Walking through the mobile home that functioned as the broadcast headquarters for the West Texas radio station KWES-FM, we made a stop in the middle room, which was the “promotions department” for the station. Meeting the promotions director, opened my eyes wide to the concept of radio stations and “free stuff.” She rummaged around in the office and gave me a station bumper sticker, plus the ultimate prize, my very own circular Sammy Hagar “I Can’t Drive 55” button. Hagar was still a little bit off of my musical radar at that point – I knew “I Can’t Drive 55,” but not much else about the catalog of the so-called “Red Rocker.” During visits to the record store, I had looked many times at the album cover for Hagar’s latest album VOA, and snickered at the inclusion of a song called “Dick in the Dirt” in the track listing.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, Hagar was about to make a really big impression in my world. Shock waves moved through the rock world in 1985 with the slightly unexpected departure of David Lee Roth from Van Halen. When the dust began to settle from Roth’s departure, Sammy Hagar was the new guy holding the microphone in Van Halen. I knew enough about Hagar at this point to know what an interesting and unorthodox choice Van Halen had just made. Vocally, Hagar was anything but a clone of David Lee Roth – a clear roll of the dice and statement from Van Halen that they were going to do something different. And so it began, one of the most controversial ( heavily debated to this day, and ultimately one of the most successful) lineup changes in the history of rock and roll music.

One of the things that made the Hagar pick interesting, was that he was not only already very established as a solo artist, but he was also one helluva guitar player. The question: would Hagar be able to let someone else be the guitar player? The answer: When you’re getting Van Halen money? Absolutely.

But how did Hagar become the “Red Rocker?”

For that answer, we’ll take a trip back to 1978 to visit Sammy Hagar at home in San Francisco, caught live on a typically hot night at Winterland. Having just wrapped up a tour opening up for Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, Hagar was back at home to play a gig celebrating the 10th anniversary of San Francisco rock station KSJO-FM (R.I.P., btw – damn you, Clear Channel).

This gig is a great example of the gems lurking within the Wolfgang’s Vault archives – one of two late ’70s complete gigs from Hagar available for streaming at the Vault. The show was a return to the scene of the crime for Hagar, who had recently recorded parts of an upcoming live album, titled All Night Long, at Winterland. The live album featured one new track, “I’ve Done Everything For You,” which would be recast five years later as a hit for rising Aussie heartthrob Rick Springfield.

It’s always a good ducat to have in your back pocket – to be able to drop details of a live album that was recorded in the same venue where the already rabidly revved up audience is. And there’s nothing quite like the additional thrill of knowing that there is new material on that album, new material (the previously mentioned “I’ve Done Everything For You”) that you’re going to hear tonight! One-two, and there’s a knockout scored by the Red Rocker.

Midway through the set, Hagar and lead guitarist Gary Pihl square off for a six string duel that carries us through nearly 17 minutes worth of the Montrose staple “Bad Motor Scooter.” Noting that he had been “smoked” by Pihl the previous night in Sacramento, Hagar lays down the gauntlet for a rematch – a fretboard fight to the death. And the winner is?

In addition to Hagar’s already more than impressive band (featuring Pihl, future Night Ranger keyboard player Alan Fitzgerald, bass player Bill “Electric” Church, and drummer Chuck Ruff), the hometown crowd gets the benefit of a few special guests that truly take this gig to the next level. Journey guitarist Neal Schon (a future collaborator with Hagar on the HSAS project) comes out to jam with Hagar for the first time ever on a raggedly unrehearsed (make that a “very unrehearsed”) version of the Montrose favorite “Rock Candy.”

Schon sticks around for the remainder of the set, joined by Eddie Money and Money’s guitarist Jimmy Lyon to help Hagar round out the gig with a cover (according to Hagar, “something that none of us know”) of “Gimme Some Lovin'” and some bluesy jamming to wrap up the night. Hagar doesn’t exactly stick with his frequent promises throughout the set to play all night, but after 90 minutes plus, and the special guests that showed up, I doubt that anyone was complaining.

Sammy says it best at the conclusion of “Turn Up The Music,” “Goddamn rock and roll forever!”

Listen to this entire show at Concert Vault by clicking here.

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About the Author

Matt Wardlaw

Matt Wardlaw is a music lifer with nearly 20 years of experience in the industry. Of course you all have shoes older than that, but that's okay, Matt realizes that he's still a rookie. His byline has appeared in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Cleveland Scene, Blogcritics, Music's Bottom Line and Ultimate Classic Rock, among others. In addition to writing for Popdose, Matt also has his own music blog called Addicted to Vinyl where he writes about a variety of subjects including but not limited to vinyl. In his spare time, Matt enjoys long walks in the park, Cherone-era Van Halen and driving long distances to Night Ranger concerts.

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