Exclusive BraveWords.com Interview With - CHICKENFOOT/Ex-VAN HALEN Bassist Michael Anthony
May 24, 2009, 7 years ago
To say that former VAN HALEN bassist Michael Anthony seemingly got the shaft from his previous bandmates is an understatement. It’s doubtful that the real truth of why he wasn’t part of VH’s landmark reunion tour with David Lee Roth last year will ever materialize; Anthony was conveniently replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang, truly tainting what would have been one of the greatest comeback tours in history.
And why were Anthony and former singer, SAMMY HAGAR, the only ones present to accept their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame honour in 2007? - not that the Hall holds much credibility these days! Over time, both Anthony and Hagar have been productive, while Eddie and Alex Van Halen toil in the everyday (?) affairs of a band that hasn’t released a proper record since the abysmal Van Halen III which saw EXTREME singer Gary Cherone part of the charade. Granted, a few new Hagar/Halen tunes appeared on VH’s second Greatest Hits compilation in 2004. Oh yeah, Eddie’s been in rehab. But think about it; Van Halen released the first six albums of their most vital catalog in six years. In over ten years since the third incarnation of the band jaded the once-prolific hard rock team, the well has been virtually dry. Eddie’s ex Valerie has been more productive with Jenny Craig than the revered axeman has been in sharing his riffs with the world!
And somebody is pissed at Anthony... why would the band erase his image from album artwork upon relaunching their website to celebrate the Roth tour? C’mon. That’s just as bad as Sharon Osbourne replacing bassist Bob Daisley’s and drummer Lee Kerslakes’ performances from OZZY’s Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman reissues in 2002. It’s not cool and it’s a nail in the heart of the fans that revere these bands.
Let’s get back on track here. BraveWords.com had the rare opportunity to speak with the quiet - yet bombastic on-stage - legend Michael Anthony about a number of topics, mainly the gargantuan new undertaking called CHICKENFOOT, which also features Hagar, guitar whiz JOE SATRIANI and RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS drummer Chad Smith.
We begin with a head-scratcher: when was Anthony on a studio recording last? He’s been hanging with Hagar’s WABORITAS and THE OTHER HALF. You’ll recall the brief PLANET US venture that featured Anthony, Hagar, Satriani and JOURNEY men Neal Schon and Deen Castronovo.“It’s pretty amazing isn’t?” begins Anthony, on the phone from California. “It’s been a while man since I’ve done a whole new album... it’s gotta be Balance. I’ve done little things here and there, a few things with Sam. And I’ve guested on a few other people’s things but anonymously. But yeah, it feels great and we’re doing it the old school way. We all get in the same room and jam together. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Has Chickenfoot breathed a little bit of life into you as a recording artist and live musician?“And as a human being! It takes you back and you remember why you got into this business and what you were doing it for in the first place. And that was to make music and have fun and do it for the fans. Obviously with all of our careers and everything we’ve been through, we’ve afforded ourselves the luxury of just being able to do that. To have a good time with it and not have to write hit singles, make money and this and that. We just want to do it for our fans and for ourselves.”
With Chickenfoot finally in the groove of an active band, are you kicking yourself you didn’t do it sooner?“(Laughs) Yeah, but you know what, it wasn’t a forced thing and that’s kind of the beauty. Chad, Sammy and I have jammed so many times down at the club in Cabo San Lucas and that’s actually where the name Chickenfoot first came to be, because that’s what we called ourselves down there. It was about a year and a half ago, Super Bowl Sunday last year, and Sammy was playing in Vegas and wanted to do something different for an encore. He had his band the Wabos playing and he invited Chad and I on stage. He said, ‘Come on out and we’ll jam some stuff.’ Then he decided to call Joe because he wanted to do the Chickenfoot-type thing. He said, ‘Let’s get a proper guitar player. I could do this and sing, but let’s get a guitarist that can totally blow everyone’s minds and I can sing.’ He called Joe and he said ‘Sure,’ so we got together and jammed. And doing it for the first time in front of a live audience - you got that instant gratification, because the place went nuts. Cabo Wabo is a great hang and a great place to get together. And a lot of musicians have been down there to jam. Everyone from KENNY CHESNEY to TED NUGENT. And that’s kind of the cool thing; it’s such a cool place that when musicians do come down there, they want to get up and jam. It’s a cool hang and there’s no pressure.”
To be honest, aside from the Hagar/Anthony connection, Chickenfoot took fans by surprise...especially the name! Satriani was thought to be content with his flourishing solo career and from an outsider, Smith may be viewed a little out of his funk-ed comfort zone? But the pieces fit together flawlessly.“When you first read about it and hear about it, it’s an unlikely pairing. But Joe has always wanted to put together a band with a singer. And I’m sure he’ll tell ya that he doesn’t have to be thinking full time about taking care of the melodies and other stuff. I think it’s gonna blow a lot of peoples minds. People that don’t look at him as a real rock guitarist, but as an instrumentalist that does jazz, blues and all that kind of stuff which is great, because he plays the full spectrum of stuff. I think he was really looking forward to something like this. When we first got into the studio and started jamming he was having a great time. He was coming up with song ideas left and right. It was pretty cool. And Chad is a Detroit rocker; that’s where his heart really is no matter what he does with the Chilis. He does bring a funk element to some of the stuff we do. And playing with him as the rhythm section inspires me to do different stuff. When people first hear it I think they are surprised at how it all meshes.”
Anything that opened your eyes with Smith? Of course you are all well-seasoned brothers, but the rhythm section must be tight and you need a unique bond especially with the drummer.“We are the guys that have to hold the fort down when guys like Satch can go off and do his thing,” answers Anthony. “Chad is a phenomenal drummer, he’s a great hard-hitting rock drummer but he does it with finesse which is really cool. And he does have that funk vibe. When you hear him play the stuff, it’s not conventional. There’s not a conventional rock way to approach this like say an Alex Van Halen or another type of rock drummer. Just playing with that guy and he’s smiling and he’s got this grin from ear-to-ear. He just sucks you in. You can’t help but have a good time with him.”
What are the biggest differences between working with Satch instead of Eddie?“Both are great guitar players and Eddie was a great innovator. Playing with Joe, I trip because he has this great knowledge and understanding and can play every spectrum of music. The only thing I haven’t heard him jam yet is reggae stuff! It’s really cool and again it’s very inspirational and it pushes me to think of things to play to it. Just jamming - I’ve got Joe on one side and Chad on the other. My jaw is on the ground playing with these guys live and in the studio. I’m amazed it’s so much fun.”
And it’s great to see Hagar truly rock again. It kinda makes you forget about his more playful Wabo fare.“Yeah and what’s really cool is that there is a different flavour to every song. It’s not like everything sounds the same, but in a different key. I think Sammy was looking to do something a little bit different and get back to his rock roots. With the Wabos it’s more of the south-of-the-border lifestyle deal. It’s a party and I have a great time jamming with him. I think the funniest thing for me is seeing Sammy on stage with long pants! For I don’t know how many years, all I’ve seen him in is shorts! We’re wearing long pants and we’re rockin’! We’re not doing the Cabo Wabo thing, we’re rockin’!”
Stay tuned for Part II as Anthony explains the Chickenfoot live set-list and his current relationship with Van Halen brothers!