Return of the Red Rocker
It's become a part of rock folklore. Sammy Hagar had spent over a decade as the frontman for Van Halen, helping to establish the band as one of the greatest rock groups in history. He fought off critics and fans alike who lambasted him for filling the void left by original singer David Lee Roth. Van Halen logged more hits under the Red Rocker's reign than anyone thought possible.And then it happened. Against Hagar's wishes, Van Halen began work on a Greatest Hits record. As always, brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen were at the helm. They brought back Roth to record two new tracks. The original lineup appeared together on the MTV Music Awards.But exactly what followed next is still a mystery. Roth was quickly ousted for the second time. Hagar got his walking papers soon after. Van Halen then announced that former Extreme singer Gary Scharome, who reportedly had signed a contract with the group before either Roth or Hagar was fired, would take over the group's vocal duties. Hagar still can't fathom that his friends betrayed him."You wouldn't believe some of the shit that went on. It was all greed," Hagar says."The band's manager, Ray Daniels, Alex's brother-in-law, put them up to all this. He's one bad creature. He said he didn't want to go down as the manager that broke up the greatest rock band in history, so he made Ed and Alex do it, and they went along with him. I've never been fucked in this business until I met Ray Daniels."Hagar aired a lot of his frustrations on his new record. His first solo project since his 1986 self-titled disc, Marching to Mars is an open attack on Van Halen. Even Hagar's first single, the power blues tune "Little White Lie," is a direct hit on his former bandmates.The song was prompted by an interview Hagar saw on TV. He was sitting in the studio working on a song when one of his roadies came in and said, "The brothers are talking shit about you." Hagar quickly went to the nearest tube and watched in disbelief. Eddie and Alex were being questioned about the split. They said that Hagar had become a serious problem in the band, was unwilling to work and quit in frustration."My jaw dropped. I had tried to take the high road, not saying a thing about what actually happened, and then they went on MTV and started telling all these lies. That's when the gloves came off."Hagar penned "Little White Lie" then and there. Other songs followed: "Would You Do It For Free," "On the Other Hand." He called MTV and asked them to bring a film crew and a copy of Eddie and Alex's interview over. He responded to each comment they made. He tried to set the record straight."I wasn't nearly as pissed when they brought Roth back as when they were saying I didn't want to work and that I wanted out. That was all bullshit."If I thought being a solo artist was the right thing to do, I would have done it a long time ago. But I didn't because I thought Van Halen was a great band. I really enjoyed nine-and-a-half years of that band. But the last year-and-a-half was hell. I would have eventually quit, but they beat me to it and fired me."His departure from Van Halen had an unusual effect. Hagar was free. No more compromises. No more depending on others. He could write what he wanted, finally play guitar again. "All of a sudden I had the freedom to pick up a guitar and do it for myself and explore a bit. It was unbelievable."Hagar says that Marching to Mars is his best record to date, including the material he helped pen with Van Halen. Featuring a slew of guest artists -- everyone from Slash and Bootsy Collins to Ronnie Montrose and former Grateful Dead drummer Micky Hart plays on the album -- Marching to Mars is the return of the original Red Rocker. Tunes like "Salvation on Sand Hill" burn with Hagar's early hard rock flare, the guitars alone bearing enough testosterone to kill the average teenager, while the disc's title track is vintage Sammy, pulling from his unwavering belief in UFOs and extraterrestrial life. Hagar lets his cat-scream vocals and guitar carry the album. Even a quick listen to the disc requires a tight fist and a full lighter."I had no limits when I made this record. I could do whatever I wanted, and it turned out great."But Marching to Mars has come under some flack of late. With the Pathfinder probe roaming the red planet, critics have charged that the album title is a weak attempt to capitalize on the current Mars media blitz. Yet Hagar claims the title and NASA's success on Mars are merely coincidence, and says it was his friend Hart who thought of the name."We just thought it was appropriate. The return of the Red Rocker. The red planet. It just made sense," says Hagar, laughing.