Should Van Halen Reunite with Sammy Hagar? Our Writers Answer Five Big Questions
Sammy Hagar's heartfelt overture to his former bandmates in Van Halen last week fed into a whirring reunion rumor mill. This follows an exchange of friendly tweets in January, the first signs that his relationship with Eddie Van Halen might be on the mend. That all of this is happening during an extended period of inactivity for Van Halen and the band's original frontman David Lee Roth also played into the theory that a homecoming might be in the offing for Hagar, whose principal tenure lasted from 1985-96. But should they actually get back together? And how would it work, considering that Michael Anthony – who followed Hagar into Chickenfoot – has since been replaced in Van Halen by Eddie's son, Wolf? Our writers joined with Greg Renoff, author of Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal, to sort it out in an unfiltered roundtable discussion ...
1) Do you think Sammy Hagar will ever reunite with Van Halen again?
Annie Zaleski: Absolutely. I think this apology is one more step toward a thawing of relations and a reconciliation. This year is the 30th anniversary of 5150, after all. What better way to celebrate than to announce some sort of reunion activity?
Matthew Wilkening: I really doubt it. Maybe if they mend fences someday, Eddie Van Halen shows up on stage with Hagar for a show or two – or contributes to a song on one of his albums. But Van Halen, the band, has slowed down so much – just two albums and five tours in the last two decades – that I can’t see them changing course or finishing out their career any other way than with Roth singing on a series of ever-more sporadic tours.
Greg Renoff: If it was just a matter of Hagar returning, I think odds are it would happen. But the wild card is Mike Anthony. I'd be shocked if Hagar ever agreed to return without Anthony. Would someone in the VH camp be willing to publicly apologize to Anthony? Would he go back? And I know in this age of money trumps everything, it's hard to imagine that someone might say no to a big reunion payday, but if there's anyone who probably has had his fill of the Van Halen soap opera madness, it's Anthony.
Matt Wardlaw: All of the signs (and rumors) certainly seem to be pointing in that direction. But with the amount of classic rock icons that we've lost this year, it could be that Sammy is just looking to mend friendships.
Nick DeRiso: Before last week’s apology, I’d have to say no. After last week’s apology, I’m inclined to say … maybe. It’s not just that so much water is under that proverbial bridge; it’s also the fundamental way that Van Halen has been restructured since their last split. Michael Anthony is now firmly aligned with Hagar, while Eddie Van Halen has brought his own son in as a replacement. When a discussion about resolving that issue gets underway, expect the bridge to get shaky indeed.
2) Which new Van Halen album and tour would be better – one with Hagar or one with David Lee Roth? And which would sell more?
Annie Zaleski: A tour with Roth would absolutely sell better; after all, it's the original lineup. However, a tour with Hagar would probably be better, since the band be playing songs they haven't done in a while, and Sammy's voice is stronger. Album-wise, I think it's a toss-up. Fans were not exactly pleased with the 2015 live album, which seriously dented Van Halen's commercial profile, while classic rock in general is a tough sell. It would have to be a mighty strong outing from either group to do well.
Matthew Wilkening: I’d happily buy either one. But, if I get to decide, the vote would be more new music with Roth – he and Eddie have an irreplaceable chemistry. A Different Kind of Truth was largely excellent and did pretty well considering how poorly records sell across the board nowadays. Then again, a Hagar-fronted ballad might have a better chance at charting on more adult-leaning radio stations.
Greg Renoff: First of all, I have some trouble believing that there's tremendous commercial demand for a new Van Hagar album and tour in 2017. In regards to the former, would Ed and Sam be willing to do the hard work of collaborating on 10 new songs in 2017? I doubt it. On the other hand, would Roth and Ed, who hardly seem to be the best of friends even though they are in the same band, be able to do the hard work of collaborating to write ten new songs in 2017? Recent history says no. So I'd be surprised (albeit pleasantly) if we ever see another Van Halen record of any kind, and I think a Hagar reunion would draw much the same as the last Roth-fronted VH tour did.
Matt Wardlaw: As far as an album goes, that's a really tough call. I think that Sammy, working again in a songwriting partnership with Eddie could produce some really interesting material, if both sides were fully committed. That last part is important, because if both sides aren't all in, we're looking at more songs like "Up For Breakfast," "Learning To See," etc. I wouldn't want an album just to get an album. On the DLR side, we know from A Different Kind of Truth that they obviously have some great archival material from "back in the day" to draw on. I know people bitched about them doing that with ADKOT, but I'd be totally fine with them going back to that well. I still love that last album. I think the Sammy tour would be better. There would be more excitement / passion / engagement after 12 years apart, especially if Michael Anthony is back in the picture, which is probably the only way a reunion with Sammy will go down. The last tour with Roth, song-wise, was just as much fun to see as the previous reunion shows I saw (four total) on the initial reunion tour in 2007-2008, but DLR really seemed to struggle and run out of gas midway through the show. Sales-wise, I think the Sammy tour would do better. It's been off the market longer, and will be new for the fans who haven't had a chance to see Van Hagar. That would be a welcome return for people who are universally fans of all eras of Van Halen, which includes yours truly.
