With the number of musical luminaries on Sammy Hagar’s speed dial it is not surprising that he would gift fans with this latest effort, “Sammy Hagar & Friends”. In fact, it is surprising this did not happen much sooner. The Red Rocker has brought in Kid Rock, his old Montrose buddies, the Waborita’s, his Chickenfoot friends, country artists Ronnie Dunn and Toby Keith, and several other alumni of his impressive career. If this sounds like a hot mess in the making or cause for skepticism, well both would be fair to presume, and to some degree, accurate.
Fans hoping for classic Hagar are going to be a tad disappointed, since this affair is a buffet of cover tracks, some off-the-beaten-path songs, with only a couple of traditional Hagar grooves. That said, this is still an intriguing and soulful listen.
The album kicks off in high style by dragging us down to the swampy grooves of N’awlins for “Winding Down”. This is a fine way to start and gives our first guest cameo in the form of blues legend, Taj Mahal who adds his gritty vocals to the mix. Sammy’s longtime Waboritas; guitarist, Vic Johnson, and bassist, Mona Gnader perform as well.
Keeping in that bluesy N’awlins groove, Hagar brings in his old Montrose pals, Bill Church (bass) and Denny Carmassi (drums) for the sweet gospel feel of “Not Going Down”. The trio of Claytoven Richardson, Omega Rae, and Sandy Griffith add to the spiritual vibe of the track.
They continue that vibe on a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, which also features guitar work from his old friend Neal Schon (Journey) who worked with Sammy on their one-off 1984 HSAS album, “Through the Fire”. His former Van Halen and current Chickenfoot band mate Michael Anthony adds the low-end rumble, while fellow Chickenfoot, Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) handles the skin work. Rumor has it this quintet is going to make a new HSAS album due out later this year.
Segueing from the blues to more of a Bourbon Street zydeco feel, Sammy offers up the second of the tracks he penned for this record, “Father Sun” which finds Hagar laying down some lap steel guitar. There is accordion work and a mandolin in the mix as well. His Waborita’s, Mona and Vic do their thing, and Carmassi returns for more stick work. His son, Aaron Hagar even adds some backing vocals.
On the album’s fifth track, we finally get a song that recalls more traditional Hagar with the album’s first single, “Knockdown, Dragout”. Hagar, Carmassi, Johnson and Gnader are also joined by Kid Rock, who lends his vocal spin, and another Chickenfoot, Joe Satriani who lays down a sweet solo. This is fun little party anthem that steals perhaps a bit too much from Hagar’s own previous classic, “Mas Tequila”.
A tasty cover of Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” is laid down by the Waboritas, including drummer, David Lauser. The trio of Richardson, Rae, and Griffith add more vocals.
The album’s only other rocker was penned by singer Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn fame. The talented country artist tackles “Bad on Fords and Chevrolets” with Sammy. While the decidedly country tinged honky-tonk rock tune seems better built for Dunn, it is Hagar who gives the better vocal performance, leaving Dunn’s usually incredible voice in the red dirt dust. Still, it is one of the album’s standout gems. Sammy and Vic lay down a nice vintage Hagar dual solo.
Next up, Hagar calls on Toby Keith for a laid back take on Jimmy Buffett’s iconic hit, “Margaritaville”, henceforth called “Waboritaville”. While it’s a nice little conic joyride, they simply don’t do it justice. The original remains unrivaled.
Sammy shows his mellow side on the campfire beach ballad, “All We Need is an Island”, which would feel largely out of place on any traditional Sammy album. Heart’s Nancy Wilson adds her voice to the mix and multi-instrumentalist Dave Zirbel, whose talents appear on almost every track on one instrument or another, adds nice flavor here with pedal steel guitar and Tahitian ukulele work.
Closing it all out is a live studio take of the Don Nix Memphis blues classic, “Going Down”. The song has been previously covered by everyone from Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Deep Purple and Lynch Mob, to JJ Cale and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. This time around Sammy taps his modern HSAS brothers, Schon, Anthony and Smith. While this is always a great jam, the garage like feel of this adds nothing to the impact of the album.
In all, “Sammy Hagar & Friends” is a unique mix of Hagar’s various musical passions colliding with some of his amazingly talented pals. In some cases it works better than others. Fans get to taste a different side of Hagar, which is a gift of its own. The album is half greatness and half ode to ego, and longstanding Hagar fans should appreciate this eclectic collection.