Sammy Hagar Talks Breaking Up With Eddie Van Halen and Announces New Supergroup With Joe Satriani, Jason Bonham, and Michael Anthony
Legendary musicians rock out in the Stern Show studio ahead of upcoming “Best of All Worlds Tour”November 15, 2023
One of rock and roll’s most beloved frontmen is setting out to finish what he started.
Solo star and former Van Halen vocalist Sammy Hagar returned to the Stern Show on Tuesday, eager not only to bend Howard’s ear with wild tales from the heyday of hard rock but also to announce the creation of a brand-new supergroup featuring longtime bassist Michael Anthony, second-generation drum legend Jason Bonham, and guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani. The ferocious foursome – who next year will embark on a “Best of All Worlds Tour” — performed publicly for the first time in Howard’s studio, playing classic Van Halen tunes like “Right Now” and “5150” while also celebrating the music of trailblazers ranging from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin to Anthony and Hagar’s former bandmate Eddie Van Halen, who passed away in 2020 after a long battle with cancer.
Hagar has toured with countless bands over the years, but for perhaps the first time since leaving Van Halen he felt like he was sharing the stage with musicians capable of playing proper tribute to Eddie and his incredible guitar work.
“We’re going to go deep into the Van Halen catalogue, [and] if you’re going to go deep into the Van Halen catalogue, you need Joe Satriani,” Hagar told Howard, revealing his band would even be performing Van Halen hits that pre-dated the singer’s arrival in the band. “I got no problem with that,” he continued. “I did it when I was in Van Halen. We did ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,’ we even did fucking ‘Jump.’ This is really a celebration of all that, and we are the only ones who can do it.”
Sammy said he and his band will be sharing the stage with scores of big-name guest musicians on the tour. He’s even extended an invitation to founding Van Halen members Alex Van Halen and David Lee Roth. “If Alex Van Halen wants to jump out, if David Lee Roth wants to come out and join us — come on motherfuckers, you are welcome. This is about Van Halen!” he said.
Blown away by the prospect of a true Van Halen reunion, Howard asked Sammy if his estranged former bandmate Alex was likely to take him up on the offer.
“I would hope so,” Hagar replied. “I’ve reached out to Al about once a month for about five years now … I call, I leave a voice message, I text, and I send an email. … I say, ‘Hey Al, we ain’t getting any younger. Give me a call.’”
Regardless of who joins them on stage, Sammy and his bandmates were excited for the opportunity to put on a once-in-a-lifetime show. “It’s my legacy tour,” Sammy told Howard. “And Mike and I, our quote is ‘Let’s go finish what we started.’ See what I’m saying?”
‘Good Enough’ for Van Halen
When original Van Halen singer David Lee Roth left to form his own band in 1984, the band was left looking for another front person. Former Scandal vocalist Patty Smyth was briefly considered to fill the position but, as bassist Michael Anthony remembers, it wasn’t meant to be. “Patty trying to sing songs like ‘Hot for Teacher’ wouldn’t have worked out,” he joked with Howard.
Sammy, on the other hand, was so confident he’d get the call that he said as much to his then wife. “I just felt it. It just came right out of my mouth just like a lyric,” he recalled. “My wife about choked. I almost had to take her to the hospital.”
Even so, after years of repeating a cycle of recording and touring and already a successful businessman, Sammy shaved all his hair off and planned on an early retirement. But when Eddie started calling up Sammy on the suggestion from their mutual mechanic, Claudio, the singer changed his tune. “It started feeling good. I started saying, ‘I like this guy,’” Sammy said of their initial conversations. “I met him a couple of times — he was just a sweet human being.”
Magic ensued almost immediately upon Sammy’s arrival at the band’s studio. “Eddie, Alex, and [I] had been working on some material which was eventually going to end up on … ‘5150,’” Michael noted.
One of those songs, ‘Good Enough,’ blew Sammy away. “I heard this riff, and I just went, ‘Holy shit,’” he admitted. “I was scatting along to it, but I eventually went home and wrote lyrics.”
Another of those songs, ‘Summer Nights’ came together quite organically. “We put the cassette tape in and we’re going to go jam and just have some fun,” Anthony said of the track before praising Sammy’s on-the-spot songwriting. “He sang the actual lyric that ended up in the song — we couldn’t believe that.”
As far as the peculiar guitar Eddie used on the song, Sammy was initially puzzled. “I walked in the studio, and he showed me this guitar that they had made for him and I’m going, ‘What the fuck is that?’” he recalled. “Then they start playing this song, and this song was killer.”
Guitarist Joe Satriani gave some clarity on Eddie’s choice of axe. “It was written on a thing called a TransTrem and so Eddie could play in comfortable keys and then when he wanted to switch keys, he’d just change it with the bridge so he could always stay comfortable,” he explained to Howard. “If you’re playing a regular guitar, it’s all uncomfortable.”
Before breaking into a live version for Howard, Sammy admitted it was new territory for this band. “We just rehearsed it yesterday for the first time,” he said before joking, “We’re rehearsing on your show, Howard.”
Breaking Up and Making up with Eddie
For the first nine years and three albums, Sammy insisted, the band dynamic was great. It wasn’t until a decade in, around the time of the “Balance” record, that a strain developed. “It just went sideways. Our manager died, another manager came in … and poisoned everybody,” the frontman remembered of the situation. “They hired the wrong guy … It broke the band up.”
