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Michael Anthony On the ‘History Of Rock’ With Sammy Hagar, Hot Sauce + His Legendary Jack Daniel’s Bass

Photo credit: Jon Luini

If you’re going to take a trip through the historical annals of rock and roll, having Sammy Hagar as your tour guide sounds like a fun option, right?

It would seem like a safe bet that with the Red Rocker at the helm, you could count on having a drink or two and hearing some good tunes, because as we all know, Hagar knows how to throw a party. (How did we get that Cabo Wabo tattoo again?)

So yeah, we were definitely intrigued when we heard about ‘A Journey Through The History Of Rock,’ the title that has been assigned to Hagar’s upcoming summer trek and we reached out to get a few more details.

Hagar’s band for the tour dates will include his longtime Van Halen and Chickenfoot comrade Michael Anthony on the bass, guitarist Vic Johnson and drummer Jason Bonham.

During a phone conversation from his home, Anthony filled us in on the plans that he, Hagar and Bonham have up their sleeves for the gigs and he also took some time to talk about his hopes for new music, hot sauce and his world-famous Jack Daniel’s bass.

I want to dig into ‘A Journey Through The History Of Rock’ with you. Last summer, you and Sammy did ‘Four Decades of Rock.’ This year, the title changes slightly and you add Jason Bonham into the mix. The title suggests that there’s plenty of room to veer outside of the normal catalog stuff that pops up at a Sammy show. What can you tell us about what’s going to go down as you understand it?

Don’t let the title mislead you, because it’s not like we’re the historians and we’re going to take you through a journey of the whole rock and roll spectrum. [Laughs] Most of it is just kind of the history as we’ve lived it and whatever [else we might want to do]. We might throw some stuff in from bands that we grew up listening to, but of course we’re going to cover all of the snippets from Montrose, Sammy’s solo stuff, Van Halen and with Jason in the mix, we’re throwing in some really cool Zep stuff too that I’m really enjoying playing.

I’ve always loved playing Zeppelin — they were one of my favorite bands growing up. So we’ll be doing all of that and in addition, we could throw in little nuggets here and there that people haven’t heard in a long time. It’s just a really fun thing. The way this all came about, Sammy was playing a show down in Miami two or three months ago and he just wanted to throw something really impromptu together and do something where he’d just play snippets of all of the stuff.

Jason doesn’t live too far from where we were gigging, I think an hour and a half or something, so he asked Jason to play drums and we threw some Zeppelin in the mix too. The show was just so amazing and we had such a great time. Our Chickenfoot thing is still on hold and nothing’s lined up yet to where we’re all going to go in the studio or go out on tour, so we thought, “Well, why don’t we just kind of take the same thing and throw some shows together this summer and have some fun with it.” People that come to the show, they’re going to get a good rock show.

Have you started to properly rehearse yet for the tour yet?

No, there’s no properly rehearsing for this! There’s no choreography and in fact, I got a basic shell of a setlist from Sammy the other day and I guess what we’re just really focusing on are the first three songs and the last three songs. Then everything in the middle, we’re going to throw it up in the air and the way the show feels and how it goes, that’s what we’re going to do. We are going to rehearse a couple of times though!

I would have been fine with your first answer about not rehearsing at all, but okay!

[Laughs] No formal rehearsals! There will probably be more bulls—ting than rehearsing when we get together, which is usually the case.

You and Sammy, there’s a bond there that goes deep. What is it that you enjoy creatively about working with Sammy?

Just his whole outlook and his vibe. He’s one of the most positive upbeat people that I’ve ever known in my life. Even when things are a little tough or rough or whatever, we alwas look at the bright side of things. He’s just a great guy to hang out with and you know, when he first joined Van Halen, he was kind of thrown into the mix as the lead singer and so we kind of became friends around the whole music deal.

After he had not been in Van Halen for a certain amount of years, we reconnected. We reconnected more on a human level as two buddies and I think we’re better friends now than when he was in Van Halen. He’s just a great guy. We basically love all of the same stuff. We love cars, we love the beach, we love to drink. When you’ve got that kind of stuff working for you, you get along man, no matter what you do.

I talked to Joe Satriani and he spoke about you, how you were the guy that really played your cards right. Out of everybody that’s out there, from what I know, you don’t have to work if you don’t want to and you do spend a lot of time laying low, doing your thing. What keeps you out there touring and creating new music?

