Ross Baker talks to Chickenfoot and Ex Van Halen Frontman Sammy Hagar
Former Van Halen vocalist and frontman of Rock Supergroup Chickenfoot is an interesting character. On a mobile phone from Los Angeles while he is journeying to L.A.X. airport in order to travel to Detroit, Michigan to play a stadium show with Kid Rock, he is pleasant but extremely honest not mincing his words when quizzed on any topic and quite unafraid to speak his mind.
First up I asked about the recording of forthcoming second album “Chickenfoot” and how it differed from recording the debut. “We have an identity now and can relate to each other’s playing better” Hagar mused. “We know exactly how each other works and writes while on the debut we were still feeling each other out. The guys know how I work as a vocalist and how I write and it comes together very naturally. A lot of the songs were written and finished before I had any lyrics. The songs “Different Devil” and “Bigfoot” were the last songs I had written for the record and they took awhile because I wanted to have really great lyrics. There is some very personal stuff on this album but there is also some really fun stuff too. The first single “Bigfoot” is a great song but for me it’s the weakest song on the album. Not that it’s a weak song, it’s a real rocker but there are some amazing songs on there. I think “Up Next” is fantastic and “Come Closer” is very emotive. It was great to do a song like that which was a bit different for us!”
During the interview there were a few signal issues possibly due to Sammy checking into the airport at the time of the interview yet even though Hagar was clearly on a tight schedule, it didn’t reflect in his demeanour. Speaking of touring, I enquired about the band’s situation regarding who would be behind the kit when Chad Smith is away with The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. “Well we just did a video for “Bigfoot” with Kenny Aronoff (An acclaimed session drummer who has played with everyone from The Smashing Pumpkins to Elton John) and he’s Chad’s choice so he’s the guy we are most comfortable with at the moment so it could be him but that could change. We have auditioned a bunch of different drummers and we are yet to settle on a definite replacement for the touring cycle but Kenny’s top of the list.”
On the subject of touring, I asked Sammy when we could expect Chickenfoot to return to our shores. “We are aiming to tour the U.K. early next year in late spring which I’m looking forward to. We have such a blast when we play there because of the energy of the audience. I had a chest infection which nearly became pneumonia last time we toured Britain but all the shows were awesome, London especially.”
When the Red Rocker is not on the road or recording, Hagar has also found success marketing his own brand of tequila something he clearly enjoys doing. Does Sammy ever consider taking a break from touring so much to concentrate on his other projects? “Absolutely not I enjoy playing live and still enjoy being on tour. I am in a privileged position where if I don’t want to do something I don’t have to do it as financially it’s not a problem which is a great freedom to have.”
As far back as last October, reports appeared of Joe Satriani and Hagar being quoted as saying the album was called “Chickenfoot Four” and a number of different song titles were mentioned that don’t show up on the album. Were the guys having a bit of fun with the media at the time? “We were changing the song titles a lot because I was changing the lyrics and wanted to make them great. We had some fun but I wanted to make songs that had a meaning. This is my main band and I’m really serious about doing this stuff.”
“Chickenfoot III” is a very youthful sounding record with a lot of energy. While the up tempo party anthems are in place, one track that draws you in is the raw and emotional “Three and A Half Letters”. Hagar explained “I receive a lot of mail that comes to the office and my manager puts a few letters aside and the lyrics are all directly taken from them. One particular letter that got me was a guy who had just returned from serving in Afghanistan who’s coming home to his wife and children and has no job and has to move in with his wife’s parents because there is no work for him! This story really affected me and I wanted to help and raise awareness about this, so I put it in the song. If I can help these people, I will and I’ll reach out to them but I thought it was important people know what’s going on in these people’s lives and the effect the economy is having on people!”
It’s at this time Hagar arrives at the airport security which means we have to take a break for fifteen minutes before I call back. When I do, we get onto the subject of what Hagar has planned in between Chickenfoot activity while Guitarist Joe Satriani is doing his own shows and Smith is away with The Chilli Peppers. “I still have my backing band, The Waboritas, and we will go out and do shows like this one in Michigan tonight and I have my tequila business so I’m always busy. I keep my band fully paid even when we are not on tour so we can get together whenever I need them. If anything now I have more choice because I don’t have to agree to do anything I don’t want to do! The tequila business is great and allows me something to focus on outside of music and when I’m doing my solo shows with The Waboritas we go out drink tequila and have a great time! Chickenfoot is my main baby, my serious band and playing with these guys fills the void that Van Halen left!”
Of course when speaking to Sammy the topic of Van Halen is always going to be interesting. Following a bust up in 2004 when Van Halen were touring with Hagar supporting the double CD greatest hits album “The Best Of Both Worlds”, Eddie Van Halen’s drinking caused tension between the band members so much so that Hagar had to travel in a separate jet from the rest of the band. What raised the ire of Hagar just as much, if not more, was the Van Halens’ treatment of Michael Anthony as Eddie Van Halen wrote and recorded the bass parts himself to specifically exclude Michael Anthony from the three new tracks on the aforementioned best of CD, even though he was still officially a band member. The troubles finally came to a head after a show in Tucson, Arizona when Eddie smashed his guitar, sending shrapnel into the audience.
Although Hagar mentioned in his recent autobiography that Eddie “wasn’t the same person anymore”, I wondered if Sammy had any relationship with the Van Halens at this point. “No, none of them. I think when Eddie threw Mikey out of the band that was it for me. They are not friendly people, team players or family. I don’t know what they want from life or what’s important to them but it’s not listening to other human beings. I read they just cancelled their Australian tour they were due to start next week but they cancelled it and they cancelled the American tour they were booking for January and the new album, which was supposed to be announced last month, has been postponed indefinitely but that’s the Van Halen camp and if they can’t seem to get it together, I’m not interested in sitting around and waiting for those guys to get their act together. Those guys owe their fans a record, a tour and an apology for all that they’ve done but I just can’t see it. I’m not interested in them. I will publicly state “fuck those guys”! Especially for what they did to Mike, Fuck those guys.”
Clearly time hasn’t healed the rift between Hagar, Anthony and The Van Halen camp but Hagar is positive as far as his own future is concerned. “Playing my old catalogue with the Montrose songs and the Van Halen numbers with my solo band is all fine and dandy but Chickenfoot is the most important thing. In Van Halen it was all about four individuals getting together and trying to stretch themselves and I miss that from Van Halen but there is no question about it; man for man Chickenfoot is the greatest band that I have ever been in!”