Review: Sammy Hagar & The Circle Release First Single, “Trust Fund Baby”

maxresdefault

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:

https://youtu.be/QLguM83wDQM

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.

Cheers!

 

Advertisements

In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist

5150_tour

*Image of happier times taken from the internet and likely copyrighted (*not pictured, the hideous Alex Van Halen, for reasons that are obvious)

Early in our marriage, my wife and I got into the habit of going down to the basement, cranking up tunes and having what we called a drunken, rock and roll, dance party. Well she danced, I more lurched. She would usually DJ, but I always got some input. It was during one of those festive evenings, after I’d just dropped the needle on a Van Halen tune, sung by Sammy Hagar,  that the Rock Chick put her hand up in the universal “stop” gesture. It was then that she unburdened herself of a deep, dark secret she’d been keeping since we’d met… something I had never suspected. “I hate Van Hagar,” was all she said as she shook her head “no” to the tune I’d selected. We’d been randomly listening to Van Halen, both the Roth version and the Hagar version for years. I’d never suspected she didn’t like the Sammy incarnation of the band. I mean, no one likes the Gary Cherone version, but Sammy? It seems she liked Van Halen, she liked Sammy Hagar, just not together.

I’m not naive, I realize there is a divide between the Roth camp and the Hagar camp. It’s just that there was never any question for me when it came to Van Halen, the Roth albums are the best, period. I think when Roth left and Hagar came into the fold, the band fundamentally changed. It’s not fair to compare the early VH albums to the latter, Van Hagar (if you will) albums – they were, in my mind, different bands like Rage Against the Machine versus Audioslave. Same musicians, different singer, completely different bands. I was always disappointed that Eddie didn’t change the name of the band once Roth took off (or was fired, depending on who you listen to) but Ed’s name is on the side of the truck, I get it. It was Eddie’s world we all just lived in it.

People tend to view music in chronological decades. The sixties brought us the Beatles and the Stones, the seventies brought us Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen etc. I’ve never looked it at it that way. The music of the early 70s was a lot different than the music of the latter half of that decade. I came of age, musically anyway, in the late-70s. Van Halen was one of the foremost rock bands that came out of that era. It’s hard to understate how huge they were as an influence. Before VH most of us in the late 70s were listening to what our older siblings listened to. VH was ours! When they appeared with their seminal first album, (Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40) it was like nothing we’d ever heard. Eddie’s guitar sound, the way he played up the neck, hammering strings with his finger tips was all revolutionary stuff. But as important as all that was, David Lee Roth was equally as critical to the success. Roth had a swagger and menace combined with a crazy sense of humor, a mix I haven’t seen since. Roth was, to put it simply, just fucking cool. He was in his 20s but his lyrics were like that of a high school kid, “have you seen junior’s grades?” Roth was the guy we all wanted to be.

I suppose such a lightning-hot band couldn’t hold together for long. The personalities were bound to implode the group. After the success of Fair Warning they were supposed to take a much needed break, but somehow ended up recording Diver Down and immediately touring. I’m sure nerves were frayed and everybody was tired. After that there was a lot of conflict about Eddie wanting to play keyboards. Roth kept saying, “you’re a guitar god, nobody wants to hear you play keyboards.” I blame Michael Jackson for a lot of that. Once Eddie showed up on a purely pop song, “Beat It” and his guitar solo fueled it to number 1, globally, I think Eddie thought that it didn’t matter who was singing or what type of song it was, as long as that magic guitar solo played. I think that is what ultimately made Eddie decide he could live without Roth. And of course Roth had to go out and do an EP, Crazy From the Heat. I’m sure that didn’t help.

In retrospect, it was going to be impossible for anybody to fill the shoes of David Lee Roth. Hell, even in 2012, Roth couldn’t fill his own shoes when he got back together with the rest of Van Halen for the reunion album, A Different Kind of Truth. As my buddy, the accountant said years ago, “Roth did jujitsu on stage, Hagar does calisthenics.” They certainly lost that great sense of humor when Roth left as well. Roth was the party, Sammy was the guy who brings the tequila to the party. While Roth was no Steve Perry, Sammy was a shouter. And Roth’s lyrics, while not Elvis Costello or Tom Waits-like, are preferred to Hagar’s lyrics which are, and I’ll be the first to admit it, borderline stupid. For example, a line I’ve never gotten over, “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.” Think about that line for a while. It’s like saying “only Fred will tell us if we stand the test of Fred.” Well, it’s Fred’s fucking test, of course he’s going to be the one who tells us if we “stand the test.” But I digress… I mention all this just to say, again, Hagar fundamentally changed the DNA of the band. No one was going to live up to the original VH so to compare them is unfair.

