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One Genius & a Bunch of Idiots: An Interview with Chickenfoot’s Michael Anthony

By Jeb Wright 

Michael Anthony was known as the ‘nice guy’ in Van Halen.  While Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth feuded, Mike was smiling all the way, never causing any trouble.  When Eddie and Sammy Hagar had their moments, Mike played the middle ground well, never causing any issues of his own.  Somewhere along the line, Eddie tired of Mike and decided Van Halen would be a better band if another namesake, this time his son Wolfgang, were in the band, instead of Anthony.  Mike had committed a sin and gone out on the road as The Other Half with Sammy.  He even dared to be on the same tour bill as Diamond Dave.  For this, the Van Halen’s could not forgive Michael.  It seems Van Halen is becoming a bit like La Cosa Nostra, if you are not in the family, then you are banished.  Worse yet, if you don’t play by their rules, you could get whacked. 

Oh, wait a minute…It seems Eddie is telling that Anthony quit Van Halen and was never fired.  How convenient for Edwardo.  Mikey walks away and Wolfie comes walking in.  Apparently, Sammy quit as well.  Edward has never fired anyone, according to him.  Hmm, doesn’t the Mafia deny hits as well?  After all, these were emotional hits for Van Halen.  Now, Sammy was one thing, hell, we knew these two were not getting along for years.  But whacking Mike?  That was just not cool by most people’s standards.  Luckily, for Eddie, Van Halen fans were yearning to hear Roth era VH songs, sung by Dave and played by Eddie and Alex, that the sacking, while not justified, was forgiven.  We simply looked the other way. 

One would think that being friends with your bands ex-singer, and getting sacked for it, might piss one off.  Anthony, however, is beyond the Van Halen situation.  In fact, he is tired of putting up with Eddie and defending other band member’s actions.  Part of the reason he has been able to move on is because he has landed on his feet in a band that has the potential to be the shot in the arm needed for classic hard rock to remain viable in the world of music.  The oddly named, Chickenfoot, featuring Anthony, Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani and Chad Smith, is a super group of massive proportions.  Tickets are selling fast, and as soon as the album is released, expectations are for a Platinum Record Award to be hanging on the wall in each of their homes. Perhaps aligning oneself with good friends, and a great band, makes up for your legacy being raked through the muck.  Even if it does not make up for it, Michael Anthony is moving forward, regardless.   

In this interview we discuss the Van Halen saga, as well as why Chickenfoot is not allowed to wear socks.  We also learn that, according to Anthony, everyone in Chickenfoot has a huge penis, although we are not sure if that is a coincidence, or a requirement. 

Jeb:  You tried a super group a few years ago, with Sammy Hagar, called Planet Us, but it fizzled out.  What happened to that one, and how is this different?  

Michael: The Van Halen 2004 Reunion Tour happened.  Joe [Satriani] was actually going to be a part of that band.  We did a Westwood One thing in San Francisco and invited Joe to come and play with us.  He was in Planet Us for about 45-minutes.  This time around, the schedules and what everyone is doing, lined up.  We are at a point in our lives where we can afford to do it, and just have fun making music.  The chemistry and the magic just clicked.  You never really know if that is going to happen.  The last time it happened for me, was when Sammy [Hagar] joined Van Halen.   

Jeb: You and Sam are good friends, so it is no secret how you two ended up in a band.  How did you get Joe and Chad [Smith] to join? 

Michael: I have known Chad for a number of years.  I met him down at Cabo San Lucas; he has a house there.  Chad, Sammy and I jammed at the club a number of times.  In fact, that is where the name Chickenfoot actually came from.  We called it ‘Chickenfoot’ because there are three talons on a chicken’s foot and there are three of us.  I knew Joe from jamming with him from before.  I have always been a fan of his.   

