John 'Fud' Zavacki

BUT I DIGRESS: David Lee Roth people vs. Sammy Hagar people – the rise and fall of Van Halen

BUT I DIGRESS: David Lee Roth people vs. Sammy Hagar people – the rise and fall of Van Halen
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I’ve decided that whenever I meet a new person, I am going to use one simple, succinct question whose answer will decide whether or not any further discourse with said person will be worth my time.

This question is a simple, three-word utterance that defines and encapsulates the personality traits of each individual based on their answer, A or B.

The question is: “Dave, or Sammy?”

The Dave camp are fun-loving, can take a joke, are self-deprecating, never take themselves too seriously, are infinitely comfortable with who they are, and unaffected by how others perceive them.

Dave people are rebellious; they speak with wit and wisdom. They’re never precious about their abilities or boastful about their shortcomings.

Dave people never take themselves or what they do too seriously, while ultimately being serious about what they do.

Dave people live in the moment; they party like it’s their job, but don’t have to build a resort to do so.

Dave people set their own style, create their own trends. Dave people don’t follow; they lead.

Dave people aren’t necessarily virtuosic in their respective fields, but they do it with an earnestness and zeal that virtuosos can’t begin to comprehend, making up for their shortcomings with pure, unadulterated style and soul!

Like Dave himself, Dave people truly rock ‘n’ roll in the original spirit of rock ‘n’ roll – authority-bucking, category-busting, rebelliously fervent with a total disregard for complacency and an absolute disdain the status quo and a cavalier attitude regarding their approval.

Dave people rule.

Sammy people… well…

Sammy people will do or be whatever it takes to fit in. They will complain about a group or individual out of jealousy, but sing their praises and deny they ever had a cross word for them, should the party in question show them even the slightest bit of acceptance.

Sammy people go along to get along. They never, ever go against the grain and sneer at those who do. Not out of a sense of superiority, rather out of a deep longing to be a bright, shining individual and a realization that they simply never will be.

Sammy people are conformists to the core, but go well out of their way to disguise their complacency with a dash of red to try and appear interesting, meanwhile doing exactly as they are told.

Sammy people follow tried and true formulas to achieve their ends, never once straying from the path to experiment or explore, and the regret they internalize over this manifests itself in overwhelmingly smarmy “Look at me! Love me!” behavior (and a lot of superfluous “Woooooo!”s).

Sammy people make no effort to shine as individuals. They blaze no trails, but tread happily upon trails blazed by others, all the while proudly stating how well they walk in others’ shoes.

The original Van Halen was the therapy necessary to get me through adolescence. Without them, I would never have survived.

Their music gave me a feeling of invincibility. Dave gave me a new paradigm. He allowed me to allow myself to be myself. Dave granted me permission to be mouthy, loud, boisterous, vivid. Dave let me know that it was better than just OK to be an eccentric in a small town full to the brim with conformists; rather, it was mandatory!

Dave gave me insight as to how to be mushy and romantic, while never losing the rough edge that attracted the object of my affection to me in the first place.

Vah Halen during Dave’s original tenure was an alien force, a style of music that offended the ears of my otherwise totally accepting hippy parents, finally giving me a platform for rebellion! (Do you know how hard it is to be a rebellious kid when you have hippy parents? Those people love everything!)

Dave-era VH was the brave face I wore during young love breakups (the kind where you’re actually heartbroken and filled with longing, as opposed to only worrying about which of your goods and how much of your dough the vacating party will be allowed to abscond with).

Dave and Edward were originals in an era of carbon copies. They set a precedent for infinite possibility if one was willing to break out of the mold. They were my heroes, with Dave their undisputed leader.

So, when I heard Dave had left, I was, of course, crestfallen. But I held out hope. I’d enjoyed the camp and covers of “Crazy from the Heat,” and I was certain Edward would continue to produce bone-crushing rhythm tracks (despite the few hiccups of 1984). So, I figured it’d be a win-win.

As a matter of fact, when it was announced that Sammy had taken the lead singer spot, I was initially stoked. We’re talking about a guy who contributed to the “Heavy Metal” film soundtrack, had fronted Montrose, wrote one of my all-time favorite guitar licks in the form of “Three Lock Box” and, most importantly to me, had been a part of one of the best supergroups in history, HSAS.

So my disdain does not extend to folks who answer, “Sammy, but before VH.”

