Why Sammy Hagar almost didn’t want to join Van Halen

Sammy Hagar

It was no easy feat to take over as frontman for Van Halen after David Lee Roth. Roth didn’t like where Eddie was taking many of the songs after 1984. Though the group could have gone on to become one of the best hard rock bands of the 1980s. He later decided to work with fellow guitar legend Steve Vai. Even though Van Halen is among the few bands that can honestly say they experienced a complete metamorphosis, Sammy Hagar acknowledged he wasn’t entirely convinced about the music he was going to perform.

Although Hagar was one of the most well-known solo performers at the time, he didn’t exactly fit Roth’s description. Though he was much more in line with mainstream rock and roll sounds than Diamond Dave’s cartoon persona, he could still sing like a madman and had a searing vocal range that could match Roth’s electric personality.

But Eddie and Alex had their sights set on Hagar as one of the models, even before Roth became involved. Growing up, they were huge fans of Hagar’s early band Montrose. In fact, they chose Ted Templeman as the band’s primary sound engineer even before they began recording due to his association with Hagar.

Eddie went to his mechanic. The person that all rational people consult for life advice—just as Roth was leaving the group. Eddie immediately called Hagar from the repair shop after the mechanic on one of his cars suggested that they get together for a jam session.

Eddie was the kind of guy that most people with working eardrums would want to work with at some point, but Hagar recalled being a little hesitant, telling AXS, “A guy like Dave was never someone that I thought, ‘Oh, I wanna be like that'”. Although the Van Halen guys said they aspired to be like Montrose, they went in a different direction. “Let’s see what these guys got,” I said as soon as I entered the room. I didn’t like the band. Eddie’s guitar playing is amazing, but I don’t like how they seem, so let’s see what they want from me.”

However, Eddie would have been better served by searching for the complete opposite of a Roth clone. Since “Diamond Dave” cannot be replaced, Hagar adopted a strategy that placed a greater emphasis on the music. Following a series of failed experiments, the group began to rebuild themselves from the ground up. They released songs like “Dreams” and “Love Walks In” that could stand alone as a distinct musical entity from Roth’s catalogue.

The way they promoted the record also mirrored that idea of music coming first. The group decided that performing the songs live would be the best way for fans to hear them up close rather than creating a music video. They granted MTV a limited number of performance slots for the record.

In the 1980s, appearances were still crucial. But introducing Hagar was more of a musical statement than a shift in image. Sure, the songs would be different, and there would be a few extra keyboards to accompany the guitar. However, this was also the point at which they began to take themselves a little more seriously. Previously, they had been a flamboyant cartoon rock act.

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