About a year and a half ago, on Super Bowl weekend, Sammy’s band was playing in Las Vegas.  Sammy wanted to do something different for the encore, so he called Joe, Chad and myself up on stage.  Sammy figured Chickenfoot needed a proper guitar player, so that is why he called Joe.  We all went to Vegas and we played “Mr. Fantasy” by Traffic and an old standard titled “Going Down.”  After we were done, Chad was yelling to the audience, “You want to hear more?”  So we ended up playing some Led Zeppelin.  At that point, we knew the chemistry was there.  It was so much fun, and the instant gratification from the audience was great.  We decided to take the next step and see what we could do.  It was just too much fun to pass up.   

Jeb: It is hard to hold on to a creative spark.  Sammy and Joe were working constantly last year.  How were able to just turn on the magic at will?

Michael: We just knew, when we jammed together, that this could be something really special.  If our schedules were not going to allow us to do this full time, then we would just do it around each other’s schedules.  Sammy and Joe got together for a few afternoons because they both live in the Bay Area.  They bounced ideas off each other to see where each other’s mindset was.  Joe sent Chad, and me, five to seven song ideas, and we said, “Wow.” 

Joe was on the road all year, but during his breaks we went to Sammy’s place in California and recorded demos.  When Joe was finished touring, we went to Skywalker Ranch and recorded full time.  It sounded great, and we were having so much fun playing together that we knew we would somehow make this work.   

Jeb: Sammy tends to get over excited about things.  He did compare Chickenfoot to Led Zeppelin . . .  

Michael: I think that was a tequila-fueled interview.   

Jeb: You are known as the more down to earth sort of guy.  Just how good is Chickenfoot? Are you really THAT good?  

Michael: When we were making it . . . It wasn’t until some time later that I could actually sit down and listen to it.  For me, it was when we were mixing it down.  We knew we had some great material.  The guys I am playing with drop my jaw all the time.  I have Chad behind me, Joe next to me, and Sammy in front of me.  These guys are just incredible musicians.  When I sat back and finally listened to it, I had to say, “Wow, shit. Sammy, maybe you’re right [about Led Zeppelin].”  I am just kidding [laughter].  To me, Chickenfoot has the same intensity, and fire, as an early Led Zeppelin, or early Van Halen.   

Jeb: I was just giving you shit, you know.   

Michael: Oh, I know.  Right after Sammy said that in that interview, he was kind of like [makes crashing sound].  He actually had been drinking tequila with that guy who did the interview.  The reason Sammy said that is because he was so excited about this project.  When we were mixing, I was able to sit back and listen to these tunes—everything was done and we were really completing the whole ball of wax—and I was thinking, “This shit is good.”  It is really good; it is unlike anything I have done in Van Halen, or with anybody else.  

Jeb: The latest thing Sammy has been saying . . .  

Michael: Let me see if I can straighten you out . . .  

Jeb: Sammy is saying this is a band.  It is not just a super group.   

Michael: Because we are friends, and we have jammed with these guys before, it made a difference.  It wasn’t a money-driven thing where we said, “Let’s grab Satriani and let’s get Smith from the Chili Peppers.”  We sound like a band; we don’t just sound like four guys who just threw a bunch of songs together.  There is heart and soul that we put into this, with the intention of it not being a one-off thing.   

Jeb: The last time I interviewed Hagar, he told me that you kept showing up places, so he had to let you get on stage and play.   

Michael: I had us joined at the hip.   

Jeb: You have been the fish out of water. 

Michael: It is really interesting, because I knew I was not going to continue on like this forever.  I didn’t want to go out there and join Sammy and just play the Van Halen and Hagar era songs.  I needed to do something different.  It was just great that this, all of the sudden, came to be, and came about like it did.   

Jeb: How much do personalities have to do with a band like Chickenfoot?  

Michael: It has a lot to do with it.  On stage is one thing, but off stage is another.  It is kind of interesting, because sometimes you wonder how these four personalities are going to mesh.  I have partied enough times with Chad, down in Cabo, to know what he is like.  We are saying now, that we should have called this band ‘One Genius & a Bunch of Idiots.’  Joe balances the rest of us out.  

