September 22, 1980
By John Liebrand
King of Coliseum Rock
Ask anybody's voice coach. You'll never amount to anything in the competitive field of coliseum rock unless you know how to project. Acoustic guitars won't cut it. The music has to be hard and raw, with guitar licks that cut through the 65,000th seat like a scalpel through Vaseline.
And not everybody can do it, either. Jackson Browne can't keep a big crowd hyperactive. Brian Eno's music for airports or Joe Danger's sappy organ playing appeals to some, but are those people capable of driving 100,000 sweaty longhairs over the edge? No way.
Sammy Hagar is the master of coliseum rock. He proved it at Texxas Jam. He'll prove it at Roklahoma, Sept. 6 at Owen Field in Norman. Hagar can do serious damage to any football stadium in the continental United States.
"I play monster rock," said Hagar, backstage after his performance at the Jam. "It's the only thing that works at these kind of festivals. Certain bands really die on these festivals, you know?"
"Last year I did Kansas City and the Cars came on right after me. They're a huge band. They've got a huge following. But they died because they weren't playing festival music."
But what is festival music? Hagar elaborated: "Festival music is just what it sounds like—party down time. Festival music needs pizazz and spontaneity. You have to jam to whatever is getting people off. And my band—WE JAM."
"Of course some bands get self-indulgent," said Hagar. "Like the Grateful Dead, they forget where they are. I'll make a rash statement—the Grateful Dead are probably my least favorite band in the whole wide world. Christ. How boring can you get? (Sammy is starting to get worked up.) Who wants to watch a band for four hours? It's got to go downhill. I couldn't play my music for four hours, but I could do what the Dead do for four hours. I could sleep for four hours, too.”
"But what about Foreigner? They don't play for four hours.”
"When Foreigner comes on stage they just do a string of hits. Foreigner isn't what I'd call an event.”
"Ted Nugent is the only person who's any competition. I've got a better band and better songs, but Ted performs. His music isn't real fast and doesn't kick ass right because his band isn't very good, but I gotta give the man his due because he's good in the flesh and is also probably the only guy I know that could keep up with me physically for a lone period. That man is in superb physical condition." "He's the only rock and roller who I wouldn't want to get into a fight with because it would probably go the distance."
"Not only that, but he packs a rod," I interject.
"I can use a gun, too," said Hagar, obviously not taken aback, "but I don't think it would come down to that."
Hagar's talk of physical fitness is not just the idle chatter of a heavy metal hero. He exercises, avoids drugs and doesn't hit the sauce. He's a long distance runner, used to box and even runs an occasional marathon. There's no doubt in my mind that he could flatten Gary Numan in a single punch.
"I know I'm fit," said Hagar, beaming with enough health showing to pose for one of those athletic breakfast cereal ads.
Hagar's father was Golden Gloves champ and professional boxer Robert Hagar (fight name: Bobby Bums), who was only one fight away from being champion of the world in the bantam weight division. "He got suspended and joined the army in World War II, which kind of ruined his career," said Hagar.
"He got suspended for attacking a referee. He beat him up because he thought he was cheating."
HERE'S THE STORY: "In the bantam weight division, most of the fighters are Mexicans or Chinese and not too many white guys have ever been champ in that division. Since my dad was an Irishman, promoters would put him in fights in Calexico, southern California and El Centro—all these border towns—and it would be a big draw. All the Mexicans from that side and all the white guys from this side would show up to root for their respective races.
"It was a good deal, really. Very profitable. Except for one thing," Sammy said with a mischievous grin, "they always had Mexican referees. There were times when he'd be really whipping a guy and the referee would break them up. Naturally he got pissed off, and naturally he attacked the referee," Hagar logically replied.
Hagar let out a hearty laugh, obviously enjoying the conversation about his father's fighting days. "I was just a natural boxer," he said. "My dad was a big influence. I was always fighting with my brothers or my neighbors. Many a time I'd bring a buddy home and my old man would hand us some gloves and we'd beat the shit out of each other."
I asked Sammy if he ever made a habit of beating up kids in grade school and taking their lunch money. "Haw!" he laughed. "I was never really that kind of guy. I was always a real little guy, but I was always THE BADDEST LITTLE GUY IN THE WHOLE TOWN. I could kick ass with anybody who was anywhere near my size."