I will say Hagar brought a camaraderie to the band they hadn’t seen since the early days. At least through 5150 and OU812 it seemed like everybody in the band was enjoying making music again. I remember a friend of mine telling me that OU812 was the new Fair Warning… well, it was certainly a grim record (without the menace), but you can’t compare the two. However, if you put the original band aside, these guys made some solid, if not really good harder rock. I think the whole Monster’s of Rock tour thing was Sammy’s idea. Sammy always pushed Eddie to think outside the box like Zeppelin did (Sammy loved Zeppelin and wanted to push in that bluesy direction). The results really never materialized other than “Finish What You Started,” which started as an acoustic/Zeppelin III thing Sammy wanted to do.

I went back and listened to the four albums Sammy and the brothers Van Halen did – with Michael Anthony on bass and harmony vocals, let’s not forget him, he’s a key ingredient – and those records aren’t bad. In fact, those records are pretty damn good. There may not be a Fair Warning or Women And Children First but there’s some fine rock and roll. They even put out a few decent tracks on greatest hits records. I went ahead and put together a play list of Van Halen tracks, but only from the Van Hagar albums. I feel these are the “best of Van Hagar” if you will… I’ll let the music do the talking. The Rock Chick has a blistering VH playlist but the Sammy tunes are missing… she also has an AC/DC tunes with virtually no Bon Scott. What can I say, she likes what she likes. Purists… what are you gonna do? I think this playlist will show you, this was not a bad band, it was just different from the original. Listen with fresh ears!

  1. “Best of Both Worlds” – My favorite track from 5150.
  2. “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” – Yes, Hagar shouts random stuff about shooting, heroin, and shooting heroin but this song RAWKS. They were clearly in a bad place on Balance.
  3. “Top of the World” – From F.U.C.K.
  4. “Poundcake” – Love the riff on this one.
  5. “Up For Breakfast” – Great riff with Sammy’s kinda ridiculous lyrics about having sex when you wake up.
  6. “Judgement Day” – A great deep track from F.U.C.K.
  7. “Dreams” – I mostly avoided the keyboard stuff, but I loved the video with the Blue Angels flying around.
  8. “Feels So Good” – The most positive song VH ever did.
  9. “Right Now” – You couldn’t escape this song.
  10. “Black and Blue” – The first single and my favorite track from OU812.
  11. “Can’t Stop Loving You” – A bit poppy for my taste, but catchy as hell.
  12. “5150” – The title track… It’s police code for “insane or unstable persons who might be a danger to themselves or others.” Great riff and Sammy’s lyrics rise to the occasion.
  13. “Humans Being” – A track from the movie, ‘Twister.’ It’s mostly Sammy shouting about something I can’t understand but man, this rocks.
  14. “Mine All Mine” – One of Hagar’s finest lyrics… For once he’s not singing about chicks and getting loaded.
  15. “Summer Nights” – The first track Sammy wrote with VH.
  16. “Why Can’t This Be Love” – “Only time will tell if we…” oh, fuck it.
  17. “Man On A Mission” – Another hard rocker.
  18. “Finish What Ya Started” – Began as an acoustic number…
  19. “Runaround” – Another hit from F.U.C.K.
  20. “A Apolitical Blues” – A Little Feat blues cover? On a VH album? This was a bonus track but I love it and it’s a perfect way to end the list… they’d never have done this without Hagar.

Happy Labor Day Weekend Folks… I’ll be making the annual transition from vodka to bourbon over the weekend. Stay safe and don’t drink and drive. I don’t want any of you to end up “face down in Cabo…”

 

 

Sammy Hagar’s Other Bands: Montrose And Chickenfoot

MI0003516006

*Yes, that’s Sammy Hagar in the back, on the right. Shirts on guys… jeez.

