Pete Evick has spent the past 19 years rocking stages all over the world as the guitarist and right-hand man to Bret Michaels in the Bret Michaels Band. But he still remembers the first gig he played with the Poison front man as if it were yesterday. “I've always been that seven-nights-a-week, four-sets-a-night type of guy,” Evick says. “So I always thought I had a lot of energy that I bring to the job. But the first night I ever played with Bret, I walked off the stage feeling like I got hit by a Mack truck. The energy he commands is more like the quarterback of a football team than it is a front man. It’ll knock you out. And I think the crowd feels that, too.”
To be sure, Evick says, Michaels is “probably the best front man on the planet.” But there’s also another front man that he gets pretty excited about – Sammy Hagar. “I've been able to perform on the stage with Sammy a couple of times, and the way he does his thing is just so cool,” he says. Talk to Evick for any amount of time about music, and his Sammy admiration is quickly apparent. And nowhere is more apparent than in his love for Hagar-era Van Halen.
“I always loved Van Halen, and I loved Eddie’s guitar playing from the beginning,” he says. “But when Sammy came in, his voice was just so powerful and loud and confident.”
But it wasn’t just about Sammy.
“I thought the riffs in the Sammy era were better,” Evick continues. “And I thought the songs were also better-written. Sure, everyone wanted to hear Edward rip it up and shred the solos, but he’d already been doing that for 10 years. During the Sammy years he evolved into this songwriter who used these complex chord progressions and key changes and all this stuff, but he also still kept it pop. I just thought that was amazing. I actually love those kinds of songs more than I love ‘Hot for Teacher’ and stuff like that.”
As for which songs he loves the most? Read on for Evick’s top 7 Hagar-era Van Halen tracks.
“Mine All Mine” (OU812, 1988)
“After 5150 came out I was so hooked, and the anticipation for OU812 was incredible. I remember buying the record the day it came out, going home and putting it on my turntable, and ‘Mine All Mine’ was the first track. I was always a fan of the keyboard-based Van Halen stuff, and this starts out with that kind of synth-y pop beat, but it was also more aggressive. It had a lot more energy than ‘Jump’ or anything like that. So I loved the feel and the energy of the song right off the bat. Then the melody in the chorus was huge, and I loved the guitar solo, where Eddie’s shredding through it, and then he comes out with this super little melodic piece right at the end.
“Another thing about the song is the lyric was really powerful: ‘You got Allah in the east, you got Jesus in the west / Christ, what's a man to do? / They'll find a cure for anything / Just kill the pain / numb my brain.’ It was a very socially-aware song, and that was a little bit different for Van Halen. I was really into that kind of stuff. To me, it's just one of the most perfect songs ever written.”
“Right Now” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991)
“I often claim this is my favorite song of all time. Similar to ‘Mine All Mine,’ I thought the lyric was super-powerful. Sammy's voice was incredible on it – you could feel the emotion coming through. And the message, right from the first line: ‘Don't wanna wait ‘till tomorrow / Why put it off another day?,’ that was so inspirational to me. Back in the day when I was a kid, it was him saying, ‘Get on with your music career.’ And even today as an adult and with everything else I'm doing, that's the message. Whenever I think about procrastinating or being lazy, that lyric comes into my head. And musically I love the raw piano. Eddie had done a lot of stuff with synths, but there wasn't a whole lot of just him playing the piano before that. And then there’s an incredibly tasteful guitar solo, a great video, it’s just so powerful all around.
“5150” (5150, 1986)
“Obviously, one of the single coolest guitar riffs of the Hagar era. There’s all this chordal movement… it was very orchestral, but yet it was still this driving rock riff. It's against a bunch of major chords, but it's drop D [tuning], so when he goes down to the verse, it gets that heavy chunk. And back then, in ‘86, playing in drop D, that was heavy.
“Again, it’s another song where I love the lyric. It's basically about trying to compromise with someone, and we all can relate to that, whether it's your girlfriend or your parents or your teacher or business partner or whoever. The lyric always struck me as, ‘Hey, I'm trying to give a little, and you're not giving back.’
“Another thing about this song is that it came out at the most impressionable time in my life. Being a kid and being so engulfed in music, and just waiting and waiting and waiting for this new Van Halen record with this new singer come out, I was just anticipating it. And I remember that day, just hearing that riff for the first time, and to me it was as cool as anything Eddie had done with David Lee Roth. I remember just listening to it and going, ‘Yeah, no matter what everyone thinks, Eddie's still here and he's still killing it.’ ”
“Why Can’t This Be Love” (5150, 1986)
“This one’s gotta be on the list. It was the very first song any of us ever heard from 5150, and the anticipation was incredible about what this was gonna be and how it was gonna sound. And it was huge. What a huge, big song. When that intro comes in, it's just gigantic. And again, as much as I'm a guitar player and I love Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, I love his keyboard work and his pop sensibility, too. And this song is a great example. The melody was huge and the vocal was huge and the chorus was this big singalong thing. Just great all around.
“Another thing about it is I love the change when Eddie goes into the solo and he breaks into these different parts. And there's some really weird syncopation in the song, too. I think ‘Why Can't This Be Love’ is one of those songs where, because it’s such a great pop song, you don't think about how well-crafted it is musically. Much like ‘Dance the Night Away.’ You never even consider how musical it really is until you try to break it down and learn it or perform it yourself. And then you realize that the song ain't no joke.”
“Amsterdam” (Balance, 1995)
“The opening riff is just huge. And Eddie was doing these chugs against the riff, and then adding in the the harmonics…it was just so cool. This was that time where Eddie, a lot of his stuff was very ‘Top Jimmy’-like, so to speak. And ‘Top Jimmy’ was an anomaly where he was playing back and forth with harmonics and melodies against the chords. Sometimes one note would be a note, and the next note would be a harmonic. But it was all very integrated. ‘Amsterdam’ has a lot of that in that opening riff. ‘Poundcake,’ too. So it was heavy, it was quick, and it was in drop D, so it was thick. And the drum part is really syncopated and really strange, but it grooves along really easily. And then you get this huge chorus, too.
“I will admit that I thought the lyrics were a little… I'm a lyric guy, so I wanted more out of the song than it just being about getting stoned, you know? [laughs] But still, it's a really great song, and there’s so much going on. I love the Van Halen tunes where there’s super-musical stuff hidden inside a pop melody.”
“Summer Nights” (5150, 1986)
“Again, I go right back to that day in 1986 when this record came out. You put it on, you listen to every single track, and this one just stood out. It opens with that fingerpicked riff, and Eddie was using a TransTrem tremolo, which allows you to change keys but your guitar stays completely in tune. When I sat down with a guitar to learn every one of these songs, this one was impossible. Although I did figure out this funky way to play it. [laughs]
“So you have this awesome guitar playing that you can't even comprehend… and then this amazing pop chorus comes in: ‘Summer nights and my radio...’ That lyric was enormous to me because that was what my life was in 1986. So again, it was speaking directly to who I was at that point in my life, and with this incredible guitar playing on top of it.”
“Judgement Day” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991)
“I always like my Van Halen to be heavy, but I'm also always looking for that pop hook. And ‘Judgement Day,’ it's in F#, it's heavy, but it has that pop hook. And Sammy's singing his heart out and the lyrics are powerful. That first line, ‘It's my life / Get off my ass, get outta my face,’ you know, as a young kid rebelling against everything, Sammy was saying exactly how I felt. It spoke to me. And the chorus just soars. With Van Halen I always talk about it feels like in the verses you're running, you're running, you're running… and then the chorus comes and you jump off a cliff and you're just flying. That’s what ‘Judgement Day’ is like.”