“…I said if we’re going to do this properly then we’re going to have to get a guitarist, let’s talk to Joe [Satriani]. As far as I’m concerned he’s the best guitarist in the world.”
Good ol’ fashioned RAWK.
What do Van Halen, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Joe Satriani have in common? Chickenfoot, the stomp-laden new supergroup consisting of the Peppers’ backbone, latter-day Van Halen’s vocal swagger, and Joe Satriani’s seismic fretboard, answer that question with a better one – What do Van Halen, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Joe Satriani have in combination? Thunder-pummeling drums, arena-sized vocal chords, and skull frying guitar is what.
In a world where music has become increasing nuanced and cross-pollinated, where journos need musicological degrees to properly dissect and appreciate the detailed musical genealogy involved in a given track, Chickenfoot take us back to refreshingly simpler times. Back to the days of molten riffs and sheer amplification and skull crushing guitar solos and triumphantly howled vocals. Take Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen, mix in a healthy dose of Chad Smith (Chili Peppers), and round off with otherworldly guitarist Joe Satriani, and things are bound to go monumental.
Super though they kinda inevitably are, the band dismiss being labeled as such. In fact, they started out just jamming together, and the chemistry took it from there. Recalls vocalist Sammy Hagar: “It started off with me, Michael and Chad jamming at my club – Cabo Wabo – in Mexico. Then people started asking us when we were going to tour, make a record etc. So I said if we’re going to do this properly then we’re going to have to get a guitarist, let’s talk to Joe [Satriani]. As far as I’m concerned he’s the best guitarist in the world.”
Satriani, the guy who single-handedly (or, rather, many-fingeredly) set the guitar world alight in the late 80′s with the notion of solo, instrumental Rock guitar, has always seemed a bit too big, too vast, to fit into a group, so it took a special bunch to measure up. Now that such a band exists, it’s super cool to hear Satchmo in the more organic environment of an actual Rock band. And this organic, live-entity feel is something he apparently very much enjoys, “We write and record all together. All of the recordings are done without click tracks or sequences. We’re basically making live recordings and overdubbing on top of that. Chickenfoot is an organic thing, and it’s so important we make that a hallmark of the recordings. That chemistry is always a part of what people hear. As I was writing for the second record, I wanted to take advantage of that as much as I could and write things that make me meld into the drums and bass and be part of a bigger unit rather than just play big guitar riffs and tell the guys to play a straight rhythm behind me. I never wanted to do that! I thought Sam [Hagar] and I should get together on our parts so sometimes we’re singing and playing the same thing.”
Peppers drummer Chad Smith has always been the rocking energy behind The Chili’s funk, and secretly prefers everything louder and rockier, he compares the energy between the bands; “It’s two completely different things. With the Chili Peppers, we write songs for a year and record for five months. With Chickenfoot, Joe [Satriani] sends demos around to people and Mike [Anthony] and I come up from L.A. and we just bang it out in a couple of weekends. It’s real quick and just a different, real spontaneous energy thing that happens with the Chickenfoot thing. The Chili Peppers are like a long marriage – and then Chickenfoot is kind of like my mistress.”
Having been together for two years now, Satriani notes the increased tightness of the band, and the fact that they have become closer musically, making their new release, ‘III’, a more natural album than their debut; Hagar going as far as to call it “the best record I’ve ever made”. No light claim!
Bassist Michael Anthony sums up the energy that surrounded recording III, “…and Sammy was already singing and going ‘Yeah-yeah-yeah’ for the chorus I’ll be going ‘I don’t wanna go there’ and I was like going ‘oh my God, that was just blowing me away right there.’ It wasn’t long after that where Joe, he just started coming up with a bunch of ideas. Of course he put them down on rough demo form and sends them out to Chad, Sammy and myself and this is the kind of guy that Joe is, he’s all ‘well, you know, don’t be afraid to tell me that they all suck or you only like one or two of them or whatever.’ And I’m going, I’ve got like these six or seven songs, something like that. ‘First one, great, second one, oh yeah, that’s great, third one, oh that’s great’ (laughs).”
Even the band’s name, in a goofy way, underscores their pleasantly tongue-in-cheek, laid back attitude. While the term ‘chickenfoot’ is a derogatory reference to hippies and hippydom (which they, slyly, embrace), a rip-off of the peace sign, it started out as a joke, an unlikely name for a band of such magnitude, so they decided to keep it, proving that Heavy can be Light too! Oh, and talking about tongues and cheeks, Mr. Hagar explains the enigma behind naming their 2nd album, III. “We’re calling the album Chickenfoot III because it’s so good, the songs are so tight, it’s like we jumped right past having to make a second record. We’ve established a real trust, Joe and I, we truly bring out the best in one another, and that spreads to the whole band.”
Taking us back to the days when Rock was FUN, a head-banging soundtrack to long, crazy nights and howling at the moon, ‘III’ is a blast of fresh air. The rubber hits the tarmac squealing with opener Last Temptation, basically setting fire to the road. Satriani and Hagar own this album, and it’s obvious they’ve got a musical connection going. From good ol’ fashion stompers like Up Next (Satriani in ‘you can pick up your jaw from the floor now’, axe-slinging mode) and Big Foot (the latter already tearing it up on YouTube), to more searching ventures like Come Closer and Different Devil, Chickenfoot’s formula is an emotional, rather than musical one. And it works.