Why Van Halen Didn’t Change Band Names When Sammy Hagar Joined
Former bassist Michael Anthony said the Van Halen brothers had to fight to keep the band's name after the mid-'80s departure of their original singer.
"We had everybody — [Van Halen's record label] Warner Bros., our management, our lawyers — going, 'Oh, my God. David Lee Roth's gone.' They thought that that was such a strong identity," Anthony told Steve Gorman Rocks. "Warner Bros. wanted us to change the name of the band. I remember Eddie and Alex [Van Halen], we were at Warner Bros., and they were yelling, going, 'Hey, hey, this is our last name. This is our careers. And we're Van Halen.'"
Sammy Hagar stepped in, eventually helping the group to their first Billboard chart-topping album with 1986's 5150 – and then three more in a row, including 1988's OU812, 1991's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and 1995's Balance.
Yet there were still those who insisted on calling the band "Van Hagar" instead. Mo Ostin, chairman of Warner Bros., had actually suggested that from the first. Longtime producer Ted Templeman didn't initially want the group to keep its original name either.
"When I first sat down with Sammy and his manager," Templeman told UCR in 2020, "I said, 'Call it something else if you're going to be in the band. It's just not Van Halen without Dave to me.'"
The band held firm. "Eddie and I powwowed about it," Hagar said in Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock, "and decided, no – we're Van Halen. We loved each other. There was no animosity, no egos, no nothing."
There also weren't nearly as many curls, Anthony noted.
"The first time I actually met him, I was in the studio at Ed's house, the 5150 studio and Sammy, I guess, was on a break," Anthony told Steve Gorman Rocks. "He had cut all his hair off. And he comes walking into the studio. I was sitting there in the studio, and he comes walking in. And I go, 'That's not Sammy Hagar. He's the guy with long hair.' And we instantly became friends."
Hagar went on to work with Anthony in two post-Van Halen bands, Chickenfoot and the Circle. Their latest project, Lockdown 2020, is an 11-track LP by the Circle featuring a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes."
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