INTERVIEW: Michael Anthony Talks Chickenfoot and Van Halen
by Paul Cashmere – November 14 2009
In 1974, Michael Anthony, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and David Lee Roth became known as Van Halen. That decision took up the next 30 years of Anthony`s life.
However things changed in 2004. What started as a reunion tour with Sammy Hagar that should have taken the band around the world disintegrated after 80 shows on the North American tour. When the band once again reunited in 2007 for a tour with David Lee Roth, Anthony discovered via the press that he was no longer in the band.
Anthony had no intention of retiring but the next phase of his career would be for the fun and music, not the money or the fame. Chickenfoot had played a few casual gigs at Sammy Hagar’s club in Mexico but this year they took it one step further.
The first performance was in February 2008 in Las Vegas. Anthony, Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s drummer Chad Smith joined Sammy Hagar on stage at his gig and played three songs. That night is now documented as the first Chickenfoot performance.
In June 2009, Chickenfoot released their debut album.
To find out the Chickenfoot story and the truth behind the implosion of Van Halen, I talked to Michael Anthony.
Paul Cashmere: When Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani and Chad Smith get together in a band I call that a supergroup. What do you call it?
Michael Anthony: I just call it four friends that got together to jam and started to make music together. Most supergroups do one album and go out and make as much money as they can. We are not doing it that way. When we first got together and started to play and decided we wanted to do this we didn’t even have a record company. We were doing it for ourselves. One thing lead to another. When we toured last summer we didn’t go into big arenas. There are no egos here. We have all made money in our respective bands. We played theatre size places and a festival here or there. Mostly we just want to build the band and earn the fans respect.
Paul Cashmere: Chickenfoot had its origins many years ago in a slightly different line-up as Planet US.
Michael Anthony: Joe was in that band for probably 40 minutes. It was with Neal Schoen and then we decided we wanted to bring Joe in. We did a radio broadcast from San Francisco and had Joe come down. But then the whole Van Halen reunion thing started to come together so we had to let it go. Originally it was Chad, Sammy and myself jamming down in Mexico at Sammy’s club. We called ourselves Chickenfoot there for a couple of years. Sammy decided to get a proper guitar player if we were really going to do this thing and Joe was the one to call.
Paul Cashmere: The first show in January 2008 in Vegas. Was that an impromptu jumping on stage at a Sammy Hagar gig?
Michael Anthony: That’s right. If I wanted to get on stage with Sammy with the Wabaritos we would play Van Halen/Hagar era stuff. We wanted to play something different so he asked Chad and myself to come down so we did a Sammy Hagar and friends. Then he asked Joe to come down so that was the first time the four of us were on stage.
Paul Cashmere: Red Hot Chili Peppers are recording at the moment. How will that effect Chickenfoot?
Michael Anthony: It has slowed things down a little bit. We did a lot of filming of all of the shows we did over summer and we are putting together a performance DVD. We have another show we are doing in Las Vegas in December. Then we will wait and see what Chad’s schedule will be like with the Chili Peppers because Chad doesn’t want to give this up.
Paul Cashmere: You personally must have a lot more freedom in this band. Does that mean you have having a lot more fun as well?
Michael Anthony: I have a great time with the talented musicians I get to play with. Joe and Chad, my tongue is on the floor sometimes when we get in the studio and jam. We are all good buddies. Its like how Van Halen used to be in the early days. It reminds me of why I started doing this in the first place. Yes, there are no restrictions on anybody.
Paul Cashmere: What is the motivation for Chickenfoot?
Michael Anthony: The motivation is just having a love of music and playing music with your friends. Having had fame and success and having made money means we don’t have to look to do that right now. We don’t mean to make a lot of money and play big venues. We play smaller venues to earn the respect of the fans.
Paul Cashmere: Running parallel to Chickenfoot is Dave Grohl’s Them Crooked Vultures. What do you think of their individual ingredients?
Michael Anthony: They are all great musicians. Oh man, John Paul Jones, he was my hero growing up. I can’t wait to see their shows. I bet David Grohl is having a great time getting back behind the drums.
Paul Cashmere: Who are the bass players who admire?
Michael Anthony: I grew up with all the old rockers – John Entwistle, Jack Bruce. I listen to the old blues guys like Jamie Jamieson and when I first started out I was listening to Harvey Brooks who played in a band called The Electric Flag. All the old rock bass players from all the old rock bands, I listened to them all.
Paul Cashmere: Is Paul McCartney under-rated as a bass player?
Michael Anthony: I think so. When you go back and listen to an album like ‘Abbey Road’ and a song like ‘She’s So Heavy’, some of the bass-lines that he did back then, that was late 60s. Paul McCartney plays guitar great and he is a great keyboard player but when I listen to his bass playing he played some great stuff. He really was an under-rated bass player.
Paul Cashmere: What is your relationship with Eddie Van Halen these days?
