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Sammy Hagar

Honing his inimitably hoary vocal style in major American hard-rock combos, MONTROSE, VAN HALEN and now CHICKENFOOT, golden-maned hair-metal specialist and solo star SAMMY HAGAR has been something of a workhorse since his formative days way back in the late 60s.
Born Samuel Roy Hagar, October 13, 1947 in Monterey, California, the enigmatic “Red Rocker” (as he’s known in the trade) forsook a promising boxing career in ’67 to front and play rhythm guitar for local acts, the Fabulous Castilles; they duly became Samson & Hagar, releasing a hard-to-get promo single, `Reach Out To Find Me’ (b/w `Read My Thoughts’). Over the course on the next few years or so, several acts requested his services, the most notable being the Johnny Fortune Band, Dustcloud and The Justice Brothers.
When axeman extraordinaire Ronnie Montrose (and MONTROSE) came a-knockin’ in 1973, Sam almost immediately built up a reputation for delivering a no-holds-barred prime-beef rock’n’roll. A prototype-80s hair-metal band, the quartet recorded two highly-regarded LPs with Sammy: “Montrose” (1973) and “Paper Money” (1974). These sets featured a clutch of classy, unforgettable Hagar-penned/co-penned numbers, `Bad Motor Scooter’ and `Space Station #5’ among them; the singer resurrecting these tracks as the core of his feted stage show.
After parting company with MONTROSE, he formed a few short-lived outfits (namely Dust Cowboys and Sammy Wild), before inking a deal with Capitol Records and releasing a solo debut album, NINE ON A TEN SCALE (1976) {*4}. Augmented by a host of session drummers, guitarist Gary Pihl, and former MONTROSE exiles Bill Church (bass) and Alan Fitzgerald (keyboards), the set wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms by the critics and public alike who thought it a tad too close to LED ZEPPELIN. Produced by John S. Carter, Jr., who co-scribed tracks `Keep On Rockin’’ (later re-vamped by BETTE MIDLER for The Rose OST), `Urban Guerilla’ and `Rock’n’Roll Romeo’, HAGAR’s lone contributions were somewhat overshadowed by a lengthy DONOVAN cover (`Young Girl Blues’) and two donations by VAN MORRISON (`Flamingos Fly’) and BOB WELCH (`China’).
Album number two, SAMMY HAGAR (1977) {*7} – often referred to as “The Red Album” – followed much the exact formula as its predecessor, in that it featured Carter again, a song soon to be snatched by BETTE MIDLER (`Red’), a second DONOVAN ditty (`Catch The Wind’) and other balanced covers by way of PATTI SMITH (`Free Money’), PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS (`Hungry’) and Pilot [US] (`Fillmore Shuffle’).
Procuring yet another MONTROSE escapee Denny Carmassi on drums, to join with Church and Fitzgerald, the Top 100 breaker MUSICAL CHAIRS (1977) {*6} was basically down to HAGAR himself (bar covers of a RICKY NELSON song, `Try (Try To Fall In Love)’ and `Straight From The Hip Kid’). Showing signs that he was getting his chops around some FOREIGNER-sounding riffs or the odd wayward soft-rock ballad (example `You Make Me Crazy’), Sammy shined on the likes of `Turn Up The Music’, `Reckless’ and `Crack In The World’. A live attraction in the growing arena-rock elite, HAGAR duly tempted buyers in with his “best of” concert set, ALL NIGHT LONG (1978) {*7}; look out too for his non-LP interpretation of OTIS REDDING’s `(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’.
Initially struggling to break big commercially in his native land, the unlikely shores of Britain took HAGAR to their hearts via Top 40 albums, STREET MACHINE (1979) {*6} and DANGER ZONE (1980) {*5}. While the vibes were of a post-LED ZEPPELIN derivative and anthemic nature, one couldn’t fault the MOR-meets-metal manifesto on the likes of `Plain Jane’ (a minor hit), `Growing Pains’ and `This Planet’s On Fire (Burn In Hell)’, from the first of these; note that JOURNEY’s Neal Schon was his guitarist.
Subsequently signing to Geffen Records, HAGAR delivered a further handful of workmanlike albums, kicking off in fine style with US Top 30 entry, STANDING HAMPTON (1981) {*7}. Glossy and polished to the nth degree, there were several high spots, the best of which coming through `Heavy Metal’ (a Jim Peterik-co-penned single from the animated film of the same name), and hits `I’ll Fall In Love Again’ and the Bert Berns-Jerry Ragovoy opal, `Piece Of My Heart’.
Boosted by a Top 20 smash, `Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy’ (and other hit, `Never Give Up’), THREE LOCK BOX (1982) {*7}, stretched the singer even further in the world of arena rock. It was then evitable that his god-like status would entice him into fronting hard-rock supergroup, HAGAR SCHON AARONSON SHRIEVE (HSAS), for the live-in-concert combination set, THROUGH THE FIRE (1984) {*6}; one might want to check out their reading of PROCOL HARUM’s `Whiter Shade Of Pale’. A prolific period for rock’s power-ballad kingpin, HAGAR was back on solo business for his second album of the year, VOA {*7}, a meat ’n’ two veg recording that hailed two standard Top 40 breakers, `Two Sides Of Love’ and one for the Jeremy Clarkson/Top Gear viewer, `I Can’t Drive 55’.
