Q&A: Sammy Hagar
The "Red Rocker" Sammy Hagar has a lot on his plate these days. He released a No.1 best-selling hard-cover book entitled "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock." He has plenty of shows with The Wabos forthcoming, and his group Chickenfoot will send to stores on Sept. 27 "Chickenfoot III."
But he calls himself "the luckiest musician in the world."
"I have two bands," Hagar told SoundSpike. "I have The Wabos where we go out and I play all my old hits and all my old fun stuff. We throw this party. We don't have a set list. We really do it for real.
"Then I have this other serious band with the greatest musicians in their field. We go out and we only play Chickenfoot. We play the newest stuff. So I get the best of both worlds. I get tired of playing 'I Can't Drive 55' sometimes. In Chickenfoot, we don't play 'I Can't Drive 55.' We only play Chickenfoot. It makes for a great time for me in my life to be able to do both."
Chickenfoot also features drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, guitarist Joe Satriani and bassist Michael Anthony, formerly Hagar's bandmate in Van Halen. Smith will be touring with the Chili Peppers when Chickenfoot is promoting its second album, so expect a substitute drummer during that jaunt when it is announced.
Hagar spoke to SoundSpike about "Chickenfoot III," what to expect at The Wabos shows and if it was difficult to spill his guts for "Red."
You're on tour with The Wabos. What can we expect from those shows?
When I do a show with The Wabos, we do an anthology set, from Montrose through early Sammy Hagar stuff, early Red Rocker stuff, we do some Van Halen stuff, and we go to the post-Van Halen stuff, the Wabos stuff, the party stuff. We pretty much throw a huge party. I play every song that's pretty much been [from] a platinum album. That's a pretty strong set. It goes down pretty good. We play from all those things, but we don't have a strict set list. We've been around 15 years. We have, like, 65 or more songs to choose from. We have a beginning and an end. Everything in between, we start winging it. While we're doing the end of "I Can't Drive 55," I'm going "One Way to Rock" -- boom, boom, bang. That's the way I like to do it. I like to feel the audience and play for them, instead of putting together a show and going out there and doing it. It's more interactive when you feel the audience and somebody's holding up a sign for a song and you play it.
It sounds fun.
Some people think my band is really sloppy, but the truth of the matter is we're jamming it, winging it so much that we're actually great. If we rehearsed and put together a real show and stuck to it, geez, we'd be fantastic but boring.
I heard the first single from "Chickenfoot III" called "Big Foot." It's a fun song. It seems like it fits in well with the catalog.
The album, probably, is not as much fun as the last record. This record's a little more serious. "Big Foot" could have been on the last record. Why we picked that single, it wasn't my first choice. I thought it was too typical of what people would expect from Chickenfoot, and it is. It's kind of like an extension of the first record, and our personalities -- fun, fun fun. The rest of the album is much more musical. It's not like heavy, "Woo, we have to listen to this." We got down. It's really good. It's not to be messed with. This being the most typical song, the record company and some of the people said, "Let's make that the first single." I said, "I don't care, every song on the album's great. You can throw a dart." When they kept saying to me, "What song do you want?" I 'm going, " I don't care, every song's great." It's the first time I could ever say that on a record. Usually, you have two or three songs that you know are your best songs. This time I don't know what the best song is. I have very high hopes for that CD.
Why did you decide to call your second album "Chickenfoot III"?
We took a long time before we could get back together because of everyone's schedules. When we started working on it, we jokingly called it "Chickenfoot IV" -- as a joke. But then when the album was done, we said, "This is not a joke." We went, "If we say 'Chickenfoot IV,' it's going to put a little bit of a joke twist on it." But it was way, way too advanced to be "Chickenfoot II." The only song that kind of bridges the gap is the one you're hearing, "Big Foot." The rest of the stuff is way in the distance, man. We took a giant step forward and it's more like a third or fourth CD. We're not joking when we call it "Chickenfoot III" because we skipped over the dreaded second record.
