One of former VAN HALEN and current THE CIRCLE frontman Sammy Hagar's best-known solo hits is the 1987 power ballad "Give To Live". In recent years, that song's title has taken on new meaning for Hagar, who has become of rock's most charitable figures. In addition to his annual "Acoustic-4-A-Cure" benefit concert that raises funds for pediatric cancer research, the singer known as "The Red Rocker" donates all of his share of the profits from the bars and restaurants he owns to local nonprofits.
It's the reason why, at 71, Hagar refuses to rest comfortably on his laurels and live off the proceeds of the sale of his Cabo Wabo tequila brand. "The main thing that makes me make business is because most of my business – especially the restaurant business – I give all that money away to charity," he recently told writer Clay Marshall. "When I start a new restaurant, it's mainly in airports because the HMSHost [food service] people are such great managers. They manage the place — I don't have to worry about none of that crap. I come up with the concept; we do the thing; I do the menu, all the creative; and then they run the hell out of it. They run it right, and I just take a royalty off the top. I give it that to that community, so in Maui, the money stays in Maui. In Honolulu, the money stays in Honolulu. In Las Vegas, the money stays in Las Vegas. Cleveland, the money stays in Cleveland. It's such a great way to help people."
Hagar says his efforts don't stop there, though. "Just writing a check is one thing," he explained, "but [even better is] getting involved from the ground up and knowing what the money's going to go for and saying, 'Oh, this will be great. Do this and do that.' I'm hands-on. I go down to food banks. Every town I've played for the last 10 years, I write a check to the food bank. Every city, and every time — if I go back to Detroit for the tenth time, they get the same check again. It's really cool. Sometimes, on days off, I go down to food banks and hand out food to people and talk to them and find out why they're in that food line.
"If you've only got fifty bucks that you can afford [to give], give it to your local food bank, because it goes a long way," Hagar continued. "If you've got a few thousand or tens of thousands of dollars, then you can start helping kids in hospitals, and families that have terminally ill children that run out of insurance or don't have insurance. I can't even talk about it — it's horrible. That's my main cause, and if I have a restaurant that makes $250,000 a year to me — which I do — I give it to the local hospital. In Maui, for instance, my friends over there, the doctors that I went and made this deal with, they find the worst-case scenario. I can't help everybody. Warren Buffett can't help everybody. Bill Gates can't help everybody. I just like to say, 'Okay, find me the worst-case scenario, and I want to give the money to them.' They have certain allotments, so maybe we'll have five people that I end up giving that amount of money to the hospital so that they can get the care that they need. Because I can't give it directly to the people — that's a really crazy law, but you can't. They'll make them pay taxes. Can you believe that shit? That's a bum rule. So I give it to the hospital, and the hospital lets them have free care. Those are the things that drive me to have more businesses, just because I can help people. I don't need any more money. I'm good. But I can help people. The other businesses, the liquor industry, it's just fun. It's a fucking blast saying I make the best tequila in the world... When you walk into a bar and you see your booze on the back bar, or you see someone sitting there drinking your booze, you go, 'All right.' It's like hearing your song on the radio. It's really fun."
Hagar said his philosophy of giving back ties in "one hundred percent" to the concept of "Space Between", the latest album by THE CIRCLE. "No question about it — I'm rich," Hagar admitted. "I'm wealthy, and people sometimes see me in one of my expensive cars or a home that I live in and think, 'That rich asshole.' I know — I feel it from some people that don't know who I am. I think, 'Why would somebody be mad at somebody for being rich?' How could you not love Warren Buffett? He's a zillionaire, but how could you not love him because he does so much [good]? Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, those three people together [give] more than probably half of the planet, and I love them for it. It made me think, 'Listen, money is not bad. It's not evil. Everyone wants it — everyone would rather be rich than poor. Being able to make ends meet is a big frickin' deal.' I just decided to write about that — I said, 'It's not money. It's not evil. Money is beautiful — you can feed the poor. You can heal the sick. You can buy happiness. You can go up to some person that's struggling and is about to lose everything and give them maybe a few thousand dollars, and their life is changed. You can take somebody off the streets and give them enough to get on their feet — just enough to get on their feet, and if they really want to be on their feet, they will get on their feet and take it from there.' That's the beautiful part of human nature, and the beautiful part of having funds and being able to that for people. I wanted to write about that.
"[Money] is not the root of all evil," Hagar continued. "Greed is the root of all evil. I've been feeling that more and more because there's such a big divide in the world — the left, the right. It's like black and white. They're getting farther and farther apart, and all the hate, I can't stand it. I said, 'I'm going to sit here in the space between. For the first time in my life, I'm not going to take a stance and say I'm a left guy or a right guy.' I'm not doing that anymore. Normally, when I was growing up, anybody that didn't take a stance was a wimp. 'You fucking wimp — stand up for what you believe...' Yeah, stand up for what you believe, but you don't have to take those sides anymore. They're too far apart. So I wanted to write about that space between, and in that space between is where you'll see that's where happiness is; there's no greed there – there's not as much greed, anyway. The left wants what the right has. The right wants what the left has. They want to take over; they want to rule; they want to own it all. Bullshit. That space between is what I tried to write about, and that's why I think it's such an important record, and I know that's why it had success, because a lot of fans of mine — and maybe even people that weren't fans before — went, 'Hey, there's something to say here.' This time in my life, I'll stay right here in the middle any day."
"Space Between" came out in May via BMG.
In addition to Hagar, THE CIRCLE features Michael Anthony, Jason Bonham and Vic Johnson.