By Neil Baron • Special to Best Bets • April 30, 2009
Longtime rock ‘n’ roll frontman Sammy Hagar knows a great guitarist when he hears one. After all, the Red Rocker has shared the stage with the likes of Ronnie Montrose, Ted Nugent and Eddie Van Halen.
So you know Hagar knows what he’s talking about when he compliments guitarist Joe Satriani, one of his collaborators in a new band, Chickenfoot. While Hagar and his regular band, the Wabos, will play Friday and Saturday at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, he’s moving on to a new group — in this case, with a guitarist he has long admired.
“I’ve made this statement a million times — some people don’t like it, some people do — but Joe is the best guitarist I have ever played with,” Hagar said during a recent phone interview. “That’s a strong statement. I realize that. You’ve got to give Eddie (Van Halen) a lot of love for his innovation of what he did as a stylist with the guitar,” Hagar added. “He broke a lot of ground. But Joe is a master. He can play anything and everything — folk, blues, jazz, hard rock, soft rock, fusion, you name it. As a guitar technician, Joe is the best guy I’ve ever stood in the same room with on any instrument. And he’s so soulful when he solos. He puts more feeling into a solo than any other player I’ve been with.”
Hagar hardly can control the enthusiasm he has for Chickenfoot, a proverbial supergroup featuring Satriani, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and himself.
“This band is blowing my mind,” Hagar said.
He’s not alone. The band in May will embark on what Hagar calls a nine-show North American test tour. He calls it a “test” because it will be Chickenfoot’s first live shows before starting a full-scale tour this summer in Europe. The band will return for a tour of the United States in late August or September, Hagar said.
Although the band’s self-titled debut album won’t be released until June, the nine shows sold out within 40 minutes of going on sale, Hagar said.
“It’s like early Led Zeppelin with a little Deep Purple and Montrose,” he said when asked to describe Chickenfoot’s sound. “With Mike and I in there and me co-writing all the songs with Joe, you’re also going to get a little Van Halen — Van Hagar, you might say. But every band we ever loved, from the Stones to Cream, is in there. We even get funky every now and then.”
The idea to form Chickenfoot came from informal jam sessions at Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Of course, Hagar and Anthony had played together for decades in Van Halen. Both men found they enjoyed playing with Smith at the jams.
“Chad Smith is the hardest-hitting … he’s got more chops than any drummer I’ve ever seen with his right foot in the pocket,” Hagar said.
Once Satriani joined the trio, the jam sessions became a full-time venture.
“I’m sure Chad is going to have to do something with the Chilis,” Hagar said. “Every time they have a break, he’ll be back with us. We’ll work around it, until maybe it’s more important to everyone than anything else.”
Hagar’s work with Chickenfoot means the demise of his own band, the Wabos.
“An era is coming to an end,” he said. “I really want to concentrate on Chickenfoot. I think Chickenfoot probably will go back into the studio next year and make another record. I just don’t see why we would not do that. This is way too good.”
Hagar said he isn’t parting ways with the Wabos. He’s just putting his focus elsewhere.
“I’ll keep on paying them,” he said. “Honestly. I want them to stay a band because we’ll still do parties and play the Cabo Wabos.”
Hagar said there’s no jealousy on the part of Wabos’ guitarist Vic Johnson, drummer David Lauser and bass guitarist Mona.
“Oh, hell no, man,” Hagar said. “Vic and Dave are the greatest people on the planet. If there were any animosity, I’d say ‘OK guys, you go do your own thing and I’ll do mine.’ But they’ve been so cool about it. Vic’s at the studio with Joe helping him fix the foot pedals before rehearsals. And Mona and Mike are like twins. They’re great people.”
The Tahoe shows
When Hagar and the Wabos perform this weekend at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, they’ll cull songs from Montrose, Van Halen, the pre-Van Halen-Red Rocker era, the post-Van Halen era and Hagar’s 2008 studio album, “Cosmic Universal Fashion.”
“It’ll be a party,” Hagar said. “My fans know that this (The Wabos) is coming to a close.”
Hagar said he’ll be back in Northern California later this year for several performances with Chickenfoot.
“We’ll play a Sacramento show, San Jose, maybe Oakland,” he said. “We’ll play a bunch of Bay Area shows because Joe and I are Bay Area boys and Chickenfoot is a Bay Area band.”
And the Wabos will be back in Tahoe because of the success of Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina inside Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.
“If not for the Cabo Wabos, I probably wouldn’t be making music today,” Hagar said. “It’s not profitable enough to work that hard. It’s so … expensive to go on tour this day and age. The cantinas gave people a place to party and drink tequila, listen to loud rock ‘n’ roll music and have a good time.
“I’m fortunate because I don’t do this (perform) for the money anymore. Let me tell you, it’s a real pleasure to do it this way.”
If you want to go:
Who: Sammy Hagar and the Wabos
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room
Cost: $75. Both shows are sold out. However, a cancellation line is open at the door on show nights. Ages 21 and older only.