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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Interview: Sammy Hagar Autobiography Co-Writer Joel Selvin on Montrose and Why Sammy's an Ideal Subject

Posted By on Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 8:30 AM

In part one of our interview with Joel Selvin, co-author of Sammy Hagar's new autobiography Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock, we talked about the early years of Sammy's career and one memorable incident in which Selvin's home phone number became very public. Here's the second part of our conversation which covers Hagar's tenure with Montrose, Eddie Van Halen and why tequila is better than making albums. Hagar will be in St. Louis for two book signings. The first takes place at Sammy's Beach Bar & Grill at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 17, while the second is at Left Bank Books Downtown at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 18. 

Related Content: Joel Selvin talks about how he came to write Hagar's autobiography

Matt Wardlaw: I was listening to the interview that you did with Sammy in 2005 on your radio show [Selvin On The City] and when you played "Rock Candy," it struck me as it always does, that it's hard to believe that you're hearing the sound of an artist cutting his teeth at the very beginning. It sounds so developed that you would expect that it came off of the fourth or fifth album from the artist, but that comes from his debut entry into the music business as a recording artist. 
Joel Selvin: [Laughs] It is a rock classic, isn't it? 
Hearing him tell the tale during your interview of how "Rock Candy" developed as a song is mind blowing. 
Well, you know Rocky Marciano says that you have to watch out for hungry fighters because they hit harder? And I think that's often true of rock bands taking their first crack at it. Maybe not the first time in the ring but maybe the second time in the ring, they hit somebody so hard that they never hit 'em again that hard. The second time Van Morrison was in the studio, he cut "Here Comes The Night" and "Gloria." The second time Burt Bacharach took Dionne Warwick in the studio, they cut "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and "Walk on By." There's a lot of examples of that. 

But that song, again we were sort of scoffy about Montrose [and] called it a junior Led Zeppelin. I remember that whole rap, yeah "pint-sized Robert Plant" and all that. But when you look back and you listen to those records, no no no no, "Rock Candy" is its own world [and] Montrose was minor in its own way. It wasn't a major band - it had one album that mattered and a second album [Paper Money] that was sort of an echo of it and then after that none of the stuff that Ronnie [Montrose] did mattered at all. But that first album was a full and complete sonic statement. 

The producer [Ted Templeman] went on to become super important - he made all of the Van Halen records with David Lee Roth, for instance and when you look at the big breakthrough hit Van Halen did of "You Really Got Me," I think there's a lot of significant reference to the production style that Teddy tried out on the Montrose records. So looking back, Montrose is looking like a cornerstone hard rock act upon which the whole school of music was built and "Rock Candy" is the scena corna of that deal. 

In an interview, Ronnie Montrose compared Sammy's time in Montrose and Van Halen as being pretty similar and in his words, it just took Eddie Van Halen longer to fire Sammy. What do you think of that? 
[Laughs] Have you ever met Ronnie? 

Ronnie is a really sour, bitter guy. I've known Ronnie since he met Sammy. And he's on his fifth wife, she's supporting the deal with her flower store, he doesn't play much guitar at all. Ronnie peaked in the first two albums with Montrose, that was it. Then it was just a slow gradual slide into complete obscurity and semi-retirement for him. Is he a little resentful of Sammy's success? I would say so. Does he feel superior and hip? Yeah, I'm sure he does. That's what he's got. Sammy got the career and Ronnie got to get the resentments. I'm not surprised. 

That's sort of the character of the guy. Pretty good guitarist, but if you listen to his guitar playing, he never really imbues it with any kind of emotional abandon - it's always very held in check, very sculptured, very finessed. It bespeaks someone whose character is constantly under revision and control and is not cleanly and directly in touch with his own feelings. There's Selvin on Montrose for ya! [Laughs

But you know, the guy made some nice records - some of the things that weren't successful were real interesting. I remember when he and Mitch Froom were a duo. And Mitch Froom certainly went on to have a great deal of success as a record producer. 

In the credits, you thank author David Ritz for "showing you how." One of the things that I loved about the book that he wrote with Paul Shaffer is that it definitely reads in Shaffer's voice and I think you achieved that as well with Sammy's book. Can you describe the collaborative process with you and Sammy that ultimately produced this book? 
Oh yeah. This book was Sammy's book and I also got a really good assist from an editor at the publishing house named Matt Harper, who did a really fine job editing it. And you know from working in newspapers, you can't count on an editor helping. [Laughs

But Sammy was so directed and focused at telling the story, it pretty much just came out of him. We never did long interview sessions - it was never a grueling process whatsoever and Sammy's work ethic was astonishing - I had to run to keep up with him. But some of the times we'd go there and he would just have the story in his head in such an exact way that really all I had to do was knock out a few "ands" and put some periods and capital letters in it. 

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