The Story and Influence Of Sammy Hagar’s First Written Song
Sammy Hagar live in 2014 - Sammy Hagar / Youtube
Sammy Hagar has been an exceptionally dynamic and prolific figure in the world of rock music for the past four decades. His journey began with the influential hard rock band Montrose, and he subsequently achieved multiplatinum success as a solo artist.
Hagar also took the helm as the lead singer for renowned bands like Van Halen, Chickenfoot, and the more recent supergroup, The Circle. Throughout his career, Hagar has accumulated an impressive 25 Platinum albums, with global sales exceeding 50 million.
Along this remarkable journey, he blazed a trail of his own by creating some of rock’s most iconic anthems, such as “I Can’t Drive 55,” “Right Now,” and “Why Can’t This Be Love.”
But before all of that, the Red Rocker first exercised his songwriting chops with Montrose’s “Bat Motor Scooter”, the song that helped Soundgarden find a name for one of their most iconic albums.
“Bad Motor Scooter” revved up Hagar’s career
The song was fitting for a legendary career of Hagar: the revving sound at the intro sounded the advent of the Red Rocker.
The song, composed by Hagar who fronted Montrose at the time, featured an iconic element in its introduction: a distorted electric slide guitar sound that effectively mimicked the revving of a motorcycle engine.
However, when the song was initially conceptualized without this guitar sound, both the band and producer Ted Templeman were dissatisfied as they believed it lacked a distinctive hook to make it memorable. The breakthrough came unexpectedly when founder Ronnie Montrose, experimenting with a slide and fuzz box in the studio, stumbled upon the now-famous motorcycle sound.
Playing his guitar in Open D tuning, Montrose improvised the signature sound. Despite initial technical challenges in getting the recording tape rolling, Templeman and engineer Donn Landee encouraged Montrose to continue. In live performances by the original Montrose lineup, Sammy Hagar took on the role of playing the “motorcycle” introduction using a lap steel slide guitar.
Soundgarden liked the name and borrowed it for Badmotorfinger
The revving sound also caught the attention of Soundgarden lead guitarist Kim Thayil who was on the lookout for a good album name for their third record. At the time, it was unofficially called I’m Okay – Urinal Cake?, in reference to the self-help book I’m Okay – You’re Okay.
Thankfully, Soundgarden changed it after Thayil, who jammed with a friend when he heard the unique intro of “Bad Motor Scooter”. He added “finger” to the phrase to echo Badfinger, a band the guitarist loved.
“I heard the intro with the guitar making motorcycle sounds and I go, “What is this song?” And my buddy said, “That’s “Bad Motor Scooter”.” I’d heard the title, but I hadn’t heard the song. And I go, “It might as well have been Bad Motor Finger to me”. And my friend just looked at me and raised his eyebrows and we started laughing,” Thayil remembered.
Thayil liked Badmotorfinger because “if you write it out, it looks cool”. He suggested the name to his band and everyone liked it. “And then Chris [Cornell] was smiling. I remember him pulling me aside later in the day, rolling because, “You know, that worked on so many levels”,” the grunge guitar deity shared.
Hagar gave up on his career, but a strange dream led him back
Like many great rockstars, Sammy had a disappointing initial career run. Hagar found himself alone and eventually returned to his hometown of Fontana. However, an unusual dream led him back to San Francisco.
“I saw a ship and two creatures inside of this ship,” the Red Rocker shared. “I couldn’t see their faces. I just knew that there were two intelligent creatures, sitting up in a craft in the Lytle Creek forest area about 12 miles away in the foothills above Fontana.”
Although he couldn’t discern the creatures’ facial features, Hagar felt as though they had a connection to him, as if they were linked to his mind through an “mysterious wireless connection”.
Hagar continued, “I was kind of waking up. They said, in their communication to each other, no words [but] spoke, `Oh, he’s waking up. We’ve got to go.’ They fired off a numerical code, but it was not of our numerical system. All of a sudden, the connection instantly broke.”
The rise of the Red Rocker
Following his decision to step away from a boxing career, Hagar ventured into the world of music in the late 1960s. He lent his vocals to various California bands, including Skinny, the Fabulous Catillas, Justice Brothers, and Dust Cloud.
Throughout this period, he established a strong presence within the California hard rock music scene. In 1973, Ronnie Montrose, the former guitarist for Edgar Winter, invited Hagar to become a part of his band, Montrose.
Hagar contributed to two albums with Montrose before embarking on a solo career in 1976, where he brought along the band’s bassist, Bill Church. One of the most popular songs the band released was “Bad Motor Scooter”.
The founder Montrose himself had conflicts with his bandmates, so after Hagar and Church left, Montrose’s drummer, Denny Carmassi, and keyboardist, Geoff Workman, also left and joined Hagar’s band.
Hagar went solo and creative his own mark
On the 1982 album Standing Hampton, Sammy Hagar delivered a powerful rendition of “There’s Only One Way to Rock”, marking a significant moment in his solo career. This milestone came nearly a decade after his initial foray into the world of music as the lead singer of Montrose.
Hagar’s ability to reinvent himself in the second phase of his career demonstrated that the artist had a diverse repertoire of rocking styles. He continued to defy expectations over the years, beginning with his rise to superstardom when he replaced David Lee Roth in Van Halen in 1986. After parting ways with the group in 1996, Hagar went on to join several enjoyable heavy rock bands.
Subsequently, Hagar revisited his solo career and eventually formed the Waboritas, a band that served as a gateway to the supergroup Chickenfoot, featuring prominent guitarist Joe Satriani and Van Halen’s bassist, Michael Anthony. Michael Anthony emerged as a consistent creative collaborator for Sammy, later teaming up the the rock supergroup Sammy Hagar and the Circle.
This group brought Hagar’s music into the 2020s, delivering energetic rock and roll with a revitalized spirit reminiscent of his Standing Hampton days, yet with a more substantial and robust sound.