The initial reaction, and it’s perfectly reasonable, might be that we hardly need another version of this blooze-rocking Sammy Hagar concert staple. Journey’s Neal Schon provides a new wrinkle, however, as the newly issued Sammy Hagar and Friends debuts in the U.S. Top 25.
Recorded live in the studio, this Don Nix cover barges in with a controlled menace. Michael Anthony and Chad Smith, after years of performing with Hagar in Chickenfoot, provide a tight, floorboard-rearranging bottom end, while Hagar channels the underrated R&B roots that propelled an earlier edition of HSAS through their low-charting early 1980s version of “White Shade of Pale.” So far, though, that’s really more of the same. “Going Down,” of course, has been part of countless Hagar set lists, both with Chickenfoot and his offshoot band with long-time running partner Anthony, Los Tres Gusanos — or the Three Worms.
The addition of Schon, however, changes everything. Once known for grittier fare as a member of Santana and the early, more jazz rock-influenced incarnations of Journey, Schon returns to his simmering roots after a lengthy detour into arena balladry. (Reinvigorated, he’ll rejoin the classic Santana lineup next.) Ultimately, you have a take that compares more favorably than anyone could have first guessed with ear-searing earlier versions of Nix’s classic from the likes of Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, Jeff Beck and John Mayall, among perhaps countless others.
The original lineup of HSAS, which then featured Kenny Aaronson and Michael Shrieve on bass and drums, issued their lone collaboration Through the Fire in 1984. The guest-packed Sammy Hagar and Friends, which started at No. 23 this week on the Billboard charts, is Hagar’s 11th project to reach the Top 25 — and his highest-charting solo effort since 1997′s Marching to Mars.