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Sammy Hagar talks Clearwater concert, tequila and Van Halen drama

By Jay Cridlin
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 17: Fashion designer John Varvatos (L) and musician Sammy Hagar attend the John Varvatos 13th Annual Stuart House benefit presented by Chrysler with Kids' Tent by Hasbro Studios at John Varvatos Boutique on April 17, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for John Varvatos)

The Red Rocker calls on time, and he is all kinds of fired up.

"Hey, Jay, Sammy Hagar here. Are you ready for me?"

Is anyone ever truly ready for a phone call from Hagar, the flame-haired, motor-mouthed ex-Van Halen singer who once dubbed himself the CEO of Rock? But okay, sure, I got my questions. Iíll give it a shot.

"Are you gonna tape it, or we gonna Ö ?"

Yeah, I say, if thatís okay.

"Oh, I highly prefer it. I talk real fast, Jay."

Heís not kidding. Weíre supposed to talk about his concert Tuesday at Clearwaterís Coachman Park with the Circle, a supergroup with former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, guitar whiz Vic Johnson and drummer Jason (son of John) Bonham. But we also have to get to his bar and restaurant empire; his recent humanitarian award from the metal site Loudwire; his new concert film shot at his recent 70th birthday bash in Cabo San Lucas; and his lines of rum, tequila and a proprietary blend of mezcal and tequila he thoughtfully dubbed "mezquila."

"Itís f---ing good," he says. "You go back and try to taste tequila, and it makes it taste like itís watered down, kind of tasteless. I hate to dog it, because Iíve been making tequila so long in my life. Iím not dogging tequilas. But itís kind of hard to go back. Itís like when you have a really flavorful meal like Emeril Lagasse might cook, and then you go back to Dennyís, and you go, ĎHmm, that hamburger ainít as good as the one I just had.í Thatís the only way I can explain it."

Hagar is a guy who knows a thing or two about comparisons. Apologies to Gary Cherone, but Van Halen fans (and bandmates, it seems) generally fall into two camps: Those who prefer split-kickiní original singer David Lee Roth, and those who prefer his red-headed replacement.

As the original singer, Roth, whoís since returned to the fold, is the popular choice ó but the Van Hagar oeuvre should not be dismissed lightly. The era from 1986ís 5150 to 1995ís Balance produced several massive hits ó Right Now, When Itís Love, Dreams, Best of Both Worlds, Canít Stop Loviní You ó that moved tens of millions of records and are hugely enjoyable live to this day, especially delivered by the always-on Hagar.

But if you want to hear them, youíre going to have to come to the Circle. Because a Van Hagar reunion isnít happening anytime soon.

"Those boys have still got it against me and Mike for some reason," Hagar says. "Whatever."

You know that birthday bash, the one that featured guests like Toby Keith and Nickelbackís Chad Kroeger? It probably will not shock you to learn Eddie Van Halen did not send a fruit basket.

"Oh, hell no, man," he says. "If you want to go into those waters right now, I can just say that it pretty much confirms it when Mikeyís grandson died (in April, from a heart defect) ó a brand-new baby died ó and they didnít reach out to him. And my 70th birthday, they didnít reach out to say happy birthday. Yeah. Pretty much says it all."

Not even Hagarís new bandmate Bonham, who grew up surrounded by rock-god intra-band drama, has offered to intervene.

"Jason makes more money with me playing 20 shows a year as he does with his own band in 100 shows a year, and heís happy about it," Hagar says. "So I donít think he wants to see a Van Halen reunion."

Hagar can spread all that cash around not because of his years in Van Halen or his own robust solo career. Itís because heís a canny and enthusiastic businessman whoís earned untold millions in radio, television, hospitality and especially liquor.

"I donít like to do things that arenít successful," he chuckles.

Heís given a lot of it away ó hence Loudwireís humanitarian trophy ó including writing checks to local food banks in each city he visits. After a gig in Hurricane Harvey-ravaged Houston, "I quadrupled it," he says. "And Iíll do it in these Florida dates, too.

"Thereís always been conscientious artists, if you look back ó Bob Dylan, Joan Baez ó and a lot of us rockers used to dog them, like, ĎOh, man, theyíre always trying to be political, always trying to put their nose in the countryís business,í?" he says. "Now itís groups like myself and Metallica and people like that are doing it. Itís obviously a new age.

"The pretentiousness of being a rock star from the í70s and í80s is kind of going away. Itís certainly gone away for me. Itís not even in my wheelhouse at all. Iím just an artist. I can sing. I can play guitar. Iíve got a wonderful repertoire of songs I can play in concert, and I still love to entertain, so thatís what I am. Whatever you call a guy that has that, thatís what I am. Rock star? Eh, probably used to be."

For once in his life, Sammy Hagar is selling himself short. Sure, heís rich enough to retire to his empire and sip mezquila till heís 90. But good luck slowing down the Red Rocker within.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Sammy Hagar and the Circle

Night Ranger and Drew Hagar open at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Coachman Park in Clearwater. $45 and up. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com. His concert film, Red Til Iím Dead: Sammy Hagarís Rock-N-Roll Birthday Bash, screens in movie theaters on Dec. 5. For theaters and tickets, see fathomevents.com.