Joe Satriani, is a methodical, and structured, kind of guy—thank God for that.  Every day, he came to the studio with his staff paper, while the rest of us were saying that we should put up a blackboard and scribble down what we needed to work on.  Joe would say, “No, we are not going to do that.”  You really need someone like that in the studio.  Of course, we had Andy Johns in to do this thing with us.  He is a great engineer and a great producer.  He really was like the fifth member of the band.  He was out in the studio with us, making suggestions and everything.  He knew when we had a take.  He would say, “Play it as many times as you want, but that is the one right there.”  He would go outside and have a cigarette and say, “Let me know when you guys are through goofing around because this is the take we are using.”  

We just went out on a little nine-show thing and everyone got along great.  I was wondering if Chad was going to make us wear socks on our dicks.  I told him that he should leave his socks at home.   

Jeb: No need to make the Chili Peppers feel bad.   

Michael: Hell no.  Chad was doing an interview the other day and the guy was saying, “How do the other Chili Peppers feel about you playing with these guys?”  He goes, “Anthony [Kiedis] is okay with it and [John] Frusciante is off doing his own thing right now.”  Flea just wanted to know what it was like playing with Michael Anthony.” Chad told me that he said, “You know, he has a big cock too.” I felt kind of proud.  It was a great compliment that I was paid.   

Jeb: So many times, successful musicians are put together by management, or they get together for the wrong reasons.  It shows that you guys are really enjoying each other.  

Michael: You can put four great musicians together, where you would think that it would be the band to end all bands, and nothing comes out of it.  It is not because they are bad players, it is just because the chemistry, the fire, the magic, or whatever you want to call it, did not take off.  With us four, it did.  We would be in the studio playing and it was like we had been in this band for ten years already. 

Jeb: A good example of what you are saying are the new songs Van Halen did for the Best of album.   They didn’t have the same magic.   

Michael: You want to keep that spark, but like a marriage, or anything else . . . All of a sudden, the band gets corporate, and you have four managers and four chefs.  When every person in the band has a manager, and a-this-and-a-that, then you lose your perspective on why you got into the business in the first place.  The fun part of it, sometimes, almost goes away.  Now, I feel like I am in the first band that I was ever in.   

Jeb: With Chickenfoot, you are getting to play a lot more than you did in Van Halen. 

Michael: Joe brought several great ideas to the band, and we also wrote three songs, together, as a band, in the studio.  The next time we go into the studio, to do the next CD, we are going to go into the studio with that intention.  Obviously, if somebody has ideas, then they will bring them to the table, but we want to go in, as a band.  Joe had ideas and it wasn’t like, “You play this and then you play that.”  Nobody once said to anybody something like that, unless it was Andy making a suggestion.  Everybody was allowed free reign to do what they wanted to do.  Being the professionals that we are, we knew when to step up, and when to step back.  All four of us got to really be who we are on this album without any type of restrictions.   

Jeb: Does being around great guitar players and great producers even phase you anymore?

Michael: No, it really doesn’t.  Playing with Eddie, and now playing with Joe, where there is not another guitar player . . . Sammy didn’t even put on a guitar while we were doing this.  When we are live, he plays a little bit here and there.  My position is to really anchor the thing down.  Cream was one of the only bands that when [Eric] Clapton went into a solo, it was almost like there were three different solos going on.  They would, somehow, come right back into the song.  You can lose your perspective and wonder where the song is going, and even, what song it is, but Chad and I click so well together that we can play anything and know where we are.  We play so well together, that when Joe plays a solo, it doesn’t sound like anything drops out.  That shows that everyone knows what they need to do in a band like this.  It shows that everyone knows how to make it sound good.   

Jeb: Eddie Van Halen told Rolling that Michael quit Van Halen and was not fired.

Michael: I am so far past that…I wish that he would be too.  Unfortunately, he is a bitter guy.  At my age, at this point in my life, I don’t want to be bitter.  I want to hang around positive people, and I could not find three more positive guys than the guys I am playing with now.  