 I went for my morning walk in the park today… I usually like to run, which is painful for others to watch, but I somehow hobbled myself with a lingering calf injury a few weeks ago. I suspect it was caused by standing for 2 and half hours at the Guns N Roses concert which means it was totally worth it. As I was walking along, I saw a guy complete his jog and immediately fire up a Marlboro Red, because nothing says physical fitness like strong tobacco. Hey, we don’t judge anybody’s vices here at B&V and I was surprised at my less than generous reaction to this guy. I’ve been in an edgy mood all week, likely caused by pressures my corporate overlords have been applying of late… There’s only one thing that will cure this mood. There are just times in life I need to hear some good old fashion, hard rock. Played loudly.

There’s a time for introspection. There’s a time for listening to well thought out, intricate lyrics. There’s a time for Dylan’s early protest songs. And then there’s a time for screaming, tortured guitar and drums that crash like Boston traffic on that weird corner on Comm Ave. There are many options for hard rock when I’m in this mood, but I need some good time music. In this troubled time, I need some Sammy Hagar.

There are generally two groups of Hagar fans. There are those of us who were on the bandwagon when he emerged on his solo career as the Red Rocker. His career didn’t really take off until his magnum opus, “Standing Hampton.” That album still sounds great today. I can’t hear “Baby’s On Fire” and not flash back to a girl I knew high school… but those records are sealed until 25 years after I’m dead. The “Three Lock Box” and “VOA” LPs followed up “Standing Hampton” and Hagar was on a roll. He was a staple on early MTV and his song “I Can’t Drive 55” became an anthem for those of us challenged by speed limits. I’ve always viewed them as more of a guideline really… except in school zones. Let’s protect the kiddo’s. Hagar was a consistent, hard rock, no nonsense guy. I really liked him as a solo artist.

The second type of Hagar fan, are those who know him from his time in Van Halen. No one was more surprised than I was when Sammy joined Eddie and the boys in what we all called Van Hagar. Well, I’m guessing David Lee Roth might have been more surprised than I was. The Rock Chick didn’t like Van Hagar and while she put together an excellent Van Halen playlist for my car, there is nary a Van Hagar song on the list. What can I say, she’s a purist. My buddy, the General (name obscured to protect the guilty), always complained about Sammy being in Van Halen, “Roth used to do kung fu on stage, Sammy shows up in capri pants and does aerobics.” He sorta had a point now that I look back on it. While I never thought Van Hagar was as good as the original line up in Van Halen I still thought it was a solid band. It was just different. Like the RHCP’s without Frusciante, the basic DNA of the band had changed. But I still think songs like “Summer Nights,” “Best of Both Worlds,” “Black And Blue,” and “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” were kick ass tunes. These guys put out a solid set of LPs.

Both of these Hagar camps tend to overlook the fact that Sammy has been in a couple of other bands. Hagar’s career started when he joined the band Montrose as lead singer. I don’t know why but Montrose is one of those seemingly forgotten bands. Later in his career Sammy formed the “supergroup” Chickenfoot with guitar wizard Joe Satriani which is an extraordinarily overlooked band in my opinion. Say what you want about Sammy Hagar, he certainly knows how to pick lead guitarists to work with. It’s a Hall of Fame line up: Ronnie Montrose, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani. All he’s missing is Hendrix… So today I want to quickly look back at these two forgotten bands because when you need some good, solid hard rock, these are two bands you can turn to.

Montrose, 1973-1974

Ronnie Montrose who had been mostly a session guitarist formed Montrose in 1973. He recruited fellow session man Bill Church to play bass and Denny Carmassi on drums. Sammy knew Denny and he was in. While this line-up only put out two albums, they were amazing records. You can’t hear Montrose’s loud guitar on their self titled first album without scratching your head over the fact that he’d played guitar on “Tupelo Honey” for Van Morrison. The guitar work on “Montrose” is heavy, heavy. Big fat chords and soaring solos. That first album was hugely influential. Oddly I never heard the great song “Bad Motor Scooter” until I got satellite radio. It never got played on the radio in KC, which is criminal.  “Rock The Nation” is a fabulous rock n roll call to arms. “Rock Candy” is a giant slab of hard rock. “One Thing On My Mind” despite it’s simpleton lyrics has a great guitar riff and a fabulous solo from Montrose. These guys even pull off a harder rocking version of Elvis’ “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” There was a moment in the early 70s when there was a break between the mostly British, heavy blues acts like Zeppelin and Cream and a new, non-bluesy, straight ahead, harder rock sound. I think this album may be the key to that leap. It’s what Jeff Beck called, “heavy  music.” This is a must have album.