Oh, I just love playing music. A lot of times, that’s something that’s kind of instilled in you. My father played music, so I was always around music, even from the time I was born. My father actually was the one that originally got me into music. I played trumpet in school at an early age. I don’t know, I think just being around music and being around the whole thing, you love it and we’ll tour a bunch and when we finish I don’t even want to look at my bass for a while, I’m like, “God.”

It only takes about a week and I’m hanging out with friends that are gigging and getting up and jamming with people or whatever. I think you either really love doing what you do or you look at it like a job and I don’t look at it like a job. Especially now. That was one of the reasons why we formed the band Chickenfoot, was because we didn’t want to put any pressure on anybody about anything. It’s not even like it’s any kind of a professional kind of gig. It’s just four guys having a great time jamming together and that’s where it all basically starts when you first start playing music.

How did you get into the hot sauce business?

[Laughs] Actually, my wife’s father started me off with that. When we were dating, he used to put this stuff called La Victoria, this green sauce, on his eggs in the morning or whatever [he ate]. The sauce basically is not even hot at all, but he got me hooked on it and it just escalated from there. The next thing you know, I’m pissing off chefs at restaurants and I’m pissing off my wife and everybody else because I’ve got to put hot sauce on everything I eat! I can still taste food — I just like it hot.

You know, sometimes you feel obligated to ask about the signature belt buckle or whatever it is that a musician has a personal passion for, but your stuff is the real deal.

Well, when I decided that I wanted somebody manufacturing the sauce for me — and believe me, it wasn’t a real idea that I had, it was just by the nudging of people around me. Our crew and Van Halen [fans] found out when we were on tour how much I love hot sauce and they started bringing me homemade stuff and homemade chili peppers. Somebody would say, “Hey, you ought to come out with your own hot sauce!”

It was really weird, because right around the time I was thinking about it, Joe Perry from Aerosmith comes out with his Boneyard Brew sauce. I thought, “Wow, cool!” But a lot of people that I talked to, they wanted me to just slap my name on something and call it my hot sauce and I did not want to do it that way. I finally hooked up with this company here in Southern California called Mike and Diane’s Gourmet Kitchen and besides being fans of the band, I talked with them and they said, “Hey, you can be in the development of it from the ground up.”

So the sauce that you’re tasting, I might not know exactly what ingredients I needed to use, but I knew what I liked and what I tasted and what I wanted. It kind of makes it that much more special, because it is mine. I’m glad people like it! [Laughs] Because if they didn’t, I’d be bummed out! It does well — I’m not looking to do a thing like Sammy did with his tequila or whatever. It’s a small company and it’s basically online — there’s stores in Southern California that carry, mostly hot sauce boutique stores. But it’s a cool thing — we have a lot of fun with it.

You’ve got your own signature bass. As cool as that thing is, I just wondered if there has ever been anybody who has approached you about a replica Michael Anthony Jack Daniel’s bass guitar.

Yes, I have been approached by people. But you know, that’s something that, I don’t know, I don’t want to force my old bad drinking habits on anybody, you know? That was just a novelty thing and I wasn’t looking to make any money off it. It was great that even as I built the second Jack Daniel’s bass that I had, the company kind of came on board with it and they helped me out with the graphics on it. I still have their blessing — the latest one I built was for the 2004 Van Halen tour.

But you know, to me it’s just a little special thing and I wasn’t looking to make money off of it. I’ve had a couple of companies get a hold of me and ask if I wanted to do a small run and [they said] “We can make it really cool and personable and you can ask big money for it.” That’s not what I was ever looking for with that guitar. For some reason, I guess I just kind of got branded with that thing, because you know, back in the day I could nip a little bit of Jack Daniel’s down!

Your moments on the ‘Live Without A Net’ concert video are some of the more famous video moments of the ‘80s and that Jack Daniel’s bass is certainly part of that. When you filmed that gig, did it feel like anything more than just filming another show?

No. I don’t even like to think that we’re filming a show, because then I always get nervous and when I tend to get nervous like that, I tend to make mistakes, so I kind of totally put it out of my mind. [Laughs] But when I look back at ‘Live Without A Net,’ we were pretty crazy onstage, I’ve got to say.

Let’s get back there to that time for a minute. It’s 1985 and Van Halen has a new frontman named Sammy Hagar. You’ve been part of a band that’s already been absolutely huge. What’s going through your mind at that moment when the band is making that change?

