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The Reverend Red Rocker

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

Hagar also recalls many "former hippie and pot-smoking friends" who would get kicked out of their houses and the next week would shave their heads and join a religious sect. "And if you didn't agree with them 100 percent, then you were a piece of shit who was going to die and go to hell.... I could get really heavy about this, but that's why I put a little Beatles twist on the song, to make it a bit lighter."

Hagar was born October 13, 1947, in Monterey, California. That area of the Golden State and its laid-back outlook would have an impact on the performer, especially after he gave up a fledgling boxing career for music. He was playing in a series of local bands during the late 1960s when former Edgar Winter Group guitarist Ronnie Montrose (he of the famous "Frankenstein" riffs) asked him to front the aptly titled Montrose band in 1973. Hagar recorded two records, which featured the FM rock staples "Rock Candy" and "Bad Motor Scooter."

After Montrose abruptly quit his own unit, Hagar began a solo career in 1976 with Nine on a Ten Scale and released records such as Musical Chairs, Danger Zone and Red Alert Dial Nine. The works were met with tepid response, and most are out of print today. His fortunes changed in 1982 on the release of Standing Hampton and the single "There's Only One Way to Rock." The record was the first in a string of albums that produced the hits "Three Lock Box," "Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy" and "Two Sides of Love," and the tune that became his signature (and provided a smart-ass line for everyone who has ever been pulled over for speeding): "I Can't Drive 55." He also began to contribute songs to movies such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Footloose and Vision Quest, and delivered the memorable title track for the cult fave Heavy Metal.

By 1985 Hagar began to feel burned out and bereft of creativity. But his career entered another unexpected phase after a phone call from Eddie Van Halen, guitarist/front man of the band Van Halen: It seems that David Lee Roth was leaving (and, amazingly, ex-Scandal singer Patty Smyth was being considered for the spot), and the guys needed a replacement, and would he like to come down and jam with the remaining trio and, well, let whatever happens happen?

The foursome clicked, and Sammy Hagar joined Eddie, his drummer brother Alex and bassist Michael Anthony in Van Halen in 1985, immediately setting off a firestorm of debate among the group's fans which continues to this day. Though some saw Hagar's relatively ego-free team spirit and guitar and songwriting abilities as a welcome change from Roth's over-the-top antics and constantly running mouth, others deplored "Van Hagar" and its musical shift, which now included sickening sweet ballads and a downplay of balls-out theatrics.

Nevertheless, this edition was hugely successful from the start, what with albums such as 5150 (1986), OU812 (1988), For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991) and a live record steadily selling millions. The band yielded a slew of hits, including "Why Can't This Be Love?" (the band's first No. 1), "Dreams," "Best of Both Worlds," "Love Walks In" and "Right Now" (the last of which would be used in a Pepsi advertising campaign, furthering charges of "sellout" among fans of the old lineup). Still, Van Halen was now the biggest, most successful rock band in the world (although U2 fans might argue). Or, it was, at least before the dawn of Cobain and Co.

Tensions between the Van Halens and Hagar flared occasionally, but with the death of longtime VH manager (and Hagar confidant) Ed Leffler in 1993, band unity grew awfully shaky. But the group released a record, the dark Balance in 1995 anyway. It set the stage for the departure of Hagar, who was eventually replaced by the man he replaced, David Lee Roth, who was replaced by Eddie's houseguest, Gary Cherone.

How did it all go sour? Hagar was reluctant to leave his pregnant wife to record a song for the Twister soundtrack with the rest of the band and was wholly against the idea of releasing a greatest hits compilation. The latter was probably because either Hagar didn't want to put a huge, potentially divisive milestone on the band's career or he was concerned about his representation on the disc versus Roth's.

One day a call from an ice-cold Eddie Van Halen informed Hagar not only that the band had been jamming and recording with Roth for two new tracks on the disc, but that Roth was "back in the band" and Hagar should "go back to being a solo artist, since that's what he always wanted to be."

"I had been in this band for 11 years, and for nine and a half of those, we were great friends, really bound together," says Hagar. "And to [the rest of the band], David Lee Roth was the pure enemy. I never met him, but rule number one was: 'If you see David, kick him in the nuts.' And if someone wrote a bad review about me being in the band, Eddie would get furious. That's how much we were united. So when Eddie called me that last time, I wasn't surprised that the band could break up, but to get their ex back was shocking, especially after all the [negative] things they'd said about him. I mean, they tried to bury the guy for nine years."

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