by Bryan Reesman
Michael Anthony certainly enjoys himself. He’s played in and toured with one of the biggest bands in rock and roll, Van Halen. He has his own hot sauce brand (Mad Anthony) and owns an outrageous collection of cars and bass guitars. And he’s still successful, currently playing with his ex-VH bandmate Sammy Hagar in Chickenfoot, the power quartet they formed with guitarist Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. Their self-titled debut album has sold over a half million copies in the U.S. They have a live DVD on the way and a second album in the works. Life is good.
Despite all of this success, the veteran rocker, father and hot rod aficionado was one down-to-earth dude when ADD sat down to chat with him. While I needed 20 minutes or so to chat for my “Eat, Drink and Rock & Roll” story for Grammy.com, Anthony gave me an hour of his time. And he was very forthcoming about his career, his hot sauce business and the positive path he is taking in his life.
So you’re taking a break from Chickenfoot right now?
Well, not really a break. We’re finishing up working on a DVD that we’re putting out [soon]. We filmed one of our shows in Phoenix last year. We put together a pretty cool live DVD.
You’ve been spending some time on your hot sauce, which you’re actively involved in developing. In some respects, that’s the way to go. Sammy got involved in making tequila after visiting all of these different farms and companies down in Mexico. Eventually it got bigger, and he had to hire people to oversee everything.
There are two ways you can do. You can either do it that way, like the way I did it, or because you’re somebody with some notoriety you just endorse something, and they pay you and slap your name on it. You really don’t have any input in the making of the sauce, but a company wants to do a hot sauce with your name on it. That isn’t what Sammy wants to do with his tequila, and that isn’t what I wanted with my hot sauce. Obviously I’m not as big an entrepreneur with this hot sauce as Sammy was with his tequila. I do it more for just fun.
You’re planning to expand a little bit. How is that going?
When we were first designing the labeling — and I have a zillion hot sauces with all kinds of screwy names likes Sphincter Blowout and stuff like that – on my original hot sauce we came up with this phrase on the front saying, “So hot you’ll need two assholes.” Which I thought was kind of witty. But unfortunately places like Trader Joe’s [and bigger outlets] take a look at the bottle and go, “No, I don’t think we’re going to go for that.” So we’re in the process of revamping that. It’s actually only on the one bottle of my hot sauce. On my barbecue sauce or my mustard we didn’t use any of that kind of language. I’m not going to do the full-on blowout thing, but it would be cool to expand a little bit more because I’ve got people that work with companies like Trader Joe’s, which is a big specialty store, and they’re interested in doing something. In fact, we have my hot sauce at Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grills, and it does great there. People love it. These guys just order by the case, but unfortunately when we send it through our manufacturer, they actually take a razor blade to every single label and slice off the part that says, “So hot you’ll need two assholes”. Because at the official grand opening of his Beach Bar & Grill on Maui, a couple of city officials were [skeptical] about the label. We whacked that off, and that’s what got me thinking that it would be cool to expand it out a little bit more to a broader range of people, so we’ve got to clean up the label a little bit.
Maybe those will become collector’s items. So you’ve been mentioned on the Food Network. Have you ever been on the Food Network?
I’ve never actually been on the Food Network, but Sammy has introduced to some of his buddies. I know Emeril. He loves my sauce. And Guy Fieri and a couple of the other guys. Sammy’s played on Emeril’s show a couple of times. “Maybe we ought to develop a recipe here and there, and bring your hot sauce on the show.” I don’t really seek those things out. I love creating it. Chickenfoot’s not a total full-time deal because everyone else has different projects. Chad’s doing some stuff with the Chili Peppers again, so everything is on hold for a little bit. It does free me up a little bit of time, and that’s when I was thinking about going for a little bit at this. I was talking to couple of the marketing guys that help Sammy out with his tequila, and they’ve agreed to help me along as far as marketing this stuff.
Maynard Keenan and Geoff Tate each have a wine brand. Alice Cooper co-owns a restaurant. And I chatted with Sammy about his tequila. It seems like there are a lot more rockers getting involved in outside food and drink ventures. Do you see this as something you could transition to when you get tired of being up on stage?
I totally could. I’ve been approached by I don’t know how many people about opening up a restaurant or helping open up a restaurant. I’ve got my product in a lot of local restaurants out here. When I meet people and they ask me about it — and I get asked all the time when I go out to dinner at different places — I’ll send somebody the hot sauce, mustard or the barbecue sauce, and they’ll actually start using it in the restaurant. It would be cool to do a venture like that, but I know that’s more of a full-time deal, doing a restaurant because you really have to be involved and on top of it. From what little I’ve learned, your employees and everybody will just wipe you clean. When Van Halen first opened up the Cabo Wabo, we decided on how much we planned on making that year and what the projected income would be. We didn’t worry about anything other than that because more than that, everybody else would just skimming off the top. As long as you make what you project what you want to make, then you don’t worry about the rest. We were told about that way back then. It’s always kept me a little bit standoffish as far as going full-on into a venture, but in seeing some of the stuff that Sammy’s doing — he’s opening up a restaurant with a local guy right now up in Mill Valley, where he lives — that should be a cool deal, and of course, the Cabo Wabo, which I’m indirectly involved in. I had to get out of it when Sammy left Van Halen because it wasn’t the politically correct thing for me to have anything to do with once he left the band.
