Who is Chickenfoot you ask? Maybe you recognize the names Michael Anthony, Chad Smith, Joe Satriani and Sammy Hagar. If not, how about the band’s Van Halen and Red Hot Chili Peppers? Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar are two former members of Van Halen and Chad Smith is the drummer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Joe Satriani is one of the greatest guitarists in instrumental rock-n-roll. These four guys comprise the hot new rock band Chickenfoot. I’ve always been a fan of taking select musician’s from top live bands and putting them together to form elite supergroups. So it was with great anticipation that I waited for the release of the new Chickenfoot album.
I am a longtime fan of Joe Satriani and have been following his career since he released “Surfing With The Alien” in 1987. Joe’s guitar playing has been a great source of inspiration to me over the years and I’ve always been impressed that he’s followed his own path with his album releases and tours. He’s never become a hired gun for a successful band (other than the Deep Purple tour in ’93) which he did not join permanently so as to pursue his solo career. So I was very intrigued with the prospect of him working with two former members of Van Halen and a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Let’s face it, being in top band like Van Halen could have easily given Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony an air of superiority that could have doomed Chickenfoot from the start. It’s easy to imagine their thinking could have been “who can we get to play guitar that is better than Eddie but that we can impose our will on?”. But I have to believe that Joe wouldn’t fall for that tactic. So the prospect of bringing these 3 guys together at first seems contrived and calculated but there’s just too much musicianship with Joe and Sammy to not be intrigued by the prospects of fresh sounding music.
So that brings me to Chad Smith, drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Here we have a musician that has been part of one of the top alternative/punk/funk bands of all time. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are nothing like the Van Halen soap opera and unlike Joe, Chad is used to being a member of an established band. I would love to have an inside look at how Chad interacts with the members of Chickenfoot in terms of group chemistry. There’s no doubt what he brings to the band in terms of drumming skill. He’s tight, he’s funky, he’s got a great drum sound and overall, he just rocks! I can’t imagine Chad doing an Alex Van Halen impersonation and that’s good thing.
The biggest question then, is how does the new Chickenfoot album sound? I’m not going to give a song-by-song review because you can get that in other places. I’m going to answer the biggest question of all. Is Chickenfoot simply 90’s Van Halen version 2.o? Because we have all the Van Halen ingredients: Top guitarist, excellent team player on drums, guitar support on bass and a dynamic lead singer. So my answer to that question is…sort of. Chickenfoot at times does indeed sound like 90’s Van Halen 2.0 and also like somewhat of a Sammy Hagar solo album.
Sammy’s songwriting style helped define Van Halen of the 90’s and Sammy’s songwriting is on full display in Chickenfoot. That’s why the album also has the feel of a Sammy Hagar solo album. There are some songs on Chickenfoot that sound like they could have come off of Three Lock Box or VOA but this was also the case when he joined Van Halen. So if you love Sammy Hagar, you’re going to love Chickenfoot. I am personally a big fan of Sammy Hagar so I do enjoy the songwriting on the Chickenfoot album.
That being said, I’m disappointed by several things about the Chickenfoot album. When you have a legendary solo guitarist with some of the top selling instrumental albums of all time, it’s sad to see him boxed in by the verse, chorus, GUITAR SOLO, verse, chorus songwriting structure. I don’t believe there’s a guitar solo that is longer than 30 seconds on this entire album. Joe is also an excellent songwriter and you do hear his influence on several of the songs. It sounds like he may have had the biggest hand in writing one or two of them which is a very good thing because after listening to Sammy’s songwriting for 30 years it’s nice to hear some fresh twists. But I would have liked to hear at least one song on the Chickenfoot album that was 80% instrumental and free-form jamming for Joe to shine on. So, sadly, Joe is relegated to sideman on a lot of the Chickenfoot album but at least the album is guitar oriented so you get to hear tons of Joe’s playing anyway.
One of the upsides is the vocal harmonies of Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar. These guys just sound great singing together and there are some great vocal harmonies throughout the album. Vocally, Sammy is still in fine form though age and alcohol do seem to have roughened up his voice a bit more. His singing is still great though.
Micahael Anthony’s bass actually sounds very good on the Chickenfoot album. He’ll never be considered a bass wizard but his playing is some of his best on this album. He plays some fine riffage with Joe and as usual, does an excellent job supporting the guitar. The best thing about the bass on this album is his tone. They seem to have really taken the time to get good bass guitar tones on this album. It’s deep with some good pop and not the usual Van Halen farty bass tone at all.
Chad Smith’s drumming is a perfect example of efficiency and energy. He never overdoes it on the Chickenfoot album and he really sticks to straight on rock drumming. I would have liked to hear him get a bit more funky in places and would have liked to hear his drumming showcased more in at least one song. It would have been cool to hear some extended drum breaks but he does a great job working with the band. His drum tone is bright and tight which mixes very well with the good bass tones.
Overall, the Chickenfoot album is sure to delight all hardcore Sammy Hagar and Sammy Hagar era Van Halen fans. This is good in the fact that the album will have good, large scale sales potential. For all the hardcore musicians and guitarists out there that will be buying this album, you may be underwhelmed by the guitar simply because you’re aware of Joe’s overall skill as a guitar virtuoso. Chickenfoot is definitely swinging for mainstream, commercial appeal with this release. I have enjoyed the album though I think it will take it’s place alongside the rest of my Van Halen albums.