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Sammy Hagar Marches On With Life After Van Halen

Pop music: He credits Mickey Hart's advice with helping him put together a new album and concert tour.

May 17, 1997|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sammy Hagar still feels the sting of his sudden dismissal last summer from Van Halen, but the effervescent singer is not about to sit around and mope.

Hagar, 49, has jumped right back into a solo career that lay dormant during the years he spent making a string of chart-topping, multimillion-selling albums with Van Halen--from 1986's "5150" to 1995's "Balance."

"I don't know what else to do," says Hagar, whose new album, "Marching to Mars," will be released Tuesday on Track Factory/MCA Records.

"When you get hurt by something in life, in a relationship or a friendship or a job, you can either crawl into a hole and give up or you can try to turn it into a positive."

Hagar, though, admits that he might have remained depressed if he hadn't sat down with former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart soon after receiving word from Eddie Van Halen that he was being kicked out of the band. (The band's original singer, David Lee Roth, rejoined Van Halen to record two songs for a greatest-hits album, but the group has since been working with former Extreme singer Gary Charone.)

At the time, Hart shared with Hagar his own feelings of isolation and depression after the 1995 death of Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia, telling Hagar that it was music that finally pulled him out of his funk.

"He said, 'You've got to get right back into it,' " Hagar says. "I'm not kidding, Mickey became like my coach. He shoved me into it, and we just started writing songs."

*

Within two weeks of his firing from Van Halen, Hagar says, he was working on "Marching to Mars" and taking the first steps toward a tour with his new four-piece backing band.

On the eve of the trek, which starts Friday in Davenport, Iowa, and is expected to reach Southern California late this summer, Hagar admits to having butterflies.

"I have to prove that I'm still the greatest rock 'n' roll performer, the greatest rock 'n' roll singer in the world," he says. "I have to prove that there is life after Van Halen. . . . I think they really underestimated what I brought to the band: my whole stage presence, my singing style, my songwriting. If they think they can bring anyone in to replace Sammy Hagar, they're making a big mistake."

Swinging Seniors: The western swing sound developed by the late Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys in the '30s and '40s has influenced a legion of country stars, from Merle Haggard to George Strait to Junior Brown.

And more than two decades after Wills' death in 1975, the music is still being served up by eight members of Wills' band, who regrouped in 1983 and dubbed themselves Playboys II. The group members, ranging in age from 58 to 71, have recorded five albums for Glad Music since they reunited while playing about 10 to 12 shows each year around the country, including appearances for former President George Bush and President Clinton.

Their L.A. debut next Saturday at the Ash Grove on the Santa Monica Pier comes 51 years after steel guitarist Herb Remington, now 71, made his first appearance with Wills in a ballroom on the same pier.

"Western swing is a light, fun music," says Remington, explaining its enduring appeal. "It's happy, it tells stories and it's great dance music. It's the kind of music that doesn't have any messages, per se. It's just love songs about people, country and Americans."

* Playboys II, next Saturday at the Ash Grove, 250 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, 8:30 p.m. $20. (310) 656-8500.

Close to the Edge: Celebrating the instrumental virtuosity of such groups as Yes and King Crimson, the fourth annual International Progressive Music Festival, otherwise known as "ProgFest '97," is expected to draw fans from six continents to the downtown Variety Arts Center next weekend.

Last year's festival drew prog-rock enthusiasts from 22 countries.

"This music had pretty much died out by the early '90s, but the Internet really revived interest," says Shawn Ahearn, president of Long Beach-based Pangea Music, the "ProgFest" promoter. "That's when we figured out, 'Hey, we're not alone. There are prog-rock fans all over the planet.' "

* ProgFest '97 hotline: (714) 894-5756.

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