Michael Anthony: There is no relationship. They chose their own path and their own way to go. Eddie had it in for me ever since I buddied up with Sammy Hagar again which I couldn’t understand because Sammy had asked me sometime back if I would like to come and guest on some shows. This was when Van Halen was going through a period where Eddie was dealing with some of his own demons. He had the cancer thing he was dealing with and his marriage. As far as I was concerned, I was going out there waving the Van Halen flag to say, “we didn’t go away, we are still here”. Unfortunately, he didn’t see it that way. He never liked me hanging out with Sammy and I can’t understand why because Van Halen was my band. They didn’t see it that way so they chose to not have me participate.
Paul Cashmere: How was that broken to you?
Michael Anthony: Actually, we finished out reunion tour in 2004 and I probably knew that nothing was going to happen after that, also because of the physical and mental state that Eddie was in at that time. That tour did not end very harmoniously I guess you could stay. I’m not going to point any fingers but it just didn’t. It was unfortunate that we had to pull the plug after only 80 shows. We should have gone around the world 5 times. Back in 2007 when they announced their reunion tour with David Lee Roth, I found out about it like all the other fans did. I saw it in the press and found out like everyone else did. That didn’t hurt me as much as when they relaunched their website and took my image off a couple of the album covers. That upset me that they would go so far as to try and erase me out of the history of the band.
Paul Cashmere: What about being replaced by a teenager?
Michael Anthony: That is his son. He is a teenager but he is a decent bass player. I think that was also part of the reason to do it, to spite me.
Paul Cashmere: And it was bizarre that at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the only two members of Van Halen who turned up were you and Sammy Hagar.
Michael Anthony: I know. A couple of weeks before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I would have thought that as soon as Dave knew we were being inducted he would have been camping out at the Waldof ready to go out there. I spoke with Dave’s manager and said we should put things aside and be friends for just one evening. When you look at bands like Metallica, they had everybody come back on stage. Unfortunately Dave, from what I heard after talking to Slash, Dave wanted to do certain things that would steal the show and when he couldn’t have it his way he didn’t want to show up. For whatever reason, Eddie and Alex didn’t show up. It sucked. We were the two people who weren’t even in the band anymore but there was no way I was going to miss that. That was better than a Grammy to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I remember sitting at the table while REM were playing and I turned to Sammy and said, “This would have been great. We would have kicked this thing right in the arse”. Nobody would have ever forgotten this induction ceremony if all of us were getting along and went up there.
Paul Cashmere: The legendary story of the removal of the brown M&Ms, true or false?
Michael Anthony: Ha-ha. True. The reason we came up with that was because back in the day we would read some really ridiculous things that entertainers would put in their contracts, their riders. I remember reading about someone who wouldn’t even go on stage unless it was a certain temperature. It was so ridiculous that we thought lets come up with something so ridiculous and see if the promoters are really paying attention to our backstage rider. The only thing I felt bad about was once going to a show and seeing a little girl who was working with the caterer back there with this big bowl of M&Ms and she’s picking out the brown ones knowing that if she forgot and left one in there it would probably cost her her job. We got more mileage and press out of that. I couldn’t believe it.
Paul Cashmere: What was a Spinal Tap moment in Van Halen?
Michael Anthony: We would play Masonic temples in the Midwest in the late 70s. You know that scene were they are below in Cleveland and they are trying to direct them to the stage? We did that a couple of times where we could not find the stage but we could hear the crowd upstairs but we couldn’t find the stage.
Paul Cashmere: I believe you are quite a car collector?
Michael Anthony: I’ve got a few, yeah. It was all inspired by me meeting Sammy Hagar much to my wife’s dismay. My wife is not too excited about it. The moment I start talking about cars she walks out of the room. She has herself a Mercedes and the way she puts it, she says “I have my one nice car and that’s all I need”.
Paul Cashmere: What is your favorite car?
Michael Anthony: I have just restored a 1957 Chevy Nomad wagon. If you go on my website Mad Anthony Cafe I have the car on my website. It was before I redid the car. I am just about to redo a bunch of stuff on my website with my cars. I didn’t think it was something anyone would be interested in but I guess a lot of people are interested in my cars so I’m getting ready to redo the website. I love all of my cars. Its what I like to do when I’m not playing music.
Paul Cashmere: There are a lot of celebrity car collectors, Jay Leno, Brian Johnson …
Michael Anthony: Yeah, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck is a big car guy, Metallica. Its cool. It has caught on. I remember a couple of years ago running into Joey Cramer and Tommy Hamilton from Aerosmith. We were staying at the same hotel in Chicago and got together to have a cocktail at the bar and we just sat there talking about our cars. I go to a lot of car shows with my cars and a lot of fans are car fans.
Paul Cashmere: What is next for Chickenfoot?
Michael Anthony: I’d like to come down there. We aren’t ready to record another album. I think we should go out and play some shows. As soon as we find out what is happening with Chad’s schedule I’d like to come down to Australia at the beginning of the year. We will put together a DVD and do stuff on the website. Its not like the tour has finished and we are going to stop.
The “Deluxe Edition” of Chickenfoot’s debut album is released by earMusic. The Deluxe Edition of the eponymous album includes a bonus DVD disc that includes exclusive behind-the-scenes and live footage, plus promo videos for the singles ‘Oh Yeah’, ‘Soap on a Rope’ and ‘Sexy Little Thing’.