Why Did Van Halen Hire Sammy Hagar to Replace David Lee Roth?
When looking back on the slice of rock history, it's wild to think that, without the suggestion of a mutual auto mechanic who worked on both Hagar's and Eddie Van Halen's sports cars, the "Red Rocker" who can't drive 55 might've never gotten the gig.
But Hagar and the late Van Halen guitarist had met before that serendipitous moment, when former Montrose frontman Hagar shared a bill with Van Halen in 1978, laying the foundations for the so-called "Van Hagar" era of 1985–1996.
So why did Van Halen go with Hagar when they needed a new singer six albums into their career? Well, it really all boils down to the fact that Roth had quit the band after shooting to the top of rock fame with them, allowing Van Halen the opportunity to experiment with a new kind of lead vocalist.
Roth Succeeds Hagar
Initially, a few different names of potential lead singers got tossed around after Roth quit Van Halen to form his solo band following Van Halen's 1984 tour. (Roth released his first solo EP in January 1985, a few weeks before the official split.) Daryl Hall is one famous singer who says he turned down an offer to join Van Halen at the time; Eddie also reportedly asked Patty Smyth of Scandal.
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And at the time, Hagar was experiencing success as a solo artist in his own right after his time in Montrose. But he got a phone call from Eddie that changed the course of his career, all seemingly thanks to that suggestion from the mechanic.
"He was working on Eddie's Lamborghini, and I had a Ferrari at the same shop," Hagar once recalled. "Eddie was looking at my car, saying, 'Who's is this? It's a nice car.' This guy said, 'It's Sammy's — you should get him in the band.' And Eddie said, 'You got his phone number?' And he ended up calling me from the office. That's how stupid my life is."
Remembering the Call
In his 2011 book, Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock, Hagar adds of the experience, "When Eddie called me, it didn't come as a complete surprise. David Lee Roth had split a few months earlier, and I'd told my wife at the time, Betsy, 'They're going to call me, you watch.' Who else were they going to get? There was Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, and me."
Hagar would record four successful studio albums with Van Halen. And it contributed to his long-term career as a musician. "I don't think I would've been as legendary of an artist as I am today without the Van Halen thing," Hagar said in 2023.
"That was the peak of my musical career," he added.
Overall, you could say that Van Halen hired Hagar as the replacement for Roth because they were looking for a new lead singer with a different vocal style and energy after Roth's departure. Hagar had already established himself as a successful rock musician, and his powerful vocals and stage presence made him a suitable choice to fill the void left by Roth and bring a fresh sound to Van Halen.
Now, it's all a part of rock history.
Van Halen, "Why Can't This Be Love" (1986)
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Gallery Credit: Philip Trapp