Sammy Hagar and Neal Schon’s Forgotten Team-Up: The History of HSAS
In 1983, two of rock’s biggest acts, Sammy Hagar and Journey guitarist Neal Schon, made good on a long-running promise to collaborate together. They recruited bassist Kenny Aaronson (Billy Squier, Rick Derringer, Foghat, Dust) and Schon’s former Santana bandmate Michael Shrieve on drums to form Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve — a name which thankfully was quickly abbreviated to HSAS.
30 years after the 1984 release of their one-and-done album ‘Through the Fire,’ we got all four principals to share their memories of this often-forgotten and highly underrated collaboration — beginning with Aaronson, who started us off by sharing some strong feelings regarding the album’s surprising lack of success:
Before teaming up with them, Aaronson had run into Hagar and Schon on the road over the years. Looking back on his time with HSAS, his only reservation was that they didn’t take the music directly to their fans with a tour, where they could have made a bigger name for themselves:
I think there are a lot of people that would say that the HSAS album is one of their favorite one-and-done albums from the ‘80s. I’d love to get your thoughts on that whole project. How did you get into the mix?
What happened there was that over the years of touring, every so often I would run into Sammy or Neal. Especially during the Derringer days, because with Derringer we toured extensively, non-stop. We were just always on the road with whoever was the happening tour for that year. We did the Aerosmith ‘Rocks’ tour, we did the [Peter] Frampton tour when he did ‘Frampton Comes Alive.’ Every show we were there opening up and he was recording that album. You know, we were watching him do the talkbox thing every night. Foreigner, Boston, God, Led Zeppelin — we did shows with Led Zeppelin for Bill Graham’s Day On The Green — two days in a row in front of 60,000 people a day — not opening the show, but second on the bill. Judas Priest was the opening act and we were second on the bill right before Zep. That was when that big incident happened, the fight between the Zeppelin security people and Bill Graham’s people. We were there for that.
So the point being, I would see Neal and I’d run into Sammy. I remember when Sammy was playing with Ronnie Montrose. Every so often, I’d run into these guys and they’d say, “Oh, Kenny, we gotta do something together one of these days!” In the early ‘80s, I had just done a tour with Foghat and it was their last real kind of big tour. They weren’t headlining at the time, now they were opening for Triumph. After that tour was done, I went down to Atlanta with them to work on some new songs that they had been writing and I got a message from my girlfriend that Sammy was trying to get in touch with me.
I got in touch with him and basically they said, “We want you drop what you’re doing and we want you to come out here. We’ve got this project that we’re going to do. Michael Shrieve’s going to do it, and we’re going to pay you this amount of money upfront. We’re going to give you this percentage of the project and we want you to just get your ass out here, and we’re going to do this thing.” Basically, the concept was they were going to write this album in a month. We were going to use the Journey facilities to do all of the rehearsing, and they were going to put me up in an apartment and give me a car.
Five days a week, we were going to go to the Journey facility and put this project together. Then we were going to record it over seven shows in the Northern California area. We were going to put it out and they were going to film a longform video of it — and that again was the Journey organization doing that. The whole project was co-managed by Sammy’s manager and the Journey people. Each side took on whatever their responsibilities were going to be. So we used the Journey facilities for rehearsal and to do the video recording. So that’s what we did, and it really didn’t work out that well in my opinion. I think it’s a really cool record that should have done a lot better.
I have to state for the record in my personal opinion that that’s not the way to sell f–ing records. A band like that should go on the road like real men do. They go out on the road and you take it everywhere. That’s how you do that. And that was the reason why in my opinion that it didn’t do what it should have done. The four of us should have played all around the country doing that record. But they didn’t want to do it. They felt that they could sit back in their armchairs and sell records just by putting out a fricking video.
Obviously, I get a little bit emotional about it because I could be benefiting from it monetarily in a bigger way, had it been handled in what I feel was the correct way. But they did it and I was in control of a piece of it, but not in a [major] way — so there was nothing I could do about it, or Michael. It was just a Neal and Sammy thing. But I like the record. I think it’s a fine record. I think it rocks. I just think it should have been done live. We should have at least had a band together for like a year and toured the country over the course of a year, and then let it do what it would do. I think it would have done a lot better, ultimately. But you know, hey, that’s the past. What are you going to do?