You two have a very loyal friendship. You guys stick together. Obviously there was the Van Halen reunion in 2004 with Sammy, but when the reunion with Roth happened in 2006 you stayed with him.
It wasn’t that I chose to stay with him, it’s just that the brothers, mainly Eddie, were so bent that I’d buddied up with him again after he left the band that they felt that they would just like to exclude me from everything that they did. I would’ve gone back and done a reunion with those guys.
Isn’t it sad to see how ego dictates a lot of decisions that are made in this business?
Yeah, and this is one of the reasons why Sammy and I get along so great. Sam has made a ton of money off of tequila, and I haven’t done too bad myself. And it all molds together with Chickenfoot — at this point in my life and my career I want to have fun. I don’t want to be sitting there bitching and moaning and playing the games till I go to the grave. Unfortunately, the Van Halen brothers still want to play those games. I want to hang around people that are very positive, and I want to have fun doing what I’m doing. If making the big dollars isn’t involved with it, I don’t care anymore. I want to have fun, and that’s basically what the whole Chickenfoot thing is, for us to have fun, and not go out there and demand the big money. Our CD is doing really well and our tour did really well, so we’ll demand a little bit more money now, but we wanted to earn the fans’ respect like that. Most of these people who put together a supergroup, it’s a big ego stroke — they put the CD out, play the stadiums and make a big thing out of it. We did it because we’re all friends, and we love playing the music.
And you guys have a Deluxe Edition of the album out now, too.
It’s got a DVD. We thought it would be something cool to do anyway, to document the whole thing. We started filming and videotaping from the moment the four of us got together in the studio, which is kind of cool because Van Halen really didn’t do a lot of that kind of stuff. We got a lot of stuff later on, but it’s kind of cool to have this, and a lot of the stuff that’s on that DVD and that we plan on putting out is behind-the-scenes from when we first got together, screwing around in the studio and stuff like that.
A few years ago Joe Perry told me that young bands should document everything, because it seems like a lot of the older bands didn’t think about that. You guys were just enjoying the ride and not really thinking about what would happen in 10 years when you were famous. Are there any things that you wish that you had on film or on tape?
Probably the way that Van Halen first started out, it’s probably good that we didn’t because there was a lot of drinking and partying, and probably a lot of stuff that, besides myself, I probably wouldn’t enjoy having my kids watch. [laughs] Doing it with Chickenfoot, it made me realize that it would’ve been cool to do it with Van Halen. In hindsight it’s something you wish you would’ve done, but back then we didn’t think about those things. We were living in the moment, and it was balls to the wall back then.
We live in a different culture now. We’re exhibitionists 24/7.
Is it weird coming from that old-school rock mentality to see how everything’s changed? To see how everything is just put out there, whereas in the past you had secrets that you kept?
Yeah. We could not go out today and do what we did way back then [without it ending up online]. But it has to do with any form of entertainment. Your life is an open book for everybody to see, so you better watch what you do. Our man Tiger is the latest in a long row of that kind of stuff.
A lot of people know things about you musically, but you’re private in other ways. There is not a ton of stuff floating around the Internet about you.
No, for one reason: I’m not a lead singer or a lead guitarist. I don’t have that kind of notoriety or anything. I can take my family to Disneyland and pretty much remain anonymous, within reason. Now anywhere Sammy walks into, anybody who knows music knows it’s him. I try to keep my home life and my career pretty separated.
But you still played in one of the most famous rock bands in the world, so it’s not like people don’t know who you are. Most of my friends would recognize you in a second.
In Van Halen we always credited ourselves with being four individuals as opposed to, for lack of a better example, someone like the Eagles, where a lot of people probably couldn’t name every single guy in that band. In a way it’s kind of cool because I can go out and do things other people like Eddie Van Halen couldn’t go out and do in public. I’m leaving here for a few days to go to a car auction that I go to every year in Scottsdale called Barrett-Jackson Auction. Craig Jackson and I are buddies, and he invites me every year. I can go into this thing and walk around there for four days and have fun. People can say, “Hey, Michael Anthony,” and it’s no big deal. Sammy went a few years back because he sold a car, and I was there out, too. He was there for half a day and had to get out of there. So in a way it’s kind of cool. My wife says as long as one person comes up and asks me for my autograph, then I’m ok. Otherwise if I’m looking around going, it’s like, “Hey, guess who it is here?”