Why keep rehashing the past?  They were asking Eddie questions that had nothing to do with that.  They said, “Have you heard Chickenfoot?” And he goes, “Yeah, but by the way, Michael Anthony wasn’t fired; he quit.”  It had nothing to do with anything.  I never quit the band.  At one point, I was forced to make a decision to sit on my hands, at home, and do nothing for a number of years, or go out and play some shows on a tour with Sammy and Dave [David Lee Roth]. What would you do?  I felt that I was doing those guys a service by going out and flying the Van Halen flag and letting people know that Van Halen is still here.   

My last name is not ‘Van Halen.’  People tend to forget you.  I didn’t want people to go, “That is that guy that used to play in Van Halen.  What’s his name again?”   The fans wanted to hear that music.  I was kind of forced into a situation like that. I never quit the band.    

When we did the 2004 reunion, Eddie didn’t even want me to be a part of that because he was so torqued up that I was buddies with Sammy.  Why can’t I be buddies with Sammy and still play with Van Halen?  With those guys, it was a cut and dried situation.  You are in or you are out.  You are with us or you are not.  He still keeps bringing this stuff up.   

I talked to Joe Bosso yesterday about it, because Rolling Stone was on his back for a response.  I wanted the fans to know that I never left the band.  For whatever happened, I am not a bitter person about it.  I loved Van Halen; I loved everything we did.  Hell, I was one of the only two guys who showed up for the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction.  I love the legacy of the band but I am moving on.  I am in a great place with Chickenfoot.  Ed needs to do that too.  

[Speaking to Eddie Van Halen] “You’ve got a studio right there at your house, and you say that you have a million songs written.  Well, go ahead and record some, and go out and have fun.  Let’s look back fondly at Van Halen and what it was.”   

How was that?  I am not a guy who gets mad.  A lot of people are looking at my response and going, “Oh my God, Mike grew a set of balls.”  I didn’t grow a set of balls.  I just got tired of rehashing this shit.  I am tired of it.  I would always skate around the subject, but this is the way it is.  I have gotten on with it and they need to get on with it too.  They need to go out and remember why they are in this business.

Jeb: On a lighter note, I was on your website and I saw that blue and white car you own.  I have a photo with Sammy in that car.  Did he pose in your car?  

Michael: Sammy and I both got those in 2005.  Ford built them for us; they are Ford GT’s.  Sammy and I are big fans of cars.  I have always loved the GT40.  I knew some guys from Ford, and when we were in Detroit on the 2004 Van Halen tour, we schmoozed them up really good and got them on the list.  We both got the exact same car.  We ordered them together and we got them in 2005.  Sammy was playing a show at the Detroit Theater, and I was playing with them, and Ford came and presented the cars to us at the show, which was really cool since we are both car nuts. 

Jeb: Sammy, Chad and you have to have a funny story about playing or recording with Chickenfoot.  I am hitting you up with a good story to close with.   

Michael: We have not really had that much time together to come up with some good ones. 

Jeb: But you have free tequila . . .  

Michael: When we were in New York, there was this guy who is doing a book on tattoos.  Joe doesn’t have any, so Sammy, Chad and I said that we did and that we would show them.  They said they were going to take a picture of our tattoo and then we could say what it means.  I was leaving as Chad was coming in to do his thing.  Chad came in and dropped his pants.  I said, “Oh here we go.”  It was not like I was going to stand there and check him out, but they started low thigh and went upwards.   

We played the gig that night and Sammy proceeds to tell the audience about what we had been doing.  Chad jumps up on his drum stool and proceeds to pull his pants down so the audience could get a good visual on what Sammy was talking about.  It was one of the most hilarious moments I have had so far.  He had his hand strategically placed because he didn’t have his sock with him.   

Jeb: Never leave home without your sock.  

Michael: We told him in Chickenfoot there will be no socks.  You can still be a man and have a big dick—we all have big dicks—but in Chickenfoot we are going to wear pants. 

Listen to Chickenfoot here



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