But when my fellow VH superfan, El Diablo (I’ve mentioned him in previous columns. He is the best sort of evil. For example, after a brief stint in rehab, I broke out, made my way home and to a kegger, where El Diablo, being the first to spot me, loudly and gleefully sang, “Guess who’s back in circulation!” upon spotting me coming up the path), brought a brand new, shrink-wrap still on it, cassette over to my house, along with his massive, 10 C-cell battery-eating portable cassette player, affectionately known as “Mr. Box” (the predecessor was called “Refrigerator Box,” due to its unwieldy size), everything changed.

The instant “Good Enough” began, it was over. Sammy’s new über cheesy persona reared its ugly head within a millisecond when his contrived, overproduced attempt at Dave-ism “Hello baaaabaaaayyyy!” fell from the speakers with a pathetic plop.

“Well, let’s give the next track a listen. Maybe it’s awesome!” …Um, no.

It wasn’t awesome. It was “Why Can’t This Be Love” (which we immediately dubbed “Why Can’t This Be Over”).

Before the way-too-long synth intro was over, El D. had yanked the cassette from Mr. Box’s orifice, grabbed a hold of the ribbon of tape from where it was exposed, and yanked it over and over until the entire volume was spread out on my lawn like the unraveling of an ugly Christmas sweater.

When he was done, he dropped his hands to his lap with a slap, shook his head, and said, “Well, it’s over.” And it was.

Gone was the embodiment of the mouthpiece for the angry young men we were. We’d lost our touchstone to the universe; our connection had been severed. We had been left alone to fend for ourselves, rudderless outcasts whose leaders had abandoned us and taken up the flag for the other side.

So, if my love for Dave-era VH and my contempt for the Sammy era has seemed irrational to you in the past, perhaps this will clear it up.

Your musical heroes are your entire world when you’re a 17-year-old juvenile delinquent who is locked in a vacancy. When they betray what you love about them, it’s un-fucking-forgivable. Even after 30 years.

Dave got progressively more cabaret, Edward played more and more synth and less and less guitar, Sammy got more and more soft, eventually losing his hard rock edge permanently (so much so that he seems absolutely over his head in Chickenfoot, with his usually fine lyrical prowess reduced to a series of woooos and sophomoric references to partying and boobs), and VH lost the invaluable Michael Anthony.

It was a fucking disaster on all fronts, except for the Top 40, status quo, think what they tell you to think, letter-wearing masses. They loved it.

That fact in and of itself is enough of an indication to anyone with even a modicum of individuality to realize the mighty had fallen. The “Van Halen never had a No. 1 song until Sammy joined” argument only serves to bolster my belief that they sold the fuck out. Period.

So, from this experience, I have jumped to the following conclusions:

Sammy people settle for “Good Enough.”
Sammy people want to know if time will tell if they’ll stand the test of time… ugh.
Sammy people feel the constant need to ask, “Why Can’t This Be Love?”
Sammy people feel the need to invent “Cabo Wabo,” when Cabo San Lucas actually exists.
Sammy people get “Spanked.”
Sammy people overindulge in “Poundcake.”
Sammy people demand everything “Right Now.”
Sammy people whine that it’s “Never Enough.”

Dave people are “Atomic Punks.” They “Light Up the Sky;” they’re “On Fire.”
Dave people will “pay you for it, what the fuck?”
Dave people high kick into old age.
Dave people call out the Kevin Dubrows of this world for filling their Jack Daniel’s bottles with iced tea on the stage of life.
Dave people sing the praises of “Beautiful Girls,” “Women in Love,” even when they’re really only “semi-good lookin’.”
Dave people can read postcards in a tourist trap and turn them into “Secrets.”
Dave people get “The Full Bug” and can spot “Drop Dead Legs” from a mile away.
Dave people “Dance the Night Away.”
Dave people can say with gusto “I’m the One.”
Dave people are “Runnin’ with the Devil.”
Dave people can’t wait to “Feel Your Love Tonight.”
Dave people “hit the ground runnin’.”

Dave spoke directly to this broke-ass small town hood with no future.