Whether the right or wrong decision to take during these magnetic times, Sammy stunned the rock community by subsequently joining VAN HALEN. Faced with the nigh-on impossible task of replacing the charismatic DAVID LEE ROTH, the singer nonetheless won over the fans with his solid and dependable style on such massive albums as “5150” (1986) and “OU812” (1988). He also fulfilled his contractual obligations to his bosses at Geffen by delivering an eponymous set in 1987 – later re-promoted in an MTV competition as I NEVER SAID GOODBYE {*4}. Not quite up to his usual standards, the slick but lacklustre Top 20 record disappointed many but the faithful, tracks such as attendant hit `Give To Love’ and the likes of Thor-baiting `When The Hammer Falls’, simply dumb-downed for the masses.
Sammy continued to enjoy worldwide stardom with VAN HALEN right up until the mid-90s, run-of-the-mill albums like “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” (1991), “Live: Right Here, Right Now” (1993) and “Balance” (1995), living the dream if not their potential. Whether he was pushed out by Eddie Van Halen or he jumped ship, media attention was drawn to HAGAR’s first album in a decade: MARCHING TO MARS (1997) {*6}. Surrounding himself by a stellar cast of seasoned stars and session people, including SLASH, RONNIE MONTROSE, MICKEY HART, BOOTSY COLLINS and er… HUEY LEWIS, his Top 20 return to form proved that at just a few months off the big 5-0, the mouthy Sammy could still hack it. A cocktail of bluesy and funky hard-rock, fans could let their hair loose on `Leaving The Warmth Of The Womb’, `Little White Lie’ and `Would You Do It For Free?’; the latter one of a string of songs penned with band member Jesse Harms.
Alongside guitarist Vic Johnson, bassist Mona Gnader and stalwart drummer David Lauser, Jesse was also part of SAMMY HAGAR and the WABORITAS set, RED VOODOO (1999) {*6}. Pulling no punches in ballsy songs such as the AC/DC-styled `Shag’, `Mas Tequila’ (incorporating GARY GLITTER’s “Rock And Roll, Part 2”) and `Don’t Fight It (Feel It)’, this party monster kept the shaggy-maned rocker rolling into the new millennium.
With TEN 13 (2000) {*5} – the title alluding to HAGAR’s birthday (itself reportedly an excuse for a bit of annual ball down at the singer’s bar in Mexico) – the uncredited Waboritas stood strong enough to produce further anthems, `Shaka Doobie (The Limit)’, `Let Sally Drive’ and the title track.
Again beefed up by the Waboritas, NOT 4 SALE (2002) {*6}, was another instalment of rowdy, thunderous party-rock softened slightly by the heat of the tropics. Tracks like the chunky `Stand Up’, `Hallelujah’ and a re-arranged `Whole Lotta Zep’ (yes, the LED ZEPPELIN classic), highlighted another prolific period for HAGAR and his Wabos crew. They continued in similar style with LIVE HALLELUJAH (2003) {*5} and a Top 50 return LIVIN’ IT UP! (2006) {*6}, proving that birthdays apparently have no effect on the ageing process of hardcore hard-rockers like HAGAR. The latter set, incidentally, captured a rousing rendition of DYLAN’s `Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35’ and a couple of dirges penned with nu-country stars, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.
Released for a Dutch fanbase by Roadrunner Records, the move from beach-boy to grunge-gonzo met with muted response as the 60-something rocker eased into his twilight zone via COSMIC UNIVERSAL FASHION (2008) {*5}. While the title track, `Psycho Vertigo’ and `Peephole’ (the latter two seeing him at Neal Schon’s side again), the need for this granddad to sing post-playground BEASTIE BOYS dirge, `Fight For Your Right To Party’, was interested but ill-conceived.
A brief liaison with VAN HALEN in 2004 (for two tracks on a “Best Of” set), had led to possibilities of his imminent return to the fold, but like some rhetorical switch from hell, that place went to DAVID LEE ROTH (c. 2011). Fortunately for Sammy was the garnering of long-standing VH bassist Michael Anthony, who, like legendary guitarist, JOE SATRIANI, and RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS drummer Chad Smith, helped him form ageing hard-rock supergroup, CHICKENFOOT. From 2008 onwards, the quartet spearheaded a resurgence of metal.
Calling up an array of buddies new and old, the Red Rocker completed another blues-inflected hard-rock set, SAMMY HAGAR & FRIENDS (2013) {*6}. One big studio party featuring Neal Schon, Bill Church, Chad Smith, Michael Anthony and axeman extraordinaire JOE SATRIANI, among guest spots from KID ROCK, TOBY KEITH, RONNIE DUNN, TAJ MAHAL, MICKEY HART and HEART’s Nancy Wilson, Sammy decided to add to the flavour of his own three cuts (`Winding Down’, `Father Sun’ and `All We Need Is An Island’) by covering everything from BOB SEGER’s `Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’ and JIMMY BUFFET’s Caribbean-styled `Margaritaville’ to DEPECHE MODE’s `Personal Jesus’.
The gritty Red Rocker was in coffeehouse acoustic mode on 2014’s LITE ROAST {*5}, an “unplugged” roots-styled album credited with Wabos guitarist Vic Johnson. Stripped bare from their hard-rock force-field, the pair strum their way through HAGAR nuggets `Red Voodoo’, `Eagles Fly’, `Dreams’ and `Finish What Ya Started’. The latter pair were also featured on SAMMY HAGAR & the Circle’s concert double, AT YOUR SERVICE (2015) {*7}; the Circle supergroup comprised Hagar, Johnson, Michael Anthony and Jason Bonham, who reeled off songs that remained the same a la MONTROSE, HAGAR solo, VAN HALEN, CHICKENFOOT and er… no less than five LED ZEPPELIN classics: `Good Times Bad Times’, `Whole Lotta Love’, `When The Levee Breaks’, `Moby Dick’ and `Rock And Roll’.
© MC Strong 1994-2001/GRD / rev-up MCS Feb-Sep2013-May2015

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