Though Van Halen had three different vocalists throughout their career, they’re best known for their success with David Lee Roth in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and Sammy Hagar in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Hagar believes he actually made the band better when he joined, though, and has explained why in a new interview.
After Roth left Van Halen, Hagar joined in 1985, and the band released four albums with him behind the mic. All four records went to No. 1, with 1986’s 5150 being the group’s first release ever to top the chart. However, Hagar told Classic Rock that he thinks the length of his experience as a musician prior to joining Van Halen helped improve the band overall, as he’d sang for Montrose for a few years and then launched a solo career afterward.
“I had more experience under my belt when I joined Van Halen in 1985 than they had,” Hagar asserted. “They’d been together for seven years making records. I had been around for 10 years before that… I knew how to sing, I knew what Eddie Van Halen was playing, I knew which keys things were in, and the arrangement of the music. Eddie really got off on that, because he never had a musical partner with Dave.”
By 1996, Hagar and Van Halen had parted ways.
“Oh, I was fired. I was told that I quit by Eddie,” Hagar recalled to Rolling Stone last year. “It was Father’s Day, Sunday morning, 9AM. The phone rings and I’m laying there with my brand new baby. He goes, ‘You know, you always just wanted to be a solo artist, so go ahead and be one. We’re going to get Dave back in the band.’ And when he said that, I flew up out of bed like I’d seen a ghost. And I said, ‘Wow’ and a few expletives went back and forth from me.”
Extreme‘s Gary Cherone took over as the group’s vocalist following Hagar’s departure. They released one album together, 1998’s Van Halen III. Roth returned to Van Halen briefly in 2000, but the reunion didn’t last, and then Hagar rejoined in 2004.
“…The 2004 reunion was a mess,” Hagar added in the aforementioned Classic Rock interview. “We never got back to that beginning that I loved so much.”
Though Van Halen did reunite with Roth once more — which resulted in their final album, 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth and several tours — Hagar never rejoined the band again, though there have been various discussions of Van Halen tribute shows circulating ever since Eddie Van Halen died in October of 2020.