“We was broke and hungry on a summer day.
They sent the sheriff down to try and drive us away.
We was sittin’ ducks for the police man.
They found a dirty faced kid in a garbage can.
And I’m alone, I’m on the highway, wanted dead or alive, dead or alive.
Broken down and dirty, dressed in rags, a from the day my mama told me, ‘Boy, you pack your bags.’
Send the mayor down in his pickup truck.
The jury look at me, say, ‘Outta luck.’
And I’m alone, I’m on the highway, wanted dead or alive, dead or alive.
Now, I’m broken down and dirty, dressed in rags, a from the day my mama told me, ‘Boy, you pack your bags.’
We was sittin’ ducks for the police man.
They found a dirty faced kid in a garbage can.
And I’m alone, I’m on the highway, wanted dead or alive, dead or alive.”

The thing is, Dave was one of us.

Sammy was one of them.

But I Digress features musical ramblings, rumblings, rants, ruminations, and reviews from your friendly neighborhood blowhard. Look for it on Wednesdays on NEPA Scene.

  • cooljames

    It’s obvious where to target the true focus of your currently-misguided anger: The Van Halen brothers. Track their behavior. When the 1985 break-in happened, they were on MTV pointing into the cameras like a WWF tagteam shooting a promo. Calling Dave out for doing what he did, and sure he fucked up a lot of their shows. Still, they disregarded 10 years of endless success over something we will never know or understand because, I am here to argue, Eddie Van Halen is a jerkoffs. Eddie is a jerkoff, Alex is also probably a dick.

    Fast forward 25 years. The VH family fired the only other non-Van Halen in their midst and brought in the next generation. In similar fashion, though not right away, they belittled Michael Anthony’s bass playing and vocal abilities, laying claim that the Van Halen parent carried him through 30 years of albums and shows. Eddie and Alex are a couple of jerkoffs.

    Who’s to blame here? Not Sammy Hagar. My younger brother and I did the same 5150 song-to-song walk as you did, with a similar ending. Bottom line, you can’t put that on Sammy Hagar.

    The real question should be: “Dave or Eddie?”. For people with cable in 1985, anyone siding with Eddie and Alex are the dicks you despise. By all accounts, Sammy Hagar is a fun loving booze hound whose only non-DLR characteristic is his smart financial savvy.

    I am a way bigger DLR fan than anyone you know, but Eddie and Alex ruined Van Halen. Dave showed that he stomps ass without them (in 2 languages), and he’d still have a live solo career if the VH thing didn’t pay exponentially better.

  • VAiN

    Spot on! Thank you for capturing exactly what we feel… goddamnit you nailed it!

    • Fudloe

      We are members of the correct thinkers. We should be generous with our pity for the Sammy folk. ?

  • Ari M. Eden

    Dave is better. Ends of story.

    • Fudloe

      Ari knows from whence he spake!
      Right on, sir.?

  • Todd S

    Jump was their #1 song — you mean #1 album. I always ask Dave or Sammy. Great read!

    • Fudloe

      You are correct, sir! Nice catch! ?

  • Kevin Jones

    Outstanding!

    • Fudloe

      I agree whole heartedly! ?

  • toddbook

    As another said. Van Halen didn’t have a number 1 album until sammy cheezed it up. However we all know that Van Halen doubles the sales of Van Hagar and it’s ironic that Van Halen’s 1st and only number 1 song was the cheezy “Jump” which was the beginning of the end.

    • Fudloe

      Milli Vanilli had several number one songs. So it’s the obviously litmus foe excellence. ??

  • Chris Wagnon

    Excellent take. It seemed like the Hagar era and Hagar in general is so contrived.

    • Fudloe

      This is why I like you, sir. Because you agree with me. Which makes you correct!?

  • AL Tru

    Sammy People never told Eddie ” Hey man…tonight is about ME ” at the MTV awards

    • Chris Wagnon

      Yeah that’s wohy Eddie had to write in the 04 tour contract that Hagar not wear any of his Cabo shirts. if it wasn’t about Sammy why did he feel the need to always sing three to four solo songs during VH concerts while Roth always sung VH songs pre-Hagar and post-Hagar?

      • Brody Black

        Because the band agreed to it and Sammy has is a good businessman. Dave is a narcissist.

        • CWNorCal

          Again what solo songs did Roth sing again during Van Halen concerts. Hagar is about his own brand above Van Halen and anything else. That’s what you call narcissist.

    • Fudloe

      That’s onacaounna Sammy people didn’t have the balls to tell Eddie to shaddap. ?

  • Guitar Whores

    Dave or Sammy if you’re a one dimensional person. Dave AND Sammy if you’re worth talking to.

    Gary if you hate yourself and everyone around you.

    • Fudloe

      Absolutely missed the point. Congratulations. ?

