Where did the band name Chickenfoot come from?
Back when Sammy [Hagar] was a teenager about to take the stage with a thrown-together band, he came up with the name and said it to the announcer. It has become a private joke he’s kept using any time he had a project he didn’t think was serious. By the time I joined Chickenfoot, they [bandmates Sammy and Mark Anthony – Van Halen; Chad Smith – Red Hot Chili Peppers] were laughing about how they would never let that name stick. If you try too hard to think about a band name you always get it wrong, and when a rock band tries to be clever everything goes wrong. I thought it’s so wrong it’s perfect: not a combination of names or styles of our other bands, it’s not topical or dated. If we had called the band The Chickenfoot Explosion we might have sounded like all those early 2000s bands. But for nine months, everyone thought we would change it.
Were you surprised to be asked to join?
Sam called in Feb ’09 to invite me to a celeb jam at the end of one of his Las Vegas shows. I did it for fun but it was instantly solid. Everyone sensed they had jumped out of their normal skin to play a different way – this classic rock homage thing, which no one expected. You’d expect Chad to be tight and funky, Sammy to be like Van Halen, me like my solo records, but what we do is unique and has kept the band together.
Did you have any anxieties about being part of a ‘supergroup’?
No, that’s just a made-up concept. When you are in the middle, it’s just four guys making music – you’re not thinking about what people on the outside think or how it will go down in history.
Where did the 3D packaging for second album Chickenfoot III come from?
It was from not thinking, the typical Chickenfoot approach. I came off tour and went straight in the studio with the band. I was told there might be some 3D photography stuff but when I got there it turned out to be a fullblown 3D photo and video session. So I was in this vocal booth with a few guitars for an hour and half with these photographers all over me. That’s why I look so pissed off.
Is it going to be different on the road without Chad for the UK tour?
We knew Chad would be with the Chilis for a year before. He supplied us with Kenny, the perfect replacement. He’s like Keith Moon [The Who], John Bonham [Led Zeppelin] and Mitch Mitchell [Jimi Hendrix Experience] in one.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Get experience playing live. American Idol, X Factor, they focus on performance and you see people with all the talent who either excel or fall apart in front of an audience. There was a while, with file sharing and the internet, where people thought, “all we have to do is get on YouTube”. They stopped thinking about performance.
When did you know you wanted to play guitar?
From early in my life. I was an aspiring drummer at the age of nine and got in to guitar players through my older siblings who would listen to all these records from the Sixties and Seventies. I was too young to be part of it, but I had a curious fascination with all these records back when rock was counter-culture. I gravitated to Hendrix, who was the most fascinating artist I’d ever seen. The day he died was the day it crystalised in my mind and, from then on, I focused entirely on playing electric guitar.
Do you ever think you might have taken a different path?
If it wasn’t rock music, I would have picked whatever lifestyle would have taken me far away from my immediate surroundings: my mother was a school teacher, my father an engineer. I would not have done that. I would have left New York and opened a bait shop in St Barts, or something.
You filed a copyright infringement case against Coldplay – any hard feelings?
It exposes how musicians work. Most of the time everything is on the up and up. About a year ago, we were communicated to by Nicki Minaj about using a sample of my song Always With Me, Always With You, for her first single, and the whole thing couldn’t
have been smoother.
Do you still try to improve?
I drive everybody crazy, first my family as a teenager, now my wife and son. I realised years ago I wanted to dedicate myself to being the best musician I could be, I like the idea of striving to be great. If I didn’t, I would walk away and open up that bait shop.
Chickenfoot play Brixton Academy Jan 14.
211 Stockwell Road, SW9 9SL