The Sammy Hagar And David Lee Roth Feud Timeline Explained

Boys will be boys, especially when those boys are in a band. Getting guys together to create epic music with fine-tuned instruments has been going on for some 40,000 years, according to the BBC. But these days, many bands are plagued with a common issue: controlling their egos. Musician Jason Tiemann explains that performers are often unable to cope with public criticism of their music. But it's even worse when egotism occurs within the band. "I'm currently dealing with the most egotistical jerk I could imagine," a bass player named Shin explains on Talk Bass, for example. "It's getting to the point where it's no fun anymore." Unfortunately, Shin is not alone: Feuds between band members are disturbingly common.

Paste Magazine provides just one of many online testaments to how many of our favorite bandmates war with one another. Most recently, even the long-running battle between Van Halen lead singers David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar resurfaced — over a cartoon Roth drew (per WMMR). The cartoon appeared just after Van Halen founder Eddie Van Halen died in 2020, according to USA Today.  But even as the surviving members of the band talk of moving on (per NME), Roth and Hagar just can't seem to leave their squabbles with each other behind. Read on for a timeline of trouble between the two rockers.

Van Halen began as a staple of '70s and '80s rock

The story of Van Halen begins with brothers Alex and Eddie, who were born in Amsterdam and moved with their parents to America in 1962, according to The Van Halen Encyclopedia. The young musicians entertained passengers aboard the ship to the U.S. and formed their first band, the Broken Combs, upon moving to California. Eddie eventually met up with David Lee Roth and formed a new band in 1972, Mammoth, which Ultimate Classic Rock says consisted of Eddie on lead guitar, Alex on drums, Mike Stone on bass, and Roth as lead singer. In about 1974, the band changed their name to Van Halen and replaced Stone with Michael Anthony.

It took three years for Van Halen to hit it big, says Encyclopedia.com. Van Halen was fresh, with a distinctive metal sound, and Roth made a good frontman. But far from being a typical "hair band," Van Halen offered an energy like no other group. Their self-titled debut album in 1978 was a huge hit. The Van Halen News Desk reports that Eddie, who still lived at home, first heard one of their hit songs, "You Really Got Me," on the radio at 2 a.m. and ran into his parents' bedroom yelling, "Mom! Dad! We're on the radio!" The album hit #19 on the U.S. charts and quickly went gold and then platinum.

Egotism rears its ugly head for Van Halen

The Washington Post maintains that right out of the gate, the Van Halen brothers "did not like Roth all that much, but they "liked the sound system he owned." In fact, that's why Roth was hired. Roth would also later say that, "There were always creative differences," an issue that is unfortunately common among bands. Eddie called himself "the quiet one," while Roth's onstage antics and boisterous personality made him the "face" of the band. That was fine until Eddie built his own recording studio, 5150, in 1983, says Distractify. The musician could now work on his music in private, sans the rest of the band.

Roth came to resent 5150, explains Rolling Stone, because he believed Eddie's studio gave him "too much creative autonomy." Notably, the song "Jump" from the band's 1984 album was, in fact, written at 5150. But 1984 also went gold and platinum (four times over) says The Van Halen Encyclopedia, and who could argue with that? Roth, that's who. He also didn't like that Eddie was adding synthesizers and keyboards to make Van Halen's music more "radio-friendly" and "pop-style." It didn't help that Roth and Eddie each had other opportunities coming at them, either. Something had to give.

David Lee Roth leaves Van Halen

Tensions continued building between Roth and Van Halen through 1984, says The Van Halen Encyclopedia. The band itself was doing great. A disgruntled Roth, meanwhile, worked on his first solo album, Crazy From The Heat, which was released on New Year's Eve. Four months later, Roth announced he was leaving Van Halen to make a movie based on his album. "I can't work with you guys anymore," he said, according to Distractify. "I want to do my movie. Maybe when I'm done, we'll get back together."

With Roth gone, Van Halen tried to regroup. Should they change the name of the band? No, they decided, but who on Earth was going to replace Roth? Ultimate Classic Rock explains that it wasn't easy to find a new singer, and after auditioning the likes of Eric Martin of Mr. Big and Patty Smyth, Eddie happened to run into fellow rocker Sammy Hagar at a local mechanic's shop and decided to invite him over to jam. After 20 minutes at 5150 (whose bathroom wall had a picture of the band with Roth's face covered with tape), Hagar was invited to join Van Halen. In an August 1985 interview with Rolling Stone, Eddie announced that, "The band as you know it is over. Dave left to be a movie star. He even had the balls to ask if I'd write the score for him."

Sammy Hagar, "The Red Rocker"

Nicknamed the "Red Rocker" due to his affinity for the color (per Van Halen News Desk), Hagar proved a wise choice for Van Halen. The Van Halen Encyclopedia says the musician was inspired by seeing Elvis Presley on TV, and AllMusic confirms that Hagar was joining a series of bands by the late 1960s. By 1973, he was a member of Montrose (pictured), leaving in 1976 to pursue his own solo career. His first album, Nine on a Ten Scale, was just the beginning: By 1984, he'd released 13 more albums, and his hits included "I Can't Drive 55," "There's Only One Way to Rock," and "Three Lock Box" (per Ultimate Classic Rock).