It’s interesting that they wouldn’t want to tour, considering that the whole idea had been based around doing the album live in the first place. Where did that approach come in, as far as the idea of recording the album live instead of doing it properly in the studio?
Well, they had the idea to do it like that and then do this longform video for MTV. So what happened was that, if you remember, the record — except for one tune — doesn’t have an audience on it. Well, that’s because it was a soundcheck. Because none of the shows were really up to par for putting out as a performance. So as a safety net, we recorded soundchecks and most of that record, I believe, is [from] soundchecks. There’s that one track that’s got the audience on it and that is really live. [We] had to record the soundchecks just so [we] could have a safety net.
Unfortunately, I’m sure the live shows were enjoyed by the audiences, but there were probably too many technical things that probably would have needed to be corrected. Who knows if it could have been done properly at the time?
You mentioned the MTV thing, anybody who has a copy of that show, that’s kind of like a holy grail if you have it. People would love to see some sort of expanded reissue of the HSAS album that might incorporate a DVD of that show, because it’s an important piece of the puzzle.
Well, I wish that could happen. If anything, it would hopefully increase the amount of royalties I get from it — which would be nice. I mean, you know what, it’s funny, I’ve had this really great career and I’ve had an amazing time doing what I’ve done and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything, but the weird thing with me is that a lot of times, the people I played with, I was either with them before they hit it really big or after they were big. So I never really prospered in a big way from being part of something that was huge. Where other musician friends of mine, whose names I won’t mention, stepped in s– and really made lots and lots of money.
Although I love my career, because it’s been very diverse and very interesting — I’ve played with some of the best rock guitar players in the world and I have a lot of respect for that — but unfortunately, things like HSAS, we had big hopes for that. I took a chance and I went along with it. I rolled the dice and it did what it did.
Listen, I’m a live player. I love playing live and I’m a sucker for an audience. To this day, I mean, I’m getting older and having to get on planes and buses or [get in] vans and travel, sometimes you’re like, “Oy, I can’t do this again.” But you know what? That’s the whole thing, man. There’s nothing like playing in front of an audience. I love recording and I love being in the studio, because I love the creative process of working with people in the studio — there’s no doubt about that. Because you can really get creative and you’ve got time. You can really mess around with stuff, and that’s a really nice thing.
Neal Schon’s idea of “taking some time to stop and smell the roses” is clearly different than most people’s. When he’s not on the road, chances are he’s locked himself into a studio somewhere to record another album or three. His tireless work ethic hasn’t changed a lot in the three decades since he found a bit of time to work on the HSAS project, in between touring and recording commitments with Journey — who, as you might recall, were rather insanely popular in 1983 when the HSAS idea was conceived:
Let’s talk about the HSAS project. How did it all come together?
Sammy had a little time period where he was off and so did I. I think we had about a month altogether or three weeks. We always wanted to collaborate and work on something together, because I’d been jamming with Sammy forever, you know? If he was in town, I’d go play with him, whether it was Winterland or even the Cow Palace in San Francisco. We usually would jam on a Montrose song like ‘Rock Candy.’
Then I played on a couple of Sammy’s records. We just decided to work together and do something and at that point, I suggested Michael Schrieve — because I wanted it to be a bit progressive and not so straight ahead. Michael did bring that to the table, which I was happy about. Kenny Aaronson, I’d seen him — he had opened up with Billy Squier numerous times for Journey in the ‘80s, so I thought Kenny was a very strong player and he had a cool vibe.
We just called the guys and we got together, pretty much like I did on these last two records. At that time, I had a rehearsal place in Oakland that Journey used for years and before that it was Graham Central Station, Larry Graham’s place. When Larry moved out of it, I took it over and basically Journey rehearsed all of the records there for years and years, before we would go in the studio. We’d get ready for touring in there. I went in there with Sammy, Kenny and Michael and we just started writing on the spot. We wrote for a week and then we rehearsed for a week, just playing all of the material from beginning to end like we were going to go play live because that’s definitely what we did. We went in the studio and added some overdubs at the end, but really pretty much it was [live]. We had two shows to get it right and some of it I think we got right, and some of it got close to being right.
