, lust 'faith in the whole thing. It can't last forever.”
"To me, Sam is a gem. He is one in a million. That has made everything for me. We have traveled together a lot. As the years have gone by, our relationship has gotten better and stronger. Creatively, he amazes me. He is just a wizard. I don't know where he gets all his inspiration from. Scientifically he is amazing also. There is a lot more to him than just the musical side."
Betsy has been on both sides of the table when it comes to dealing with pressure. She's lived with it, not only through Sam, but herself, and she knows the ups and downs of the music business and how they can sometimes get an artist down.
"Sam has snapped at me, but every husband does that," said Betsy, smiling. "There is a lot of pressure involved in this type of career. You wonder if the next record is going to be the one that is going to be a hit, and it isn't, why? All artists have to contend with outside pressure from the public and the people behind the scenes.”
"Pressure is something that you are going to have to accept. If Sam is down, I try to assure him of his talent and his luck, Sam has extremely good luck. But, he is aware of the things you have to contend with in this business. Years ago, I seemed to help more than I do now. Usually he gets out of down times himself."
Betsy travels with Sam whenever he goes on tour. One of the most difficult things they have to contend with is being away from their nine-year-old son, Aaron, all of the time.
"It is hard on us, especially during these years," said Betsy a little glumly. "When he was younger, we brought him along with us, but now, it is crucial that he stay in school. During the summer we lake him along with us, and occasionally, he skips a week of school.”
"Aaron understands. He is a bright boy. Even though he knows it causes us to be away from him sometimes, he understands. He loves the idea that Sam is a singer and he tells all of his little friends. He really gets a kick out of it." Success seems to be right around the corner for Hagar, but there are still some things from the past that bother him. "You know, I don't know why 'Bad Motor Scooter' gets such a tremendous response when we play it at concerts," said Hagar, shaking his head. "I don't want to have to keep playing that song, but it is a good encore and I like it as an encore. But dammit, it makes me mad because it is the biggest response we get, and I hate to keep retying on that song. I guess it is just that we jam it. It's not because it is a great song and it's not because it is a Montrose tune.”
There are so many ingredients required to writing a song, it's difficult at times tor a musician to come up with the right mixture of lyrics and music that will draw the crowd's attention.
"It’s not lyrics at all," responded Hagar. "Music is the big deal. Music is what catches you. Here is my theory about it, as a matter of fact. I have a theory. Music is what grabs you, the sound, boom, whatever it is, a melody. All of that grabs you and sucks you in .After you hear it about twenty times and like it, you become really attached to it."
In bands, over-zealous egos on the parts of individual members has more than once spelled doom for a group. The music business is full of stories about groups that split up because someone's head got too big,
"I'm over the ego bit." said Hagar. "You know, the first ego boost I ever got was seeing my name on a record, seeing my name on a poster for a show, and hearing my name on the radio. The first six months of my album coming out was my ego boost.”
"I sort of wish that I wouldn't have went out as Sammy Hager when we started. I would have rather gone out as a band name because that ego boost, that gets in the way. It doesn't mean anything. You see bands that have egos break up. Deep Purple broke up because of egos, because a guy wants to see his name in lights instead of the whole band. Well, all that stuff I am not into anymore. I do want to be a rock 'n' roll star. I will have an ego in that respect to where I want to be somebody."
This summer, Hagar played at the Texas Jam before some 83,000 people at the Cotton Bowl. The bill included such groups as Nazareth, Boston, Heart, TKO, Van Halen, and Blue Oyster Cult. When Hagar went on stage in the early part of the afternoon, the heat on the stadium floor was well over 100 degrees. The experience stands out very clearly in Hagar's mind, not because of the heat, but because of the thousands of fans who battled the heat, cold, and some rain to attend the Jam.
"When I was out there it was hot as a son-of-a-bitch and I could hardly breathe," recalled Hagar. "But those people out there, I don't know how they did it. I respect them, I really respect those kids for sitting out there. I mean, they are the die-hard rock n' rollers. They are what makes the world go around, not the bands.”
"That audience right there, if it hadn't been there, those bands wouldn't have. Do you think that any of those bands would have been there playing if there was nobody out there? Hell, no. Do you think that anybody would have gone up there in that heat? Hell, no! It was because those kids were there and they are the ones that made it all happen. They get all the credit. Those kids would probably come here for one band, but all of these bands wouldn't come here for a thousand people. Those are the die-hards. They are the ones that are true blue. Those are the ones that mean it. I am devoted to them and I will play for them."