  • RobertDobolinaEsq

    I do happen to be a “Dave person,” but I do try not to be a certain kind of “Dave person.” Like, it’s kind of funny how the “Dave people” list here reads like a checklist of how delusional narcissists see themselves, and the “Sammy people” list reads like a checklist of how they’re prone to seeing “everyone else.” Like, funny but not “ha-ha” funny, you know? And then we get to this “For example, after a brief stint in rehab, I broke out, made my way home and to a kegger . . . ” and I’m just fucking sad for the writer, man. Jesus. Dave all the way, but don’t make a fucking lifestyle out of it for God’s sake, there’s more to the world than that.

    • Fudloe

      Wellsir, it’s worked beautifully for me. I mean, who has the column, and who feels the necessity to comment on said column. My narcissism thanks you. ??

      • Fudloe

        (Also, you totally missed the point, counselor.)

      • RobertDobolinaEsq

        Well-played, friend. Well-played.

  • Fudloe

    This guy is ALWAYS right and never writes a bad column! I LOVE Fud, man! And he’s super sexy and well hung too!

  • cooljames

    It’s obvious where to target the true focus of your currently-misguided anger: The Van Halen brothers. Track their behavior. When the 1985 break-in happened, they were on MTV pointing into the cameras like a WWF tagteam shooting a promo. Calling Dave out for doing what he did, and sure he fucked up a lot of their shows. Still, they disregarded 10 years of endless success over something we will never know or understand because, I am here to argue, Eddie Van Halen is a jerkoff. Eddie is a jerkoff, Alex is also probably a dick.
    Fast forward 25 years. The VH family fired the only other non-Van Halen in their midst and brought in the next generation. In similar fashion, though not right away, they belittled Michael Anthony’s bass playing and vocal abilities, laying claim that the Van Halen parent carried him through 30 years of albums and shows. Eddie and Alex are a couple of jerkoffs.
    Who’s to blame here? Not Sammy Hagar. My younger brother and I did the same 5150 song-to-song walk as you did, with a similar ending. Bottom line, you can’t put that on Sammy Hagar.
    The real question should be: “Dave or Eddie?”. For people with cable in 1985, anyone siding with Eddie and Alex are the dicks you despise. By all accounts, Sammy Hagar is a fun loving booze hound whose only non-DLR characteristic is his smart financial savvy. The Van Halen family, on the other hand? They’re like mean Minnesota plumbers trying to ostracize a brother-in-law before their dad dies, just to get the extra chunk if his will.
    I am a way bigger DLR fan than anyone you know, but Eddie and Alex ruined Van Halen. Dave showed that he stomps ass without them (in 2 languages), and he’d still have a live solo career if the VH thing didn’t pay exponentially better. Dave is my hero and I don’t hate Sammy, but I hate non-DLR Van Halen and I question anyone, radio station or Pandora playlist owner, who tolerates that messy mess.

  • Michael Guidry

    You are a fool, it’s almost like you pulled that article out of you ass and decided to wave it around just so decent people would have to smell it. How’s that for going along just to get along. I love both Van Halens, but where Dave was all about the party and attention, Sammy took his music far more seriously.

    • Chris Wagnon

      Sammy wrote simple-minded cliches but he did take it more seriously even if it was a God-awful song like Feels So Good.

  • David Engen

    The real question here is in 2016 who has the vocals to pull it off and the answer is Sammy because Dave’s voice is shot from to much smoking and drinking. Sammy and Mike could put Van Halen back on top again with out giving away free tickets to none sell out concerts. End of story !

    • Chris Wagnon

      That’s hilarious. You’re knocking VH for doing an Amphitheater tour in which those venues are always giving a away lawn seats. But then you turn around say a guy does a lot of free concerts such as Ribfests and most recently the St. Louis Fair is going pack in those stadiums and arenas. Gotta laugh at that logic. The other half of Van Halen hasn’t headlined any bigtime venues outside of Van Halen in 04. BTW Hagar ain’t all that these days. Doubt he has the stamina to pull off a 40-date 25 song tour. At least Van Halen doesn’t do free shows…

  • Jake Midkiff

    I always told people that I prefer the Dave era, but it really has nothing to do with either singer……..I’ve always been an “Eddie” guy, and has found something to love in everything he’s done, if not it’s totality. That being said, I’ve also always preferred Ed’s raw, aggressive, hungry approach to his playing that he had all through that first classic 6-pack. Once Hagar joined, Ed’s writing became much more pop-rock, more radio friendly, more palatable to American white suburbia. Although he started this shift with 1984, he became even more of a studio rat, more of a perfectionist, and too polished. His tone, attack, and approach were never the same. I loved all his guitar work through that decade plus with Sammy, but there was just a little something too different from my favorite things about him during Dave’s tenure. Anyway, so I always escaped the often tiring explanations of why I preferred one singer over the other by stating right off the top that I’m an “Eddie” guy, and just leaving it at that.

