It seems that he can do no wrong these days. By his own admission, he’s been on a seriously good roll. One of the original members of the proto-heavy metal rock band, Montrose, and indelibly linked with post-David Lee Roth Van Halen, for whom he sang and wrote songs from the mid-´80s through the mid-´90s, Sammy Hagar certainly needs no introduction as a rocker. But in recent years his resume has expanded beyond the parameters of rock and roll to include ongoing stints as a successful and astute entrepreneur, a restaurateur of some renown, a gourmet chef, a philanthropist for children’s causes, and perhaps most notable of all, a world class tequila connoisseur and pitchman. His own Cabo Wabo brand of tequila has quickly gained a reputation as one of the world’s finest premium tequilas. TORO met with Sammy on his recent tequila swing through Toronto.

T: Are you friendly with Ronnie Montrose these days?

SH: You know what, right before I came down here, Ronnie called me. I was just talking to him on the fucking phone. He leaves me a message and goes, Sam, Ronso here – just fucking loving life! I’m going, what does that mean? So I picked up the phone and I called him. I said to him, what, did you dial the wrong number? Don’t call me when you’re depressed. Call me when you’re having a good time. (laughing)

T: Any plans to play with him in the future?

SH: It’s funny you bring that up, because this thing is on my agenda: August 6,7,8, and 9. I’m opening up a Cabo Wabo in Fresno, California. Bill Church, the old bass player for Montrose, it’s his home town, and he still lives there. So I called everybody and said let’s do the grand opening. So August 6th and 7th we’re playing in Fresno at the Cabo Wabo Amphitheater, so yeah Montrose is going to do it. And the next two nights are the Cabo Wabo in Lake Tahoe. They have a big parking lot and they do a big festival every year. So I’m going to use Montrose as the opening act for my band, and I’m going to be in the band. Denny Carmassi, Bill Church, Ronnie and me. And I’m going to open for 35 minutes just like we used to do. Black backdrop, stacks of Marshalls. We’ll clear the stage and then I’m going to come back out with my band.

T: Is Ronnie still as good on the guitar as he used to be?

SH: Oh yeah. But he looks different. You wouldn’t recognize him. Bill Church and Denny Carmassi and myself, we look older but you can still recognize us. But not Ronnie. Shaved head. He’s gained a lot of weight, and well, he looks different. But he can still play, fuck yeah.

T: How did you ever get involved in tequila in such a big way?

SH: I always liked it. I mean growing up – the ritual of the salt and the lime, it was the funnest drink there was. And you had that magical moment when you first got buzzed up on it where you were fucking crazy – and you’d do anything. And that’s always a good thing. For fun. Then, you know, you have your bad experience with it and you say, well, I don’t drink tequila anymore. So I bought a place in Mexico in – well I went down there for the first time in 1981. And I bought a place in ’83 and started living there in Cabo San Lucas. And I had a Mexican friend, and he said, ´Let’s go to Tequila – have you ever been in Tequila?´ And I said, ´No.´ So he said, ´Let’s go.´ So, you know, rock star . . . got an airplane and went to Tequila for a few days. And I got turned on to premium tequila – and it blew my mind. And I thought wow, I’m going to build a bar down here, because I had a house then, I’m going to build a bar where I can play, and where my friends can come down and just jam – and it’s going to be a tequila bar. Nobody ever tasted good tequila back then. And I thought, I’m going to blow everybody’s mind. That’s how I started. And then I really started getting into it and when I really started getting into it I built the Cabo Wabo Cantina and got my own personal tequila. We used to sell it out of the club. We sold 2,000 cases of it out of the gift shop.

T: What is it about tequila that kicks the party into another gear?

SH: It’s so funny – I’ve always said – what Petrone and Don Julio have tried to do with premium tequila is make it a sophisticated thing and people in tuxedos with cigars and all dressed up in diamonds and pearls. And I’m going yeah, you do that all you want. You have three shots and you’re going to be pulling your fucking tie off and asking which way to the nearest strip bar. And that’s what tequila does. So I skipped that image for the Cabo Wabo. No, no, this is a fucking party – just because it’s expensive and premium stuff, it’s still a party.

T: What distinguishes Cabo Wabo from other tequilas?

SH: Well, it’s completely handmade. We have a bunch of farmers – the Rivera family – they didn’t have their own bottles, they had nothing. They made about 20 cases a year for themselves. The rest – they sold the agave to Sauza, to Cuevo, and so on, to all the different factories around there, because agave was pretty short so the growers, who were just farmers, like the guys who grow corn, tomatoes, or whatever, they grew agave. And they had their own special brand, or blend – and so they kept the best agaves. We still make it the same way. Of course now we’ve got bottles – we’ve got everything. But at the time they just had carts with donkeys. They were doing it completely by hand, and I haven’t changed any of that. I mean, we’ve got trucks now but no conveyor belts, and every agave is hand-chosen. They go through the fields – there’s a big fat ripe one – it’s ready. Get it. They don’t use green ones, or add sugar to make them sweeter – none of that. They cook them to perfection, use pure spring water, no chemicals. Nothing. It’s even pollinated – the yeast for fermentation is done through bees. It’s completely natural. And that’s what makes it great. And it’s every step of the way. And it’s done by hand. Everyone else uses conveyor belts, and really don’t see what’s going in. So they can’t tell when there’s an agave with worms. Or they can’t tell when it isn’t ripe – but we see it, and take it out. The little scrawny ones get thrown to the side.

T: Have you (and your tequila) managed to overcome the stigma or label of it as a sort of rough-and-ready drink, meant more for shooting back than sipping, say, like a fine cognac, or is this just a matter of misinformation?

