Those of you who read last week’s blog will know that I waited a long time to get a private audience with Van Halen’s first vocalist David Lee Roth. Bizarrely, though – and I’ve only just made this connection 28 years later – my meeting with Roth’s replacement in VH, Sammy Hagar, took place right at the beginning of my time as a rock writer. In fact ‘The Red Rocker’ – as his record company painfully insisted on calling him at the time – was my first ever interviewee as a Kerrang! writer. I’m sure he’s very proud…
The year was 1981 and Hagar was already seven years down the road from his speaker-bending freshman’s assault on the rock world as the vocalist with Montrose. I was eventually to discover that Montrose was a kinda Van Halen prototype. They had the cocky-as-they-come singer, the virtuoso guitar pyrotechnician and the same pizazzy, sparkling sound from producer Ted Templeman that the self-same guy would turn into hard rock gold with VH. None of this I knew from personal listening experience, though. But a bizarre-sounding song called ‘Bad Motor Scooter’ (Weren’t all scooters ‘bad’? Mods rode scooters, for God’s sake!) from an album that wasn’t available in the UK was constantly getting big ups on the Metal Chart in Sounds magazine. That was enough for me to have already decided Montrose were rock monsters. Had I known that this ‘definitive’ metal chart was nothing more than metal DJ Neale Kay’s record collection in printed form, then I might not have been so enamoured of Montrose. Especially since they appeared to be named after a woeful – and as far as I was aware not particularly rocking – Scottish football team. But I digress…
Anyway, Hagar was the subject of a formidable promotional push in 1981 Britain, mainly because he appeared to be the only North American rock act prepared to play the UK. The only act besides April Wine, that is, who frankly would have made anyone look good!
I was writing a metal fanzine in my native Manchester called Phoenix. Sample cover. Immense dragon swooping menacingly over a phalanx of Tolkein-inspired, vaguely militaristic ‘hordes’ courtesy of my neighbour Chris Nott. He was 15. He had long hair. He smoked. In his parents’ house. He was rock and roll. Dammit. He really should have worked for Kerrang!, not me. But such is fate. And when I was plucked from stapling Phoenix together and selling it outside gigs and was allowed to concentrate on merely writing, well I would have gone to the ends of the earth to do so.
I very nearly had to, as it happens. Geffen Records were prepared to send me down to the St Austell Coliseum to watch Hagar and band promote the super double-entendry ‘Standing Hampton’ album (check out your Cockney rhyming slang, all you smut fans) on the first date of the tour. The problem was that St Austell was in Cornwall, the westernmost tip of the country and a town so far from where I lived that there was a serious danger that there be dragons. The train the record company sent me down on must have had square wheels, too, because I seem to remember it took something like 10 hours to get me there. This wasn’t at all the rock and roll glamour that I’d been led to believe would all be mine.
Still, one hard-rocking set, a night in a hotel and a seat on the band bus later and I was starting to feel like this might be the life after all. Hagar was a decent enough fella, but it wasn’t his words of wisdom regarding such ‘destined never to be classics’ as ‘Can’t Get Loose’ and ‘Inside Lookin’ In’ that I remember from my virgin interviewing experience. No, as we talked I was far more struck by Hagar’s impossible blob of California blond ringlets being as unruly as a basketful of naughty puppies on top of his head and by his distinctly un-Californian then-wife Betsy. Now I’m sure Betsy is a perfectly nice lady, but her dour appearance and ‘wouldn’t say boo to a gooseness’ as hubby verbally boxed my ears nineteen to the dozen had me scratching my head wondering what on earth ‘The Red Rocker’ was doing hanging with someone who reminded me for all the world of my mum? In a quiet moment.
I’d not anticipated having to deal with philosophical questions on the profound nature of human relationships. I’d just come to boogie, really. And here I was with all my beliefs in the rock eco-system being questioned.
I know what happened to Sammy of course, but I always wondered what became of dear old Betsy. I did see that the couple divorced and Hagar remarried one Kari Karte in 1995 in a coupling that makes perfect sense if this shot is anything to go by.
But if you’re reading this Betsy, I hope that life is treating you well – and let me ask you this before I go. It wasn’t just the English weather that was getting you down back in ’81, was it?
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HoJo rocked as a top journalist on legendary UK metal magazine
Kerrang! and now runs a way-cool rock T-shirt site at www.saltyrockz.com.