If you wanna see a rock and roll civil war, look no further than Van Halen fans. For decades, fans have fought tooth and nail about who the best singer of the band is: David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar. While Diamond Dave wins most of these debates handily, Sammy Hagar is not without his staunch supporters.
The issue with Sammy isn’t a lack of talent or presence. Nobody was gonna fill David Lee Roth’s shoes when it comes to showmanship and Sammy didn’t even bother trying. Instead, he let his stellar, passionate singing voice do the heavy lifting. For all intents and purposes, it worked. One must remember that the first three Hagar records with Van Halen, 5150, OU812, and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge were far and away the band’s best-selling records at the time.
No, the issue with Sammy is his personality. Where David Lee Roth is one of the greatest rock stars of all time, Sammy Hagar comes off like a yuppie business guy. He exists in this nebulous realm somewhere between Jimmy Buffett, Mike Love, and Tommy Hilfiger. He is talented and successful and good at his job. He’s also just about as boring and normal as it gets
In 2011, Sammy Hagar did an interview with Forbes about entrepreneurship. If you think what he has to say about business is kinda unrelatable, just wait until you hear what he has to say about all of these bands he claims to have been asked to join! It’s a doozy…
If someone were to ask you to describe your brand, what words would you use?
Upscale casual, plain and simple.
You founded Cabo Wabo Tequila and Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill. What made you get interested in building these businesses and how do they reflect your brand?
I’m interested in business because I was so poor growing up. As soon as I got some money in rock, I invested it in case my career ends tomorrow. How many one hit wonders were there? I built a career. I never had a hit. I went out and played and wrote new songs. I beat this country until I made it. I was trying to invest. Once you get hooked on that, you make a couple of investments and winning becomes kind of addicting.
It feels good to come up with an idea and see it through and have it be successful. It’s a great feeling. It’s no different than walking out on stage to a sold out arena. I’ve always seen it as a creative thing. It’s not about the money. When I started the whole branding thing, I thought my fans could come to this great town, and back then it was so inexpensive. I had no idea I would sell this company for a zillion dollars.
The beach bar and grill came after Cabo Wabo. I didn’t need money, but I wanted to do it to help kids. It’s an extension of my personality. It’s a beach type place that’s upscale, has causal dining, great drinks, and kicked up hamburgers and hot dogs. I give all the money away from my beach bar and grill.
With the one in Hawaii, all the money stays in Hawaii, the one in St Louis, all the money stays in St Louis. That’s the concept behind Sammys Beach Bar and Grill. It’s all a reflection of my personality, and I think that is the key to having a great brand. If you come up with an idea that’s not part of you, and that’s not with you everyday, its not going to do as well. You’re doing part of your life, and it’s not work anymore. Now I just go around and do what I do.
If you come up with a brand or business and the idea is just for money, you wont feel it in the long run. You only feel it when you get that big check and you’ll get jacked up and put it in the bank and you’ll just want more and more and that’s where the greed of business men comes from.
Money will not satisfy anything, and it will just pay the bills for you. You have to decide who you are and how you want to live and what you want to do with your money, and once you figure that out, it’s the most beautiful tool in the world. Otherwise it’s ugly.
How has having a strong band behind you in Van Halen helped you establish your brand?
Certainly the exposure of a band like Van Halen for 10-11 years, we were one of the biggest bands in the world and walked out into sold out crowds every night. The way I dressed and presented myself, the fact that I wrote every lyric in that band, and every song I sang was pretty much exploiting who I am to the audience.
The exposure of the band helped promote my tequila company. Lots of people are coming up with tequilas, but you’re going to have to come up with 5-10 million dollars a year to promote to break a new brand. If you’re not Sammy Hagar or someone on that level who can go out and promote it as part of your job, it’s going to cost you a lot of money. If you’re me, you don’t have to spend a penny on it. I promoted it on tour, saving five million dollars and made money on my shows.
It was a great crossover – rolling my brand into my business. It works the best when you’re a real person, having a TV show like Jay Leno, or being a rock star playing for thousands of people every night. It’s not cheap if you own what your doing and it’s all about you. If you’re promoting someone else’s product that way, you’re cheap. A lot of celebrities endorse products that they don’t give a crap about, just trying to pretend like it’s theirs. That doesn’t work so well.
You use the success of your band to promote your products. Is that your formula?
Yes, if you don’t own it, and just endorse it, people can read through that and you become phony. The crazy thing about it is you’re spending all that time for a small amount of money and it’s their thing, and when they’re done with you they spit you out. That’s the way the media is and the way most corporate people think.
Probably, my guess is that it would be very hard for me to get an endorsement right now. I’m an aging rockstar, over the hill, and they’re looking for the young current guy. That’s cool and all but it’s so much better doing your own thing. It has more value. The biggest stars right now may not have longevity, like Charlie Sheen. If someone representing your brand does something like that, your brand goes down the toilet. It’s much better to leave that complicated thing out and start your own business.
How do you decide what bands you should join and which bands to avoid?
I was asked at one time to be in Motley Crue. I was asked at one time to be in Pantera by their managers. I was asked to be in Velvet Revolver when Scott Weiland quit and went back to the Stone Temple Pilots. I was waiting to be asked to be in Led Zeppelin to say no, since they were the greatest band on earth and no one could replace Robert Plant. I was asked to be in Aerosmith and I said no.
Certain bands and certain frontman singers are more difficult to replace than others. Stephen Tyler and that band have stayed together for forty years and you don’t want to walk into something like that. They had one moment years ago, when they replaced Joe Perry, but it’s still always been Steven at the front of Aerosmith. You don’t replace that. When I came into Van Halen, it was easy because Dave wasn’t a great singer, but he was a good frontman. We were all lucky that the fans accepted it and it got bigger. I would avoid bands that are going to break up pretty soon.
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