“This is the best record I’ve ever done in my life. Montrose and Van Halen led up to this”: the story of Sammy Hagar’s Chickenfoot, the greatest rock supergroup of the 21st century

A portrait of Chickenfoot in 2011
(Image credit: Press/Ross Halfin)

In 2009, former Van Halen members Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony reunited for a brand new band, Chickenfoot, also featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Joe Satriani. As the band explained to Classic Rock that year, they were ready to bring back the party vibes with their self-titled debut album.

“I’m jazzed to be playing with these guys. I’ve recorded an album with Andy Johns, who’s produced my favourite ever bands. I’m playing with guitar god Joe Satriani and Hall Of Famers Mike Anthony and Sammy Hagar. And I’m just a schmo from Detroit who makes a racket.”

The ‘schmo’ in question is none other than Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith who makes up one quarter (or should that be a drumstick?) of Chickenfoot, the supergroup du jour who are already creating a lot of excitement with the announcement of an album in April and a European tour this summer.

With so much promise and such a stellar cast, do they actually live up to the hype? The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue with ease or conjure up visions of a union between some of rock’s mightiest behemoths.

“Chickenfoot was just supposed to be a bullshit name that we used for a while,” reveals former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony. And then rumours spread about the band and we thought, fuck it. Let’s just call it Chickenfoot. It all comes down to the music anyway.”    

“That’s right,” concurs Will Ferrell lookalike Smith. “And let’s get one thing straight: we’re not a supergroup.We like hanging out together, and the music is a bonus. We just happen to be in other groups.”   

CR caught up with the band ‘hanging out together’ at Sammy Hagar’s recording studio (which seems to double up as a garage for his vast collection of vintage sports cars) located on an anonymous industrial estate just outside San Francisco. While Hagar, Anthony and Satriani live close by, Smith has flown in from LA and is a day late, having very recently become a father.    

“You were fired yesterday,” jokes Satriani.

“You can just take a walk around the block and get fired from this band!” Smith complains.        

“We should exclusively play the Chad Smith catalogue!” retorts Satriani.

Smith: “I was going to bring that up. Question: Why did the drummer get sacked from the band? Answer: He said: ‘Hey, guys, I’ve got a few songs I want to try out.”

This is kind of banter carries on relentlessly throughout the day as the band members flit in and out of photo shoots and management conferences while CR tries to collar them. Which is what you’d expect from a collective with such high-profile party animal credentials; even the usually more introspective Satriani has been seized by the levity of the occasion.

Chickenfoot’s Joe Satriani and Sammy Hagar ontage

(Image credit: Future)

“Make sure you run this by Gene Simmons,” he tells his manager when he’s given a copy of Chickenfoot’s new logo. “Remember: Kiss own everything.”

Chickenfoot’s origins came about when Hagar left Van Halen for the last time in 2005 and formed his own band The Waboritas, whose shows featured a segment where Hagar and Anthony would play under the guise of The Other Half (as in the other half of VH) featuring special guests. This eventually developed into regular jam sessions at Hagar’s Cabo Wabo club in Mexico, where Smith owns a holiday home.

“Sammy invited me to play at the club on New Year’s Eve,” the drummer explained. “I told him that I didn’t know much Van Halen but I knew and loved the first Montrose album. He said: ‘Great! We’ll do the whole album!’”

Instantly bonded by their love of classic rock music (Smith is also a huge fan of this esteemed magazine) and besieged by requests from fans wanting to know when the band were going to tour and record, Hagar decided that if they were going to take this venture seriously then they would have to expand the line-up.

“I can just about carry off playing guitar in a jam band scenario,” the frontman and tequila entrepreneur explains, “but to do it properly we needed a guitarist. And as far as I’m concerned Joe Satriani is the best guitar player in the world.”

The band made their official debut just over a year ago in Las Vegas at a Hagar concert, where they played a short set of covers (including Led Zeppelin’s Rock And Roll and Traffic’s Dear Mr Fantasy). 

