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The Reverend Red Rocker

Platitudes on life, religion and music from the depths of a tequila bottle

When Sammy Hagar and his band, the Waboritas, played an invitation-only show in town at the Hard Rock Cafe last month, some dismissed the show as a publicity ploy for his new brand of tequila, or sniggered at the venue. But for the couple hundred lucky fans who got to see an intimate performance, which lasted almost twice as long as it was supposed to and covered all the varied phases of Hagar's long career, it was a reaffirmation, a jolt of power, a reminder of straightforward rock and roll. And it was also a hell of a lot of fun, perhaps most of all for the man fronting the band, who sported an honest-to-goodness genuine smile throughout the night.

It's reflective of the one feeling Sammy Hagar wants to get across with his current Red Voodoo record and tour: It's okay to have F-U-N. "Sometimes it's not fashionable to be up there having too good a time," says Hagar. "Especially when grunge came in and everyone was on this depressed trip talking about suicidal issues. And yeah, I was influenced by it, but I'm over that shit." The affable and unpretentious Hagar laughs. "You can't fake the kind of time I was having there in Houston."

When asked how he was able to play and sing so flawlessly despite devouring a steady stream of tequila shots and margaritas given to him by the crowd, Hagar, the lifelong jock, credits his performance stamina. "Well, one good thing about jumping and dancing around, you can drink more than you would just sitting at the bar. And I've always been a tequila person at heart."

Clearly the Red Rocker has reached another stage in a career that has found him reincarnated more times than Shirley MacLaine. With Red Voodoo, he has mixed all-out party tunes ("Shag," "The Revival") with slinky soul-tinged tracks ("Red Voodoo," "Don't Fight It [Feel It]") with some overly turgid ballads ("Lay Your Hand on Me," "The Love") with a pair of ambitious numbers. As a whole, the record is exactly what Hagar fans expect. He's not looking to break any new ground. But it's still odd that the leadoff single, "Mas Tequila," openly credits and uses the riff from Gary Glitter's jock-rocking stadium anthem "Rock and Roll Part II." Still, it's a catchy crowd pleaser, and not just for those who yearn for visions of the worm.

Red Voodoo then succeeds in being exactly the party record fans want, something more buoyant than Hagar's last effort, 1997's Marching to Mars. Hagar wants to carry this newfound atmosphere on tour, where the stage will be a reproduction of his cherished Cabo Wabo club in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. And at every stop, a group of extremely lucky fans will get to watch the show on stage in the "club," an area replete with tequila-slinging waitresses.

"I wanted to recreate as closely as possible what it's like down at the club," says Hagar. "It's been a blast so far. I'm having so much fun on this tour." Hagar also says he's virtually worry-free about the commercial impact of the record. "I decided I don't care what the latest trend is or if I'm going to have a hit, because I'd have to fucking rap or something. I've got a great core of fans, and they come to the shows and buy the record. We made it without any pressure and only had to please ourselves."

In the album's liner notes, Hagar also admits that on this record he has finally found a level of confidence in his music he has never had before, which is a bit odd, considering the number of years he has been playing and recording. "I've made leaps and bounds in that area in feeling exactly what I am, a fun-loving guy. I tried to be a lot of different 'rock stars' in my life. I'll be the first to admit that at [some points], I was trying to be a cross between Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Roger Daltrey. But now I really feel that I can do and say what I want without compromise. And that's a hard thing to do for anybody no matter who you are."

It's an outlook that has allowed him to address a topic long of interest to him: organized religion and the dark side of it. "Sympathy for the Human" is literally the deepest cut on Red Voodoo.

"You feel a lot of pressure from these intense religious groups telling you that their way is the only way, especially after you've hit bottom in your life, like when someone dies or you try to commit suicide," says Hagar. "And they use such fear tactics that it's so unfair to a person's spiritual growth to not let any other influence in. You can take in parts of Christianity, parts of Buddhism, and everything else if you want to. It's all about God, and not the leader that gets you there. We're a little bit of all [religions], including satanism. Because if you don't see that, then you don't see the balance."

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