So we recorded two shows and we played I believe, three shows. One was at the Warfield, a club in San Francisco, and then one was in Marin County and then one was in San Jose. I believe we used most of the San Jose show, if not all of it. You know, we threw it together. We wrote it in about a week and we rehearsed for a week and then we went and we played. That was that. Then Sam left me in the studio to mix everything. [Laughs.]
Watching the live video, the chemistry between the band was really evident. How long did it take for you guys to find the groove and for things to gel?
Really, no time at all. It was just a matter of trying to write very quickly and tighten up the arrangements. It was a lot to remember in two weeks, just to write it from nowhere and then arrange and rehearse it to where we could play live. Some of it could have been actually much better had we had a little bit more time. You know, [to] get in the studio before we went to play live. A lot of times I listen to it and I really love it, but I wish we would have went in and made a studio record. But it is what it is — it’s real. It’s definitely for real.
What led to the idea of recording the material live?
We thought it would be the quickest way to actually record. When you’re in the studio, obviously you work at things and try to get it sounding better, and we figured that nobody had the time to do that and by the time we would get back to it and [all] be available to work on something — nothing looked even remotely close for my schedule or Sammy’s, so we just chose to go live with it. We said, “It’s a live progressive rock record. Let’s just go live and what we get is what we get.” I kind of like it that it’s just kind of like, “Throw it out there and see what happens.”
Why do you think it was such a short-lived project?
Well, because of my schedule and Sammy’s schedule — and then of course, you know, Sammy got into Van Halen shortly after that, and it was really wild. [Eddie Van Halen] and I used to hang out all of the time when he was in town and this one particular night, I had just finished the record and I went to the Cow Palace to see Van Halen and we were hanging out because he wanted to go back to the hotel and hang and I said, “You know, I’ve got some new music I want to play for you.” He had a boombox in his room and we were hanging in there in his room partying and listening and he was like, “Who’s that vocalist?” I’m like, “That’s Sammy Hagar” — and he was like, “Wow, I’ve never heard of him before, but he sounds amazing.”
He kept on rewinding and going back and listening to one guitar riff over and over, and then the vocal over and over and the next thing you knew, it was the wee hours of the morning — like 6:00AM or something in his room. I drove home and he was moving on to the next city. [Then] the next thing you knew, Sammy was in Van Halen. It was wild. I think had I not played the material for Ed, it might not have come down like that, because he didn’t know who Sammy was at that point.
Then he went in and listened to all of the solo stuff and you started seeing him show up at Sammy’s gigs and jamming on some of his material shortly after that, after I had played him HSAS. Sam and I have talked about it and he said that he felt that had he never done the record with me that he didn’t know if he would have been prepared or ready to do a Van Halen record.
We can thank you for Van Hagar. I’ll give you a thumbs up for that.
You know, things happen because other things happen. That’s the way life is and that was a cool correlation. I always enjoy working with Sammy.
Years later after HSAS, you and Sammy got together to do the brief Planet US project. Was that a bit of an attempt to finish what you’d started with HSAS?
Well, you know, it was the beginning of a new era and it was wild, man. The two songs that I wrote with Sammy and recorded with Deen [Castronovo] and Michael [Anthony], I thought just sounded monstrous. We had the opportunity to play once. We played in the Bay Area at the Bammies and just ripped the place apart. I’m telling you, it was like nothing I’d ever seen, and I’ve played live with a lot of different bands at the Bammies.
This audience had never heard that material before and the place went ballistic when we got done playing those two songs onstage and I went, “Wow.” I was going, “This is really going to do something” and then Sam kind of started [saying] that we should add another guitar player just to make it big and fat — another name guitar player. So I recall that we were talking to Slash and I spoke to Slash a bunch of times.
That almost actually happened and then Slash was going to be doing what he was doing, and it just didn’t work out. I kept on mentioning to Sammy about Joe Satriani, and Joe and I being friends and that I thought Joe would be great. We did get together and we played a little bit. But it wasn’t happening in the studio where we went in Sausalito when we jammed together for the first time. It wasn’t the opportune place for us to hear each other and play. So it was kind of weird and my rig was kind of messed up. I don’t know what was wrong with it, but it just wasn’t what it could have been had we just gone into a regular rehearsal unit and kicked it around for a bit. But you know, there came Chickenfoot [years later] and before that, the only reason that Planet US didn’t happen was because Sammy went back into Van Halen (in 2004).