Satriani had played with Hagar in a project called Planet US in 2003, and when the two men got together in the studio there was an immediate rapport. “We wrote eight songs in two days,” Hagar recalls. “And then when we all got together and wrote more songs it turned into a band.”

They hired producer Andy Johns (whose illustrious CV includes Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Free and Jimi Hendrix) for the album, but he got seriously ill halfway through recording process and Mike Fraser (AC/DC, Metallica, Aerosmith) took over. The final result is as confident, energetic and musical as one would expect from such an elite corps of players. And you won’t be surprised to learn that Hagar agrees.

“This is the best record I’ve ever done in my life,” he enthuses. “I feel like everything I did – working in Montrose, Van Halen and then going solo – happened so I could be who I am right now with this band.”

We’re given an exclusive preview of three tracks from the band’s self-titled debut. Soap On A Rope and Sexy Little Thing have the humour and loose, spontaneous feel of prime VH, with the unashamed unbridled energy of Montrose. Avenida Revolucion is an epic anthem about a dividing road on the Mexican/American border – a contentious subject close to Hagar’s heart.

“That’s a very political song. But I live on the Californian border and in Mexico as well, and I’m telling you, it’s a problem. You drive down Avenida Revolucion: for miles and miles it’s wall-to-wall flowers, crosses and messages for people who’ve been killed. It’s a mess.”

So fired up with this new project, Hagar has already managed to stir some controversy when during an interview in Toronto he reportedly said that Chickenfoot could – ahem – rival Led Zeppelin. The very mention of this makes him groan loudly and bury his face in his hands: “I’m backing off that statement right now, it was the stupidest thing I ever said,” he admits, and then explains what actually happened. 

“As you know, I own a tequila company. And I was spreading the word in Canada. I got real fucked up, and then this guy brings up Chickenfoot. I said: ‘We’re better than Zeppelin,’ or something. What I was trying to say is that this band is like early Zeppelin – it’s got a hard-rock edge to it that’s special. I would never compare anything to Led Zeppelin, they were the greatest band ever.”

In the meantime the band aretalking to record labels and putting together a tour of Europe’s festivals this summer which will include some shows in the UK. This will mark a long-overdue return for Anthony and Hagar. “I feel so guilty I haven’t played there in years,” Hagar confesses. “When I was in Van Halen we’d do 130 dates in the US, and the management would say: ‘Are you ready to do Europe?’ And we’d say: ‘Fuck you. We’re done.’ And when we finally got there we thought we were the biggest band in the world and we ended up supporting Bon Jovi. That broke the band up.”

So, Chickenfoot: musical saviours, or a bunch of old rockers indulging in a mid-life-crisis vanity project? Hagar firmly believes it’s the former, and that the age card works to their advantage.

“I agree it’s hard for old bands to get together and write new material,” he admits. “When I was in Van Halen at the 2004 reunion, I wanted to do a new album but we couldn’t, because we were past it. But I think if you still have it in your heart and mean it, then the more seasoning you have, the better you get. Let’s face it: are you going to pay the same price for some band you’ve never heard of as you would to see the Stones or Zeppelin?”       

Originally published in Classic Rock 132

Peter Makowski

Pete Makowski joined Sounds music weekly aged 15 as a messenger boy, and was soon reviewing albums. When no-one at the paper wanted to review Deep Purple's Made In Japan in December 1972, Makowski did the honours. The following week the phone rang in the Sounds office. It was Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. "Thanks for the review," said Blackmore. "How would you like to come on tour with us in Europe?" He also wrote for Street Life, New Music News, Kerrang!, Soundcheck, Metal Hammer and This Is Rock, and was a press officer for Black SabbathHawkwindMotörhead, the New York Dolls and more. Sounds Editor Geoff Barton introduced Makowski to photographer Ross Halfin with the words, “You’ll be bad for each other,” creating a partnership that spanned three decades. Halfin and Makowski worked on dozens of articles for Classic Rock in the 00-10s, bringing back stories that crackled with humour and insight. Pete died in November 2021.