David Lauser Interview; Talks Sammy Hagar and New Alliance Album
David Lauser, the long time drummer for Sammy Hagar and current member of Alliance, just released their sixth album titled Fire And Grace.
We recently chatted with David and discussed his new album, his career with Sammy and his future plans.
Greg Drugan: Hey David! I’ve been listening to Fire and Grace and it’s a real rock and roll record. I really like “Real Thing.” what’s your favorite track on the record?
David Lauser: Wow! I’ll start by saying “Real Thing” is the first song I wrote with Alliance for Alliance that I did entirely by myself. I presented it to the band, I wrote the lyrics and did the music. I’m really proud of that. It was inspired by a lady I met a few years ago and if you read between the lines, it’s about a woman. My favorite track on the record is “Time.” It was one of the first songs we’d written. I love the sound of it, I like how it’s reminiscent of The Who, I like the message and the vibe. There’s a lot more rockers on the record, but that’s the one that resonated with me.
GD: How did you end up forming Alliance with Gary?
DL: Gary Pihl and I are Sammy Hagar alumni. I was at the time, like 1991, Sammy was knee deep in Van Halen and Gary and I had stayed in touch. Alan Fitzgerald was the keyboard player with Sammy before I joined, then I ended up joining in 1980. Anyway, Gary knew that I wasn’t real busy and Fitz wasn’t in Night Ranger any more, and Gary had a sabbatical from Boston. He thought that we should put together a band and we might get a record deal. We started looking for singers and a bass player. It was hit and miss. The A and R guy at Geffen Records, John Kalodner knew what we were trying to do. Kalodner said he knew a guy named Robert Barry who had been with Keith Emmerson in a band called 3, and we should check him out. So I called him up and said that we were trying to put together a super group that’s not super. It was known guys that were all sidemen. Sammy was kind enough to let us use his studio. We threw around some ideas and it clicked.
GD: So did Fitz play on this new record?
DL: No, we reached out to him and he had some personal things going on with the family so he bowed out gracefully. We love him! I’ve known Fitz longer than anyone in the band. He and I would play clubs in southern California. When me and Sam met when we were kids, well I was a kid, he was older. (laughs) Fitz was actually playing in bands. We go way back.
GD: You’ve worked with Jesse Harms for a long time, it seems that he would have been a perfect fit for the band, was he unavailable?
DL: To be honest with you, Sammy and Jesse, there was a bit of a severance with the Wabo’s back in 2003 or so and Jesse left the band. So Jesse and I haven’t been in touch. He's kinda like Fitz in a way, he’s in a self imposed retirement.
GD: This is the sixth record for the band but the first one since 2008’s Road to Heaven. Was it just a timing issue to get everyone together or was this the right time to release new music?
DL: Combination. All of our records have been with Escape Records which is out of Europe. Here’s the tricky thing, we’ve been working on this record since 2010. As far as the making of the record goes, some of it was jammed right on the spot, like “Fire And Grace.” Others were piecemeal. Sammy got busy with The Circle, my wife passed away in 2016 and I kinda laid low. Robert was working with another band and Gary was with Boston and they were touring a lot. We booked some time and worked things out. Even though things were written over a long period of time, there is a cohesiveness to it.
GD: Do you guys have any plans to play some live gigs this year?
DL: That’s a good question. The reality is this, there’s classic radio today and there’s not a lot of new music being played. When you go to see Bruce Springsteen or Sammy Hagar or Elton John what do you want to hear? You want to hear the hits! When they say here’s the new record we just did. They will tolerate a few songs but not the whole album. This is gonna sound cold blooded, but Alliance is an offshoot of bands that had hits, but together we’ve never had a Top 40 album or record. We were busy backing up Sammy Hagar, Boston and Keith Emmerson. We’d love to do some gigs in Europe because we are more recognized there. To answer your question, yes we would like to play live. Probably more across the pond. I was considering having Sammy’s son Aaron play with us as a tribute to Sammy’s music then have Alliance come out and do some songs. That’s how we did it in St. Louis, at least there’s a hook. It kinda worked and it was a great show.
GD: That would be a great thing. Looking back on your career, who were some of your musical influences growing up?