Shrieve seemed, from the beginning, the odd man out in HSAS — with little experience playing the straight-ahead rock sounds that would become associated with this group. But, as he told us, Schon had an idea that went beyond their shared history in Santana — and Shrieve rose to the challenge:
HSAS. When I say that to you 30 years later, what comes to mind?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is 30 years, of course — and how time flies. It’s unbelievable. It was one of those situations where I had a phone conversation with Neal Schon, just catching up, “How are you doing?” and this that and the other and he said, “Well you know, I’m talking to Sammy Hagar and we’re going to do something and we’re just looking for a drummer.” He went, “Oh wow, what are you doing?” So it was kind of like we would talk as friends rather than as musicians. It ended up that I went out to San Francisco from New York, where I was living. I’d never met Sammy Hagar before. Kenny Aaronson, I knew from New York City.
The thing I really liked about the whole project was that so much got done in such a short amount of time. It was very intense, between recording the album and then doing a series of shows in the Bay Area and those being filmed, as well. It was like a month-long project. I came to have a real respect and admiration for all of those guys. Sammy Hagar, I realized that he had an incredible work ethic and at that time, he was running up Mount Tam [Mount Tamalpais] every day and sort of in training all of the time. He always had a real positive vibe around him and a good sense of humor, but he was an unbelievably hard worker. He and Neal hit it off really well and that’s where the basis of the group was.
You know, it was really interesting for me, because I usually don’t play in those kind of harder rock — I mean, it’s not like heavy metal or anything, but those kind of situations. I think we all kind of knew it. I had to have a big laugh when I read Sam’s book and he talked about HSAS and said, “Yeah, we had Michael Shrieve playing drums — I don’t know why.” [Laughs.] And it’s because Neal and I spoke and Neal said, “Why don’t you come out.” He said, “He’s a great rhythmical drummer, but I don’t know about rock and roll,” and some people were like, “Oh man, that’s a really terrible thing to say” — and I had to laugh, because he was right, you know?
Not that I think — there’s nothing wrong with the record or anything, but you know, it’s a different animal. Drummers don’t necessarily drum on every kind of music and that was one of those situations. I never felt like I was quite right in it, not that I did anything wrong whatsoever, but I’m not a heavy metal or rock drummer. I play lighter and rhythmically and more jazzy, and I can do funky stuff. There’s a lot of things that I can do, but it doesn’t mean that I’m a power hitter.
Neal indicated that the reason that he reached out to you was because he wanted to have somebody who was more of a progressive player as opposed to just a normal, straight ahead guy that they could have gotten that would have fit into the box that you’re talking about.
Right, right. Well, that’s nice. And the irony of it is that Neal and I are playing again and recording again with this Santana reunion project, so that’s been a real pleasure as well.
You had worked with Neal in Santana. Had he changed a lot as a player all of those years later when you were playing with him again in HSAS?
Well, he’d been through of course a lot of experience with Journey and been around. You know, the rock and roll side of him, I think, always wants to come out. He’s always in a situation, whether it’s Santana or with Journey, where it started as an almost rock/fusion instrumental situation and then became popular with the songwriting of all of them and the voice of Steve Perry and that music. He got very popular, but they didn’t necessarily have the respect of musicians, because it was so inundated in pop culture. I think that over this period of time, it’s showed that those songs and the band have proven themselves over the test of time. So, I think that’s a wonderful legacy to the work that they were doing.
But I think that Neal always felt like he wanted the respect of the rock players, because they were always out there with Van Halen and the rock groups, but the hits were very pop, I mean [they were] classic, but nevertheless. So Neal, I think, is always looking for situations to bring out another side of him and HSAS was one where it was a different kind of singer and the music was heavier all around. He does that time and time again with other projects, where he is showing other sides of himself on the guitar. Yes, he had more experience and I just felt like, “Wow, this is a natural evolution for him to do something with Sammy Hagar.”
What do you remember about working the songs up?
That was mostly Neal and Sammy. They brought stuff in, and I was just there to be as supportive as possible in the situation. I didn’t have much to do with any of the writing or any of that. They had pretty strong visions. I remember that Sam had just come back from a trip to Egypt, and so they really had a vision for that song about ‘Giza’ and the sound of that sort of thing. I loved the idea of us doing ‘Whiter Shade of Pale.’ I think that version of it was really great and I always wished that when they put the record out at that time for radio that they would have chosen a specific song — and that one being the one, rather than let radio pick.
