Thursday, September 18, 2008

Diamond Dave Vs. Slammin' Sammy - Round Two

In the red corner, the ‘The Red Rocker’ himself Sammy Hagar, hard rock journeyman with a set of lungs to match his vocal chords. The boxing metaphor isn’t entirely coincidental, given that as a teenager Sammy Hagar was a promising pugilist with ambitions to follow his father into a career in boxing. But music was equally as alluring, and given it was the mid 60s where the youth were encouraged to ‘make love not war’, Hagar opted to pursue his love of music.

For several years the young singer/guitarist supported his quest by playing with various and sundry bar bands across Southern California, including Skinny and the Fabulous Catillas. The hard yards and long nights paid off for Hagar when during 1973 he came to the attention of guitarist Ronnie Montrose. Montrose was a well established player having worked with the likes of Van Morrison and the Edgar Winter Group and was looking to form his own band. He enlisted session players Bill Church (bass) and Denny Carmassi (drums), then took a punt on Sammy Hagar to handle the vocals and rhythm guitar. Montrose released their eponymous debut album in November 1973. There were no singles released from the album (very Led Zeppelin like) but the hard rock band had already built up a strong fan base and the album sold well enough (US#133/UK#43) to encourage a follow up. Worth noting is that a song from the debut album ‘Space Station No. 5’ was released in the U.K. as a single during 1980 (#71). 1974’s ‘Paper Money’ (#65) made plenty of real currency and confirmed Montrose as a serious player on the U.S. hard rock/metal scene, and one of the key influences on another band, then in its formative ‘Mammoth’ stages, by the name of Van Halen. By this time bassist Church had already left the scene, replaced by bassist/keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald.

With a fractious relationship having evolved between the explosive Hagar and his unofficial boss Montrose during the course of the ‘Paper Money’ sessions , Hagar split from Montrose following the release of the second album to pursue a solo career (Montrose went on to release three more albums during the 70s, with varying line-ups, before reuniting in 2002 and releasing 2004’s ‘Inertia’). Released on Capitol Records in 1976, Hagar’s first album ‘Nine On A Ten Scale’ didn’t quite live up to the promise of its title but did feature an interesting cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Flamingos Fly’ (I wonder if there was a subtle message there for Montrose, who had of course played with Van Morrison). Hagar penned several of the album tracks and also handled much of the guitar work on the album.

For his sophomore effort, Hagar recruited two other Montrose alumni in bassist Bill Church and keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald. The self titled 1977 album (US#167) quickly became known as ‘The Red Album’, in part due to the colour theme of the album’s cover, and the opening track ‘Red’, which for many Hagar devotees remains one of the best rock anthems of his career. Drummer Scott Matthews and guitarist David Lewark rounded out the playing roster and formed the line-up for the first incarnation of the Sammy Hagar Band. Another former Montrose man Denny Carmassi replaced Matthews on the drums in late 1977 as the Sammy Hagar Band toured extensively in support of some of the biggest arena acts of the late 70s, including Boston, Kansas and KISS. A 1978 live album ‘All Night Long’ (US#89) captured the Hagar magic on stage, and featured the first recorded version of ‘I’ve Done Everything For You’. Also released in 1978 was the album ‘Musical Chairs’, which featured the first single to chart for Hagar in ‘You Driving Me Crazy’ (US#62).

Following the stand alone cover single ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay)’ (US#65) in mid ‘79, Sammy Hagar released the album ‘Street Machine’ (UK#38/US#71) during September, the album yielding the minor hit singles ‘Plain Jane’ (US#77) and ‘This Planet’s On Fire (Burn In Hell)’ (UK#52). During this period former Journey guitarist Neil Schon joined Hagar’s band (a key collaborator in future years). In January 1980 Sammy Hagar released ‘I’ve Done Everything For You’ as a single (UK#36), the song later covered by Rick Springfield in 1981 to greater success (US#8/OZ#31). Hagar’s 1980 album ‘Danger Zone’ (US#85/UK#25) realised the minor hit single ‘Heartbeat’ (UK#67), but a major hit single still eluded the talented vocalist.

Hagar then made the move to the Geffen label, releasing a breakthrough album for the U.S. market in ‘Standing Hampton’ (US#28/UK#84), featuring the singles ‘I’ll Fall In Love Again’ (US#43) and ‘Piece of My Heart’ (US#73/UK#67). The ‘Red Rocker’ then released the single that would finally crack the top 20 in the U.S. ‘Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy’ was pure commercial rock, and quickly featured on radio playlists across the U.S. following its December ‘82 release. It climbed to #13 Stateside, and featured on Hagar’s next album ‘Three Lock Box’, which unlocked #17 on the album charts for Hagar, also yielding the hit single ‘Never Give Up’ (US#43).