DL: When I was a puppy, I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The hair went up on my neck. The first album I bought was The Yardbirds For Your Love. It had Jeff Beck on the cover but Eric Clapton played on it. I had older brothers and sisters and they had a huge record collection. It had everything, The Beatles, Motown. The first bands that I copied when I was in a band were The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Yardbirds. We did all those songs. When I got better, my influences were Cream, Mitch Mitchell and a guy named Jim Capaldi who was in Traffic. This was before Led Zeppelin came out. He actually wrote the lyrics to “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Now, John Bonham is a mother-you-know-what. What an innovator. But Capaldi was really greasy and funky and played with a certain feel. It rang my bell. It was Cream, Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
When I was in a band with Sam back in the ‘70s we did a James Brown medley. Sam was really into Wilson Pickett and Otis Reading. We played a lot of black music.
GD: Well, Sam did “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay.”
DL: Exactly! I forgot about that!
GD: Who was the first person you saw in concert and how did that impact you?
DL: That’s a damn good question! Sam took me under his wing. I was a junior in high school and he joined my band. The guys were older and I got lucky enough to play with more experienced guys. A young Sammy Hagar shows up and he auditioned by playing “Sunshine Of Your Love,” played it note for note and I was like, damn I dig this! We were like brothers. Sammy, I think he paid for it, took me to my first big concert. He’s like “Bro, you’re coming.” My nickname is Bro. Cream was playing at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino. My big concert was Disraeli Gears. Dude, I’m getting chills just saying it!
GD: So you meet Sammy early on and you end up playing on my favorite Sammy Hagar album, Standing Hampton, do you have a favorite Hagar album?
DL: Standing Hampton.
GD: You actually co-wrote a song on that album, “Sweet Hitchhiker.” How did that come about?
DL: You got that right! I went in a different direction and wanted to play more progressive, funky jazz and Sammy was more rock. I did that for a few years but then I got the rock bug again. I was playing in a band and Sam saw us play and he produced a demo for us. When Chuck wasn’t working out, he called me (for an audition). In 1980, I drove up to Mill Valley and Sammy showed me “Fall In Love Again” and I hit it. I joined the band and we did a short tour.
After about nine months, we started playing new songs. I play a little guitar and bass. The other guys would come in and we would play. We came up with twenty-seven songs and he would send them to Koladner. He would go, “That’s good, ‘One Way To Rock.’ That’s good, ‘Baby’s on Fire.’” I really didn’t come up with the lyrics or anything, but I had so much musical input, he felt that I deserved a piece of the song. That one I really had input on the arrangement and I believe I played bass on that. I was very flattered. Sam gave me some love and made me a songwriter on that.
I still have all the demos from that. It’s on cassette, I just need to find a cassette player. (laughs) That song was really Police inspired. I love Stewart Copeland.
GD: What was it like touring with Sammy back in the early '80s?
DL: What put Sammy on the map was that he was opening up for the band Boston. Sammy had his hits like “Turn Up The Music,” and “Rock and Roll Weekend.” As he played in front of so many people, he became known as a great live act that kicked ass. We finished Standing Hampton, so where do we go? The British Isles. I did six weeks in England and Sammy’s manager, Ed Leffler also managed The Sweet. I was like star-struck. My first two tours with Sammy were Standing Hampton and Three Lock Box. The drummers for the opening acts were doing this for years. They were waiting in the wings, watching me. I thought they were all so good because they were doing this for years and I was so green.
The touring was fantastic. I’m very proud to say all the Geffen shit is Sammy’s most famous stuff. Except of course the Van Halen stuff. What was it like? It was awesome. He would change the set every night and you had to be on your toes! He would turn around to me and go “Bro, ‘Red’ right now! Do it!” It never got boring. Sammy was smart enough to keep it fresh. A lot of times it was like winging it.
GD: Do you remember playing in Cleveland?
DL: You are psychic! Right before you said that, I was thinking that my last show with Sammy was at Nautica. The last time I played that venue with Sammy Hagar was September 9th. It was the last show of the tour was at Nautica. We flew home the next day, which was the 10th and I woke up to 9/11 with us getting bombed. I’ll never forget that show because my uncle drove up from Butler, PA because he never saw me play. I asked him after the show what he thought and he said I was as good as Gene Krupa! That’s a high compliment.
