Chickenfoot: Fowl Play
Originally published in Guitar World, June 2009
They hardly seem like birds of a feather. But when Joe Satriani, Sammy
Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith get together, the result is
Chickenfoot, rock and roll's most unlikely—but most talked
I'm riding shotgun with Sammy Hagar as he varooms his brand-new, custom-built Ferrari—one of the 15 he owns—through the suburban streets of Marin County, California. Images of passersby, UPS drivers and even a cop or two whiz by in a mind-bending blur. We’re going 140 mph at least—it’s hard to tell when your head is about to explode.
“You’re loving the hell out of this, aren’t you, Joe-Joe?” Hagar yells, cackling with laughter like a kid in a water park.
Even though Hagar has primed me well with a generous, super big-gulp of his premium Cabo Wabo Tequila, the ride is too much for my stomach, and the singer—who can’t drive under 100, much less 55—is oblivious to the fact that my face has turned green.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, Sammy,” I say, trying to control my chattering teeth, “but I’m fucking scared to death!”
This only makes Hagar laugh harder. He brings the car to a screeching halt (thank God for seatbelts or we both would’ve been through the windshield) and looks at me with a mixture of amusement and pity. “Yeah, I get that a lot. That’s the problem with these babies. Nobody will ride with me.”
Hagar loves playmates of all kinds, and recently he’s found a willing bunch of the musical variety in shred virtuoso Joe Satriani; good friend, and one-time Van Halen bandmate, bassist Michael Anthony; and drummer Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The four have formed an unlikely alliance in an outfit called Chickenfoot. Yes, you read that correctly: Chickenfoot. It’s a dopey name for a group that is anything but.
“I am so goddamn excited about this band,” Hagar says as we make our way back to his three-story office/compound/recording studio/car lot. “When I think about the fact that I could probably retire or be in this group, brother, that’s a no-brainer. Only an idiot would pack it in when he can play with motherfuckers this bad!”
Inside, the “motherfuckers” Hagar refers to are sitting in a conference room. There’s Joe Satriani, dressed in his customary black, listening to final mixes of the Chickenfoot album that are, even at the time of this interview, being sent to him on his MacBook (he’s also receiving hourly updates from his lawyer on his ongoing lawsuit against Coldplay, on this, the day after the English band won numerous pieces of Grammy hardware for what he calls “my song.”) He’s the “studious, serious” member of this enterprise, the world-famous guitar god who has finally, at long last, stumbled upon a group of like-minded players who wanted to play vocal-oriented hard rock in a day and age when the art form is being seriously questioned.
Then there’s Michael Anthony, the gregarious good buddy to all. Unceremoniously dumped from the latest Van Halen reunion, he’s now smiling ear-to-ear, happy as a bucket of clams to be in what he describes as “the best damned band around right now. No joke. We’re not fucking around here.”
And there’s the oddball of the bunch, Chad Smith, heretofore thought of as a “funk/alternative” drummer, who’s champing at the bit to “play in a big-time rock and roll band, where the rock is right up front and there’s no second-guessing what we’re all about.”
Of all the members, Joe Satriani has waited the longest to be part of a group like Chickenfoot, and in his opinion, “the hoping, wishing and the dreaming were all worth it. I could have jumped into any number of bands over the years—I’ve definitely had offers—but nothing really felt right. Everything seemed like a career move, not a way of life, or an artistic expression. And the thing with Chickenfoot”—he still stumbles on the name occasionally—“is it never felt like a calculated career move; everything about it was very organic. I think that’s why the record turned out so good.”
The members admit they’re no young pups (Hagar is 61, Anthony is 54, Satch, 52, and Smith is the baby at 47), but according to Hagar, “We’ve already got the money, and we have enough fame. This band is about being part of something again. Something great. Maybe even something better than we’ve ever been in. Otherwise, I’d retire—I don’t have anything to prove to anybody anymore. But hey, if I can knock somebody’s dick in the dirt with this record, then goddamn, I’m gonna enjoy every minute of it.”