Red – My Uncensored Life In Rock (2011, HarperCollins Publishing)
Author: Sammy Hagar with Joel Selvin
Now here’s a book I’ve been looking forward to! Red – My Uncensored Life In Rock by Sammy Hagar is definitely a must read for most Rock fans for only one reason: the inside story of what went on in Van Halen from Sammy himself! Red is a quick read at only 238 pages but I like to take my time with a book, especially an artist/band biography. My enjoyment isn’t from just reading the book, I like to dive into the music at the same time. Like most other rock biographies, stories about making the music, writing the songs and hitting the studio are crucial to the overall band history so I like to go back and re-listen to the records as I’m reading. This pattern lets me understand the creative process while enjoying the book. Anyway, I should have finished this book in a couple hours but I stretched it a full week around work, family and as many Montrose, Sammy solo and Van Halen albums I own. Red follows Sammy from his childhood days and family life growing up in Fontana, California, to his club days with local bands, Montrose, his solo career, HSAS, Van Halen, solo again and Chickenfoot. That’s a lot of information to pack into only 238 pages! The whole point of my buying this book is because I wanted to know, from Sammy’s perspective, what went down with the break-up of Van Halen in 1996 and the ill-fated reunion tour of 2004.
Now I’m not going to lie, I’m a David Lee Roth guy. Back when I was growing up and getting into Hard Rock, Van Halen had Diamond Dave on the mic. My first exposure to Van Halen was DIVER DOWN (1982) followed quickly by VAN HALEN (1978) and that was just before the band hit big on MTV with the 1984 album. Once 1984 hit, I was a huge Van Halen and David Lee Roth fan. To this day, I prefer the Roth era of Van Halen but, like AC/DC, the band has an equally good and successful era with a new singer (Sammy Hagar). My love of original Van Halen and DLR solo aside, I also grew up with the beginning of the Sammy era of Van Halen. I was watching MTV news for the official announcement of Sammy joining Van Halen, I bought 5150 the day it came out in 1986 and I saw the band play live on the 5150 tour in Providence, RI. Over the years, with every new Van Halen album, I have come to be a fan of both Van Halen lineups equally. Sammy’s addition to the Van Halen lineup also pushed me to discover his solo career and I found that there was more to the Red Rocker than ‘I Can’t Drive 55’ and ‘Only One Way To Rock’…..FM radio staples during the ’80s. Since the band parted ways in 1996, I have followed Sammy’s career closely by purchasing all his solo albums since, seeing him multiple times in concert and even enjoying some Cabo Wabo Tequila…..some of the finest tequila you can get! I have become a huge Sammy Hagar fan.
Back to the book…..
Like I said, the whole point of the book is to get the scoop from Sammy himself on what caused the Van Halen break-up in 1996 and the whole reunion tour fiasco of 2004. I’m not going to ruin the book by telling you all the dirt but let’s just put it this way: if you read David Lee Roth’s 1997 book, Crazy From The Heat, and read a lot of interviews from both Sam & Dave regarding their respective terminations from Van Halen, then you kind of find the same kind of scenarios and situations that point the break-ups in the direction of two very talented brothers. Now Red goes into a little more detail about Sammy’s time in the band, and he also chronciles the success and fun, but that gives you a taste. Aside from the Van Halen story, I liked reading about Sammy’s time as a solo artist before and after Van Halen and his non-musical businesses like the Cabo Wabo cantina in Mexico and the tequila company. Over the years, Sammy has had the benefit of good business sense and a good manager so he’s had a solid string of successful businesses and opportunities that have made him very rich and successful, making his music career more of a fun thing rather than an actual “career”. I also enjoyed reading about Sammy’s childhood and family life because I like finding out where a musician comes from, how the got there and what they are like off-stage.
The only drawback to Red is that it’s way too short. Sammy Hagar has a career that spans 40 years and 238 pages is just not enough to really dive deep into each part. The book is too brief chronicling Sammy’s time in Montrose and the supergroups of HSAS and Chickenfoot. I would have loved to get a little more detail into the creating of the albums and the touring war stories of those three bands. Don’t get me wrong, Sammy talks about each band (Montrose gets it’s own chapter) but I felt there was more to each band’s story. Maybe Sam doesn’t remember? Maybe Sam doesn’t want to get into it? At least Chickenfoot is an ongoing story! I also wanted to hear more about the ill-fated Sam & Dave tour in the Summer of 2002 because I saw the show in Mansfield, MA and Sammy blew Dave off the stage! Roth headlined that night and was in fine form as his set progressed but Sammy was the life of the party bringing on Michael Anthony for some songs and then Gary Cherone for ‘When It’s Love’. All three Van Halen singers at one show! Too bad there wasn’t some sort of song with the three of them. I think one of the reasons why the book is short, and some of the dirt is held back, is because Sammy seems like an all around nice guy. I think he wanted to get his thoughts and opinions out there and then move on and continue living life and making music. I can’t fault him for that.
If you’re a Sammy Hagar fan or a Van Halen fan, this is a must read. If you want all the dirt on Van Halen from Sam’s perspective, and get into the rest of his career before and after VH, read this book. Like I mentioned, it’s a little short and I would have liked some further details about certain bands, albums and tours but I really enjoyed Red. The book was a fun read that made me appreciate Sammy Hagar’s career that much more…..I recommend checking it out.