Sammy Hagar doesn’t have much use for metaphor. Take the erstwhile Van Halen frontman’s new album with the Wabos, Livin’ It Up! If Hagar gives you a tune called “Livin’ on a Coastline,” it’s about the enviable life he leads sunning, drinking and swimming in the Mexican coastal town of Cabo San Lucas. Likewise, “Sailing” discusses sailing, while “Sam I Am” describes the Sam he is. Hagar’s cover of “I Love This Bar” by Toby Keith sticks hard and fast to its titular premise, as does “One Sip,” the CD’s mariachi-enhanced highlight. Livin’ It Up does include one instance where Hagar relaxes his anti-metaphor stance: a version of Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” in which Dylan’s famous cri de coeur—“Everybody must get stoned”—means exactly what potheads have assumed it does for 40 years.
“I took the song to be of the herbaceous nature,” Hagar said on the phone last week from a hotel room in New Orleans. “I actually wrote a note to Bob and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind what I did to your song.’ He signed off on it, so he must not have been offended.” Really, who could Hagar offend? He’s made a career out of teaching working stiffs how to transform themselves into party animals—if only for one night.
SCENE: Your hometown of San Bernardino, Calif., just named May 23 Sammy Hagar Day. What’s up with that?
SAMMY HAGAR: It’s an honor! Anybody likes to be respected in their hometown. I don’t care who you are or what you accomplish in your life, when your hometown wants to make a day named after you, your ego jumps up. To all those knucklehead girls that dumped you in high school and to all those guys who maybe kicked your ass once or twice, you’re just going, “See? I told you I’d be somebody!”
SCENE: Tell me about making Livin’ It Up. It’s really just about livin’ it up, huh?
SAMMY HAGAR: It’s not contrived. I just went in and made a totally honest record. You know, I’d been in living in Cabo all last year, putting my kids in school there. I said, “I’m gonna live here for a year and see how it affects my children and my life.” And it had a profound effect on my writing. Sit on the beach all day and dance all night—that’s basically the theme of the whole thing. That’s what I did.
SCENE: Cabo’s a huge part of your life. You sing about the place, you run a cantina there, you even sell a line of tequila. How far back does your relationship date?
HAGAR: 1981. I went down for a five-day vacation. There were only three hotels in Cabo. All dirt roads. One flight in and out a week. I ended up staying for six weeks. Then I went back a few months later with my family for my birthday. Bought a place down there in ’83, and one thing led to another.
SCENE: You wrote “One Sip” on the new album with Kenny Chesney. Judging by the available evidence, his interest in tropical hedonism seems to rival yours.
HAGAR: He came to a Van Halen show and we started drinking tequila before I went onstage. We did the whole show and we stayed backstage till 4 in the morning just having a good time. So he says, “I’m coming to Cabo.” He took his whole band and came down for my birthday bash, which I do every year. We hung out for days. They went onstage and played for three hours and 40 minutes. When he flew in, I picked him up at the airport. I said, “What do you need when you come in?” He goes, “Just meet me at the airport with a margarita.” So I met him at the airport with a margarita and we went straight to my house and wrote the song.
SCENE: Let’s talk Van Halen. You toured with the band in 2004, and your solo show includes Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony. Yet the band’s official status is unclear. Do you tire of the back-and-forth?
HAGAR: Yeah. Back then, I thought a reunion had to happen. [David Lee] Roth’s out there right now saying it’s inevitable that there’s gonna be a Van Halen reunion. I don’t really think there is with him, and I don’t think there is with me, either. I think Van Halen might be done. I shouldn’t say that, because it’s not what I’m looking for. But, man, it don’t work. Onstage we did a pretty good job last time; I’m not saying it was horrible onstage. But in between shows and offstage, trying to travel together—we had two different airplanes, two different dressing rooms on each side of the building. Every night I had to say, “Is Eddie [Van Halen] on stage yet?” I wouldn’t even go out there till he was on—that’s how capable he was of not making it. And that’s no way to do it.
SCENE: Sounds like the opposite of your experience on the road with your own act.
HAGAR: You hit it right on the head. That’s why Michael’s out there with me. We’re going, “Man, we should be the happiest people on the planet, considering what we got.” I was hoping the last reunion was gonna be great, but it got uglier and uglier the longer it went. So I’m not gonna sit around and wait for things to change. I gotta play every year. This is what I do.