I’m beginning to think that Sammy Hagar, “The Red Rocker,” is the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll. He just can’t get the respect he deserves. Maybe it’s because he’s got that whole Guy Fieri look going on. Or perhaps it’s his love of tequila and the suspicion that he’s always half in the bag that’s cost him. In the 80s he was always dressed like a gym teacher on coke, so that didn’t help. Nobody could pull off that whole “jams” pants thing – you know, the colorful, baggy, PJ-style pants – but Sammy sure gave it a try. I remember when he joined Van Halen, my buddy The Accountant (identity blurred to protect the guilty) alway said, “Fuck man, Roth used to do kung-fu on stage and Sammy does aerobics.” Yeah, yeah. While it’s certainly true that Roth was the definitive lead singer of VH, I still always dug Van Hagar… In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist.
Sammy has accomplished quite a bit as an artist if you look at his career as a whole. Yes, he’s had a long and storied solo career which probably peaked in the 80s. The album that sold me on Hagar, and the first one I purchased (and still own on vinyl), was 1981’s Standing Hampton. For us at B&V that was the creative peak for Sammy. His success continued in the 80s with Three Lock Box and VOA. One could argue that string of albums is what landed him the gig in Van Halen to replace Roth. I thought Van Hagar, as we used to call them, was a good band but it just wasn’t the influential, great band that the original line up was. They should have changed the name.
In terms of Sammy’s solo career people forget he’s put out some solid records since departing Van Halen. 1997’s Marching to Mars was a great record. “Little White Lies,” “Both Sides Now,” and the title track were all great. He also had a great record in Ten 13 which was a dark, little record. “Serious Ju Ju” was a track everyone should check out. He’s also had a few tunes that popped up off of some of his weaker albums like “Mas Tequila,” that the Rock Chick tends to always put on when we’re having a party. Well, she used to…she’s moved into a more alternative rock direction. Sigh…for richer or for poorer as the vows go… Sammy tried to position himself as the “hard rock Jimmy Buffet” which left me a little cold. But there was still some rocking music there.
What people tend to overlook, other than Van Halen, is that Sammy has been in a couple of other great bands (Sammy Hagar’s Other Bands: Montrose And Chickenfoot). He got his start as the lead singer in the quartet Montrose, named after lead guitarist Ronnie Montrose, who passed recently. You could point to that time in Montrose as his apprenticeship for Van Halen. They put out two great records with Sammy on vocals. More recently Sammy joined what was termed a supergroup, Chickenfoot. Chickenfoot was Sammy on vocals with guitar whiz Joe Satriani, bassist and best buddy Michael Anthony (also formerly of Van Halen) and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums. I dug Chickenfoot and own both those records. They won’t change your life but they were good, solid hard rock which is hard to find these days. Satriani is always good for a fabulous guitar solo or two. Satriani became frustrated with Sammy when Hagar refused to go back in the studio to record a third album. Sammy felt no one was buying the albums, why work that hard… just tour and I presume, drink tequila. With Chad Smith reengaged with the Peppers, Chickenfoot sort of ran its course.
Sammy then got together a new band, The Circle. Back on bass and backing vocals is his buddy Michael Anthony. They recruited drummer Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, on the skins. For guitarist this time, Sammy just went to Vic Johnson, from his backing band the Waboritas. Luckily Johnson can play. The Circle recorded a live album, At Your Service, which covered all of Sammy’s career: solo, Montrose, Van Halen, and Chickenfoot but they also did Zeppelin covers since there was a Bonham in the house. Hagar was quoted as saying the band’s name, The Circle was indicative of the fact that they’d come full circle – they were inspired by Led Zeppelin, went through Montrose and his solo career, then joined Anthony in Van Halen and now they’ve come all the way around to playing Zeppelin tracks with Bonham. The live album did rock.
Somehow, despite his refusal to do so with Chickenfoot, Sammy agreed to going into the studio to record a proper album with The Circle. They’ve released a new song, “Trust Fund Baby” via a YouTube, lyric video, ie, the video is merely the lyrics of the song on the screen. There’s no performance or anything. I can say, based on the pictures of Sammy and Michael Anthony, it appears they’ve both been hitting that Keto Diet thing. They both look skinnier than they have in years. Maybe they gave up tequila. You can find the video here:
I’ve got to give these guys credit, this song rocks. The lyrics are pretty typical of Hagar… although these feel like lyrics he could have written in the 80s. He references cocaine in the first verse, “Mama’s on a fast train, running on cocaine.” I didn’t realize cocaine was still around? Lyrically I’ll never forgive Hagar for writing the stupidest lyric of all time, “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time…” Well of course time will be the one to tell us. Substitute the name Hank in there. Only Hank will tell if we stand the test of Hank. Jesus, he’s stating the obvious.
The real stars here are Vic Johnson on guitar and Jason Bonham on drums. Vic plays a mean, nasty riff reminiscent of, dare I say, Montrose! He plays a very tasty guitar solo. The riff isn’t complicated, but that’s the point. Jason’s drumming is insistent, hard and right in the pocket. He propels the song. Anthony’s bass is fine, and he adds his great harmony vocals on the choruses. The guy who kind of disappoints me here is Hagar himself… he’s singing in a lower register (age catching up with him…tequila catching up to him?). Hagar always was a shouter, and I don’t expect Steve Perry-like notes from the guy, I was just surprised he’d do this song in a growl.
This may not be Led Zeppelin, Montrose or even Van Hagar, but it’s a solid rock tune worth checking out. Hagar has hinted this might be his last studio album, so one can hope that he’s going to throw all he has into it. And, let’s face it, it’s nice to see Jason Bonham working, he’s a great drummer and deserves a hard rock outfit to showcase that.