Is Chickenfoot the New Great Classic Rock Super Group? Yes & No

Untitled-1Wow! The classic rock guy is reviewing a new CD? Is there a lunar eclipse? No, just a new band consisting of some classic rock veterans who are trying to bring some sanity to a wasteland of nothingness that permeates the music world today.

Chickenfoot, is vocalist Sammy Hagar ( Montrose and Van Halen), guitar genius Joe Satriani (“Surfing With The Alien”), Michael Anthony on bass (Van Halen) and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) pounding the skins, collaborated attempt to save the world of rock and roll.

Do they accomplish their benevolent mission?

Yes and no.

Though their June 5, 2009 debut is uneven and does not break any new ground, it is good to hear some guitar-based rock and roll with strong vocals once again.

Van Halen unceremoniously dumped Hagar, the “Red Rocker,” after he had served a profitable apprenticeship with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. He sold his Tequila business for multi-millions and was content to enjoy the good life until opportunity came knocking. After an impromptu jam session with Satriani, Anthony and Smith at Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the quartet realized that they had something special.

Hagar whose career started out on a high note with the first Montrose album, never let up through a solid solo stint (“I Can’t Drive 55”) and his taking over the lead vocalist microphone for Van Halen, where he had the unenviable task of replacing the charismatic and hedonistic David Lee Roth. A testament to his swagger, Hagar said early on that Chickenfoot could eventually “rival Led Zeppelin.” He later took back his bold statement claiming he was inebriated at the time.

Hey, what is wrong with a little confidence now and then?

Joe Satriani, who gave guitar lessons to guitar wizard Steve Vai, took the music world by storm with 1987’s “Surfing with The Alien,” an all-instrumental effort. He later released “Flying in a Blue Dream” and “The Extremist,” both solid releases. Though he always wanted to be part of a band situation, in 1993 he had a brief tenure as Ritchie Blackmore’s replacement in Deep Purple. He signed a major record deal as a solo artist and Steve Morse eventually filled the guitar role in the band. In 1993 he started G3, a concert tour featuring the greatest rock guitar instrumentalists (Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Schenker were some of the guitar virtuosos who graced the stage with Satriani).

Michael Anthony (real surname- Sobolwski), a much-underrated bass player and background vocalist was replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang in the current edition of Van Halen. He played with Sammy Hagar in a lineup that was coined The Waboritas. In 2003, while planning a new tour word leaked out that the Van Halen did not want Anthony in the fold. Hagar, being loyal to his friend refused to perform unless the bass player was part of the plan. The Van Halen brothers relented, but the writing was on the wall.

Chad Smith, drummer extraordinaire, bears a striking resemblance to actor-comedian Will Ferrell and wore a shirt that read, “I am not Will Ferrell” on the Tonight Show. He is a versatile drummer whose style encompasses many musical genres, but most importantly, he can rock. Besides his Red Hot Chili Peppers’ work, he has played on CD’s by Johnny Cash ( Unearthed 2003), John Fogerty (Blue Moon Swamp, 1997) and ex-Deep Purple member Glenn Hughes’ “Songs in the Key of Rock” (2003).

After that buildup, you are probably thinking this CD will reinvent the rock and roll format. It does not quite achieve that, but let us give these guys credit for trying. Hagar’s vocals are as dynamic as ever, which is a huge plus. Joe Satrani’s guitar wizardry is dominant on all the tracks along with his arsenal of riffs and sound effects. Michael  Anthony’s bass playing complements the songs well, along with his excellent background vocals, while his rhythm section partner, Chad Smith, is powerful and tasteful on the drums.

“Soap on a Rope” is a particularly strong, sexually tinged track that has a Led Zeppelinish, funky feel to it. It is well-crafted with expert musicianship throughout. Other strong tracks include “Sexy Little Thing,” which features a great change of tempo mid-song and stirring wah wah guitar, “My Kinda Girl,” which rocks and has a catchy chorus and a breathtaking solo by Satriani and “Learning to Fall,” a heartfelt power ballad ,which gives the CD a nice change of pace.

On the other hand, “Avendia Revolution,” the opening track, which chronicles the drug war in Tijuana, Mexico, is lackluster and generic. “Runnin’ Out,” though quite ambitious lyrically (“runnin’ out of soldiers”) as an indictment of the excesses of humanity, is a pedestrian effort which does not break any new ground musically. “Oh Yeah” has a great chorus and a tremendous rave-up by Satriani, but offers little else and is quite formulaic. “Down The Drain” starts out with an ominous riff that portends greatness, but degenerates into a monotonous track that is somewhat aided by Satriani’s amazing sound on his solo and the bridge. “Get It Up” starts with a Middle Eastern riff, but is simplistic and contains an inane chorus.

Interestingly, a track only available on the vinyl edition of Chickenfoot, “Bitten by the Wolf” mines unique territory. It is a blues-based track with wonderful slide guitar and muffled vocals that bring to mind Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” (the lead break) and “Bring It on Home.”

The stellar tracks on the CD show what this band is probably capable of down the road (a second CD?), while the inferior ones disappoint given the amalgamation of talent in this band. There are not enough musical dynamics and creativity suffers on the poorer selections.

On a bright note, Sammy Hagar’s voice is vibrant and self-assured throughout the CD and Joe Satriani’s guitar is front and center on each track. In fact, even on some of the disappointing efforts, his guitar shredding is unique and his solos are emotionally charged.

As far as Chickenfoot’s debut goes, you’ll expect a bit more, but love the fact that it’s a rock and roll CD full of lyrics about love, sex and lust along with a couple of political messages. Most importantly, it has expert virtuosic guitar solos, which is sorely missing from the mainstream rock scene today.

enablingGreat points Steve. I too love the guitar work in this album. To me, it’s the main reason to listen. A huge fan of Hagar when he was in Van Halen, I expected the same intense, yet upbeat and and charismatic vocal stylings this time around, but felt that while he can still sing, the same level of emotion isn’t there and these songs are slightly better than mediocre because of it.

Do they have potential?

Of course.

Is Chickenfoot better than some of the recent super groups that have been spawned over the past year?

Yes.

However, they haven’t quite proved it yet.

Because of that reason, I’d probably just download a few of the songs, mainly “Soap on a Rope” and “Oh Yeah” rather than purchase the entire album. Simply put, there’s not enough depth here to warrant a CD purchase.

-Patrick Hickey Jr.

About Steve Janowsky 88 Articles
Steve Janowsky is a former co-host of the Rocktologists theme based classic rock show radio show on WKRB 90.3 fm, which was voted the best classic rock podcast in the country by Dave White of About.com. Some of the interview guests on the show were Simon Kirke ( Free and Bad Company), Carl Palmer (ELP), Vince Martell (Vanilla Fudge), Randy Jackson (Zebra) and Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush. Janowsky is also an English and Journalism instructor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY and is an avid guitar player and songwriter.

1 Comment

  1. Satriani also taught Metallica genius Kirk Hammett, who in turn convinced best friend Les Claypool, of Primus fame to pick up an instrument. Legend has it that Claypool initially chose bass because four strings sounded easier than six.

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