First Thoughts: "Sammy Hagar and The Circle"

He’s been at it for over 4 decades. Rocking hard and still going strong. Reinventing himself without reinventing the wheel. Sammy Hagar is someone who knows who he is, and what he does best.

Sammy writes songs I like. They tell a story, there’s melody, and a lot I can identify with. He is the best screamer in the business. He can punctuate a song with that signature scream and send chills through your body. Roger Daltrey may have the best recorded scream on Won’t Get Fooled Again, but Sammy’s version on the Van Halen live record is right up there with him.

When you add the fact that he was able to take a huge band like Van Halen, put his own stamp on the band, and, sales wise, bring them to a whole new level, it is a testament to his character and determination. The fact that, to this day, there is an argument about which version of Van Halen is better is another example to how the guy could step into a situation like that and not only succeed but flourish. They are the only band I can think of that changed lead singers (not due to a death) while at the height of their popularity and continued on at that level or arguably even higher. He gave them their first number 1 album, on their 7th album(5150)! In fact, Sammy Hagar sang on each of Van Halen’s 4 Number 1 albums.

I think Sammy Hagar made some great music with Van Halen. He even says it’s the best music of his career and I’m happy that they did so I can enjoy it to this day. Even if he had never joined Van Halen I still think he would have written a lot of those great songs. They just might sound a little different. Not better, not worse, just different.

I’ve seen Sammy Hagar live 13 times, whether in his pre-Van Halen solo career, in Van Halen or after. Sadly I never got to see Montrose, Chickenfoot or HSAS, any of which I have a feeling would have had a great shot at making the top 3. Here are my top 3 Sammy Hagar live shows:

3. The Marching to Mars tour in Clearwater FL. His first tour after Van Halen. He had something to prove, and man did he ever prove it. It doesn’t hurt that Marching to Mars was a great album. It was 1997, he puts a band together, goes out on tour and kills it! He shows the world that the acrimonious split with Van Halen wasn’t going to defeat him. As a validation of how great it really was most, if not all, of the players from that tour are still with him. The highlight of the show was the version he did of The Yogi So High. INTENSE!!

2. The last show of the of the 3 Lock Box tour at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa Ca. Sammy likes to play long sets and this one was extra-long. He said it was the last night of the tour and broke two of his guitars on stage, then he chased bassist Bill Church around the stage to break his. Bill apparently wanted to keep his instrument intact. Too bad for Bill, Sammy was faster and smashed it to smithereens.

1.The VOA tour at Orange Pavilion in San Bernardino CA. Sammy in his home town. Talk about long shows!! He was fired up. On of my friends girlfriend made it up to the front of the stage and threw her jean vest on stage which Sammy picked up. While going thru the pockets he found her cigarettes. He stopped the show to talk to her about not smoking. She quit that night.

He takes the music seriously but he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. His solo shows are all about having a good time on stage, which translates to the people watching him getting swept up in his having a good time so they have a good time. If you are going to put on a show thats a winning formula.

I love the fact that he is a great guitar player, but doesn’t feel the need to be a guitar hero. He continues to play with other guitar players. Guys like Ronnie Montrose, Gary Pihl, Neal Schon, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, and Vic Johnson. He more than shares the spotlight with them. That tells me he’s a guy very comfortable in his own skin.

Musicians very rarely, if ever, play only a short time with Sammy. He’s pretty loyal to his band and his bandmates are loyal to him. Whether it’s David Lauser, Gary Pihl and Bill Church from his solo band before Van Halen, to Vic Johnson and Mona from the Waboritas. They are all around for a long time and always seem to be having a good time.

It was cool that he missed the camaraderie of a band as his reason to start Chickenfoot. As a solo artist it’s all on him to come up with everything. He’s Sammy Hagar, so he recruits Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony, and Chad Smith. It would have been easy to just release a collection of older unreleased songs but they didn’t do that though. They wrote, released and toured two albums worth of great songs. One song, Different Devil, is my favorite song that Sammy has ever sung, ever!

Sammy’s latest creation is his new band, Sammy Hagar and the Circle. It has Michael Anthony on bass, Vic Johnson on guitar and Jason Bonham on drums. Of course I saw them! The show was at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida. The place has great sound and a big stage. It’s a few decades old and the one thing that strikes you immediately is that there is no middle aisle. So if you’re sitting in the back and in the middle of the row you have to pass at least 30 seats just to get to yours. The place was sold out and full of “ REDHEADS”, which is the name Sammy gave his fans. Even after over 40 years of performing he can still pack the house. After a set of cover songs from the opening band, it was time for the Circle.

With the history of the members of the band the set was going to include Montrose, Sammy solo, Van Halen, and Led Zeppelin songs. Hence, the first four songs; There’s Only One Way to Rock, Rock Candy, Good Times Bad Times, and Poundcake. This set was so good that I Can’t Drive 55 was the 5th song!!! Before the show we figured out the Sammy is 67 years old. The man still sounds like he did in the early 80’s, there isn’t anyone who can touch him when he screams, still!! He still commands the stage and he looks great. I don’t know if it’s all the Cabo Wabo Tequila or his new venture Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. It’s a bucket list item of mine to be able to sit and talk with him for a period of time. How about it Sammy?

Early in the show, someone passed a drink up on stage and it was whisky. Sammy took a drink of it and went on about how whisky is bad for a singer’s throat. He then proceeded to make a drink for the guy with his rum and Dr. Pepper. After the show I must of heard 5 people talking about how they wanted to try Sammy’s concoction.

The streak continues, Sammy Hagar is my Joe DiMaggio of rock, I still have never been disappointed in a Sammy Hagar show. Solo, with Van Halen and now with The Circle. I can’t wait for whatever comes next.

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