    • Chris Wagnon

      Have you read Van Halen Rising?

      • Jake Midkiff

        Naw….I’m sure it’s good, just hasn’t been at the top of my todo list……I’ll get around to it.

        • Chris Wagnon

          It’s actually a very good read on the beginning of the band. It shows how instrumental Roth was to the band before hitting it big. Highly recommended reading for all Van Halen fans.

  • Rodney Connell

    Who cares? VH doesn’t hold up well with either singer. The first 6 albums are clearly better but they’re still spotty. I think it really only worked for their era. They’re not relevant.

    • Chris Wagnon

      Are you kidding? The first six albums are timeless. You always hear the songs on most classic rock and hard rock stations. When Van Halen came on the scene they redefined hard rock. With Roth Van Halen is one of seven bands to release multiple Diamond certified albums (10 million units sold). I’d say if you’re in the same company as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, you’re in good company.

  • Best of both worlds

    Wow, isn’t this like 30 years late? Dude you sound like a scorned girlfriend. Not sure why you only blame Hagar. Eddie was the driving force behind the music. Personally, I loved both worlds. Dave was the man and Sammy filled his sensible shoes just fine when he quit. I’m sure you would have liked Dave to come back to the band after California Girls but he didn’t. To be fair Eat Em and Smile was better than 5150 but the band had chemistry and fans loved it. Musically there was nothing wrong with Hagar as frontman.

    • David Engen

      Totally Agree ! 5 number one albums says a lot for any band.

  • Brody Black

    Opinion are like assholes…everyone has one. Dave has never been a good singer…you can have him.

  • Simone van Dornick

    I AM DAVE… now I know why 🙂 best article I´ve ever read. Thank you for this!!!

  • UsedtobeaVHfanbutgrewup

    Right nothing douchy or Un rock and roll about Diamond Dave after VH right? Pfffttt your living in a dream that’s over! Dream another dream!
    Mmmmm ya just gotta love his tasty remakes of California girls an dancing in th streets! That’s gritty stuff! Sir your super good cheeseball is served!
    Answer: Sammy and GFY very much!

    • CWNorCal

      Basic formula for a Hagar song: Love/whatever he’s peddling/a 13-year-old’s sexual innuendo followed by a bunch of cliches and a resounding YEAH!

  • Jeff Vaughn

    What idiot wrote this article and is so arrogant as to believe that all Sammy or Dave people fit into a certain category and are that simple to flesh out? I tend to have a place for both Sammy and Dave but less pull for Dave over the last decade considering he’s been carried by both Van Halen and Sammy and, outside of them, had no real accomplishments to speak of. The bottom line is there is no “better”. Each of them has their own appeal, their own strengths, and their own weaknesses and they fit into whatever hole they’re needed for when necessary. Jesus, so much wasted energy about who’s better, about as much of a waste as this stupid article by a dude who’s lack of written inspiration is so obvious that he’s gotta steal song lyrics to categorize? God, talk about WEAK…

  • great stuff

  • Yousra Shahy

    You forgot to mention Ed people 🙂
    Nice piece Fudd 😊

  • Dave brought SOUL and sheer, unstoppable will to the band.

  • Cedrulz

    Why can’t we all understand Ed rifles and Van Fucking Halen is awesome…all included. All the music is where it is at

  • Joseph Freeborn

    DAVE

  • Mark Weichold

    Who the fuck are you to tell me that I am either this or that? Seriously I over see 26 communities 75 million in revenue a year, if I like this or that it is not for you to go on a 16 page essay about. I like Van Halen period, and if that means both so be it but let me tell you taking chances to move forward but still be a rocker hmmm, think before you speak about just a true fan of the band Van Halen. By the way you were probably the one down there in the front in 82 begging Dave “let me tug on your boot” so he could fuck your girlfriend. Folks give up the this, we are getting older and there is not enough time left to complain about this stuff!! There were great love it!!