How Sammy Hagar Outsmarted Van Halens Cabo Wabo Shirts Ban

How Sammy Hagar Outsmarted Van Halens Cabo Wabo Shirts Ban

In 2004, Sammy Hagar’s reunion with Van Halen was fraught with tension, and one of the early signs of discord was a ban on Cabo Wabo clothing on stage. Hagar, who had fallen in love with Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in 1990, co-founded the Cabo Wabo cantina with his Van Halen bandmates. Years later, when the club faced financial and legal troubles, Hagar bought out his bandmates’ shares and turned the venue around, also launching a successful tequila brand under the same name.

By the time of the 2004 reunion, Hagar’s Cabo Wabo tequila had become a significant success, much to the annoyance of the Van Halen brothers. “At the time they didn’t care [about Cabo Wabo],” Hagar wrote in his book, “Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock.” But by the reunion, the tequila was everywhere, and people were always talking about the cantina. It drove them nuts.”

To keep Hagar’s brand off their stage, the Van Halen brothers included a clause in the contract prohibiting him from wearing Cabo Wabo T-shirts or mentioning the tequila or cantina during performances. However, Hagar quickly devised a clever workaround. He got a large Cabo Wabo tattoo on his shoulder, knowing that the giant video screens would capture it during close-ups. “I didn’t need a T-shirt,” he said.

Hagar kept the tattoo hidden during rehearsals by wearing long-sleeve shirts. Bassist Michael Anthony, aware of the secret, would jokingly slap Hagar on the shoulder, causing him pain due to the fresh tattoo. When the tour began on June 11, 2004, in Greensboro, N.C., the tattoo was the least of Hagar’s concerns. Eddie Van Halen was struggling with severe substance abuse, affecting his performance and leading to violent and emotional outbursts offstage.

Hagar had hoped for a positive reunion but quickly realized it was far from a “big love fest.” He attempted to quit the tour early on but was forced to continue due to contractual obligations that could have cost him up to $5 million in penalties. Just before the final show on November 19 in Tucson, Eddie Van Halen tried to cover Hagar’s tattoo by rolling down his sleeve. Hagar repeatedly rolled it back up, telling Eddie to keep his hands off his shirt.

The final concert was a disaster, with Hagar describing it as the worst show they had ever done. After the show, Hagar immediately flew back to San Francisco and never spoke to Eddie again until they reconciled shortly before Eddie’s death in 2020. Despite the tumultuous reunion, Hagar’s Cabo Wabo brand thrived. In 2007, he sold an 80% stake in the tequila brand for $80 million and the remaining 20% for $11 million three years later. Hagar still owns the Cabo Wabo cantina and performs there for his annual birthday celebration concerts.