Nick DeRiso: I’d presume that any new Van Hagar album would be comprised of new songs, which automatically gives Different Kind of Truth – which was, after all, girded by leftover material from the band's first-era hey day – an early advantage. After that, it depends on how many songs they come up with focusing on tequila, I suppose. I'd agree that a Roth show would likely sell more, but that a 5150-era lineup would do a better job of faithfully recreating the original Van Hagar songs.
3) Regardless of who you picked as a singer, who should play bass - Wolfgang or Michael Anthony?
Annie Zaleski: Wolfgang has grown into a strong, confident player, but Michael Anthony back on bass would definitely be preferable – and a nice gesture for fans.
Matthew Wilkening: As always, it’s insane to want to force people to play music with somebody against their will. Van Halen didn’t handle Anthony’s departure very well, but if playing with his son makes Eddie happy (and, by the band's own account, it's the only reason Van Halen is still active at all nowadays), then that’s exactly how things should be. Besides, Anthony and Hagar have a pretty good thing going.
Greg Renoff: No offense to the three Van Halens, but this latest iteration of the band has never felt like Van Halen to me sans Anthony.
Matt Wardlaw: I think that Van Hagar would be the only scenario that would bring Michael Anthony back. They just seem like a package deal where one won't come into the lineup without the other. I do think it would be a potential compromise item that Eddie could say to Sammy that he comes back, Wolfgang stays on bass. There's that potential that Eddie might want to (understandably) continue to play music with his son and that is one thing that has been really cool about the most recent Van Halen tours, is seeing that visible enthusiasm from both Eddie and Wolfgang. He loves playing with his kid (who as a son of Eddie Van Halen, has the goods, by the way), and I can understand if he doesn't want to bend on that. It's just a question of whether Sammy will be able to click the checkbox on that one on the list of potential compromises that both sides would need to work out. I can't see him doing that, but you never know.
Nick DeRiso: Wolfgang stays; I don’t think there’s anyway around that. So, I suggest bringing Anthony back as a backup singer. That’s the distinctive element that’s been missing.
4) Do you think we’ll ever get a combined Sam and Dave tour?
Annie Zaleski: Nope. That stunt's been done before, so the novelty is worn off, and I'm not sure people want to see that again.
Matthew Wilkening: Let’s fantasy-book! A two-night festival – day one, the Eat ‘Em and Smile band opens up for Van Hagar. Night two, Hagar opens for a Roth-fronted Van Halen. (No, I don’t see this tour happening.)
Greg Renoff: If it were up to Hagar, yes. If it's Roth's call, no. Roth would lose a lot of face if he agreed to such an arrangement. It would be a concession that Roth-fronted Van Halen doesn't have enough juice on the market to be a successful concern. Roth isn't going to slap himself in the face.
Matt Wardlaw: You know, I'd really love to see this. We're talking two different worlds here, but having just seen the Peter Gabriel and Sting tour earlier this summer, I really loved seeing the two of them share the stage with their respective bands and go back and forth across the two catalogs. It would be interesting to see how that would even shake out with the Van Hagar and DLR eras of Van Halen, but I think it's possible. I just can't see it happening. I think it's more possible that Sammy would bend and be open to this. I don't think DLR would entertain the idea for 10 seconds.
Nick DeRiso: Unfortunately, it didn’t work out so well when they tried it sans Van Halen brothers. Hard to see it going any differently, at this point.
5) Which outside artist would you most like to see Eddie Van Halen collaborate with?
Matthew Wilkening: He should do an entire album with Primus. Wow great would it be to hear him and Les Claypool get weird together?
Greg Renoff: How about Pete Townshend? Edward said he wanted to collaborate with him way back in 1985, before he hired Hagar.
Matt Wardlaw: I would really love to see Eddie do a record with Steve Lukather. They're longtime pals and I think it could deliver some really cool results. Alternatively, how about a reunion with Brian May to work on some more tunes and an album? The Star Fleet EP was great.
Nick DeRiso: You have to wonder how that Kiss thing might have worked out.
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