CLEVELAND, Ohio — Sammy Hagar calls “Lockdown 2020,” the new album with his band the Circle, “the most fun project I’ve ever done.”
For a guy who can’t drive 55 and champions the virtues of “Mas Tequila,” that’s saying something.
As its title indicates, “Lockdown 2020” is the Circle’s pandemic project. The songs — 11 covers and an original — were recorded individually last year by the four band members, then fused together by recording engineer Jaimeson Durr and Hagar’s digital strategy rep Jon Luini. The tracks were released individually during 2020, accompanied by videos which generated more than 30 million views.
It was unplanned, ad hoc and off the cuff — and an enjoyable diversion for Hagar and his mates.
“It really kept us in tune with each other and talking to each other and communicating and playing music with each other,” says Hagar, 73, by phone from Cabo San Lucas, where he operates the Cabo Wabo restaurant and nightclub.
The former Montrose and Van Halen frontman, who started his solo career 50 years ago with “Nine on a Ten Scale,” started the Circle in 2014, with former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham) on drums and longtime cohort Vic Johnson on guitar. The group released its first studio album, “Space Between,” in 2019, which debuted at No. 1 on four Billboard charts.
“It was really musical communication and fun as s***,” Hagar says of the “Lockdown” recording. “There was no purpose. It wasn’t like, ‘This has got to be brilliant!’ or ‘That’s not good enough’ — never like that. It was just a way to make music.
“It’s amazing we made a record like this. We just thought we were gonna do one or two songs and we’d be back on the road. But because of COVID lasting so long we ended up with a whole freakin’ record. I really do think it’s the most interesting thing I’ve done in my 73 years on the planet.”
“Lockdown 2020′s” song selection — save for the original, “Funky Feng Shui,” was free-spirited, ranging from a truncated rendition of the Who’s epic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to a gritty reworking of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” a remake of “Sympathy for the Human” by Hagar and his previous band, the Wabos, and a version of Little Richard’s “Keep A-Knockin’” that kicks off with the drum intro to Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.”
Hagar and the Circle accompanied “Lockdown 2020′s” release with David Bowie’s “Heroes,” the last track recorded for the album.
“We put ‘em out and the fans kept going, ‘We love this! We want more! We want more!’” Hagar, who’s also started brands of tequila, rum and mescal, says with a laugh. “The views on it, over 30 million — that’s huge for an elderly act. That’s what the newcomers, the pop stars get. We really broke some ice with it.”
For Hagar and Anthony, meanwhile, including three Van Halen tracks — “Right Now,” “Good Enough” and “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” — is particularly meaningful after Eddie Van Halen’s death during October. The Circle was actually playing a beachfront pay-per-view show that week at Santa Catalina Island in California for Hagar’s birthday, which helped the pair in their mourning.
“It was terrible timing. Here we are putting on this big party, celebrating Sammy’s birthday instead of Eddie’s funeral. That felt horrible,” Hagar recalls. “But when Mikey and I got onstage and played the first Van Halen song, ‘Right Now,’ we had a moment of silence and we looked at each other and it was like, ‘Oh, man, we’ve got a job to do. We need to keep this music alive. We need to play this song better than we’ve played it in our lives. here we go…’
“It was so spiritual, just wonderful. That was the healing, right then and there.”
Despite a couple of acrimonious partings over the years, Hagar and Van Halen had reconciled earlier this year, with help from comedian George Lopez. There were even plans for a Van Halen reunion tour that would feature both Hagar and his predecessor, David Lee Roth, as well as Anthony’s return to the band.
“If it wasn’t for that (reconciliation), I wouldn’t have been able to take it,” Hagar acknowledges. “I think it would have changed my life, certainly for awhile. But we did (reconcile), and it was great. We were texting like teenagers for the last few months before” Van Halen’s death.
“To know we can never play with Eddie again, that’s the craziest feeling in my head. Even when we were arguing, I knew we would play together again someday. You don’t make music and legacy like that and say, ‘Nope, that’s it, sorry.’ I just knew there would be a reunion. It didn’t happen, but Eddie and I had our own reunion, and that was great.”
Hagar’s main hope now is to reunite with his fans, in person. he says the Lockdown Sessions may continue but the veteran road warrior is itching to play live again — an opportunity he says can’t come too soon.
“I just want to get on the road with the Circle, ‘cause this my favorite band in the…world,” Hagar says. “We can play anything and everything — just listen to the Lockdown Sessions and you can tell. And I’d love to play these songs in the middle of the show, like a little acoustic breakdown set or something.
“So, yeah, I just want to get out and play with these guys again, more than anything. As soon as they say it’s safe, we’ll be there.”