Hagar later boasted that he just knew Van Halen would give him a call. But his solo label, Geffen Records, didn't think the idea of joining Van Halen was so hot. Elated over Hagar's success with his latest album, VOA, Geffen didn't want to lose their most valuable player. It took weeks for Hagar to negotiate with Geffen to make just one more album, and they also wanted a chunk of Hagar's money from Van Halen's first album with him, 5150. Hagar agreed and was victoriously announced as Van Halen's new lead singer at the MTV Video Music Awards. "It's like we'd been together for years," Hagar said in a 1986 MTV interview

Van Halen versus Van Hagar

At that same MTV interview in 1986, the Van Halen brothers were happy to have Sammy Hagar in their group. "Now, with Sammy, we're all — we're a band," Eddie said. "We're really a band." It was a great time during which, AllMusic says, Sammy Hagar became a "true star." Fans weren't so sure. Soon, there were two camps: the Van Halen everyone knew and loved and Van Hagar – the Hagar-influenced, new, and supposedly even better Van Halen. The debate, said Eddie's son Wolfgang Van Halen in 2020, "is dumb. Enjoy whatever you want and don't hate someone else if they don't like what you like."

Four hit albums later, Van Halen's love for Hagar waned. Ultimate Classic Rock reports that by 1995, things had come to a head during the recording of Van Halen's next album, Balance. "That was the record where if I said black, Eddie said white, and I'd say, 'Okay, white,' he'd say, 'No, I want black,'" Hagar explained. Eddie saw it differently, claiming that he was fed up with Hagar recording his own albums. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hagar was also angry that Van Halen refused to use a song he wrote, and he was even more upset when, after arguing over the song, Eddie "drove to David Lee Roth's house, and man, that's worse than sleeping with the enemy." Hagar quit, but some maintain that he was actually fired

The Return of David Lee Roth

With Hagar out of the band, the media ran with the so-called "breakup of Van Halen," says The Van Halen Encyclopedia. But Eddie's visit to Roth indeed had a purpose: The singer was asked to rejoin the band, at least long enough to record two tracks for Best of Van Halen, Volume 1, according to AllMusic. When the group was on the 1996 MTV Music Awards (pictured) to announce the Best Male Video, however, Roth commandeered the appearance, announcing that the band was back together and interrupting Eddie as he tried to name the winner. The rest of the band laughed it off onstage.

Backstage was another story. Eddie denied that a reunion tour was in the works and announced his upcoming hip surgery, reports Rolling Stone. "Tonight's about me, man, and not your f*cking hip," Roth interrupted. A restrained Eddie warned Roth, "If you ever speak like that to me again, you better be wearing a cup." Next, the guys began writing public letters in typical sixth-grade fighting style. "Eddie did it," The Van Halen Encyclopedia quotes Roth as saying about how and why the reunion didn't work. Dave was never an "unwitting participant," Van Halen shot back, explaining that a reunion never crossed the band's mind. Gary Cherone was hired as Van Halen's next lead singer. Cherone lasted until 1999, after which the band took a noted break — for several years, says Ultimate Classic Rock

Sammy Hagar takes another turn with Van Halen

Ah, the childhood days of switching best friends like a pair of socks. After years of silence (and not one album), Van Halen finally reunited with Hagar in 2004. Rolling Stone, quoting from Hagar's book RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock, says the musician got a call inviting him to 5150. But Eddie, he said, was a hot mess: dirty, skinny, and missing teeth as well as part of his tongue due to cancer. Hagar took a gamble and produced three songs with the band for The Best of Both Worlds, a greatest hits album that shot up to #3 on the Billboard charts, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. Was Van Halen/Van Hagar back?

Not so much. Sadly, Eddie literally drank his way through the follow-up 80-day tour. Hagar later told Vegas Rocks magazine editor Sally Steele that the tour was "some of the most miserable, back-stabbing, dark crap I've ever been involved with my whole life." Blabbermouth quoted Hagar as saying that the last 40 shows were especially terrible. "The first 40 shows I was thinking, 'Well, maybe Eddie will straighten out' or 'Maybe this can come together.'" He didn't. Also, the Van Halen brothers were unhappy with Michael Anthony for performing with Hagar. That was enough for the Red Rocker, who left the band for good.

David Lee Roth returns, again

Up until 2006, it appeared that as far as Van Halen was concerned, the only two rockers good enough for the band were Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth. But in a bold move, the brothers Van Halen fired Michael Anthony and replaced him with Eddie's son, Wolfgang (pictured), according to Ultimate Classic Rock. They also managed to wrangle in "Diamond Dave" for another tour in 2007, says Bums Logic. Shortly afterward, Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet it wasn't Eddie or Alex or David who showed up to accept the honor but Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony. 

