In search of his rock & roll dreams, a young Sammy Hagar left the mean streets of his L.A. birthplace in 1968 and headed north to the Bay Area with only $5 in his pocket. Fast forward 40 years – mission accomplished, multiplied by 10! That $5 bill has been transformed into a rock empire – he is now an inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a Grammy Award winner. He won his first Bammie Award (Musician of the Year) in 1978 and collected many more. He has had a wildly successful solo career and the distinction of fronting two of the most high profile bands in rock, Montrose and Van Halen, as well as collaborating on projects with many other of rock’s greats – now, “that’s what dreams are made of!” (Van Halen, “Dreams,” 1986). What better way to celebrate his good fortune than taking the party on the road and reliving his opus with the fans? Call it the 4 Decades of Rock Tour and make the final date Sept. 7, 2013, at the America’s Cup Pavilion on the shore of his beloved S.F. Bay. As dusk fell over the Bay at the America’s Cup Pavilion, a midi track began to resonate above the raucous crowd of redheads (the nickname for Sammy’s devout fan club members). It was the intro to the Montrose classic, “Space Station #5,” with Sammy belting out the scream that set the tone for what would be unleashed that evening as he and former Montrose band mates Bill Church (bass) and Denny Carmassi (drums) took the stage. The trio was joined by another Bay Area hero, Y&T’s Dave Meneketti, who reverently stepped in on guitar to fill the void left by the passing of Ronnie Montrose, the man whose genius launched Sammy’s career. One by one, the foursome journeyed back through the decades, playing the Montrose era classics, “Rock Candy,” “Bad Motor Scooter,” “Paper Money,” and “Make It Real.” Totally awesome!
That evening, Sam’s current band, the Wabos–featuring Vic Johnson (guitar), David Lauser (drums) and Mona Gnader (bass)–acted as the support band for the festivities. Ms. Gnader graciously stepped away from her beloved string duties for a few songs to accommodate a very special guest, bassist Michael Anthony (Chickenfoot, Van Halen). In-between songs, Michael Anthony and Sammy fired off strategically scripted banter guaranteed to get a rise out of the crowd. The set paid tribute to the solo and Van Halen segments of Sammy’s career, with songs like “Red,” “I Can’t Drive 55,” “One Way to Rock,” “Right Now,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Heavy Metal,” and many others that made him a superstar.
An all-star encore jam with the evening’s entire cast of characters wrapped things up with “Eagles Fly”; and the live debut of “Bad on Fords and Chevrolets” from the new album Sammy & Friends, just released on Sept. 24. Sammy & Friends features musical contributions from Bill Church, Denny Carmassi, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony, Mickey Hart, Neal Schon, and, of course,the Wabos. Side note: Along with the many other charities and causes with which Sammy is involved, he has committed to paying at least $2,500 of the proceeds from each show on the 4 Decades of Rock tour to each town’s local area food bank.
I am not a card carrying redhead, but watching this show, it’s easy to see why Sammy has been so highly sought after by many of rock’s A-listers throughout his career. He takes great pride in his “party animal in perpetual motion” persona. Without any posturing, pretense or “cooler than thou” attitude, he is the antithesis of a “rock star” and more like the rock star’s crazy uncle. As a guitarist, Sammy is a very competent player, as he demonstrated that night in his slide guitar solo at the beginning of “Bad Motor Scooter.” It was awesome, and his tone was to die for! But unlike some of the legends he has teamed up with over the years, he has never striven to be a “fret technician.” Tie this all together with his benevolence and “down-to-earthiness,” and you’ll have a good sense of his greatest, most appealing asset. Sammy Hagar is “Mr. Everyman.” He believes that life should be a party–and he’s throwing it!