The night Sammy Hagar narrowed the gap

For those of you who grew up on classic rock, you’ll know this to be true.  Any time Van Halen’s discography enters the conversation, one question is inevitably asked.  In one of the greatest ever rock-and-roll rivalries, you must choose a side.

I’ve been asked a million times over whether I’m a David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar guy and every single time, I’ve never wavered, answering the same way.  I am a David Lee Roth guy through and through.

But recently, something changed.  Not enough to change my answer but let’s just say the gap has been significantly narrowed.

Allow me to elaborate.

A while back, I broke my Stevie Ray Vaughn rule.  Long time readers of the site are familiar with the rule but here’s your refresher.

In 1990, I traveled to New Orleans to see their Jazz and Heritage Festival for the very first time.  A broke and jobless 20-year-old, I had barely enough money to catch the final Sunday show.  Stevie Ray Vaughn was the headliner.  Figuring I’d have another chance to see him perform, I opted to stay in the French Quarter and rub my last few dollars together on cheap beer.

Stevie Ray Vaughn died in a helicopter crash three months later.  Ever since then, I vowed to see bands I wanted to see when given the opportunity.

A few years ago, Van Halen reunited with David Lee Roth to tour the nation and play their classics.  I grew up on Van Halen’s music.  Their posters hung on my wall.  Their cassette tapes warped from my overuse.  The night of that reunion concert, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I decided to watch football games with a friend and ex-girlfriend, thinking we’d be able to sneak into the show late.  We couldn’t.  I heard them close with “Panama” blasting over the loudspeakers from outside the grounds as I pressed my nose against the glass.  I never saw the band perform.

As the crowd was letting out, I saw a youngster walking out of the concert with his parents.  He was not quite aware of the greatness he’d just witnessed.  That fucking kid got to see one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever, while I kicked myself for violating a rule that I told myself I’d never break.  Envious, I wanted to beat that kid up and rob him of his experience, or at least his concert tee.  I had nobody to blame but myself.

Eddie Van Halen died in 2020.  David Lee Roth has since retired.  There will be no more tours for the founding members of Van Halen.

But you can still hear Van Halen’s music.  You can even see them live.

Yet another classic rock band characterized by break-ups and strife, front man David Lee Roth originally left the band in 1985.  They replaced him with Sammy Hagar years later.  For Roth enthusiasts, this was blasphemy.  However, the Van Halen brothers insisted on making more music.  They felt Roth was replaceable.

Enter Sammy Hagar.

Van Halen would go on to record four more albums with Hagar and have more Top 40 hits with him than with David Lee Roth.  The band was different yet bore the same name.  Van Halen die-hards begrudgingly enjoyed their new music.  David Lee Roth’s solo career paled by comparison and there was this lingering resentment among his fans, as if it was inherently wrong to enjoy what was dubbed “Van Hagar.”

That new music is now decades old, and fortunately still touring for “Van Halen” is not.  Sammy Hagar and his Circle, featuring former and founding Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony, John Bonham’s son Jason on drums and a guitar player named Vic Johnson who has both the honor and challenge of playing Eddie Van Halen (and occasionally Jimmy Page) licks in concert just performed at Plant City’s annual Strawberry Festival.  Guess who didn’t miss it this time.

Not knowing what to expect, I circled (no pun intended) that date on our calendar.  Wouldn’t you know if BCole didn’t land us two tickets, partially because she’s a Van Halen fan but also because she likes to see me cry in concert.  In front of 10,000 screaming fans, most of whom were my age, Sammy Hagar showed why any doubts of continuing without David Lee Roth were unfounded.

Before joining Van Halen, Hagar had an admirable solo career, recording songs like “Heavy Metal,” “I Can’t Drive 55,” “Three Lock Box” and the forgotten classic “You’re Love Is Driving Me Crazy.”  There is no denying, however, that joining Van Halen amplified his career.

Sammy Hagar and the Circle have released studio albums, but that night was all about Hagar’s solo stuff and their Van Halen hits.  “Are we supposed to let these songs just die?” he asked the crowd.

That night, those songs came alive.

“Dreams,” “Right Now,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Love Walks In,” “Finish What Ya Started” and “Best of Both Worlds” were all smash hits and still sounded amazing to someone who had forever claimed to be a Roth guy.  When they closed with “When It’s Love,” BCole knew she had gotten her money’s worth when she saw tears roll down my face.

I could be mistaken but I saw something in Hagar that night that I’m not sure any of us ever saw in Roth: a genuine appreciation for the fans enjoying the music he had written.  Hagar stayed on stage long after the concert closed, signing autographs on vinyl fans had brought to the show.  As 10,000 strong sang along to the melodies he had written years ago, you could see how grateful he was that his music lives on.

Sammy Hagar will admittedly never be the front man that was David Lee Roth.  Replacing a legend isn’t easy.  With that said, there are those who prefer his later version of the band.  After all, you must choose a side. While you’ll never hear me openly admit I like Hagar more, I can tell you the night we saw him live bridged the gap more than I ever thought possible.

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2 Replies to “The night Sammy Hagar narrowed the gap”

  1. It was an amazing time with you as always, love. Not to mention, I couldn’t help but vote for DLR after the debate of the century between you and Party Killer on your 50th bday regarding the best frontman of all time.

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