By Larry Widen, Special to   Published Jul 05, 2015 at 3:36 AM

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At age 68, Sammy Hagar effortlessly exudes a casual, southern California kind of beach bum charm during an interview before his headliner show at Summerfest’s Miller Lite Oasis. "Hi, I’m Sammy," he says, jumping off a ratty sofa and shaking my hand. "So, what are gonna talk about," he says with a huge grin. 

That’s an open-ended question, coming from a guy who’s been banging around the music business since 1967. After joining – and leaving – 10 bands, Hagar stepped into the big time when he got together with guitarist Ronnie Montrose and recorded the album "Montrose" in 1972. One of the songs Hagar wrote for that LP, "Bad Motor Scooter," is one he still performs today.

After recording "Paper Money" with Montrose, Hagar left to pursue a solo career. By 1984, he was a headline act with rock anthems like "I Can’t Drive 55" and "There’s Only One Way to Rock" under his belt. The following year, Hagar replaced David Lee Roth in Van Halen and stayed with the band for the next 11 years.

Those accomplishments alone are enough for a lifetime, yet somewhere along the way, Hagar found the time and energy to invest in bicycle shops, restaurants, nightclubs and a tequila franchise. Hagar sold the latter, Cabo Wabo Tequila, a few years ago for a reported $80 million dollars. It was the business side of the rock and roll icon that kicked off the interview.

Larry Widen: Most creative people don’t have the business acumen to operate one enterprise successfully. You, on the other hand, have a number of them to your credit. How is that?

Sammy Hagar: Our family was poor. I mean really poor. When I was a kid, I had a paper route, I mowed lawns, anything to make money. Being poor is probably best motivator I know. And all those odd jobs prepared me for when I decided to try and sing for a living. I had no idea how much money I might make working in a band.

LW: So you took a bit of a risk, career-wise …

SH: More than a bit. Plenty of people reminded me that rock and roll singers had a bad habit of winding up broke, homeless or dead. I was determined not to be any of those!

LW: At what point did you feel comfortable trying to run a business?

SH: Right after I started making some real money. I never bought big houses or a bunch of cars or threw crazy, expensive parties. I invested everything I earned. One day I was in Sausalito, and I wanted to buy a mountain bike. I couldn’t find anyone who sold them. That’s when it hit me to open a store catering to that kind of bike enthusiast. Because I had all my money safely invested, I had the funds to open the store. And that’s where I learned another valuable lesson, which was to back my own ventures. I didn’t borrow money or ask someone else to put it up for me. You can’t get ahead having someone else handle your money for you. Simple as that.

LW: You’re a strong personality. Does something like that contribute to the famous falling outs with Ronnie Montrose and Eddie Van Halen?

SH: I LOVE that question! (laughs) Let me see how I want to answer that. (laughs again) God, I love that question. OK, the best way I can explain it is this. I’m a very confident person, and people follow me. Now that works until you make one mistake, and then the other guy is saying, "See, see. I told you." The bad blood with those guys is covered in my book ("Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock"). A lot of people in this business are unhappy, and they change. It’s really weird, and I don’t get it. You work so hard to get where you are, and then you’re mad?

Hagar’s PR person is eager to end the interview so he can change clothes for the show. As he leaves, he answers a few questions about bands he loves, and people he would have liked to see in concert. 

"Well, Elvis, for sure," he says. "I’m talking about the 1950s Elvis, with the baggy suits and everything. I would have loved to see that!" 

Hagar also says he would have liked to see Led Zeppelin on their first tour, "when they were just a jammin’ blues band," he says.

Hagar is definitely a Zeppelin fan, and with the late John Bonham’s son Jason in the current band, it’s a cinch they’ll do a few of the classic songs for his Summerfest gig. 

"Hendrix is someone I would have really loved to play with," Hagar says. "Can you imagine me singing and Jimi on guitar?"

And with that, Sammy Hagar ducks out of the room to get ready to rock and roll.