Before WTOP's David Burd worked in radio, he
worked for Capitol Records, where he helped
the careers of musicians. What he did for Sammy
Hagar was a career-changer, and Hagar recently
WASHINGTON – I was asked to emcee a reunion in St. Louis, Mo. last Saturday. The reunion was for radio jocks and record executives who worked in the area from the early ’70s until today. All of my old friends were in attendance and for some it had been over 30 years since I had seen them. It was great to be with them this night.
I was the local boy who moved to the D.C. area in 1983 to do a morning show with my then partner Jeff Baker. I had done well in my new career as a morning man — that’s what the rumor said. But in the 1970s and early 80s, I wasn’t known for being a morning guy, I was known for being an executive with Capitol Records in St. Louis.
Along with my associate, Wayne Meisenholder, who was in the sales area with Capitol, we had broken out a lot of music acts nationally from the St. Louis region. One of those acts was Sammy Hagar also known as in St. Louis — The Red Rocker!
I had first met Sam in 1976 when no one knew who he was. Sure, he had been with a band called Montrose in the early ’70s, but now he was a solo act and unknown.
Capitol Records back in those days used to send all their representatives at least eight new releases a month that it wanted reps to promote to get airplay. Sammy Hagar had an album in this release, and I thought it was terrific but it was lost in the stack and it wasn’t a company priority. Not when you have Bob Seger, Paul McCartney and Steve Miller on the label.
But his album was so good that Wayne and I made a decision. The decision was to take advertising money from other acts and use it on Sam’s latest album. The company didn’t allocate any funds for advertising Sam’s album. His album was tailor-made for a city like St. Louis, a rock ‘n’ roll town.
Forget Cleveland being the heart of rock ‘n’ roll. As far as I was concerned whatever town Chuck Berry was born in is the heart of rock ‘n’ roll, and St. Louis was and is that town.
We knew Sammy Hagar would be a smash if given the chance and the airplay. We took that chance. I told Hagar’s management that I (we) could break out Sam’s album nationally from St. Louis and to send Sam into town so we could take him around and meet the jocks.
I remember taking Sammy to every radio station from Springfield, Ill. to Wichita, Kan. and having breakfast, lunch and dinner with every jock who would give us the time of day. I spent a lot of time in the car with Sam driving around the Midwest that year. Sam is a genuine human being and the jocks loved him.
To make a long story short, Sammy got so huge in the Midwest that in 1980 he headlined what was then called a “Super Jam” at Busch Stadium with 60,000 seats with acts like Judas Priest, April Wine and Journey on the bill.
Journey was bent out of shape because it was co-headlining with Sammy and didn’t understand why that was. The band members asked, “Who the heck is Sammy Hagar?” They saw Sam perform at the sound check and were blown away … so blown away at his performance that they asked the promoter “Contemporary Productions” to have Hagar go on last. They didn’t want to have to follow him and compete with the energy he produced. It would be like the Carpenters following Led Zeppelin.
On the day of the Super Jam concert, Journey found out why Sam was the headliner. Wayne and I had convinced a competing radio station to have their listeners wear red to the concert to show their support for Sammy. At the time, he had a song that was a smash in St. Louis called “Red.” The day of the show the stadium was one huge red-wearing mass of humanity. There was no question now as to who this crowd came to see. They came to see “The Red Rocker” Sammy Hagar.
Sam and I have kept in touch over the years. I hadn’t talked with Sam in a long time. In 1994 I had come home from the studio (a friend was staying at my place temporarily). I asked my friend if there had been any calls. He said yes, “Some A- hole saying he was Sammy Hagar.”
“You didn’t erase the message did you?” I asked.
He looked at me with surprise in his eyes and said: “YOU KNOW SAMMY HAGAR?”
Sam was calling to see if I wanted to go to the Van Halen show at Nissan Pavilion. I called him back and gave him a rough time. “Oh, so now we’re with Van Halen and we’re Mr. Big shot,” I said teasingly.
Fast forward to this past Saturday. Sammy Hagar and the Wabos were playing for all the record and radio people at this function. He flew in on his own dime, after all, St. Louis had been very good to him and his career. St. Louis made him a national star and this was his thank you to St. Louis radio.
We had met backstage and horsed around before he went on doing jokes and he asked me to do my Keith Richards face – this always made him laugh when I did this in the car driving around the Midwest all those years ago.
When the show started, Wayne and I went to the pit in front of the stage to watch Sammy do his thing. In the middle of his show he did something that blew our minds. Sammy pointed to me and Wayne and gave us a shout-out for helping him and his career.
What made this shout-out so special to us is the fact that all of our contemporaries were in attendance and heard him do it. It was strange driving back to D.C. on U.S. 70 after the show was over. I keep thinking about how lucky I have been to be able to have two lives – one as a record executive with lead singers of rock bands as friends and the other as a former morning show host and currently a radio reporter.
I’ve kept these two lives separate for all of these years and it was surreal to be able to go back to the past just one more time and hang with Sammy. Sam has never forgotten what Wayne and I did for him, and we will never forget his shout-out to us on Saturday night. Needless to say, my favorite color is RED. And as Sammy says in the song red, “Some like it hot, but I like it Red.” Thanks, Sammy!
See Sammy Hagar’s shout-out to David Burd below. (Video courtesy Kevin McCarthy)