Photo and Story by Scott Smith
Suckers walk and money talks, but they can’t touch Sammy Hagar’s party-time rock.
Backed by his super-fit band, The Wabos, the perpetually grinning Hagar let his Red-Rocker persona fly through a best-of set list Jan. 18 at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa, Okla., near Tulsa. Hagar’s time in Montrose and Van Halen and as a free-willing solo artist comprised what has to be one of hard rock’s greatest feel-good sets.
The vocal, sold-out crowd first was treated to a pre-recorded, big-screen video time line of Hagar’s high-profile work. Men and women cheered as still photographs and videos of Hagar’s musical progression were seen before Hagar rushed out from the back-stage darkness to launch into the Montrose medley of “Rock Candy” and “Bad Motor Scooter.” For the latter, Hagar played a portable, electric pedal steel guitar to recreate the song’s original scooter-engine sounds moments before Wabos members Vic Johnson (guitar), Mona Gnader (bass) and David Lauser (Hagar’s solo-band drummer since 1981) pounded out more Friday-night sounds.
“There’s Only One Way to Rock” also came early in fast-and-furious fashion, as did the defiant “I Can’t Drive 55.” Also hitting all the right marks were the punk-tempo of “Heavy Metal,” the always-fantastic “I’ll Fall In Love Again” and the burning-funk workout “Three Lock Box,” and when it came time for “I’ve Done Everything For You,” Hagar preceded the song with a playful jab at Rick Springfield; Hagar wrote the song and released it first, but Springfield’s version became a smash-hit single.
“I said, Rick, how come when I did ‘I’ve Done Everything For You,’ it tanked? It just went nowhere, man,” Hagar said before laughing. “Rick said, ‘Sam, Sam. It’s because I’m better looking than you.'”
The audience then chuckled.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen Rick these days, though, but Rick hasn’t aged all that great lately,” Hagar said jokingly.
Donning black sunglasses, a black T-shirt, red tennis shoes and baggy, knee-length red shorts, Hagar was in excellent vocal form, bouncing around the stage and stomping his feet to the crack of Lauser’s snare-drum strikes. He also spent quite a bit of time playfully dog-fighting on guitar with Johnson, summoning delicious solos on top of Gnader’s limber, sassy bass lines and Lauser’s terrific-sounding tom rolls.
Johnson and Gnader also proved to be strong vocalists on the Van Halen cuts, providing Hagar with crucial harmonies previously supplied by Hagar’s Van Halen/Chickenfoot compatriot Michael Anthony. Hagar’s readings of the VH favorites “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Top of the World” and “Finish What Ya Started” stood tall and proud, and “Right Now” underwent a touching overhaul as a keyboard-less, slower-paced song.
Throughout the energetic concert, Hagar autographed what had to have been 80 items near the venue’s front row, leaning out to sign CD and vinyl LP covers, as well as a license plate, home-made banners and a miniature, straw-woven cowboy hat. He often would giggle while simultaneously signing autographs and singing verses, and when someone tossed a small, gray shirt for Hagar to sign, Hagar laughed into the microphone.
“Man, this is a woman’s blouse,” he said with a large grin as the audience laughed and pointed. “Man, what are you doing here?”
Hagar also joked about his friendship with country star Toby Keith — one of Keith’s restaurants stands adjacent to The Joint — and Hagar and the Wabos played Hagar’s early solo cut, “Red,” for a retired U.S. Air Force member and his family who requested the song earlier in the day.
Near the end, the crowd participation of “Mas Tequila” and the soaring, under-valued “Eagles Fly” kept the smiles coming, and Hagar’s punchy hybrid of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right (to Party)” closed the concert on a loud, fun, perfect note.