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THE LEFSETZ LETTER: The Sammy Hagar Book

You cannot put it down.

If you've got a bathroom, and who doesn't, buy this book and stash it there, you'll never come out. And where better to read? With no interruptions!

But only if you're a Van Halen fan. Only if you know who Sammy Hagar is and care. Sure, there are some great music business lessons, but they'll be lost on you if you don't know the history, you'll be wasting your time.

I came to Sammy Hagar late. It took me decades to realize how great that first Montrose record is. But when I heard "The Pits" on Sam's second solo album for Capitol, I dove in. I like someone with a sense of humor. Who can write. Who can play.

But even though he had a string of hits on Geffen, Sam was definitely second-rate, until 1986, when he hooked up with Van Halen and made "5150".

Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

As good as that Montrose debut is, and it's really fine, the initial Van Halen album was even better. People talk about "Eruption", but for me it was always "Runnin' With The Devil" and "Jamie's Cryin'". There was just something about that guitar. That Eddie Van Halen sound.

And it was totally evident on "5150".

"1984" was a classic. Played every night at the Rainbow that summer, it energized the place. But by time "5150 was released David Lee Roth's solo career was toast, we were eager to see what the rest of the band had to say.

And they had a lot.

"Why Can't This Be Love" literally erupted from the speakers. Sounding nothing quite like what Van Halen had done before, the second time through you were completely hooked. The pulsing intro into Eddie's distorted guitar, the band locked into a groove and suddenly Sammy was singing on top, with more credibility than he'd ever possessed. The yellow jumpsuit was gone. It was not about show, it was solely about the music.

And even though Sam focuses on "Dreams", "Love Walks In" and "Summer Nights" in the book, what blew me away was "Best Of Both Worlds". Because of the dynamics. The loud to the quiet and back again, the old Led Zeppelin trick which Boston used to such great effect on "Long Time", but had lay fallow thereafter. Really, Sammy with Eddie, Al and Mike was the best of both worlds. Sure, "5150" was a little crunchy on the top end, that's the first hearing range to go, players insist the treble faders be pushed up in the mix, but "5150" is a classic album, one that you can play over and over again and never burn out on.

Sam and the band buried David Lee Roth's ass.

And it was completely unexpected.

And that's why we read "Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock".
Because we want to know how this happened.

I don't believe every word in this book. Especially about Sam's early days, growing up in Fontana. And there are historical inaccuracies, stating that Sam's band played the cuts from "Who's Next" before it was released, and even John Kalodner's name is misspelled, but when it comes to the inside, Sam gives us his take, unvarnished, and it's like being backstage, the real dressing room where your heroes are spent and drugged-out and wasted and arguing after performing for ninety minutes and getting blow jobs under the stage.

You know the standard rock book. Millionaire hero reveals his warts and all. But Sammy's book is just the opposite, he reveals EVERYBODY ELSE'S WARTS!

And it's this honesty that makes it impossible to put this book down.

Eddie Van Halen cares only about music. And cigarettes and alcohol. That's it. He's so maladjusted it's astounding he's still alive.

And Al's always getting pugnacious with his brother and Michael Anthony is happy just to be in the band.

Yes, every classic act has a genius. And in Van Halen it's Eddie.

But as well as geniuses can perform in their chosen profession, in the rest of their lives they're usually completely screwed up. We want to get closer and closer to find out what makes them tick, but if we do we usually discover they barely function at all. In other words, if a musician is completely normal, he sucks.

Well, not really.

It's just that we're truly in love with the screwed-up, who speak to our souls through their instruments.

And it's not only Eddie and Al that Sammy nails, but Irving Azoff too. Stating that Irving hates confrontation. Anybody who knows him knows this is true!

And the story of a coked out Stephen Stills in Cabo is priceless. That's what unending adulation and too much cash will do to you, get you addicted to drugs and ruin your voice.

Sammy's an incredible businessman.

But we're not really interested in getting rich.

We're interested in music.

Sam's wife's psychiatrist tells him to get a job, Sam says SCREW THAT, I'M GONNA BE A ROCK STAR!

Do you have that much determination, can you take that much rejection?

Sam's surviving on welfare and unemployment. The truly great can't do anything else.

And just when you think you've made it, you haven't. Montrose breaks up. Sam gets kicked out of Van Halen. Life is long and hard.

And you can't do it without an endless parade of businessmen giving you opportunities while ripping you off. Find one great person and stick with them. Like Sammy did with Ed Leffler. Who was badmouthing Howard Kaufman just before dying. You see rock and roll is petty.

Sammy gets it so right, I know his stories are true because I know the people involved. He nails them.

And even though "Eagles Fly" is one of my most-played MP3s ever, what I'm really interested in is Eddie Van Halen. A man too messed up to even play his famous solos on the band's 2004 reunion tour.

You can't sell someone anything these days. I didn't care about Sammy Hagar's book until I heard Howard Stern badger Gary Dell'Abate to get him a copy so he could read it too. Gary started quoting Van Halen stories. I needed this book as soon as possible, because there's very little greatness in this world, but in the crucible of quality there's a special corner reserved for Van Halen.

"Something reached out and touched me"

And I'm telling you about it.

It reads like transcribed interviews. Sammy's more likable than talented. But unlike the movie stars and the models, he's truly lived a life, that of a rock star, he's got one helluva tale to tell, read it.