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September 2014
more... ArtistsBassistsGuitaristsDecember 2011ChickenfootJoe SatrianiMichael Anthony

Chickenfoot: For the Birds

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Chickenfoot: For the Birds
Joe Satriani dips the trem on his signature Ibanez JS2400 as Mike Anthony keeps the 4-string thunder rolling at NYC’s Beacon Theatre in 2009. Photo by Paul Bachman
Listen to a track from Chickenfoot III:
Although the collective members of Chickenfoot have plenty of talent and technique to spare, the one thing that’s not on anyone’s side is time. When the band got together in February 2011 to record its curiously titled sophomore release, Chickenfoot III, there simply wasn’t a minute to waste. Vocalist Sammy Hagar’s New York Times, No. 1 bestselling book, Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, was weeks away from its release, guitarist Joe Satriani was barely decompressing from his Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards tour in addition to the Experience Hendrix tour, and drummer Chad Smith was just about ready to go back to his duties with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“We’d meet up in the morning,” says Satriani, ”and someone would say, ‘I really like that song, let’s do that one.’ And we’d spend a few hours learning it and arranging it, and then record it and that would be it. We’d move on to the next song.”

This mad dash proved to be a good thing and gave the album its fresh sound. “There’s a lot of spontaneity on this album because there wasn’t a lot of time to rehearse the songs,” says Anthony. “We would rehearse it 20, 30 times and then we recorded it.” The time constraints extend beyond the recording session. Because of Smith’s commitments, drummer Kenny Aronoff will be filling in for him on the band’s upcoming tour. But this won’t be a permanent lineup switch. Anthony says, “We didn’t want this to be a revolving-door band.”

The long road to Chickenfoot’s origin can be traced back to 1985 when Van Halen and vocalist David Lee Roth parted company. After this breakup, Roth did what any crafty jilted lover would do: He got sweet revenge. He recruited über-virtuoso Steve Vai along with bass hero Billy Sheehan to form a supergroup with superhuman, pyrotechnical abilities. Van Halen counteracted by bringing in Sammy Hagar as the new lead singer, but as Eddie Van Halen became more and more content to rest on his laurels, his position as the king of rock guitar was slowly being usurped by the continually innovative Vai, who ended up becoming the guitar hero to round out the ’80s and onward to the present day.

Flash forward to 2007 when the impossible happened and Van Halen reunited with Diamond Dave. This reunion came with a twist, however. Eddie’s teenage son, Wolfgang replaced founding member bassist Michael Anthony, leaving both Anthony and Hagar without a gig. They must have asked themselves “what would Dave do?” because soon after, they formed Chickenfoot, a supergroup featuring Joe Satriani—Vai’s former mentor—and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

This ensemble proved to be a success with Chickenfoot’s selftitled first album debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 100 and going Gold. But this is no poor man’s Van Halen. “During the first tour we wanted to establish ourselves as Chickenfoot so we decided not to play any Van Halen or Chili Peppers stuff,” says Anthony. “Obviously some of the stuff is going to sound like Van Halen vocally because that’s where Sammy and I come from and people can identify with that sound in our voices. But we don’t want to be like Van Halen. We don’t want to be like the Chili Peppers, we don’t want to be like Joe’s solo stuff. We just do what we do.”

How did Chickenfoot III come about?
Anthony: Because we were going to be losing Chad to his other band [laughs]. Actually, we wanted Chad on the new Chickenfoot record and we knew once he got fired up with the Chili Peppers that would pretty much be impossible. So we said, “Hey, let’s go into the studio and put some stuff together while Chad’s still free.”
Satriani: We always knew we’d get together again and continue it. After the set of tours that we did, we really solidified as a band and I think we all look back on the first record like, “Wow, that’s hardly representative of what we can do.”

What revelations did you have?
Satriani: We felt like a band, but we didn’t know if we sounded like a band until we had that first album. When we hit the road we had to prove a lot to ourselves. We went from the club thing to the festival tour and did the theaters and the arenas in the summer and then it was over. But in that period we learned so much about each other musically, and the potential of the band would really blossom every night that we would play.
Anthony: I think we’ve really niched out what Chickenfoot is about on this record.

Michael, do you approach your bass lines differently depending on whether the guitarist is playing more in the pocket and bluesy or going crazy?
Anthony: The difference here is when Eddie would go off, he’d be like, “Pump on this note, it’s king of like an AC/DC thing,” whereas Joe gives me a chance to play different things and not just ride on one note.

Are you enjoying the freedom you have now?
Anthony: Oh, it’s great. I don’t think there was one time on this album where Joe came up to me and said, “Can you play this here?” He let me go off and develop my own bass parts. Everybody was allowed to put in their own two cents.

What differences and similarities do you see in Joe and Eddie’s approach?
Anthony: They’re both great guitarists in their own right. Eddie would treat every song like it was an instrumental and either Dave or Sammy or even Gary would fit their vocals around it. I had to be more basic in my playing to really hold it down.

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