“Paper Money” was the difficult second album. There are so many groups that have trouble on the sophomore album, call it the sophomore slump. “Paper Money” is no exception. It seems like Montrose wanted to go in a different direction creatively. There are acoustic guitars, like on the great Stones cover “Connection” and keyboard textures. Even the drum sound is different. That’s not to say this isn’t a good solid album. The title track and the great songs “The Dreamer” and “I Got The Fire” which sound more like the first album, are first rate tunes. “Underground,” the first track on the album is great, but you immediately pick up on the different sound Montrose were striving for. It wasn’t as hard as the first record. But alas, you can tell they were struggling to come up with enough material (like the old saying goes, “you have your whole life to write the first album, you have 2 months to write the second”) as filler like the trippy instrumental “Starliner” proves. On their European tour to support “Paper Money” Hagar and Montrose started to fight, probably over creative direction, and Hagar split. Carmassi and Church soon followed to join Hagar’s solo band. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they’d just stayed together. Like GnR I feel like there was an opportunity missed here.

Chickenfoot, 2009-2011

When I heard Hagar had formed a band with Joe Satriani on guitar, Michael Anthony of VH fame on bass and Chad Smith from the RHCP’s on drums, I admit, I was skeptical. I read early reviews and they complained that Satriani’s cool precision was ill-matched with Sammy’s sloppy, party guy approach. Both Smith and Anthony were the weaker links in their respective rhythm sections (Flea’s bass being more dominating and Alex Van Halen’s drumming being similarly more dominant). In essence the critics claimed the sum was less than it’s parts. Luckily I’m not a pasty, black turtleneck-in-the-summer, musical-intellectual critic from NY. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I like to consider myself a tad more… sanguine.

While I remained skeptical about Chickenfoot, a buddy of mine slipped me a copy of their first album, “Chickenfoot” and I was hooked. Again, this wasn’t like hearing “Led Zeppelin II” for the first time, but it was solid, meat-and-potatoes rock and roll. Satriani is truly the star on this first record. He sounds like he’s having a blast while tearing out solo’s that will melt your face off. “Sexy Little Thing,” “Turnin’ Left,” and “My Kind of Girl” will bore into your brain. I even like the ending, epic ballad, “Future In the Past.” You can’t go wrong popping this record on the stereo.

The ironically named second album, “III” is just as solid. I do not understand why this album was universally ignored. I never heard any of this record on the radio, satellite or otherwise. I read the other day Satriani was ready to do some more new music but Sammy said, “I don’t want to work that hard for six months to create music no one will hear.” These are the kind of records B&V was started for… “Last Temptation” starts the record on with a  great rock song. Hagar told Satriani to listen to the Black Keys before they did this record as he wanted that kind of sound. I don’t hear that connection but what a great place to start. “Alright Alright” has silly lyrics but is still a great rock song (lyrically you have to remember it was Hagar who wrote the stupidest lyric ever: “only time will tell if we stand the test of time,” read that over a few times). “Dubai Blues” is a great, dirty-blues rocker. I really like the tune “Come Closer” and I even dig the mid tempo ballad “Something Going Wrong.” That one might be my favorite. Alas now Satriani is back doing solo stuff and Hagar is on to his next band project with Anthony, the Circle, which features Jason Bonham on drums. They already put out a live album and Hagar says he digs their vibe and wants to get them in the studio. With Chad Smith on tour supporting the weak new RHCPs album, it looks like we’ll be waiting for that third Chickenfoot album which will likely be called “VI” because why not….

Do yourself a favor if you have a hankering for some great hard rock. Check out Montrose and Chickenfoot. Me, I’m considering pouring a nice, brown murky fluid into a tumbler and putting “Standing Hampton” on the turntable… “Baby’s On Fire” has me inspired in ways the Rock Chick will likely abhor…heh heh…. Rock Out, people. It’s all we can do in these troubled times…

Cheers!