I think that it diluted the effect of the recording overall, because there wasn’t a focus single at that point in time, when singles mattered. I think ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ could have done something. But you know, it was all very organized and a bunch of good hard work, and then going out live and doing it immediately was really great as well. It was great.
How long did it take you to get the material together and in shape to where it was ready to play live?
Man, I tell you, that’s one of the things I said right off the top was that it all happened pretty quickly. The two of them were the driving force behind everything, and there was no question about that in that regard. So we would just put everything together. I would play what I thought would be right and if they had suggestions, I was completely open to it. I also had some electronic drums, Simmons at that time I think, and we were using those as well. It all happened pretty quickly. I remember the rehearsals, for instance, sounding really good. I think they were out at Neal’s place in Oakland, where he used to have a rehearsal space, and it was all done under Journey’s Nocturne Management and it was very professional and moved along quite swiftly.
When I spoke to Neal, he said that for him, it was a lot of material to get down in a short amount of time and get it where it needed to be, considering that you were starting from nothing. This was not existing material. When you consider the fact that you guys were working all of this up to play it live for the first time, a lot had to come together in a short amount of time to pull that off.
It’s absolutely true. By the time the thing was done, I thought, “Wow, that was really amazing that that much was done in such a short period of time.” It was really rewarding to do something that was so compressed in time and get so much done and do quality work as well.
The recorded material that made it to the album, how much of that actually came from the shows? Was there a lot of work to do after the shows?
I’m not even sure. I know that Sammy and Neal worked on the stuff later after Kenny and I were gone, so I’m not even sure what the sequence of events was. I know that they finished the record later. I’m not sure what came from live [recordings], or if it all came from live or what. I think it all probably came from live.
Neal thought they had ended up using a lot of the material, if not all of the material from the San Jose show.
Okay, that makes sense. I know that Nocturne, [Journey manager] Herbie Herbert and those people, were recording and filming everything, so that’s why it got done so quickly. Then they went in and maybe changed some things and this that and the other, but we didn’t go in the studio and belabor anything. They did some stuff later but the drums and bass were done and then they went and mixed it and fixed some things, but probably minimally in terms of re-recording.
Were you aware at that time that it was probably going to be a short-lived project?
Yeah. I think that we all thought that it was a one-off. But you know, you leave yourself open to the possibility of something happening, but it was just something that was being done. We didn’t sign on for any long-term thing whatsoever. If something were to happen and the record blew up, then maybe we would have toured more or something like that, but that never came to happen.
I think a lot of people consider this album to be one of the great one-and-done records.
[Laughs.] It was one-and-done, that’s for sure!
Sometimes that’s how some of the best of those happen. It’s just that certain energy and group of players that come together and they produce that really potent collection of material — and then it’s done.
Yeah, that’s right and there’s nothing wrong at all with that. You know actually, I think that more things should be done in that way, so that there’s not such a heavy burden put on it to perform in such a way that it goes somewhere that makes a lot of people a lot of money. You just do it, do it well, put it out there and move on.
For Sammy Hagar, the HSAS album was wedged in between his successful solo career and, unknown to him at the time, a future stint as the frontman for Van Halen:
HSAS. When I say that to you 30 years later, what comes to mind?
Oh, boy — that we did everything wrong and against the grain for the times, and I think it really hurt the success of the album. Because it wasn’t very successful — not at all, not like Chickenfoot. I mean, Chickenfoot is a million times more successful. HSAS, as big as we all were at the time, you know I was an arena act, Journey was an arena act, Billy Squier was an arena act — where Kenny came from — and Santana, of course, was an arena act. So, you would think [that it would have done well].
But I wanted to make the record live — I didn’t want to go in the studio and record it — I just wanted to do something different. And we wanted to do some shows where we gave the money away to school districts, so it was killing two birds with one stone. We went and did all of these shows, recorded them, filmed them and spent a fortune, you know, and it sold like 150,000 albums. But what I know over the years is that there is a certain person that will come up to me and be fanatical about that record. Then there’s a lot of people that don’t know anything about it. But the people who liked it are really big HSAS fans.