Though Eddie was known to drink to excess like another man in Sammy’s life, his father, Hagar insists that initially wasn’t an issue inside the band. “That was the great, beautiful thing about Eddie. When we’d get drunk, we’d end up crying together,” he told Howard. “When you’re around people that have a bad addiction like my father … your relative standards of what’s bad and what’s okay [is] pretty low for people that drink all day.”
It wasn’t until the band reunited in 2004 for a tour that also included Roth that the partying became a problem. “That’s when we bumped heads. That’s when it really got bad,” Sammy remembered of the period. “Ed was sick. No one realized how sick he was obviously until it was over. It was really a shame … If there’s anything I regret, it’s ever going through any hardships with Eddie because knowing he was sick like that, I would have been so much more compassionate.”
Fortunately, a mutual friend, helped bring the two back together before Eddie’s passing in 2020. “[Comedian] George Lopez called me and said, ‘You’ve got to call Eddie,” Sammy revealed. “I knew he was always battling with this tongue cancer and all that stuff, but I thought it was cool, and that’s why I called him. That’s when we made friends again — it was beautiful.”
Satriani Shreds on ‘Mean Street’ and ‘5150’
Eddie Van Halen delivered plenty of face-melting guitar solos in his day, but perhaps none was more technically difficult than the intro to “Mean Street,” a song from the band’s David Lee Roth era. While Satriani called it an impossible lick, he still tried doing it justice on Tuesday morning. Sammy and his other bandmates were thrilled. “It’s fucking nuts,” Hagar said after watching Joe shred.
Sammy felt the addition of Satriani to the lineup allowed his band to perform more Van Halen songs than ever before. “So many little kids in grocery stores can pick up a guitar off the shelf [and] play all this stuff, but they don’t necessarily know what they’re playing … [but] Joe knows what he’s playing,” Hagar said. “He knows this stuff, and that’s the difference between playing this stuff from Joe and having a guitar player in the band that can imitate Eddie.”
After “Mean Street,” the all-star band continued its Van Halen showcase with a roaring rendition of “5150,” the title track of Van Halen’s first album with Hagar. “That’s my favorite Van Halen song,” Sammy said after he and the boys finished. “And once again it’s another one we could never play before.”
How Satriani Helped Kirk Hammett Get Into Metallica
They say those who can’t do teach, but Satriani may be the rare exception who can excel at both. In addition to a prolific career as a solo instrumentalist and as a touring guitarist with acts like Mick Jagger, Deep Purple, and Chickenfoot — another of Hagar and Michael Anthony’s bands — Satriani famously instructed other notable musicians on guitar, including Grammy winner Steve Vai, Primus guitarist Larry LaLonde, and iconic axe man Kirk Hammett, who worked with Joe shortly before he joined Metallica.
“He was in Exodus when he started taking lessons,” Satriani recalled of a hard-working young Hammett. “He was tireless and totally motivated.”
Howard wondered why Metallica had offered the job to Hammett and not his teacher, but Joe explained he and Kirk were separated by a small but significant generational divide. “There was already a movement with his age group … something new and fresh. It was thrash metal, and they were at the center of it. They were creating it,” Satriani said. “It was actually pretty exciting to see young, totally motivated players come up with a new idea — and they were sufficiently angry at all the classic rock that came before them and wanted to turn it upside down.”
Joe said he was proud of what Kirk and all his other students went on to accomplish. “We were part of a team, and when someone got a good gig it was like they score a goal,” he said. “It was good for the team.”
‘Best of Both Worlds’
Before the band ripped into another “5150” track, “Best of Both Worlds,” Sammy gave some insight into the lyrics. “I was thinking about reincarnation … about dying and going to heaven, you know, everyone talks about how beautiful heaven is,” he said before tying that into the high value he puts on the idea of love. “Just keep me in love and I’m the happiest guy in the world — I don’t need anything else. When you’re in love, like you’ve got heaven right here on earth … and I just felt it.”
Known for his backing vocals, Michael Anthony added a little insight into that part of the songwriting process. “I’ll come in and I’ll start harmonizing with him anywhere that I think might fit and then I just kind of weed it out a bit,” the bassist explained.
“Right Now,” off of Van Halen’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” was a smashing success for the band — but putting it together was far from an easy task. First inspired by enjoying a moment at the beach and not wanting to leave, Sammy began writing. “I wrote the lyrics when we started that record and I kept singing them to Eddie,” he recalled.
But initially Eddie wasn’t getting the lyrics and Sammy wasn’t understanding his bandmate’s attempt at channeling Joe Cocker’s version of “Feelin’ Alright?’”
“At the end of the album … all of a sudden I heard it,” the singer noted. “That was the freakiest song we ever wrote together because it was great, but it was just weird that we didn’t communicate well.”
Adding to the success of the song was its video – which featured a display of socially conscious messages in big lettering throughout. Sammy, however, took some issue with it. ““That was such a gimmick thing,” he told Howard. “You get a double meaning – the meaning of the song and then you get to read something and make another statement on top of a statement, which is kind of artistically interesting. But then a couple of other bands tried to do it, and then pretty soon if you tried to put writing on your video nobody’s going to play it.”
Even so, the track remains a huge crowd pleaser. “We play this song all the time in the Circle … The audience … they just scream ‘Right Now.’ It’s one of those ‘I Can’t Drive 55’ moments,” Sammy said, referencing arguably his biggest hit as a solo artist.
For tickets and more information for Sammy Hagar’s Best of All Worlds 2024 tour, click here.