Peter Hodgson of Gibson spoke with vocalist Sammy Hagar about his new solo album, Sammy Hagar & Friends and the playing styles of Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani. Portions of the interview appear below.
Gibson: You always hear “Sammy had so-and-so over to jam at his club in Cabo,” but most of us never get to see that. This album is like that experience being distilled into an album you can throw on in your house.
Hagar: What I wanted this record to be was my life: my lifestyle now. Because in the past when I’ve went into the studio I’ve gone in with 15 or 20 songs and I’d record them all and pick the best ones. It was kinda like a business. And this record I wanted to be exactly who and what I am today. So the first thing I thought was, I want to write just lifestyle songs. So, I wrote Father Sun first, and then All We Need Is An Island. And then I thought, well, maybe I should call up some of my friends to play on this stuff. And little by little it dawned on me that I was making the record that I really wanted to make but I didn’t have a method of doing it. There was no manual to making a record that’s who you are. But then I realized what you just said: what I’ve been doing for the last ten years is going to Cabo San Lucas with different people all the time. I meet Toby down there, I meet the guys from the Grateful Dead down there, I meet Slash, Jerry Cantrell, guys from Metallica. They say “Hey, I’m going to Cabo, are you around?” And I’ll say “[Expletive], I’ll meet you down there.” I have a house, I just go down there and we play this kind of music. This is what we do. Chad Smith and I, we go down there and we play Going Down. We jam a lot of blues stuff, and this record is exactly who and what I am. It’s what I do.
Gibson: Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus is an interesting choice because even though it wasn’t originally recorded in a heavy blues style, you can unlock that from it.
Hagar: I’ve gotta tell you, as I studied that lick I went “That is a blues fricken’ lick.” For an electronic band, some bizarre alternative electronic band, that’s a badass blues lick. And I played it on guitar and said, “This is it.” And Neal Schon, the intro on that thing, the licks Neal’s playing, it’s in high gear. I can’t wait till the Depeche Mode guys hear it. I think when they hear it they’re going to say, “Sammy Hagar, that [expletive] rock and roll freak?” Haha. They’ve gotta like it. It’s a blues song and it’s a great lyric, a great deep, dark lyric. I can’t write lyrics like that. It’s too dark for me.
Gibson: I dunno, you got pretty dark on Van Halen’s Balance. When that album came out I was like “Is Sammy okay?”
Hagar: Yeah, you’re right, you’re right. That’s because it was a dark period! I knew that was the end of that rainbow, man!
Gibson: I’ve always wanted to ask you how you rank yourself as a guitarist. It takes balls to stand up there with Eddie Van Halen or Joe Satriani. I’ve been lucky to jam with Satriani and Vai, and to a certain point it’s intimidating but also at a certain point you’ve just got to tell yourself “Screw it, this is what I do.”
Hagar: I’m a little bit intimidated if we go too long, but in Chickenfoot and Van Halen I just put the guitar on and got a big cheer always, and then I’d burn for a little bit and then take it back off before I ran out of chops, y’know? I rate myself as a guy that can play, and I can express myself extremely well but only in one language. I can only play blues-based guitar. And when a guy like Joe steps up there, he can play. Once he finishes with my repertoire he can go into French, Spanish and Russian on the guitar! He’s just so versatile and fluent. Eddie’s not as fluent and versatile. Eddie’s got a style for himself and he’s very much in that pocket but Joe can play anything. He freaks me out. When Joe and I start to write together he’ll show me some chords and I’ll start singing, then I’ll pick up a guitar just mainly to figure a lick out: “What chord is that? What are you playing?” so I can know what notes I have to choose from to sing. Then he’ll go “That was a cool lick, what did you play?” and I’ll go “[Expletive], I don’t know!” I don’t get it. I just play.
Gibson: There were so many great guitar players to come out of the 80s where you knew they’d kind of fade away, but even early on it was apparent that we’d still be hearing about Joe Satriani in 40, 50 years.
Hagar: Oh Joe’s here to stay. I think he’s going to have a kind of Jeff Beck career. He’s going to have these little windows where he gets a little bump, a little more publicity, a little more recognition, and then he kinda just cruises along, then all of a sudden somebody’s gonna say “Wow, Joe Satriani’s the best guitar player in the world” and everybody gets hip again. He ain’t going nowhere. The thing that amazes me the most about Joe’s guitar playing over any other musician is he knows exactly what he’s playing and he can play it twice, three times exactly the same. He works his parts out but he does it really quick. It’s not like it takes him forever to come up with a part. He comes up with it, BAM, instantly, and he knows every note he’s playing and I don’t know how he does it. He’s too smart for his own good. But you’re a lucky man if you stood up and played next to Joe Satriani. What I do is, I learn. He immediately makes me better because it makes me aware of what I’m playing, because if I see him solo I think, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” So I start to think a little more, like “Oh I know why that note works.” So he just enlightens. He’s enlightening to play with. I don’t know if that works for you but that’s how it works for me.
Read the rest of the interview at Gibson.
Sammy Hagar & Friends is out now on Frontiers Records.