The Day Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony Became Best Friends
If you're making a list of the best friends in rock 'n' roll, it won't take very long before you get to Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony. During their decade together in Van Halen, the duo forged a bond that even Hagar's 1996 dismissal from the group couldn't destroy. Their latest band, the Circle, just released its debut album Space Between, and Hagar tells UCR how he met his "dearest friend in the world," and how it took several years for them to realize just how well they got along.
As a solo artist, you shared some bills with Van Halen back in the '70s. Is that when you met Michael?
I did play with them, but I didn't meet Mike. Back in the day, [guitarist] Eddie [Van Halen] always came to my dressing room. He was a big fan of Montrose and would come back to my room, he was just really be humble, to talk about things. I don't think I met Michael until I walked into the 5150 studio [in 1985] for what I guess you could call an audition. But it wasn't really an audition, I went down to jam with the boys, when Eddie asked me to come down. I said sure, let's see if we can get along. Eddie was trying to subtly get me in the band. I wasn't interested, I was doing well, had just finished the VOA tour. I mean, I was home two days, shaved my hair off because it was all fried from sweating every night [from] the lights onstage. I thought, Oh, I'll just shave it off, take a year off and write a new record, take it easy. He calls me two days later, says why don't you come on down? I said yeah, give me a couple of weeks or something. and he goes, well, how about tomorrow? He was in a hurry. When I walked in the door, it was the first time I met Michael. Him and Ed and [drummer] Al [Van Halen] were there, they'd been up all night trying to get some music together for me to jam to. They had "Summer Nights" and "Good Enough." We jammed for about 12 hours, I took a cassette home and said, I like this music, I'm joining this fucking band. That was that first time I met Mike.
How quickly did you and Michael become friends?
Back then, he and I didn't really know what good friends we were yet, because we hadn't gotten to know each other. He was the quiet guy in the band, and Ed and Al were doing all the yakking about "Hey, what do you want to do?" Michael was just going along with the program, I didn't pay much attention to him. But as years went by, I started realizing he was my kind of guy. As soon as we went to Cabo [San Lucas, where Van Halen started the Cabo Wabo nightclub; Hagar eventually bought out the rest of his bandmates], Mike got it. He went, "This fucking place is awesome, man, holy shit!" And Ed and Al are going, "Well, I can't get a phone call in, wait a minute I can't get room service." They bitched about the whole thing and it was too hot and all this. Meanwhile, Mikey and I are on the beach saying this is it! We're drinking tequila and eating tacos. That's when him and I really connected, I think -- the first time we went to Cabo.
When did you first realize how well your voices worked together?
Musically, the thing that first got my attention was when we started writing. When we jammed, Mikey didn't sing at all, that first time. But when we started writing, and I would say, Hey, Mike, can you hit these backgrounds on this? Let's do a background part here, and this harmony on the chorus. I sing in that supersonic range that nobody can go above me. Steve Perry one time did a record with me. On Danger Zone, he sang harmony with me. He's one of the few guys that ever stepped onstage with that could sing above me, without [going into] a falsetto. And when Mike started singing "Summer Nights," I'm going, Holy shit, this fucker can sing! That really got my attention. If you listen to the harmonies on 5150 and OU812, there are a lot of background parts, which are very Van Halen-esque. They always had some nice singing, and it was always Michael's voice that gave it that sound. And I think I utilized that even more than they ever did before, because I was so excited that I had a guy who could sing harmony to me. We became more melodic, with more intricate melodies, holding out notes longer and so forth. Just things that a singer that likes to sing would do. Nothing wrong with [previous singer] Dave [Lee Roth]. I certainly wouldn't say anything bad about those early records, they were fantastic, it was awesome, it was just a whole different style.
How did you and Michael reconnect after you left Van Halen?
When I first left, he stayed. I was mad at the whole gang, because they threw me out. They were thinking of dong a Roth reunion, and it never happened. They went to the MTV Awards, and they got all that egg on their face up there with all that shit. So Mikey was hanging in there, he thought, "Yeah, I'm gonna stick with the brothers." I didn't even consider stealing him and taking him with me. I was happy to go off on my own, and just be a solo artist again. I was kinda horny -- it had been 10 years in a band, I'm anxious to start writing and making a new record and all that, put together a new band. It was kind of exciting for me, as disappointed as I was that the band broke up, I was just as excited to get on with it. I know what to do as a solo artist, I've been a solo artist longer than I've been in a band. But then, after they sat around for three or four years -- while I put a new band together, did two albums and went on tour twice -- I said, "Mikey, why don't you come on out with my band? We do like five Van Halen songs in the middle of the set, you can come out and play?"
It seems a shame to have him staying home alone.
He was sitting around doing nothing, so I started paying him, then the Cherone thing happened and it bombed. So he just came out with me once in a while, and then we said let's start a band. Planet Us was the first one, before Chickenfoot. It was Neal Schon, Deen Castronovo, myself and Mikey. But then the 2004 Van Halen reunion happened, the disastrous one -- it was successful business-wise, but it was a disaster friendship-wise, it put the nails in the coffin. It kind of was the end for Mikey, they didn't like him playing with me, which made them insecure and jealous. They figured he was a traitor now, he was playing with the guy they didn't like. Eddie wanted his son [Wolfgang] to play in the band. The rest is history. Every year there's a rumor about a reunion, but they're always just rumors. After that, MIkey and I just decided, Hey, we're gonna stick together, man, there ain't gonna be no more Van Halen.