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Interview:
Sammy Hagar takes his circle in a conceptual direction
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

» See more SOUND CHECK

For more than 45 years it's seemed like Sammy Hagar has done everything for you, as the song says, and the world at large.



But after tenures with Montrose, Van Halen and the all-star Chickenfoot, Hagar wasn't entirely sure what the prospects would be for his latest band, the Circle.



That group featuring guitarist Vic Johnson from Hagar's Waboritas, Van Halen and Chickenfoot bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin's late John Bonham was formed seven years ago primarily as a performance vehicle. It played songs from throughout Hagar's career as well as Led Zep covers. And throughout that time Hagar acknowledges that he was "scared to make a record" of original material with the quartet.



"A couple years ago I said, 'Man, I don't think we'll ever make a record. How are we going to put a new song in between "I Can't Drive 55" and "Right Now" and "Whole Lotta Love?" You can't do it,'" Hagar, 71, says by phone. "But touring seven years together, playing, we knew what we were all about. It was like starting over, like when we were kids and paid all our dues together and THEN we made an album.



"So I think we did it."



"It" is "Space Between," Hagar's latest album and his first studio effort with the Circle. More than just that, it's a concept album, and a high-minded one at that. "It's about money, greed, enlightenment and truth," says Hagar, who actually wrote another concept album during the mid-'70s that was rejected by his record company at the time. "I've been waiting my whole life to be inspired and write a record like this."



It's an intriguing topic for Hagar, who's best known for party anthems such as "Mas Tequila," "One Way to Rock" and the defiant "I Can't Drive 55." He's also no stranger to the filthy lucre himself, not just as a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer but with business interests in liquor, restaurants, nightclubs and media. But the polarized times and a certain U.S. president's own background in big business inspired Hagar to dig a little deeper with his latest batch of songs.



"I mean, watching the news, seeing what's going on in the world, I just go, 'Man, it's ugly out there...,'" explains Hagar, who was raised working class in northern California. "So I just thought it was time to make a statement, without it being political or saying, 'Hey, vote for this guy' or anything."



He contends that, "Money is not the problem. Money is beautiful. You can heal the sick, you can feed the poor, you can stop a war with money. It's greed that's the problem." And that's the message he hopes gets through amidst the high-octane rock on "Space Between's" 10 tracks.



"I really do hope that it changes some people, maybe gives them some hope," Hagar says. "If they have some extra money, maybe they will be enlightened to do something good with it. Y'know, 10 bucks at a food bank makes something like 10 meals, or feeds 10 people. It's really good bang for the buck.



"There's things you can do to help your fellow man and not just sit around and bitch about everything. That's what I'm trying to say."



As he took the Circle into the studio make the album, Hagar also wanted to keep the message uncluttered by extraneous musical flash in particular, tempering what he and Johnson did with their guitars.



"I really approached this record different than any time, ever," Hagar says. "The first thing I said was there weren't going to be any songs that we shred on. I'm showing (Johnson) the songs and he's like, 'Where's the solo?' 'There ain't gonna be no ... solo.' It's unnecessary, especially with what I'm talking about in these songs. We've got enough room for five-minute guitar solos in the other songs we play. Let's not get in the way of the songs this time."



With "Space Between" freshly out, Hagar has the Circle back on the road, brooming all but one of the Led Zeppelin covers each night to make room for songs from the new album. Meanwhile, he and Anthony are again parrying Van Halen reunion rumors the latest saying that Anthony would be rejoining the original lineup for a tour this year.



"Mikey has my blessings to do it if it ever happens," says Hagar, who was with Van Halen for 11 years as David Lee Roth's replacement. "Every now and then (Van Halen's) management throws something at me or Mikey saying, 'Hey, what are you guys doing next summer?' or, 'We're talking about maybe doing this or doing that,' and we're like, 'Yeah, let me know' and you never hear nothing.



"If Van Halen asks Mike to come back, I'll say, 'Take a break, absolutely.' He has to have that for closure, 'cause he's a founding member. If that could happen to him and he wants to do it, I'm all for it and then he can come back (to the Circle). But right now nothing's going on so he's here and the Circle is going strong."



Sammy Hagar & the Circle and Night Ranger perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road, east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $25 and up. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.

Web Site: www.313Presents.com

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