Sometimes, it really is the little things that end up meaning the most. My pair of interactions with Sammy Hagar -– nearly a decade apart –- lend credence to this cliché.
The Red Rocker simply remembered who I was -– twice -– and it’s hard to overstate what that means to a writer like myself who has done a lot of work in the entertainment and sports field, but is pretty shy in the area of self-promotion.
Thus, recognition often is hard to come by, that’s why it’s so appreciated on the rare occasions in which it happens. Hagar made this happen in more ways than one.
Long-story short, I first met Hagar nine years ago as part of an invitation-only media tour in advance of him opening a Cabo Wabo Cantina at Harveys Lake Tahoe, the first such Cabo Wabo franchise on U.S. soil.
Then, I was a reporter in my late 20s working for Best Bets magazine, the same weekly of which I am now the managing editor. I had already done my share of celebrity interviews, but most were by phone.
This was going to be one my first in-person interviews with a celebrity of Hagar’s magnitude, and the fact that I’m a longtime fan of his just added to the anxiety of my preparation.
I remember rehearsing my questions so I wouldn’t come off as a bumbling buffoon, wearing a nice dress shirt (but no tie, because I knew Sammy doesn’t roll like that), and arriving super early for the press event.
I ended up getting about an hour of one-on-one time with Hagar, and he couldn’t have been more welcoming, easygoing, kind and humorous. He even gave the scoop on the upcoming Van Halen reunion tour, which his people said was off-limits for questions (I didn’t ask, but he offered the info).
I took the interview and wrote what I believe, to this day, to be one of the best articles this tortured scribe has ever managed to put on the press.
Hagar’s people got a hold of the piece and invited me to the grand opening of the Cabo Wabo in Tahoe a few weeks later. I went but decided to eschew the temptation to ask Hagar for a photo or an autograph – even though in that setting it was probably within the rules, such behavior generally is seen as unethical in my line of work, and it’s not much my style, anyway.
I ended up with something much better -– a memory. Hagar sat at a small table, greeting patrons as they made their made through the entrance. My friend Neil Baron and I got in the line, which was about six people deep. Hagar’s PR people recognized me and led Neil and I past the ropes, and she wondered if I wanted to say hello to Sammy.
We stopped at his table, and the Red Rocker looked up as he finished signing an autograph (on one of the dozens of magazines featuring my piece that fans picked up as a souvenir).
“Oh, hi Josh, glad you could make it,” he said without prompting. He stood up and shook my hand, and I introduced him to Neil.
So I didn’t leave with a signed magazine, or a photo of this moment. And while I can’t say I’d be opposed to having either, the snapshot of that moment, where it rests in my memory, is priceless.
Fast forward to this year. Hagar is playing a couple shows in Tahoe -– as he does somewhat regularly -– and I decide to pursue a story. It’s just about the 10th anniversary of the Cabo Wabo opening at Harveys, and I figure we could talk about this milestone.
Along with the fact that, at age 65, Hagar is still active as ever in the music industry, and recently released a solid album with his band, Chickenfoot, I thought were enough elements in play to make a decent story.
His Tahoe shows sold out within days of tickets going on the market, which gives the artist all the leverage –- and puts someone like myself at a decided disadvantage –- when it comes to potential press arrangements.
His people knew it, too. When I called and talked to his representative, the young woman said she would consider the request, but reminded me that the shows were sold out and, as such, their motivation to connect Hagar and I would be low.
She basically asked me for some sort of motivation, or a hook, some reason why they should do this.
“Because … um … Sammy’s cool, and we kind of know each other,” I uttered.
She appeared unmoved.
“Please just tell him the request is from the guy who interviewed him at the Cabo Wabo press event nine years ago,” I pleaded, and she told me she would.
A few days later, the phone rang.
“Hey, it’s Sammy Hagar,” the voice on the other end said. “You know I don’t stand much to gain promotion-wise from this interview, because the Tahoe shows sold out long ago. So why do you think I am doing this?”
It sounded sort of like a trick question, so I backhanded the ball into his court.
“I don’t know, why don’t you tell me,” I replied.
