Sammy Hagar “Would Have Been Embarrassed” if Van Halen Had Changed Their Name to Van Hagar
We live in a time when brands are more valuable than bands, which is why you constantly see people suing one another over the control of their band’s name. At the end of the day, it’s simply easier to sell tickets to see Kiss than it is to see The Simmons/Stanley Project or whatever, even if, at this point, those are ostensibly the same thing… to say nothing of using prior guarantees as a precedent for future negotiations.
This being the case, it’s almost unfathomable that in 1985, when Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth in Van Halen, the band’s label suggested they change their name. Honestly, in 2021, I think Eddie and Alex Van Halen both could quit the band and everyone else involved would actively fight to keep the name Van Halen.
But Michael Anthony claims that Warner Bros. Records did, in fact, try to convince Van Halen to get a new moniker after Hagar joined the fold… and now Hagar has both confirmed and fleshed out that story during an interview with 95.5 KLOS.
According to Hagar, not only did Warner Bros. encourage Van Halen change their name, but they actively suggested ‘Van Hagar’ as the group’s new identity. And here I always thought ‘Van Hagar’ was just something silly fans came up with.
Here’s Hagar’s version of the story:
“Yeah, we were all in a room. And I think [head of Warner Bros.] Mo Austin said, ‘Why don’t we be careful here…?’ Our managers and lawyers and the president of the record company and the band was all in a room when we asked for permission for me to join the band — it was official. Everybody came and said, ‘We wanna have a meeting.’ And we were in the studio and we played ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’ [song from the 1986 album ‘5150’]. And Mo Austin went, ‘Oh, I smell money’ — he thought it was just the greatest. But anyway, so then he said, ‘Did you guys ever think about maybe changing the name to, like, Van Hagar or something?’ And I know what they were thinking, because they thought, ‘If this doesn’t work, at least you can go back with Van Halen again. But if you’re Van Halen and it don’t work, now you’ve ruined Van Halen.’ So they were trying to preserve, I think, the Van Halen name. And Eddie Van Halen — Eddie Van Halen; no one else — said, ‘Fuck that.’ He said, ‘This is Van Halen with a new singer.’ And everybody said, ‘Okay. Word. Gospel.’ Boom.”
“I was a hundred percent on board with [keeping the name]. It was Van Halen with a new singer. I would have been embarrassed to be Van Hagar. I would have said, ‘Let’s just change it back to [Van Halen’s original name] Mammoth’ or something — go back to the beginning.”
I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that when Gary Cherone replaced Hagar in the band eleven years later, nobody made any similar suggestions. Which is funny, when you think about it — Cherone’s one album with Van Halen, Van Halen III, did kinda “ruin Van Halen,” at least for a few years (it’s not like they never made a second record with Cherone because things were going great). Fortunately, fans are capable of reading and the Internet is useful for spreading information, so as soon as Hagar — and then, eventually, Diamond Dave — returned to the line-up, everyone was happy to buy a ticket.
Meanwhile, Wolfgang Van Halen — Eddie’s son and Anthony’s successor in VH — is now using the name Mammoth for his new project. So that name got put to good use eventually.
You can listen to the entire interview with Hagar below.