Since it was all the fashion during the 80s to have a flirtation with a supergroup, Hagar thought why not try it too, resulting in the quartet Hagar, Schon, Aaronson, Shrieve. Neil Schon (ex-Journey guitarist) had been playing with Hagar since 1980’s ‘Danger Zone’, whilst bassist Kenny Aaronson (ex-Stories) and drummer Mike Shrieve (ex-Santana) completed the impressive line-up. Hagar, Schon, Aaronson, Shrieve only recorded the one album together, with 1984’s ‘Through The Fire’ (US#42/UK#94), which was a live set. They also recorded a studio version of the Procol Harum classic ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ (US#94) - Hagar doing Gary Brooker…interesting. The same year Hagar released his next solo album ‘VOA’ (US#32). The platinum selling set yielded two top forty hits in ‘Two Sides Of Love’ (US#38) and the surging track ‘I Can’t Drive’ (US#26), which was Hagar’s version of a protest song in response to the lowering of highway speed limits (Hagar has a bit of a penchant for fast cars).

Following ‘Diamond’ Dave’s exodus from Van Halen, Eddie and the lads were in the market for a lead singer who could tackle the unenviable task of replacing the charismatic Roth. Sammy Hagar was their choice, and in most respects it was a choice that worked for Van Halen. Hagar’s decade long tenure with the band started auspiciously with three consecutive U.S. #1 albums - ‘5150’ (1986), ‘OU812’ (1988) and ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ (1991). It’s fair comment to say that the first two albums represented a shift in style to a more accessible commercial rock sound, which had been signalled already by Roth’s last chapter with the band ‘1984’, but ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ was as hard edged as any of the Roth-era sets.

Hagar was contracted to record one more solo album for Geffen, resulting in the Eddie Van Halen produced ‘Sammy Hagar’ (US#14/UK#86) album in 1987. The album had been preceded by Hagar’s musical contribution to the Sylvester Stallone train wreck ‘Over The Top’, the single ‘Winner Takes It All’ (US#54). Following the release of 1987’s ‘Sammy Hagar’, MTV launched a viewer competition to find an alternative title for the album (possibly to gain added publicity and also differentiate it from his self-titled effort of a decade earlier). The winning entry was ‘I Never Said Goodbye’. The album was criticised for being over produced and too synth-oriented, but charted higher than any of Hagar’s previous solo efforts, and did yield the hits ‘Give To Live’ (US#23) and ‘Eagles Fly’ (US#82). During his stint with Van Halen two more Sammy Hagar releases surfaced, with 1992’s ‘Red Hot’ (live) and the 1994 box set ‘Unboxed’ (US#51).

Following his acrimonious split from Van Halen during 1996, Hagar immediately resumed his solo endeavours with the album ‘Marching To Mars’ (US#18), well it was the ‘red planet’ after all, for new label MCA. It was a reclamation of his identity as a quality hard rocking vocalist and musician in his own right, and was warmly received by the press and fans alike, aided by guest contributions from Huey Lewis, Slash and Bootsy Collins. 1999’s ‘Red Voodoo’ (US#22) delivered more of the same, and in many respects both Roth and Hagar were similarly revitalised in their music careers in their respective ‘immediately post-Van Halen’ enterprises, contrasting markedly with the dip in fortunes for Van Halen during the corresponding periods.

It was during his post-Van Halen years that Hagar established his new backing band the Waboritas, featuring Vic Johnson (guitar), Jesse Harms (keyboards), Mona (bass) and David Lauser (drums - who had played with Hagar back in the 60s with the band Justice Brothers), with ‘Red Voodoo’ (and subsequent albums) actually credited to Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas. 2000’s ‘Ten 13’ (US#52) was titled in reference to Hagar’s birthday, the celebrations for which had taken on legendary status each year at the singer’s famed ‘Cabo Wabo’ bar and restaurant in Mexico (‘Cabo Wabo’ had been a track title from Van Halen’s 1988 album ‘OU812’).

Over the last decade Hagar has continued to solidify his status as one of rock’s true survivors, releasing several more albums (‘Not 4 Sale’-2002, ‘Live: Hallelujah’ - 2003, ‘Livin’ It Up’ - 2006), and continuing to play regularly with the Waboritas. Former Van Halen band mate Michael Anthony plays and tours with Hagar, on occasion playing in a support band called The Other Half’ (a tongue in cheek reference to how Hagar and Anthony perceived their status in Van Halen).

In 2007 Hagar was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Van Halen, though of all the band’s members only he and long time bassist Michael Anthony attended the induction ceremony. Hagar’s latest single is 2008’s ‘I’m On A Roll’ and it’s reported that he’s currently recording material with the proposed ‘supergroup’ project Chickenfoot, comprising Hagar, Michael Anthony, Chad Smith (drummer with Red Hot Chili Peppers) and guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani.

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