Review: Sammy Hagar’s book truly ’Uncensored’
“Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock” (It Books), by Sammy Hagar
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
There are tell-all books. And then there are tell-all books written by Sammy Hagar. The 63-year-old ex-Van Halen frontman holds back nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — in his autobiography, “Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock.”
Sex? During Van Halen’s live shows, Hagar says the four band members set up tents under the stage where they would have trysts with hand-picked women who were rounded up by roadies.
Drugs? You name it, Hagar has snorted, smoked or ingested it.
Rock ’n’ roll? He’s played with some of the biggest names in music, from Van Halen and the Grateful Dead to Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.
Most musicians’ memoirs have some of each category covered, but the Red Rocker’s life look-back doesn’t skimp on the details.
“I’m not a liar,” Hagar writes. “I’d rather tell you the truth and deal with it.”
And that’s exactly what he does, providing readers with a backstage pass that shows how a guy who grew up “bone poor” in post-World War II California and relied on welfare money to survive in his early adult years ascended to the pinnacle of the rock world.
Hagar’s first big successes in music came in the 1970s with Montrose, which, in a bit of foreshadowing, was a band named after a lead guitarist who later replaced Hagar as singer.
He spent the next decade as a solo artist, churning out hit records and songs (”I Can’t Drive 55”) and playing sold-out shows around the world.
In the mid-’80s, Hagar returned from a lengthy tour with the idea of slowing down and spending more time at home with his wife and kids.
“Then Eddie Van Halen called,” Hagar writes.
Van Halen, the guitarist of the eponymous top-selling hard rock act that also featured his brother, Alex, on drums, was in the market for a new vocalist after David Lee Roth’s departure.
Hagar writes he didn’t plan on joining Van Halen, but after jamming with them, “got the goose bumps all over my body.”
The next 10 years provided Hagar with some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of his life, and some of the book’s best passages.
The highs: The reconfigured Van Halen’s first three albums went to No. 1, spawned a series of hit songs (”Why Can’t This Be Love,” “When It’s Love,” “Right Now”), and their live shows, complete with Eddie Van Halen’s famed solos, became the stuff of legend.
The lows: Hagar’s first marriage fell apart, both Van Halen brothers struggled with alcohol abuse and infighting eventually led to Hagar being booted out of the band.
Post-Van Halen, Hagar started a family with his second wife, resurrected his solo career and focused more attention on his business ventures, including a tequila business and ownership of a bar in his beloved Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
But the specter of Van Halen never went away.
Hagar agreed to go on the road with Roth in 2002 — a decision Hagar says was “a huge financial success, but a personal disaster” — and later went on a reunion tour with Van Halen.
Hagar describes those shows as being uneven musically and a circus offstage, thanks to Eddie Van Halen’s increasingly bizarre behavior.
“He didn’t care about the way he looked,” Hagar writes about the guitar virtuoso. “He just went out there and took the money. He was embarrassing.”
Hagar says he hasn’t spoken to Van Halen since the final show of the ill-fated reunion tour, including during the band’s 2007 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Red” is jam-packed with great anecdotes about Hagar’s Forrest Gump-like trip through the rock world (see Bill Cosby’s random appearance on a flight to Hawaii) and other tidbits that take fans of music and pop culture to places they normally wouldn’t get to go.
The book title promises an uncensored look at Hagar’s life, and that’s exactly what readers get.