"It's the best record I've ever made," Sammy Hagar says of Chickenfoot's second album, which they're so pumped about they skipped right to calling it Chickenfoot III. The supergroup – featuring Hagar, guitar wizard Joe Satriani, ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith – started as a tequila-soaked jam session in Mexico and went on to sell 500,000 copies of its 2009 debut LP.
The follow-up features the same harmony-drenched hooks and huge riffs, along with a few surprises: the R&B romp "Come Closer" experiments with spoken-word poetry on "Three and a Half Letters," and "Last Temptation" is Black Keys-inspired. Says Hagar, "The Keys are one of my top 10 groups ever, going back to Cream and Zeppelin."
The band recorded mostly live at Hagar's Northern California studio, although a bout of writer's block slowed down the recording process. "I was being negative, and I fought with myself," says Hagar, who writes most of the band's lyrics. "The music Joe was presenting was so good, I honestly beat myself up for the first time ever. I didn't want to walk in with something mediocre."
But Hagar had a creative revelation on a trip to his house in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. "I'm sitting in Cabo I'm listening to music – it took three weeks. I was talking to the father of my partner in Mexico" – where Hagar started his wildly successful tequila company Cabo Wabo. "He's 74 years old, and he's got a mistress, but he's still living with his wife. And I'm going 'You got to make the jump, man!' He says in Spanish, 'Same hell, different devil.' I said 'There's my song. What a great line.'" Hagar wrote "Different Devil," which he calls, "Probably the biggest pop hit we would ever have if we wanted it."
Chickenfoot took another blow when manager John Carter died of cancer in the middle of their sessions in May (they pay tribute to him on "Up Next"). Says Satriani, "Now [when I listen to the record], I can hear the dark cloud. I didn't hear it at the time. I think its because we were trying so hard to keep our nose to the grind, and keep a good face for Carter."
"It wasn't fun trying to make the record," Hagar adds. "But when I listened back, I got the goose bumps."
Still, the band had their share of fun making the record at Hagar's Northern California studio. "Everything's there for us. I've got 14 cars – exotics, racecars, you name it, and we can just take a break and I say, 'Here's the keys. They're all on this wall over here, take your pick fellas' and jump in the car and go and burn some rubber down the street. It's a very comfortable environment for a band."
The results are some of Hagar and Satriani's favorite hooks yet. "It's a lot more musical than the last record – the hooks and the songs are better," says Hagar. Satriani adds, "We created a record that was deeper and better than the first one . . . it makes a musician very happy when they can see that they are involved with something that's very moving forward and life-changing."
The band may tour in November, although it will have to find another drummer – Smith is busy with the Chili Peppers. "That's the biggest disappointment about the whole thing," says Hagar, adding the band has auditioned several drummers and have an audition with Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, Smashing Pumpkins). "He's going to spend a couple days with this and were just going to jam and if he fits. It's got to be the chemistry. Kenny can play that's for sure and we all like him. He's kind of like like Chad – he's kind of crazy and he hits so fucking hard that he beats his drum set to the ground that after every show he needs a new drum set."
The fall is also looking to be a busy time for Hagar's former band, Van Halen – they're playing five Australian dates in September and early October and have reportedly been recording an album with David Lee Roth. "It better be great, because they waited a long time," Hagar says. "And Chickenfoot raised the bar."