Hagar Twang

If you haven’t kept up with Sammy Hagar since his rockin’ “I Can’t Drive 55” days, you might find yourself alternately shocked, horrified, and amused by Hagar’s recent plunge into country music. Then again, the public had more or less the same reaction in 1985 when Hagar was announced as David Lee Roth’s replacement in Van Halen. And even going all the way back to his debut in Montrose, the Red Rocker’s voice sounds more or less out of place in any style of music — which is to say that the man possesses one of the most distinctive, instantly recognizable set of pipes to ever come down the pike. One could argue that the only reason listeners associate him so freely with arena rock is because that’s more or less constituted the bulk of his career.

But given that Hagar’s sound, image, and consciously blue-collar approach to delivering soundbites have practically made him synonymous with Middle America in all its GMC-truck-and-Budweiser glory, it’s really not much of a stretch to see him touring with Nashville country singer Kenny Chesney. In fact, go to Hagar’s Web site,, and there he is on the main page posing with famous NASCAR driver Kurt Busch. In essence, Hagar should be right in his element — and he has the panache to pull it off. Again, we’re talking about a guy who ingratiated himself with Van Halen’s fan base in the most oh-shit case of frontman replacement in music history. So Hagar, with his everyman charm, should be just fine. And why shouldn’t he use it to grace country music? After all, songs like “Cabo Wabo” and “Finish What Ya Started,” with their bluesy sass, may as well be a stone’s throw from country anyway. They’re already polished enough, so all they’d require is a little tweaking from a chart-conscious Nashville producer and they could be recast as country hits. But although it would be amusing to hear old Van Hagar chestnuts get countrified in concert, Hagar doesn’t have to go that route, as that’s essentially what the songs on his 2006 album Livin’ It Up already are. And though the album (and current tour) don’t feature former VH bassist Michael Anthony, it might as well be him on those trademark vocal harmonies.

And Hagar should jibe a lot better with Chesney — who demonstrated his work ethic by continuing to perform after his foot was injured during the first song at a concert in April — than he did on his infamously feud-plagued 2002 tour with David Lee Roth.

Sat., May 31, 3:30 p.m., 2008
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Saby Reyes-Kulkarni