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Did Jim Kelly Nearly Break Up Van Halen? Other Sammy Hagar Revelations

 

Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Seriously bummed that I didn’t get a ticket to Friday Night’s Van Halen show in Buffalo. So I spent the weekend working my way through the Van Halen catalog. Call me cheap, I call it prudent. I paid $25 for 17th row tickets in 1986 and as a matter of principle refused to pay nearly $200…Dave or not.

 
So I popped in the headphones and curled up with a copy of Sammy Hagar’s “Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock“. Now when I said Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly nearly broke up the band, I was using a bit of poetic license. But Kelly was indirectly involved, through no choice of his own and it’s probably a memory he’d rather forget. It turns out Sammy Hagar stole his girlfriend, Kari Karte.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Keep Memory Alive

Kelly knew the concert promoter and got her backstage ( ooh that had to hurt). Hagar says he wasn’t interested in Kari at first and was actually trying to meet one of her girlfriends. How do you know when it’s love? For Hagar, it was when he saw her feet. He quickly changed his mind and the two began seeing each other (Hagar doesn’t say if it was behind Kelly’s back, but he was still married to Betsy).

How did this lead to a Van Halen breakup?In 1995, now married to Kari, Hagar moved to Hawaii to have their first baby. Kari Hagar was ready to pop with the couples first child. That’s when Eddie started calling Sammy to record tracks for the “Balance” album. “If you’re not back here by tomorrow, we’re assuming you quit the band,”  he told Hagar. It was part of the tension that eventually ruptured the biggest band in the world. Here’s what else I learned from “Red”:

  • There really are sex tents under the stage. Hagar claims that he was faithful to his wife early in his career. But during the height of Van Halen every member had their own tent, and he had about 75 women a week going through until he met Kari.
  • Hagar earned more money outside the music business. His acumen as a business person helped him start a successful Tequila Company that he sold for nearly $100 million. He opened the Cabo Wabo cantina in Mexico with the Van Halen Brothers. The place was losing money and the Brothers VH sold it back. Then the place started to boom. Eddie and Alex never forgave him for that, they felt cheated. Hagar even owned one of the first bike shops in California to carry mountain bikes. Dude doesn’t need to make music anymore, he’s a millionaire on his investments alone. He just started a rum company this year.
  • Most of what I saw of the band in the 90′s was an act. It seemed as if Sammy and Eddie were the best of friends, having so much fun onstage. Turns out, after ”For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” all the smiling on stage was a big, fat lie. They were travelling seperately and avoided each other when they weren’t playing. Makes you wonder if the new found love with David Lee Roth is just the guys doing it for the money.
  • The David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar show at Darien Lake that was cancelled because “Sammy was ill”was right at the height of the two singers bickering. Roth and Hagar had a huge backstage blow up two weeks earlier. Roth was trying to grab the spotlight at any cost. Hagar had called Roth an “expletive- bald headed- expletive” in a newspaper article and Roth was telling audiences that he was “Sammy’s Boss”. The two nearly exchanged blows in North Carolina on August 17, 2002. The Darien Lake show was August 31. Looks like Sam had enough. Hagar had hoped the Sam and Dave tour would lead to the biggest Van Halen show ever with both singers, but he was wrong. He regrets ever having toured with Dave.
  • Seems that every member of Van Halen was either drinking, smoking weed or doing cocaine at some point. While Michael Anthony always played the role of the booze chugging member of the band, he was probably the most sane. Alex would get fall down drunk, until he quit drinking all-together. And Eddie apparently kept drinking heavily on his own. Both had interventions and even though Eddie claimed he had quit drinking, Hagar said he was always sneaking off having a drink. That Samuri hair that Eddie made famous on the reunion tour was a tell-tale sign that he was trashed. Hagar claims the drinking and drugging  had gotten Eddie sloppy and that the shows were barely listenable.

Hagar’s “Red:My Uncensored Life in Rock“ comes out on paperback today and is a great read for Van Halen fans. Although, you have to remind yourself that the story comes from a pretty one-sided perspective. It also covers Hagar’s time with Montrose and his rise as a solo artist in the 80′s.

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