There's only one way to celebrate 40 years of rock, and that's with your friends.
Sammy Hagar's new album, Sammy Hagar & Friends, is a collection of songs that pay tribute to the Red Rocker's musical success.
With contributions from Joe Satriani, Neal Schon, Nancy Wilson and Michael Anthony (among others), Hagar not only looks back on his solo career, but also his time with Montrose, Van Halen and current bands the Waboritas and Chickenfoot. The new album also gives fans a taste of what the future might hold for Hagar.
I recently spoke with Hagar about the new album and got his thoughts on Van Halen, Chickenfoot and some of his best memories from four decades in rock.
GUITAR WORLD: What sparked this new album project?
John Carter [Hagar's manager who died in 2011] had a dream of getting me to do a "four decades of rock" record and tour. The idea was to do something from the Montrose, early Sammy, Van Halen and Geffen years and write a new song from each of those eras. Write a Montrose-type song, a "cars" song from the Red Rocker era, a Van Halen/Chickenfoot-esque-type song and a lifestyle song.
I remember being on vacation in Tahiti and I kept hearing all of this music that sounded like a cross between pagan, zydeco, French and island. It was really rhythmical and passionate. It inspired me, and I wound up writing "Father Sun." When I came back, I kept writing lifestyle-themed songs and wrote "All We need Is An Island."
Then I called up Jay Buchanan from Rival Sons. He's from my hometown of Fontana, California, and is also a Montrose freak. I asked him to write me a song about growing up in Fontana, and he contributed "Not Going Down." Next thing I know, Ronnie Dunn calls me up and says, "Hey, I've got this car song ['Bad On Fords and Chevrolets'] that's going to blow your mind!" The whole process of making this album was so easy. All of my friends just started calling me up wanting to get together to jam and record. I'll never make a record another way.
Let's discuss a few more tracks from the album: "Personal Jesus."
Martin Gore was the guy who wrote the song and came up with that big, bad-ass blues riff. It's such a mean riff that John Lee Hooker could have written it. But if you've got a song that has god or Jesus in it, then you'd better take it to church. So I got a few gospel singers to sing on it with me. It's kind of brave and a bit risky, but I just love it.
"Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man."
I love this version because it really pays homage to [Bob] Seger. I'm kind of like a West Coast version of him. He's a white, American soul singer and that's kind of what I am. I could relate to the music and lyrics of the song and thought it was perfect.
"All We Need is an Island."
Not only is Nancy Wilson a great guitar player, but she also has one of the most beautiful, soft girly voices. She surprised me more than anyone else on this record. She not only made it a duet, she made it a love song.
Are you making plans to tour?
I definitely want to go out next year with the Four Decades of Rock. I'll take Denny Carmassi and David Lauser on drums, Michael Anthony and Mona Gnader on bass and get an opening act with a guitar player who can play the Montrose and Van Halen stuff with me. My plan is to put together a road show/review and then sprinkle it with some of the new material.
Do you still enjoy performing the Van Halen material?
We sold 40 million with all No. 1's, and I feel very comfortable doing those songs. The music that came from that era will always be in my repertoire, and even more so today because they can't play that material. And it's not because they hate it; although I'm sure Dave [Lee Roth] probably does [laughs], but they won't play it because they can't.
So it's my obligation to go out and play those songs. Fans deserve to be able to hear "When It's Love," "Best of Both Worlds," "Poundcake," "Right Now," "Finish What You Started" and "Dreams." I have about 40 minutes of Van Halen material in my set right now that I get to play with Mikey. And when really you think about it, there's half of the band right there [laughs].
When you first joined Van Halen and made 5150, did you see yourself as Dave's replacement, or was the plan going in to reinvent the band?
My state of mind at the time was purely a, "Let's see what we can do together and act like we're a brand-new band." In fact, that first tour we only did a few old songs (two of theirs and two of mine). We were definitely trying to re-invent the band; and not even trying, we just did it. We went in with the idea of "Forget about who I am, forget about who you are, forget about the other guy. Let's just see what kind of songs we can come up with."
And back then, we were so fucking prolific that if we hadn't been so anxious to take it out on the road right away [like all musicians who like to play live do], we could easily have written a double album.
What was your impression of A Different Kind Of Truth [Van Halen's 2012 reunion album with David Lee Roth]?
Do you really want me to comment on it?
Off the record.
No, if I'm going to talk about it, then it's on the record. My honest opinion is if i were a Van Halen fan, I would be so disappointed that after all of these years, that's what they give: outtakes from the first record. I think that for as great a musician as Eddie Van Halen is, he would have written all new material. The last really "new" material came from the Best of Both Worlds CD where I wrote three new songs ("Learning to See," "It's About Time" and "Up For Breakfast"), but I remember it was like pulling teeth just getting those songs written. So maybe there's not a lot of creativity going on over there, but I would think that for waiting all those years for a reunion and a new album, they could have done better.
Can you give us an update on Chickenfoot?
Joe [Satriani] and I have been working on some lyrics and musical ideas and are talking about getting together in January. Maybe not necessarily to make a new record, but writing, jamming and recording. I love this band. So much that if someone told me that I could only have one band and that's it — it would be Chickenfoot.
It just wouldn't be right if I didn't ask you about your songwriting process. What's the origin of "There's Only One Way To Rock"?
Man, I'm so easily inspired, you have no idea. I see a chick on the back of a motorcycle riding across the Golden Gate Bridge and I write my first song ever ["Bad Motor Scooter"]. For "There's Only One Way To Rock," I remember there was a rock station up in the Bay area that used to call themselves "The Rock of the Bay." They were the biggest radio station in San Francisco but wouldn't play my music because they said it was too heavy. I remember being so pissed that I went down in my basement, cranked up my Les Paul through a Marshall and just started jamming that riff and screaming those lyrics. It was really that simple.
Looking back over the course of your four decades in rock, are there any moments that stand out as most memorable?
I really feel that I'm at a very productive time of my life right now, both musically and with my businesses. I also don't feel there's any turmoil in my music. There's no arguments or disagreements as to which direction to go and I don't feel like I'm trying to struggle to be something. But as far as electrifying moments go, one would have to be the beginning of Van Halen and the 5150 album going to No. 1. That first tour was so successful. All the energy of a new band with new blood. We went out and had so much fun. I don't think anyone could have that much fun again. We were one of the biggest bands in the world and it felt like it. That was pretty special.
Photo: Randee St. Nicholas
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.