For nearly four decades, Sammy Hagar has been one of rock music's most prolific artists. Whether in his solo career or as frontman of supergroup Van Halen, the "Red Rocker" is the voice behind classics such as "Right Now" and "Why Can't This Be Love?" The Grammy-winning artist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee also has a more savory side.
Hagar is a successful entrepreneur who owns several restaurant chains, including Cabo Wabo Cantina, Sammy's Beach Bar and Grill, and Sammy's Rockin' Island Bar & Grill. His Cabo Wabo premium tequila has won numerous awards, and his Sammy's Beach Bar Rum is receiving praise from industry insiders. Hagar's passion for food and fine spirits began at a young age, fueled by a grandfather who was a chef who cooked for U.S. presidents. In his own words, Hagar describes his love for food and drink as a "lifestyle" and as much a part of his life as music. The rocker recently chatted with us about sex, food, booze, and rock 'n' roll.
New Times: Your love for food goes way back, even before rock 'n' roll, right?
Sammy Hagar: Yeah, it does. My mother was a great cook. She wasn't a chef, she didn't work in restaurants, but her father was a chef his whole life. That's what he did. And they would travel around because he worked at seasonal places. He would cook in Palm Springs for President Eisenhower, and he would work at the big lodge at Yosemite. He had first-class jobs, but he would still hunt because it was what he liked to do and it was sustainable -- because he came from a really poor upbringing, during the Depression. I didn't eat out until I was a rock star because everyone was such a great cook at my mom's house or my grandfather's house.
What kind of food did he cook?
My grandfather was Italian, so it was mainly Italian, but he worked in New Orleans a lot and his food really took on a Cajun/French style, so we had this hybrid food. He would blacken fish he caught with burnt butter. He was just killing it. I ate like a king and I didn't know because I was a kid.
Is that how you got into food?
Yeah. I had this taste for good food, so after I got older and had a little bit of money and was able to go to fine-dining restaurants, I would call up my chef friends and they would say there's this great little steak house or there's this little Italian restaurant. That's how I met Emeril; that's how I met Mario Batali. I was a rock star, so I'd go into a restaurant and the chef would come out and say, "Hey, you want to go in the back and say hi to the guys?" Everything I do revolves around music, food, and liquor. It's a lifestyle. You get a little buzz on, you have a great meal, you play music. If you're lucky, you have sex, you know what I mean?
Your name was behind Cabo Wabo Tequila long before it was popular to brand a spirit. How did that happen?
In 1983, I bought a house in Mexico and I was bored, so I decided to open a cantina where I could play and invite friends over. I wanted Cabo Wabo to have all these great tequilas. So we went to Guadalajara to shop for furniture. We were there for a week, buying doors and fixtures, and we went to the town of Tequila. Like fools -- let's go see where this shit's made. And I just fell in love. At the time, I was totally into wine. I still am. I have a great collection of over 10,000 bottles, so I had a palate for fine wines and cognac but, man, when I tasted a really great 100 percent agave super añejo, it blew my mind. So, we started talking to these small distillers about making us some tequila with the Cabo Wabo label on it. A lot of families didn't want any part of that, but we found the Rivera family, and they said, "Sure, you bring us bottles, and we'll put it in there for you." See, they didn't have bottles; they used jugs. That's why the original Cabo Wabo blew everyone's mind, because no one had this handmade stuff. Now everyone's got it. You walk into a bar and everyone's got like 30 handmade agaves. So it was pretty easy to get it on the map. Man, when I sold it to Gruppo Campari, I really was bored with not having a brand.
Is that how you got into making rum?
I have a house in Maui, and I heard about this vodka made from pineapples. And I went to the distillery, and here's this guy and he's right in the middle of sugar-cane fields, and he looks like me. The first thing I say to him is, "Why aren't you making rum?" And he says, "You want me to make you rum? I'll make you the best rum you ever put in your mouth." And I thought, I like this guy. He's a wise guy like me.
Next thing I know he comes to my house with a little barrel that said "10/13," which is my birthday, and it was the best rum I ever had. I asked if he could bottle it up for me, and the next thing you know I was in the freaking rum business.
So what's next? A vineyard in Tuscany?
I love wine. It's my first love. If I had to go to a desert island with only one form of booze, it would be fine red wine, but I don't make it because I can't make it better than the competition. I can't compete with that. So I don't even consider it. I make better rum than anybody else, so I'm happy to be in that game.
Right now, if I were to make tequila again, I would go back to a single-distilled, maybe double-harsh tequila using more wild, scrawny plants -- that you drink with lime and salt. I'd put the shiver back in it. And the ritual. And I would say, "This is how you drink it."
You're teaming up with Emeril Lagasse for your event. How come?
We're the odd couple. Actually, Emeril might be more fun than me. We've been out together and I've gone to bed long before he has many, many times. He's got some longevity. But Emeril and I are legitimate friends. It's a strange connection. Emeril comes to my house. Our families go to Hawaii together. We do family things. You know, he likes music and I like food. If we weren't famous, we'd still have this connection.
What do you have planned at your Rockin' Beach Party?
I'm not going to do a typical show. I'm inviting some of my musician friends, and we'll jam and turn it into an interactive thing. I've got Jason Bonham, whose father was the drummer in Led Zeppelin, playing drums and Vic Johnson from the Wabos coming, along with Michael Anthony from Van Halen. We'll do some Zeppelin. We'll do some Van Halen. How's that for a set list?
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My only problem is that this SoBe gig is kind of late. I'm one of those guys that if I'm around food and booze, I cannot not partake. But it's hard to sing on a full stomach. I don't like to do anything drunk, but I do like to get a buzz on while I'm onstage. So I'm going to have to behave myself until like 10 p.m. By then, the food will be cold. But ya know what? I'm sure my man Emeril will hook me up.
Sammy's Beach Bar Rum and Cabo Wabo Tequila present Emeril Lagasse and Sammy Hagar's Rockin' Beach Party sponsored by Del Monte Fresh Produce: Saturday, February 22, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., Esurance North Venue, beachside at the Delano, 1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $95.