SH: Well, it is a rough-and-ready drink. It’s as smooth as you can make it – but when you distill it more than twice you get a little bit smoother but you lose so much of the rough-and-ready. I mean when someone tries it they go, whoa, pretty smooth, and they shiver. But you don’t want to completely get rid of that shiver. The shiver is part of it.

T: Cabo Wabo Cantina, quite renowned – to what do you attribute its success?

SH: Well, to the town of Cabo San Lucas – it was paradise. And it still is, but it’s grown-up paradise. As for the success of the Cabo Wabo, I saw a beautiful place that no one had been to yet. Just dirt roads, there was no air conditioning, no windows in the buildings, no TVs, no phones, no electricity, and I said I love this place, this little fishing village. And most people slept on their boats, or on the beach. I saw that. And I said, I’m going to build a place, because I love living there. So I built the Cabo Wabo, and the town grew and grew and grew. And so the success has been such that every year it gets bigger and bigger. We’re at capacity now – and we can’t enlarge unless we go up. And this is because the town grew into it – and it’s just a great place. When you go to a foreign country – and Canada’s not a foreign country by the way – I mean, if you go to Mexico, you know, you’re a little bit nervous, some things may seem shady – Cabo Wabo is like a sanctuary. It’s an authentic Mexican place where the food is authentic, all the employees are Mexican, all the bartenders – it’s pure Mexican, but it’s owned by an American. And so you think, I feel safe here.

T: Have you been a hands-on owner or do you delegate well?

SH: Oh, I delegate well. But I’m there all the time. I mean I built it, it’s mine, it’s my concept. But I do have good people working for me. I have a Mexican partner who’s an architect and we really work well together. But it’s mine – it’s my vision. Nothing goes on there without my say so.

T: Does everything you touch turn to gold these days?

SH: Quite honestly, since I got into this business – the music, that is – which this is all based around – I’ve been a very fortunate person. I had Montrose, I had a good solo career, a great run with Van Halen, and to be able to leave that at my age and then go back and start over again with a whole new kind of band – the music we play is like Jimmy Buffet on steroids. It’s not Van Halen-esque, it’s not ´80s music, it’s not hair band music, it’s really a whole new thing. And having a whole new chance to play for four or five thousand people – I’m the luckiest guy in the world. And it’s all built around that. And it’s not because I’m so talented or that I’m smarter than anybody else. I just do things from my heart and I think my fans feel it and I’m willing to check out anything and if I say, try this, they’re willing to try it. I’m not trying to sell anything that I don’t love. I’m trying to share my lifestyle, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have. I mean, I say come to Cabo, and they come and they say, this is outa sight! I say, hey drink this tequila, and they do and they go, hey this is great! So I think that’s the secret of my longevity, and my golden touch. I’m not trying to sell you shit and tell you it’s gold.

Three Terrific Tequila Recipes

Sammy Hagar´s Official Site

T: With all your entrepreneurial savvy are you still essentially a rocker, and does it still bring you the satisfaction as an artist that it always has?

SH: Oh, no. That’s all it is. It totally is. This is a rock-and-roll brain – I drink this tequila before I go on stage. You know what I mean? I would if I didn’t own it – I’d still drink this tequila. But it’s still really built around the music. I just had a guy, Mario Batali – the chef – and he calls me last year when I was on tour in October, and he said is it true that you sold your company for all this money. And I said, yeah. And then he asked me where I was and I told him I was in Lansing Michigan, and he said what the fuck are you doing in Lansing? And I said, I’m playing a show, man. Why are you playing a show? Because I love it, you asshole (laughing). I love Mario but ... it would be like if he sold his restaurant, would he stop cooking? He loves to cook. I love to play music.

T: I understand you know your way around the kitchen. What’s your specialty?

SH: I love to cook Tuscan-Italian style simple food like Mario cooks – good tomatoes, good olive oil, good garlic, good salt, good pasta, you know. No need to start complicating things.

T: What’s your impression of digital technology, the web, and so forth? Good or bad for music and business?

SH: Well, it ruined business – the business of music. But when I say ruined it I’m not complaining because I’m the luckiest guy in the world. But I feel sorry for new bands. They have no avenue to sell their records to support their lifestyle or to support their tours. In the old days when I used to go on tour, the record company gave me the money because they’d sell records when you were on tour. Now that you don’t have that whole infrastructure – boy, it’s a rough road for a brand new band getting known. Although, if you can get one crazy-ass video on YouTube, and get five million hits . . . so it’s got its pluses and minuses, but it’s a whole different game. To be honest with you I don’t even own a computer. I don’t work on one. I don’t know how to turn one on and I don’t want one. There’s not one allowed in my life. My wife has one, my children have them, I do not.

T: What’s next on your agenda, artistically or business-wise?

SH: I’ve got two things that I’m really excited about. First one is a new band – I’m not leaving the Wabos, Wabos are my lifetime band – but I’m doing a side project with Joe Satriani, Chad Smith and Michael Anthony. It’s awesome. It’s Led Zeppelin. That’s all I can say. Really sophisticated. So that I’m really excited about, because at this stage of my life I get to go, oh boy I have a new band. But one little thing I’m doing, and I’m not trying to hype it – with H.M. Host International, who approached me to do a Cabo Wabo in airports, a small version. And I said, no, Cabo Wabo is a destination. So they asked if I could come up with a new concept, so I came up with Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill, which is upscale, you know, good hamburgers, chicken wings, quesadillas, shrimp – but upscale. Fine dining, beach-wise. But the best thing about it is that every single penny of profit from this venture goes to the families of terminally ill children. So we’ll be helping out some folks, some families who really need it, and that’s just great.