PHOTO: Ebet Roberts | Getty Images
It’s been 30 years since Van Halen released 5150, their first album to feature Sammy Hagar as the group’s vocalist.
In a new interview commemorating the record’s anniversary, Hagar reflects on the making of the album and on the band’s decision to break up in 1996 after making Balance, their fourth, and last, album together.
It was, he says, a huge mistake.
“Breaking up then was the worst timing they could have possibly done,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Grunge was kicking everyone’s ass but ours. All the hair bands were taking a dump, but not Van Halen. Balance was Number One and the tour was sold out. We were the only ones holding our own against all the grunge bands. To make a change then was a big mistake. I think it still is for Van Halen.”
In the interview, Hagar talks nostalgically about the group’s start and the magic of their first records together.
“Ed was freaking out when he heard me sing, Al and Michael Anthony too,” he says, referring to drummer Alex Van Halen and former VH bassist Michael Anthony. “They were going, ‘Holy shit, this guy has rhythm in his voice, he has pitch and a range from hell…’
“We were all over the place. It was such an inspiration back and forth that it started elevating both of our musical abilities. Everyone around us got goosebumps. It was magical. That doesn't happen every day.”
Tensions grew between Hagar and the Van Halens in 1996, while they were working on songs for the film Twister. Eddie was unhappy with Hagar’s lyrics for the song “Human Being,” and Hagar was unavailable to record a second track for the film because his wife was going through a difficult delivery. Hagar was also unhappy with plans for a compilation album.
“I think if we had stuck all that out and kept making good records, we could still probably be a real thing,” Hagar says, “probably what Led Zeppelin would be if they were still around.”
Sammy continues to work with Michael Anthony both in Chickenfoot—their now-and-then supergroup with guitarist Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith—and in the Circle. He has also made some effort to patch things up with Eddie Van Halen by tweeting him birthday greetings this past January.
Though many fans are hopeful that the “Van Hagar”-era band will eventually reunite, Hagar continues to downplay the possibility.
“There are certain bands that had that thing, and Van Halen was certainly one of them,” he says. “I would like to have seen what Ed and I could have done as songwriters. I'm not saying I want to do it again because I think we lost that opportunity, but one of the biggest mistakes that Van Halen made was trying to break up when the world of music was changing.”