Anthony and Hagar were quite gracious, noting that Eddie was "home getting some help" and thanking everyone before performing "Why Can't This Be Love." Indeed, Reuters confirmed that Eddie had entered rehab just a week before. "I have always and will always feel a responsibility to give you my best. At the moment I do not feel that I can give you my best," he wrote to his fans. Six months later, Van Halen embarked on its promised tour with Roth. Entertainment Weekly praised the show, saying "the Halen turned rather mighty again" as Eddie "stunned with mean riffs, otherworldly squeals, and blistering fretwork." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette followed up with, "The people spoke and the people wanted this: Eddie Van Halen with David Lee Roth."

Eddie's "uneasy alliance" with Roth

Yes, David Lee Roth was back, with literally a vengeance. He was still there in 2012 when Van Halen produced their next album, A Different Kind of Truth. But the follow-up tour was messy, confirms Rolling Stone, which called the band's underlying conflicts an "uneasy alliance." By 2015, Eddie was publicly saying that Roth "does not want to be my friend." Roth didn't want to be Sammy Hagar's friend, either, telling Guitar Player that Van Halen would be performing no Hagar tunes while on tour.

Guitar Player followed up on Roth's comments by offering comparisons between Roth and Sammy Hagar. Roth's work with Van Halen, they said, brought in more sales, but Hagar's four albums with the band each hit #1 on the charts. Louder also dared to compare Roth to Hagar. Writers Paul Elliott and Jerry Ewing lamented that "Van Halen were never as great without Dave" but acquiesced that hiring Hagar was timely. So who was better? Metalhead Zone reported that a Twitter poll of Van Halen fans didn't provide a definitive answer. Keno reported that Roth won their poll — by a mere three votes. Of course, Hagar himself couldn't resist commenting on Roth's 2013 concert performance, calling his vocals "pretty rough," according to Rock Insights

Sammy Hagar moves on

As Hagar continued the straight path that was his career, fans continued scrutinizing the relationship between Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. There was, for instance, the Washington Post article where Roth was asked if "the two could have dinner together at the end of a long day." Roth was absolute: "Nope. Not even close. Not even close." Fans, however, were tiring of the rift between Eddie, Roth, and Hagar. "Not only do the particulars not matter," said Bums Logic, "there's too much he-said/he-said about who quit and who was fired." Meanwhile, Hagar and Anthony remained friends and music partners, touring in 2014 and producing two albums, according to Ultimate Classic Rock

Hagar also had one last bone to pick. In 2015, he told Rolling Stone that "the Van Halen brothers will not allow me to do any of my own songs on TV. They can't stop me from doing them live, because they've tried and they can't." Hagar had plenty of other things to say, too. By 2016, however, he seemed more at peace when he released his next album, When the Party Started. This time his jab at Van Halen was more subtle when he told KYGL it was the first time in years "that I was free from the weight of being in a superstar, high-pressure band and the commercial machine that came with it."

Sammy Hagar made peace with Eddie Van Halen

In October 2020, the music world lost a true icon with the death of Eddie Van Halen from cancer. Back in 2015, when Rolling Stone asked Sammy Hagar if he would ever speak to Eddie again, he responded, "I would hope so. Because that would be really sad if any one of us — I'll put myself in the same category — took this to our graves." Indeed, after Eddie died, Hagar wrote to radio host Howard Stern (per Ultimate Classic Rock) that he and Van Halen's frontman had made their peace. "We both agreed not to tell anyone, because of all the rumors it would stir up about a reunion, etc., and we both knew that wasn't gonna happen."

Hagar and Michael Anthony posted a tribute to Eddie on YouTube. Hagar said hearing about Eddie's death was "like getting frickin' hit by a Mac truck." Hagar's band also paused for a moment of silence during their next show, according to Super Seventies. But he also told Consequence of Sound a month later that Eddie's plan for a farewell tour featuring himself but also David Lee Roth and Gary Cherone would have been tough because Roth was "not user friendly. [...] He's always gonna pull something to try to make you look bad and make him look good and all that kind of stuff."

Does the Hagar versus Roth feud live on?

The music world might have lost Eddie Van Halen, but have Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth finally thrown down their boxing gloves? Louder rightfully noted that Eddie's death "has done nothing to end the b*tchiness" between the boys, which is perhaps why Roth came out of left field and published a cartoon portraying Hagar in December, according to WMMR. "Sam The Man Not Only Will Be Giving His Life For Rock And Roll, But Plans to Be Buried in His Recently Acquired Jet!" read one caption. Hagar responded favorably, leading WMMR to comment about how nice it was "to see these two appear to have a little fun and humorous public back-and-forth."

Other media, such as Loudwire, questioned why Roth was insinuating that Hagar's own death wasn't far off. Hagar, however, responded with humor from his Instagram account (per Ultimate Classic Rock), writing, "I want to thank my old buddy Dave for considering me interesting enough to be the subject of his fine art hobby," and asking if the cartoon was for sale. And when questioned, Hagar flat-out stated, "I got no problem with Dave." Hagar may yet be the owner of Roth's crazy cartoon, but he's also expressed deep interest in one day playing with Wolfgang Van Halen, according to The Fox FM. Let's wait on that to see if Roth gets mad.