If you’ve kept count, Sammy Hagar has been the front man for Van Halen longer than original lead singer David Lee Roth, and if you saw Van Halen after Roth went his separate ways from the band, Hagar pretty much handled Roth’s stylings while mixing in his high-ranging vocals.
Hagar then took a seven-year break from the Van Halen brothers (Alex and Eddie) and Michael Anthony — the Grammy Award-winning hard rockers never could find the right fit with any succeeding vocalist after that — and now they are back together for a tour that makes a stop Friday, Sept. 24, at Alltel Arena.
Providing support are a couple of unknown entities: Laidlaw and Rose Hill Avenue. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.
It’s being promoted as the “Best of Both Worlds” Tour, coincidentally the name of Van Halen’s latest release of greatest hits of the Roth and Hagar eras. While the front men may have changed, the lightning-like guitar licks of Eddie Van Halen, the thumping bass of Anthony and the solid rock drumming of Alex Van Halen never changed.
“I personally have a hard time calling this thing a reunion,” Hagar said in a recent telephone conference interview along with Alex Van Halen. “It’s more a continuation. I’ve seen some reunions where some guys are just getting off a real estate job and strapping on the guitar and going out on tour. We’re four real musicians, and it’s a continuation of where we left off and where we are in our lives as musicians.
“We’re just going out and having fun with it.”
Van Halen was renowned as much for its stormy behind-the-music relations as its trend-setting heavy-metal-meets-pop-rock sound during the past 27 years and 75 million albums sold.
“We’ve spent a third of our lives together,” Alex Van Halen said. “Yeah, there are differences of opinion and tempers flare at times. There are a lot of stresses and we want to write and produce properly and sing properly when people come to see us. We want them to say that’s what they expected.”
Now reunited, Hagar says, there’s a tension “but not the f*** y** kind of tension”; rather, it’s the tension to perform well.
“It’s pretty much a love fest,” he says with a laugh. “When you have fans up on their hands and feet for two and a half hours, you have to feel pretty damn happy.”
Hagar, who says his music epiphany was seeing Elvis on television, broke into the business with Montrose and then had a hit-filled solo career before joining Van Halen — actually he went to jam one day in 1985 with Eddie Van Halen with no intention of joining the group. “I went in and stayed 11 years. That last year was terrible. But after 10 years, if you don’t change, there is something wrong. Seven or eight years later, we got back together. It was strange because we had grown seven or eight years farther apart.
“After not seeing Alex and Eddie that long, I realized I love those people. We put our differences aside and started making music.”
Alex, whose father brought music home to his young sons as a member of the Air Force Band, added, “We went for enlightenment instead of therapy and it’s working.”
Hagar admits there are a few songs in the Van Halen catalog that were Roth specialties that he won’t try — Roth had a deeper range compared with Hagar’s ease at hitting the high end, and some of Roth’s lyrics are dated 20-plus years later, he said. There were others, Hagar notes, that he could sing instantly and felt comfortable with.
“ ‘You Really Got Me’ ” is one of my most favorite songs,“ Hagar said. “We sing it unchanged.”
The pair promise no politics in the show, just a good selection of Van Halen favorites — “Top of the World,” “When It’s Love,” "Why Can’t This Be Love," “Right Now,” “Dreams,” “Jump,” “Best of Both Worlds,” “Panama,” “Love Walks In” — and some excitement on stage.
“I don’t think Van Halen has followed a trend but only tried being the biggest and best and baddest out there,” Hagar said. “In its own way, that’s competitive with other acts, but I can tell you we’re not influenced by anything.”
Says Alex, “We want it to look as powerful as it sounds … All we can do is deliver our songs at high impact.”
Tickets for the show are $66.75 and $56.75 and available through Ticketmaster outlets (975-7575) or the arena box office (975-9000).