Most everybody I know, including myself, prefers Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen, a.k.a. Van Hagar, to the earlier days when David Lee Roth goofed around and spoiled the best American rock band. “Jump” was from the David Lee Roth era, if you’ve missed that video on the VH1. Roth was kinda acrobatic, I’ll give him that.
Of course, recent changes in the Van Halen lineup leave Sammy Hagar without a frontman role too, but his presence in the rock world is as strong as ever. Let’s face it, America: Rock still rolls with Sammy Hagar.
If you have been to a Hagar concert (I have), then you have definitely seen Nick’s handiwork, unless you got, like, really cheap seats or were stuck behind a speaker column. His right hand, extending from stage left and clutching Sammy’s axe, is unmistakable, with its gold watch and “Three Lock Box” tattoo. It could be said, and it has been, by a guy next to me in 1989, that Nick keeps the skids greased for Sammy’s powerful rocket sled of stage pyrotechnics.
Catching up with Nick between bouts of chauffeuring Sammy to contract negotiations, I bought him a slaw dog, and he was kind enough to roll his window down all the way for this interview.
So tell me, how did you get your job?
Look, I only have a couple minutes, man. It’s like this: Me and Sammy go way back. The tattoo on my wrist, the one EVERYBODY talks about in Yorba Yorba, is the inspiration for his solo career. When Eddie Van Halen dumped him like a sack of Michael Jackson eight tracks, I was there for him, helped him pick up the pieces and glue them back together like a lamp you break when your old man’s out of town. Basically, Sammy Hagar has no career without me. But I don’t wanna sound conceited, so make sure you emphasize that we are good friends who never fight.
Being a guitar tech ain’t easy, especially when nobody really gives you the attention I deserve. The Humbucker pick-ups get dirty, especially from Sammy’s special way of playing, and need cleaning — I clean ’em. The strap is sweaty after most shows, like after Sammy plays without his shirt. Some documentary I seen on the hotel cable showed these English guys talking about an amp that went up to 11. Yeah, well, we got one of those but I don’t need to get on TV for it, right?
What kinda relish is this anyway? Got a light?
Just as Nick asked for a light, two very “talented” blondes approached the limousine.
Nick : Hey babes, gotta light? [to me] What’s your name — Jimmy? Get the ladies some slaw dogs, but no relish. Thanks.
Babe 1 : Are you in a band?
Nick : You could say I manage a band.
Jerry : That’s right! He’s Sammy Hagar’s guitar technician [laughs]. Here you go, ladies.
Babe 2 : Cool. Thanks! We gotta go.
Nick : Aw, man, why’d you blow it for me like that? You and I know that without me, Sammy is one of those fancy electric sandwich presses without an electric socket, but most people don’t understand that. You have to build up to it.
Nick then cussed me out, but I didn’t transcribe that for one obvious reason: I don’t speak Canadian. Fortunately, the car phone rang and distracted him. I took the opportunity to purchase a beverage of placation: Root Beer.
Nick : [Gulps, belches] Lissen, Jimmy. Sammy’s going to lunch with these bigwigs, then I’m supposed to pick him up at the Airedale. Get in the back and wear Sammy’s wig, we’ll pick up some chicks. Help yourself to the bar, too — just don’t drink Hagar’s own CABO WABO tequila, ‘cuz I need it for the tar and bugs, you know.
Afterward, Nick drove to a fancy hotel on some famous beach, but not before stopping to pick up strings (natch!) and a six pack of Corona. No limes needed!! You might think I had many more questions for Nick. Here I am, beachside with Hagar’s guitar tech, surrounded by the sunlight, bikinis, surfers — damn straight good times! I have an interview opportunity few could dream of but… I got nervous.
Who are some your musical influences?
What music are you listening to lately?
Dude, I’m Hagar’s tech… I’m his life’s blood. Are you stupid?
I know how to interview! When I get this written you’ll get canned. Sammy doesn’t need you. How about that?!
A calm settled over the tiki hut. Waves gently crashed on the beach. Both of us were quiet until we finished our Coronas. My head was spinning.
Why don’t you ask me about my nickname or something?!
Sorry. So you are French and the other guys in Van Halen are…
Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy…
I think I passed out. I definitely threw up.