You know, the record company really wanted us to change the name of the band. They felt that Dave’s identity was so strong that we shouldn’t call it Van Halen. Of course, besides that fact that Ed and Al were saying, “Hey, this is our last name,” we’re also telling the record company that this is our career — you guys aren’t going to lose your jobs if we fail. We’re the ones that will be out in the cold. With Sammy, there was just a renewed energy when we were working on the ‘5150’ record.

We were just kind of hoping — obviously you hope the fans like it. We weren’t trying to write anything to try to second-guess the fans or think that, “Sammy’s got to fill Dave’s shoes, so we’ve got to write a certain way.” What came out just came out and thank God the people dug it. On a musical level, I think Sammy took us up to the next plateau, because being a guitar player himself and also being able to sing anything that Ed came up with kind of really opened it up to anything. I even had to start watching myself, because I had to sing higher than I ever sang before for the backgrounds. [Laughs]

As far as recording the ‘5150’ album, was it more of a detailed process than what you had been used to in the past in the Roth era of the band?

No. We had a lot of fun in the studio. We just pretty much did it like we’d always done it before. We went in there and we recorded as a band. Sammy sang and a lot of [that initial stuff] Sammy sang actually ended up on that record. It was the same thing with the records after that too.

You know, we always considered ourselves a band and we wanted to play in the studio together, so that’s all it was. A lot of it was, in the early days with Sammy especially, was still just jamming and ideas would come out for other songs that would end up on that album or the next album, just from those jams. But it wasn’t like a real thought-out type process.

It’s been pretty exciting to hear that Sammy and Mick Jones have been writing together again. Have you been involved with any of that?

No, I mean, I talked with Sammy about it and it’s great. Through Sammy, I know that Mick wanted to redo some Foreigner stuff also and have some people guest on it, to which Sammy told me that he kind of respectfully declined the offer.

The way Sammy felt was that he really didn’t feel that he could do Lou Gramm justice, because I think the way Sammy put it was [he’d have to] “go out there and try to sing stuff that a 20-something year-old was singing originally.” Which is cool. So I guess that led to them doing a little bit of writing together. Sammy said it was a great time, because he hadn’t seen Mick and I know I haven’t seen Mick in quite a while.

I thought he brought great stuff to the table for ‘5150’ with his production ideas.

Oh, he did. He’s very….I don’t want to say anal, but he’s very tenacious about working in the studio. I know with Foreigner, he wanted things really precise. He tightened the reins up a little bit [with Van Halen] whereas before that it was almost like just one big party in the studio all of the time. We actually did have some little bit of organization — not much, but some.

Plus, Mick being a great musician, he had great ideas and I think the album was pretty much finished and we wanted to put one other thing on there and Mick was pretty instrumental with ‘Dreams,’ [helping to] come up with that. It’s great to work with somebody like Mick who gets right in there. The only other person who was like that was Andy Johns, that didn’t just sit behind a board and have his tech twist the knobs. Mick was hands on and he’s out there in the studio with us and to me, that’s what makes a great producer.

What else is on tap for you besides this tour?

Well, we’ve got some stuff cooking for the fall, but nothing that I can really talk about right now. But if it does come about, we’ve got some cool musical stuff happening that we’re going to do. Joe’s going on tour — I believe he’s leaving next month to tour Europe solo. When everything lines up, we’re looking forward to getting some Chickenfoot stuff back together again, because that’s always a fun time. So we’re really looking forward to that.

But in the meantime, we put this really cool thing together and brought Jason into the mix. We’re calling it the history of rock, but it’s kind of the history that we’ve made in rock. So you’re going to get Montrose, Sammy, Van Halen and we’ve got some really cool Zep stuff that we’ve thrown in and like I said, I can’t wait to play that stuff. Jason’s a great guy and a helluva drummer and we’re going to have a great time this summer with it.

Since it’s the ‘History Of Rock,’ perhaps on a really weird night we’ll get ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.’

[Laughs] Hey, you know what? Whenever I want to really go back, I’ve got that album and I’ll put it on and I don’t care who hates it or whatever, but when I hear that first keyboard lick in the beginning, man. That was one of my songs growing up. [Laughs]

In school, if you were a drummer and could play that drum solo or if you could play keyboards of any sort in a band and you could play that intro, you had a job immediately in the band.

Next: Top 10 Michael Anthony Van Halen Songs

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