It was a unique thing, completely unique. But if we really would have wanted it to be a huge record, we could have had a frickin’ multi-platinum album by going in the studio, giving it time, letting the record company build up the hype and really get behind it and come up with a marketing plan and go out and tour the thing. We could have had a huge record because it was that much talent. But it was planned wrong. We made a lot of mistakes. We were rich rock stars — who gives a s–, you know what I mean? [Laughs.]
Did you go into it thinking it was going to be such a short-lived project?
Yes, it was definitely a one-off, because Journey was not going to break up for that and I wasn’t going to leave my solo career. You know, I was in a multi-platinum solo career, selling out arenas. That ain’t the time to jump into another band, even though I did that later with Van Halen — I was kind of sick of being a solo artist at that point, that’s why I did it. But HSAS, we were all just really at the peak of our fame.
Neal told me that, “A lot of times I listen to it and I really love it, but I wish we would have went in and made a studio record. But it is what it is — it’s real. It’s definitely for real.”
Yeah, I feel exactly the same. Looking back, I wish we would have made a studio record, no question. But it’s pretty adventurous to release a live album of all-new songs. [Laughs] It’s like, it doesn’t make any sense. I am so shocked that the record company let us do it. We were all powerful enough within our element that we squeezed them and said, “This is the way you’re going to get it.”
He also said that it was a lot of work to work all of this material up from nothing, to get it ready to play a full set.
Yeah, it was a lot of work. We spent a lot of money and a lot of time on this. It would have been so much easier to go in the studio and write the songs and get them piece by piece and perfect them and all of that. Like I said, it was an interesting, adventurous process. I’m actually kind of surprised that it wasn’t more successful. I’m shocked that it wasn’t more successful — everybody was at the time. My last three albums up to that point had sold a million copies. Journey was selling a million copies. You know what I mean? It was like c’mon, we’re platinum artists. We thought the fanbase would be all over it, but it didn’t catch. It was weird too, if you think about it, the songs were pretty weird. [Laughs.]
That run going from ‘Animation’ to ‘Valley Of The Kings’ to ‘Giza,’ that’s just a cool run of songs the way that all plays out.
Yeah, well going right to that, I had just come back from a trip where I went to Africa for six weeks, and about two or three weeks of that was in Egypt and Cairo and Luxor. I just went all around Egypt and looked at all of those tombs and did that whole thing. I really did it and I was very inspired by it, I’ve got to tell you. I came back with a lot of little poetry like that and I was so glad I had [the right] type of music [from] a guy like Neal. He is really a sensitive musician. You know, he can play and he can get off on anything. Because if I’d tried to do that, I would have never incorporated all of that into my own album, because my next album was ‘VOA’ and the only song that got incorporated into that album was ‘I Can’t Drive 55,’ because when I played that for Neal, he said, “Oh man, that’s Sammy Hagar all of the way. You might as well just keep that.”
I had written the music and everything and him and I were going to collaborate. It wasn’t about my trip or his trip, it was like everything’s going to be a collaboration. It was funny, because ‘I Can’t Drive 55’ — can you imagine Sammy Hagar’s career without that song? And if that would have been on the HSAS record, it wouldn’t have been a hit live, because nobody would have ever heard it. It would have been the same story. It would have went down in flames with the rest of the record, ‘Through the Fire.’ [Laughs.] It would have went through the fire! So it’s pretty ironic that things worked out that way, but ‘Giza’ and ‘Valley Of The Kings,’ I think those are special lyrics and very, very inspired. It could have been a great job in the studio, production-wise.
With all of the original material on the album, how did ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ get into the mix?
I’ve always wanted to do that song. It had such an identity, that song, that if you tried to play that organ part on the organ, you’d be a fool to try to recut that song, because it was one of the most magical, spiritual, goosebumpy [things] that nobody could cover that song without changing it in some way. So Neal’s got such a really distinct guitar style that he really speaks well when he slows a melody down, the way he uses his vibrato and his sound is so unique that one day I just said, “Let’s do it. Let me hear you play that melody on guitar,” and I think it’s fantastic. Once again, in the studio, we could have really killed that. That was the only overdub on the record — he went in and did that acoustic intro.
Notably, a lot of the material has no crowd noise — I spoke with Kenny Aaronson and he indicated that because of problems with the material that was recorded during the shows, a lot of what made it to the record ended up being from soundchecks. Do you recall that?
