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Emmy-winning TV host and restauranteur Guy Fieri says that teaming up with rock legend Sammy Hagar was a no-brainer. "I had no choice but to click with him because everybody always thinks I'm him anyway," laughs Fieri of his friendship with Hagar. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who replaced David Lee Roth as the lead singer of Van Halen from 1985-1996, Hagar most recently released Space Between, the debut studio album with his supergroup The Circle (which also features Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Jason Bonham) this past May. He has also enjoyed a wildly successful run in the hospitality business, whether opening up a string of restaurants (including Cabo Wabo Cantina) and releasing a range of acclaimed spirits.
Now, Hagar's entrepreneurial taste and penchant for a good time have joined with Fieri's culinary expertise to release a new libation dubbed Santo Tequila Blanco, a collaboration with master distiller Juan Eduardo Nuñez which is rolling out in liquor stores and bars this fall. Hagar and Fieri spoke to Billboard about the tequila, their close bond and what a night out with the two distinct characters is like. Explained Hagar: "When we go into an establishment, we usually end up in the kitchen or behind the bar, and that's every fricking time."
Sammy, you were early on when it came to entertainers making a detour into the cocktail and hospitality world.
Sammy Hagar: Yeah, I don't want to say I was first but I think I was (laughs). I think I was before Jimmy Buffett; he came a second behind me with his Margaritaville Tequila but I was in two or three years in already at that point. Jimmy's a genius and I consider him the godfather of creating a lifestyle brand: living the life and making a business out of it. He was the first to really do that.
What led you into the liquor business initially?
Hagar: Well, everyone liked tequila but what we were drinking back in the '70s was really bad. There was no 100 percent agave in America that I knew of, anyway. So the first time I went down to Cabo and built the Cabo Wabo in the early '90s, my partner Jorge Viana goes, "Let's go to Guadalajara where they have really great shops and we can buy furniture and paintings," because we wanted to make it authentic. So while we were there I said, "Well, let's go to (the Mexican town of) Tequila." We got there and we went to actual distilleries. They were just shacks with agave growing all over the place. I tasted 100 percent agave tequila for the first time and it blew me out of the fricking planet. So I said, "I'll never go back to regular tequila again" and we began bringing all of this 100 percent tequila back to the Cabo Wabo in jugs and barrels. I had to make my own.
Guy, tell me about your earliest encounter with Sammy. You go way back, right?
Guy Fieri: You mean the first time I rocked out to Sammy or the first time I actually met him? Back in the day, way before I was on TV or anything like that, I met him backstage at one of his shows out at this killer venue called Konocti. He was awesome. Little did I know that one day we'd be great buddies, let alone business partners.
Why do you think you and Sammy clicked?
Fieri: I think there's an energy that we both have that we see and respect in each other. We've both got really strong work ethics and are constantly grinding to take full advantage of all the opportunities we are afforded. That's a big thing. Throw in the love of friends, family, food and tequila, you've got a pretty cool friendship. But with all that said, I had no choice but to click with him because everybody always thinks I'm him anyway.
Sammy, what lessons from the music business have you utilized in the liquor industry?
Hagar: Well, those are my secrets now, wait a minute! (Laughs) The reason a lot of these guys can't get their brand off the ground is because they don't realize you have to promote it, you have to roll it into your life; this can't be your side business, it's your world. I played probably 1,000 shows where I'd smash a tequila bottle at the end and we'd do shots. This isn't something I'm endorsing; it's my brand, I invented it. The other thing is, in the old days with a record you'd have to appeal to the DJs. When you'd put out a new single, you'd have all promotion people around the country and go down to the local radio station and smoke a joint or do a line of coke and they'd get the DJ to play the record even if it was at midnight. If the DJ liked it, you got spins. Well, it's the same thing with bartenders, if the bartenders like your brand. You have to make a great record if you want a hit, the same way that you have to make a great product.
What made this collaboration on Santo Tequila Blanco work?
Fieri: You know, I think tequila can be a lot of things to different people. Thanks to guys like Sammy, I've kind of been around for the great evolution of tequila. Going back to my college trips to Mexico, tequila back then had this bad rap…it was harsh, it was gross, it was cheap. But then, great distillers started getting their due and the American market started to see the great craft product that it can be. Since then, like a lot of food and beverage products, things get refined, tweaked and tinkered with to a point where they no longer taste like or resemble the original product. That's where Santo Tequila Blanco shines big time. It's old school in that it really celebrates that real deal agave flavor where it all started. It's not over distilled. It's not full of sugar to mask anything. It's a throwback to the real essence of blanco.
Guy, what have you learned from Sammy?
Fieri: He's been coming over to my place every Tuesday at 7pm for guitar lessons, but it's not really working out for me. But seriously, Sammy is a first-class dude who has been around the block a few times. There's not much he hasn't seen and done and for a guy in my position, it's great to have a buddy who you can bounce ideas off of, whether they are personal or in business. What he's done as a musician, as a businessman, a family guy, a friend; all things to be admired.
And Sammy, what have you learned from Guy?
Hagar: Well, we have the same taste. If we go to a restaurant or he takes me to a place or I turn him onto a drink, it's always like "Wow." He's so deep into it and he's the hardest working guy in the world. He's had more different kinds of food in different places in America than anyone. He's really had some fricking experience with things good and bad, so his palate is so advanced compared to mine. I have a pretty sophisticated palate for the rock star, but he's the real deal. So what I've learned from him are the subtleties; just a splash of pineapple or when you're making a dish, even a teaspoon of tequila could be all the flavor you need. He's shown me the balance of a drink.
Guy, what's a night out with Sammy like?
Fieri: Sammy appreciates the good things in life and when you get to hang out with for the night, you get to enjoy that. Good friends, great food, awesome cocktails, you name it. But that's all you're getting out of me.
Sammy, why don't you tell me what it's like? I bet having a couple drinks with you guys could be a good time.
Hagar: Well, when we go into an establishment, we usually end up in the kitchen or behind the bar and that's every fricking time. Guy's like me, he's really fan-friendly. The chef will come out and say, "Hey, can you say hi to the staff?" and then we go back there and shake hands with the dishwasher on up. Then once we're back there, the chef will say, "Hey, try this! Let me make you something special!" Or the bartender will say the same thing. We roll really well together. We're like Siamese twins but attached at the heart.
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