“Because of course I remember you, man!” he said, and burst out laughing. “I saw your name on the request and knew you were the guy who did that great coverage of the Cabo Wabo. I remember talking to you. I figured the least I could do was make this call and give you whatever you need.”
We chatted for more than half an hour and, again, his candor, insight and humor made for what I thought was a pretty serviceable story. And again, Hagar remembering me left me with that warm-and-fuzzy, someone-appreciates-me feeling, one that I’m sure is a fleeting sensation for a lot of us.
This time, the memory came with a special enhancement, one that I believe worthy of what commonly is known these days as the “humble brag.” That is, something that’s pretty cool that happens to you, which might sound self-serving to boast about, and yet you can’t resist.
I decided this was worth a humble brag because a) I NEVER do it, so I should be cut some slack for any perceived chest-thumping and b) if there were ever a time for me to make an exception, this is it.
So, the story prints on a Thursday, May 2, the day Best Bets hits newsstands, and it seems generally well-received. It was the first cover story in the newly designed version of Best Bets and, thanks to a great photo his PR folks sent my way and what I thought was a catchy headline, I was proud of the finished product (see above).
However, in this day and age, a good barometer of audience approval lies in the impact you see on social media, where it’s all about tweets, Facebook likes and shares, and +1s.
In the pre-Internet days, it was always heart-warming when someone took the time to drop you a note saying they liked a story you wrote. In the 21st century, a virtual thumps-up often yields the same effect.
Generally speaking, I’m pretty stoked when anything I write reaches double figures in social-media approval, whether it’s in tweets or Facebook likes, or some combination therein.
This shows you people are paying attention and, to this point, my previous personal best was about 200 Facebook likes for a Q&A interview piece I wrote on Don Henley last summer.
So I was thrilled to see the Hagar piece got about 70 Facebook likes during its first day on the web, figuring, should it pick up any momentum, the piece had a chance to challenge Henley for my personal record.
Pick up steam, did it ever. The following day -– Friday, May 3, the first of his two concerts at Tahoe -– I noticed someone on Sammy’s team (or perhaps the Red Rocker himself, though that’s likely a long shot) had posted a link to my story on his official Facebook page.
Suddenly, the Facebook hits on the story’s home page started rapidly spiraling upward, reminiscent of when you hit a winning combination on a slot machine and watch the jackpot credits rise, gleefully wondering when and where the number eventually will land.
In this case, the number was 4,000 in a 24-hour period.
Real-time evidence of this social-media “milestone,” if there is such a thing, exists in cyberspace if you follow the link below.
I told another entertainment editor about the rapid hits, and he warned me that the number could be skewed because sometimes the system will give an inaccurate reading if a story gets hit hard at a particular time. But there was a way to check using our system’s analytic software, so that’s what we did.
Sure enough, the hits kept coming and they were all legit, almost all directly from the link on Hagar’s Facebook page.
Later, as the number swelled into the four figures, the same editor texted me, “Nicely done,” aware that the figure was both rare and the level of exposure pretty considerable for a market our size.
I appreciated the comment because, for all intents and purposes, no one else at the company really seemed to notice.
To put it in something of artistic context, this type of traffic on the story would be tantamount to opening a local art exhibit and having 4,000 people show up on the first night, or playing in a local band and having 4,000 fans show up to your concert.
By today’s social-media standards, it’s in fairly elite company. Coincidentally, a few weeks later I saw a Rolling Stone interview piece on Bruce Springsteen, who also is one of my favorite artists. The piece, on the site of one of the most respected music publications on the globe, had 2,400 Facebook likes and had been posted for a week when I saw it.
While Bruce’s numbers are far from paltry, it made little old me in the Biggest Little City feel pretty proud of generating 4,000 hits on a story about Sammy.
As it turns out, writing a piece on Sammy Hagar that the Red Rocker approves of is good for both your media company’s web traffic and your ego.
It’s also an example of how you should never take for granted how simply remembering someone likely will mean more to that person than you’ll ever realize.
Try it sometime -– I guarantee the recipient will be grateful.