No. [Laughs.] I really don’t. It’s possible though, because we did have a hard time. That was a loud band, you know. Neal plays extremely loud and Kenny actually played really loud bass. I think Kenny might have been the loudest bass player I’ve played with. We had some real leakage problems with the drums mainly, because the drums we had to sample and, back in those days, sampling wasn’t as big a deal as it now — you can sample anything.
But back then, we tried to sample the snare and stuff, because there was so much leakage coming through that we couldn’t get a good drum sound at all and a live record needs a good drum sound. Mike plays very light and so he was playing very light and his microphones had to be cranked up and when they’re cranked up, they’re sucking up Neal’s guitar and everything else! [Laughs.] It was a difficult record to mix, I’ve got to tell you. That’s another place that we spent so damn much money in the studio, trying to get that thing right.
When I talked to Michael Shrieve, we spoke about your work ethic and that’s something that really occurs to me is how well you and Neal were matched, because of how similar and crazy your work ethic was.
Well, I don’t anymore, but Neal still does. [Laughs.] I accuse Neal of having sex with his guitar. I don’t think he can put it down. He comes over to my house or my studio, gets out of his car, walks through my front door and sees my guitar and picks it up. He lives with a guitar in his hand. He just loves it, I don’t know! He can outwork me, that’s for sure, right now.
Back when we did HSAS, I was the kind of guy who would come off tour, go straight in the studio and start writing, make a record and go straight back on tour and I loved it. But even then, I wasn’t that particular ever about a bad note or a little off-key thing or this or that. To me, I’ve always been [convinced that] it’s about, “Is this good or is this bad?” Does this feel good? I don’t care, I’m not gonna fix nothin’ that feels right.
With HSAS before you got Shrieve and Aaronson involved, there was word that you guys had tinkered with the idea of working with Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick and Denny Carmassi on bass and drums. What do you recall about that?
Wow, yeah, yeah! I forgot who all we tried out. I think Tom Petersson was before we thought about Kenny. Carmassi, it’s so funny, I can’t remember trying out Carmassi. Because Carmassi is so damn good, I can’t imagine us trying him and not using him, but it might have been a scheduling thing. I forget who else we thought of as drummers, but as bass players, I do know we tried Tom Petersson and he had that big ol’ eight-string bass and man, it was full, it was really, really full.
Technically though on that instrument, he couldn’t quite play some of the riffs that Neal would probably have wanted him to play, [with] dual riffing. I don’t even know if we ever did it, but when we were thinking about doing it, when we were jamming songs and jamming ideas, Neal would go over to you and start playing [imitates crazy riffing] and he’d want you to jump on it. A big ol’ eight-string bass, you ain’t going to be playing those kinds of twirls and stuff.
But Tom was great — I think he would have been just as good as Kenny in his own way and maybe given us a little more unique sound, which would have been cool for that band, because it was unique-sounding music. At the time, I think what happened with Tom — and I could be wrong — but he had a girlfriend or a wife. I think it was a girlfriend, and she was a singer and he wanted her to be in the band. [Laughs.] And you know, that’s always — look, that broke the Beatles up, okay?
You expressed some frustrations with how this project played out and Kenny kind of had similar frustrations, as well. He felt like the band should have toured more than it did. In his words, “The four of us should have played all around the country doing that record. But they didn’t want to do it. They felt that they could sit back in their armchairs and sell records just by putting out a fricking video.”
Honestly, he’s right. I thought that. I thought we’d sell records. But it wasn’t that I was trying to take advantage of the fans or I was trying to be lazy. I just didn’t want to go out and tour with that band and then have to turn around and come back and tour with mine, and [it was similar] with Neal. You know, our management was saying “F– you. You guys ain’t going out with that band. You guys are in two of the biggest bands in America and if you’re going to spend a tour, you’re going to go out with your own bands.” And financially, it made business sense.
HSAS would have been playing theaters making $25,000 a night, and we were playing arenas making hundreds of thousands of dollars. So everybody was against us going out. Like I said, we’d have had to sacrifice a whole album/tour cycle with our own bands. I was okay, because I was a solo artist and I could have gotten away with it. But Journey probably couldn’t have. It could have gotten Neal thrown out of the band, you know.
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