Photo by Barbara Ries
Sammy Hagar discovered his path to success long ago, and it had nothing to do with bottom lines, compounded interest…or even making music. “I like making people happy,” he says. “As an entertainer I decided I wouldn’t take on issues or be political. When I’m up on stage and I see the audience smile and put their hands in the air, it feels great.”
After multiple Grammys, other music awards and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and an infamous feud with the brothers Van Halen), it’s clear the formula has worked. Besides his music, Hagar also peddles positivity via taquitos and tequila, which has netted him a pretty peso via his Cabo Wabo Cantina and tequila company. Committed to philanthropy both local (Kiddo!, Ritter House, Homeward Bound, 142 Throckmorton and Oak Hill School) and national (Blessings in a Backpack), he says his main concern is children. “I can’t stand the thought of the kids suffering,” he says. Hence his latest restaurant group, Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill, whose profits benefit families with terminally ill children. As a veritable king of the party scene, how does he relax? “I will come home after 10 to 12 hours at the studio and cook. I go to the grocery store with an idea for a menu, come home, grab an amazing bottle of wine, and just get into the zen of making a meal. That’s my meditation.” Born down the coast in Monterey, Hagar has called Marin home for over three decades. Why? Read on.
You could live anywhere. Why Marin? There is so much to do here on a beautiful sunny day—go to the beach, climb to the top of the mountain, or take the boat out. You can get exhausted thinking about it. For a day trip you can go to the greatest city in the world, S.F.; the wine country; or skiing or boating in Tahoe. Why would anyone not live in Marin?
What makes you happy in Marin? The abundance of adventures on a sunny day and the abundance of sunny days.
What bothers you here? Too much traffic. I’ve lived here for over 30 years, and sometimes I’ll come back from a tour and there’s a new stop sign.
What do you value every day? My wonderful family and my lifestyle that I wouldn't trade for anything.
What is your personal idea of luxury? My wife and I filling up one of my gas-guzzling exotic cars, heading out to Nick’s Cove, renting a cottage, eating oysters and caviar, and having fine wine, a margarita or two while watching the sunset.
What person has influenced you the most? Recently, Paul Newman. He has set a great example for giving back.
What has been the most fulfilling moment in your work? There have been many: the awards, the multiplatinum LPs, being able to give back to others because of the dedicated fans. But being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is pretty darn special.
What’s your desert-island favorite book or album? The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, especially the first three. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is a very close runner-up.
What’s your favorite place to unwind? Outside of Cabo San Lucas, I would have to say my Jacuzzi in Marin.
Do you have a favorite Marin view? From a boat in the bay, looking back at Mount Tam, Sausalito, looking across to Tiburon/ Belvedere, around to Alcatraz, the East Bay, Bay Bridge, and the most beautiful city in the world, San Francisco; another corner turn, and you’re looking at the Golden Gate Bridge. That could be the best 360 degrees on the planet.
What do you like about yourself? Damn near everything, especially my lifestyle!
How do you want to be remembered? Hopefully, as a person who brought a lot of love and joy into other people’s lives, but just to be remembered will be fine with me.
You have a ton of fans; what do you think is your appeal? I’m a fun person. I love to have fun, I love to make people happy, and it really works. When I make people happy, I’m happy. I came up with the idea years ago as an entertainer: I wouldn’t take issues or be political; I just wasn’t going to take that road. When I’m up on stage I like to make people happy; when the audience smiles and puts their hands in the air, it is so exciting. Making people happy feels great. In fact, people who aren’t doing it are cheating themselves.
I noticed your website says “Born to Rock: Built to Last” and one reviewer compared you to a flashing Mack truck. Would you agree with this description? Honest to God I don’t even look at my website. I don’t even have a computer. I refuse to have one. If something really interesting comes through my website, my manager or someone tells me. Besides, I have lots of different phones. I tell my friends, “If you want to talk to me, pick up the phone, dude.”
At what point did you decide to diversify from music? I’ve always been a hard worker. And because I come from a poor family, I’ve always been trying to make a living. I would take my lawn mower out when I was seven, eight and nine years old and go door-to-door in my neighborhood. I’d ask to mow my neighbors’ lawns; they’d say “how much?” I’d say 50 cents, and we’d have a deal. I’m always the guy hustling for work—not to rip anyone off, just to make money. I still have a philosophy: I would rather not try to make money with money. I don’t like that business, I hate it; I’ve been saying this for 20 years. When people ask me what I do with my money, I say I spend it on myself, on my friends or my family. I would rather play a guitar and get paid for it—or take a shovel and dig a ditch. Once I’ve dug the hole, I’d say, “OK, give me my money.” If you double paper money somebody gets burned. People think I’m a smart businessman; I’m not, but I’m just willing to work for everything I have.
What about Paul Newman has influenced you? He is one of those guys who never did anything wrong—he never did the cheesy movie—but that isn’t why he influenced me. A couple of years ago, I went to a benefit for The Painted Turtle (Hole-in-the-Wall Camp), where they showed a video (featuring) Paul Newman. In the clip he said, “Once you become aware of your power to change things you have to do something.” I’ve been really fortunate in my life and have been really lucky, and once you realize that there are so many less fortunate, you have to do something. His message was just so honest.
I was motivated to follow up on an experience I had back in 1991, during the MTV video days. Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted me about a nine-year-old boy who was dying of cancer in Minneapolis. His dream was to meet Sammy Hagar. I said, “Sure I’ll meet him; it sounds awesome.” So I go and meet him and his parents and they were all living in a little room together—it tore me up. I still can’t really talk about it. The memory has never left my consciousness. I wanted to help this family. My first thought was to pay all their bills. I found out you can’t do that—the family could end up losing benefits, it’s complicated—but Paul Newman figured all of this out and that’s why he’s my hero.
How do the Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill benefit kids? If I write a check I want to know where it goes. It’s not that I’m cheap; I just want to make sure that it’s not just paying somebody’s salary. I wanted to make sure the kids are OK; they are the future of our planet and they are just vulnerable. I can’t stand the thought of kids suffering, or the next level—the families that have suffered with terminally ill children. I started Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill not for the money; I did it so I could donate all the money in each city to the terminally ill children in that city. Even if it helps just one family, it’s something. I decided to open them in airports, so fans and people who know me (and) who travel can find them easily. The menu is kicked-up classics: fries, hot dogs, quesadillas, shrimp salads, burgers.
Considering “I Can’t Drive 55" could be your anthem, how was being the pace car driver for Bashas’ Supermarkets last year? It was cool, I’m a speed addict, but I’ll tell you what: I was scared to death going around the track with Kyle Bush. I thought we were gonna die. To have those cars be so on the edge of out of control and being so close, I was like, “Easy does it.” When I was a kid I went nuts for that stuff, but now, I’m not in a hurry to get out of this place.
It seems decision making and following your heart come easy to you. Is this true? Not at all—I’m a Libra; it’s my biggest hang-up. If you give me two choices forget about it; I can only have one choice.