Are you going to tour in support of "Chickenfoot III"
We're trying out at the end of the week on Saturday and Sunday [Aug. 6-7], Kenny Aronoff is coming up and we're going to play with him for two days. If it works, we're going to go out in November, I think, and do a buzz tour, play small venues in five cities, [like] New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Then, we'll make sure that it works and the chemistry is good. If it is we'll go out with Kenny. We don't want to just grab a drummer just because he's good and find out that we don't have the chemistry. Chickenfoot is all about the chemistry. You pick your favorite bass player, drummer, guitar player singer and you don't necessarily have a great band. It can be a disaster because of chemistry and people don't get along. It isn't just arguing; it's just the music can start arguing and doesn't gel. There's been a lot of "super groups" that people have contrived and put together in the past. That's why we don't like to call ourselves a "super group." We grew together. When you throw these people together you don't necessarily get good music. We have to make sure that Kenny brings a different chemistry that works or the same chemistry as Chad. Chad picked him because he said Kenny's just like him. He beats his drum set to death. He doesn't play them. He beats them to death. At the end of every show you have to buy a new drum set for these guys. We need that power. Chad, he's powerful. [Arnoff will] just be on loan anyway. Chad's handing him the baton and he's going to run for awhile. When Chad can come back, we'll make "Chickenfoot IV" probably with Chad.
What was the songwriting process for "Chickenfoot III"?
Mostly Joe and I write the songs, but there are three songs that are band songs. Those are the ones where we just got in there and played them. Just made it up on the spot. The rest of them Joe and I co-wrote before we all got together. Joe brings the music and I listen to it. He's so prolific, when I say, "OK, Joe. Let's get together next week. You want to bring me a few ideas?" He comes with a CD with about 20 ideas. Not just ideas, almost finished musically. An intro, verse, a bridge, a chorus and an outro and an ending. I have to listen to hear what I can relate to. I write melodies and lyrics and that's how I write.
How was it to work with producer Mike Fraser?
It was out of sight. He mixed "Chickenfoot I" and he mixed a Van Halen record, "Balance," that I did. What Mike brings to the thing that most producers don't: Mike stays out of your way and lets you do your thing. He just makes sure that it sounds great and that he's getting the best performance he can get out of you. Other than that, he stays out of your way. With a band like Chickenfoot, we don't need someone in there saying, "Maybe if you guys had a hit, you guys could do this." We're musicians that just go in there. We know what we're doing. We need a guy who makes it sound great and tells us when it ain't. Mike, he was so good for us. You'll see. The record is fantastic.
Congratulations on how well "Red" did.
It's kind of surprising, huh? I was in shock the first week when I got the phone call. "Guess what? It's No. 1." I flipped out. I was so shocked. They kept telling me, "Rock biographies. What's it going to do?" I had no idea. "[They said] seven or eight thousand [copies]. A big book would be 15." [I said] "I think you're way underestimating my fanbase. My fans have been following me for my whole life. They've been waiting for this." It's not like they didn't believe me, they just hadn't experienced it. I talked them up in shipping. They shipped 20,000. The first day it sold 37,000. It was backordered. They just never caught up from that day. It's well over 100,000 with downloads and everything. It's one of their biggest books. Keith Richards and myself, and now Steven Tyler. I don't think Steven went No. 1. But Keith and I went No. 1 and that's a big deal. Keith took three weeks to go No. 1 and I came on with No. 1. I just have a wonderful fanbase. They're just the coolest people. They support everything I do and it's awesome.
Was it difficult to write a book, especially sharing anecdotes about your family?
I've got a really good memory, so that part of it wasn't difficult. Sometimes it was difficult convincing myself that I had to tell the whole story and not leave things out. It's an Internet world and people know a lot about a lot of things now. ... I had to get down into the mud -- not to sling it -- but I had to drag myself back through it to make what I consider a worthy read. I didn't want people reading half of it and putting it down. I stayed in -- even when it got to the down and dirty stuff that I wouldn't want my kids to read. My wife said, "You're not going to put that in there?" "I got to." I'd read chapter after chapter after it was done and I'd go, "Yeah, it's working." Once you have a couple chapters that get down and dirty, it's hard to get light after that. I did it chronologically and I told the truth in every step of the way. I kept myself in there with it. I wasn't throwing mud on other people; I was bathing with them.
20 - Albuquerque, NM - Albuquerque Film Festival (solo)
9 - Murphys, CA - Ironstone Amphitheatre (Sammy Hagar and The Wabos)
10 - Stateline, NV - Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys (Sammy Hagar and The Wabos)
14 - Puyallup, WA - Western Washington Fairgrounds (Sammy Hagar and The Wabos)
17 - Columbus, OH - Nationwide Arena
24 - Glen Ellen, CA - B.R. Cohn Winery (B.R. Cohn Charity Events Fall Music Festival with the Doobie Brothers)
7, 9, 11, 13- Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - Cabo Wabo Cantina (Sammy Hagar and The Wabos)