The Night Sammy Hagar Played His Last Show With Van Halen
Sammy Hagar completed his last show with Van Halen on Nov. 19, 2004, at the Anselmo Valencia Amphitheater in Tucson, walked offstage and caught a flight, then never spoke to Eddie or Alex Van Halen again.
It was a sad but predictable end to what had once been an exciting, ambitious endeavor. No wonder some fans call it “Black Friday.”
The auspices had been good. Gary Cherone had been gone for five years, paving the way for Hagar to return earlier in 2004 and add his vocals to a compilation album, The Best of Both Worlds, ahead of a world tour. It wasn’t that simple, though; it became clear that Eddie Van Halen’s health issues, which included drug addiction along with recovery from cancer, were going to curtail the plans.
The LP was released as a best-of set, with three new tracks – “It’s About Time,” “Up for Breakfast” and “Learning to See” – apparently the sum total of the studio songs the guitarist was capable of completing. A North American tour was announced, which started with 28 shows but ran to 80. By the end of that run, though, there was little left of “Van Hagar” to save.
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“As crazy it as it seems, the last time I spoke directly to them was after the last show on the 2004 reunion tour,” Hagar told Classic Rock in 2019. “We played Tucson, Ariz., and we walked offstage and said, ‘See you later.’ We all got our private planes home, and we never talked again. … I’ve tried. I’ve reached out a couple of times. About three or four years ago I wished Eddie a happy birthday on Instagram, and he got back to me – or his Instagram person did – and said, ‘Hope you’re doing well, thank you.’ And that was it. That’s the way it is.”
At one show, Eddie reportedly laid down on the stage and told the audience, “I’m sorry, folks, I done run outta gas,” though he finished the performance. Hagar said it was painful to see an old friend in such a condition. “I would just show up for sound check,” Eddie said at the time. “And I go, ‘Hmm, why do extra laundry?’ So, I would just wear whatever I’m wearing, then take my shirt off and play.”
“What happened on that reunion tour in ’04 was some of the most miserable, backstabbing dark crap I’ve ever been involved with my whole life,” Hagar later said. In another interview, he remembered, “I saw the guy right in front of my eyes not be able to write and forgetting how to play songs. Eddie’s problems are all from drugs and alcohol, and all of it self-inflicted – nobody was driving him to it. … Eddie’s not tortured by anything but Eddie.”
But that wasn’t the only bone of contention. The Van Halen brothers didn’t want Michael Anthony to take part in the reunion, but when Hagar stipulated it as a term of his own involvement, they relented – while forcing the bassist to sign away his full rights as a member and working only as a salaried session musician.
“Eddie didn’t even want me to be a part of that because he was so torqued up that I was buddies with Sammy,” Anthony said in 2009. “With those guys, it was a cut-and-dried situation.” Plus, Eddie wasn’t happy with the way Hagar’s Cabo Wabo tequila business was being promoted along with the tour.
It was all so different when Hagar originally joined Van Halen back in 1985. “At that stage, I had a good career going, I was wealthy, I was eating in the finest restaurants and wearing the finest fucking clothes, I was driving Ferraris,” he recalled. “I was becoming a little too sophisticated – it was killing my music. Whereas those guys were living a completely different lifestyle. … Eddie comes walking out with a pair of sunglasses, jeans with holes in them, just outta bed, cracking a beer and smoking a cigarette. Alex was still drunk. Mike hadn’t even been home. They’d been up all night waiting for me. I’m looking at these guys, then I’m looking at myself in a suit, and I go, ‘I look like a fucking idiot. This is a real rock ’n’ roll band.’”
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By 2004 everything changed beyond recognition. Seeing the writing on the wall once again, Hagar tried to quit before the end of the tour but was forced to stick it out after threats of a lawsuit. “I didn’t do that tour for money, I did it for the fans,” he said in 2009. “I wanted the band to come back and be great again. We didn’t get there, and I tried to bail. But they and their management … had me sewn in, and I was stuck. I had to go through with the rest of the tour. It was hell.”
Hagar later described “Black Friday” as “the worst show we’d ever done in our lives,” noting that Eddie “played so bad” that night. Reports suggest the guitarist smashed his instruments in anger, tearfully telling the audience, “You don’t understand.”
“Van Hagar” ended officially soon afterward, and neither Hagar nor Anthony have shared a stage with the Van Halen brothers since. Eddie and Alex have all but ignored that era, with songs like “Runaround,” “Humans Being,” “Poundcake,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Best of Both Worlds,” “Right Now” and “When It’s Love” rarely performed. They went on to reunite with original siger David Lee Roth, though he said in 2019 that the band was over. Hagar formed Chickenfoot with Anthony, Joe Satriani and Chad Smith, and later the Circle, who released Space Between, a 2019 concept album about greed.
“The Van Halen brothers will not allow me to do any of my own songs on TV,” Hagar stated in 2015. “They can’t stop me from doing them live, because they’ve tried and they can’t. They want to pretend like Van Hagar never existed. The only No. 1 albums they’ve had in their life, and they want to pretend like they never happened. I don’t know why they hate me so bad, but I guess I’m too happy for them.”
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Asked if he thought he’d ever speak to Eddie again, Hagar said, “I would hope so. Because that would be really sad if any one of us — I’ll put myself in the same category — took this to our graves. That is not where you take things. I would rather go to my grave with no enemies left. I just don’t think that would feel right. But who knows? Whatever. It’s not my decision, because I was the one they pushed out and tried to fuck over. To me, it’s up to them to come back and say they’re sorry.”
But, he added, “I still have more fun than anybody on the planet. My mind still works, my voice still works, my dick still works, my heart is still good and I got a memory, I’m rich and famous, and I got a beautiful family. Dude, if you see me going around with a bad look on my face, hit me on the shoulder and say, ‘Aren’t you Sammy Hagar?’ And I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right!’”