Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp‘s first-annual benefit show was being aired live on national television and radio, offering millions of people their first chance to hear Hagar and Eddie Van Halen perform together. “Too bad I screwed everything up,” Hagar deadpanned in his 2012 memoir, Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock.
Before accepting the job as David Lee Roth‘s successor as Van Halen’s singer, Hagar had committed to playing the Sept. 22, 1985, Farm Aid show as a solo act. A plan was hatched for Eddie Van Halen to join Hagar and his band on Led Zeppelin‘s “Rock and Roll,” during which they would also announce their new musical partnership.
Unfortunately, the raucous reaction Hagar received from the audience of 90,000 fans after opening his set with “There’s Only One Way to Rock” got him a little too amped up and loose tongued. “I had that stadium rocking,” Hagar recalled. “They loved me, were going crazy.”
It was the introduction to the next song, “I Can’t Drive 55,” that got Hagar in trouble. “‘Here’s a song for all you tractor-pulling motherfuckers,’ I said, and instantly they shut down the radio broadcast and turned the live TV feed off,” he recalled. “I ruined everything. When I brought out Eddie, we were long off the air, and nobody saw or heard a thing.”
Watch Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen Perform at Farm Aid
Regardless, the appearance went over well with the live crowd, and Van Halen, Hagar and his solo band flew home happy in a private plane the singer had rented for the special occasion. “It was a friendly transition from my band to Van Halen,” he noted.
Six months later, Van Halen’s debut album with Hagar, 5150, became their first album to top the chart. At the new lineup’s first full concert, it was the audience this time – not Hagar – that went a little too far: Fans knocked over a barricade in front of the stage during the show’s opening song.
The Best Song From Every Sammy Hagar Album
On his own or in a group, the Red Rocker proves there’s more than one way to rock.