We played Cleveland about five times in seven years. I love Cleveland. I know your neighborhood!
GD: I think I was at all of those shows. You guys were riding high after VOA but then Sammy decided to join Van Halen, what was the bands reaction when he told you?
DL: I’ll be honest with you. At first, he told us that he had a meeting with those guys and they were a little too crazy. Why would I want to give up my career because we just had our first platinum record and we were getting ready to tour Japan. Then I guess they met a couple more times and said that it was magic. He played me, at his house, the demo for “Why Can’t This Be Love” and I thought “This is a fucking hit!” I called that one. I was really proud of Sam when he gave us notice. Our last show was at Farm Aid and Eddie came out and played “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin and something else. We jammed, it was good vibes. Some might have been bitter.
I can speak for me. After 5150, Sammy was like, “Bro, I owe Geffen one more record.” I got paid really well to play on his record. Eddie played bass on that entire record and Sammy played guitar and Eddie did not pick up a guitar. So I played on the only record where Eddie Van Halen was the bass player! Eddie was great to play with. It was really fun and he was really sweet. We did that record in a week.
GD: What did you do for the decade or so when Sammy was in Van Halen?
DL: Starved! Besides recording with Sammy on a few records. I struggled for a few years. I had a wife and a young kid. I did a lot of odd jobs. If you’re a drummer, you better know how to do a lot of different things. I am actually a decent electrician. One day, I decided to follow my bliss. I was not going to do any straight gigs, do or die, I was only going to play the drums. I joined this ‘50s band that was really good. We played all of these different styles and the highlight was we backed up Chuck Berry at Caesars Palace. That was the highlight of my career. Chuck was on that night. It was a magical night.
When Sammy got out of Van Halen in 1996, he called me up and I was gigging in Reno with this ‘50s band. He said “Hey Bro, the brothers just fired me. Want to go out and gig?” I was like, “Hell yeah!”
I can honestly say, if Van Halen hadn’t come along (for Sammy) I wouldn’t be as good a drummer as I am today. If you play with the same people for twenty years, it’s nice but you’re not gonna grow. That Van Halen thing made me grow.
GD: You rejoined Sammy and the Wabo’s and didn’t miss a beat. With Mona as the bass player, it was a totally different rhythm section. Was there any difference with Mona as opposed to other bass players you played with?
DL: Absolutely! Mona and I met during a record and tour with a guy named Wayne Perkins. You may not know him but you know the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. This keyboard player I was gigging with knew Wayne and he was looking for a drummer and a bass player. So he brought in Mona and we ended up playing on his record. It didn’t take off. The thing about about Mona is she’s much younger than me. Mona and I would jam at rehearsal and she knew every goddamn Otis Redding, Staples Singers and Marvin Gaye song. She knew everything! She knew all The Beatles songs.
Sam got out of Van Halen and he tells me, “I want a different band. I want a black guy on guitar and maybe even a girl bass player.” I said I know a girl who can play. She sings well too, she’s got perfect pitch. She’s a female Michael Anthony. We were checking out some nice Barbie doll type players who played with one finger. But then the rest is history. Not to discredit anyone, but Mona plays more along the line of what my tastes are. Together, we have a really solid foundation. It’s really heavy.
GD: Do you know what Mona is up to these days?
DL: She’s gigging up north. She’s doing what I did in the ‘80s, she’s playing with a bunch of different bands. You know, we are getting together with Sam. The Wabo’s are having a reunion in Lake Tahoe on October 5th as a warm up and then we are playing the Birthday Bash in Cabo. I doubt you’ll be able to get in, but I’ll try to get you in!
GD: Things were going well for the band and then Sammy decides to form Chickenfoot and then The Circle. Did you feel left out again, or are you a go with the flow kinda guy?
DL: When Chickfoot was formed, he kept the band on retainer. It wasn’t super-duper dough but it was something that he wanted to do. He’s the star. He wants to stretch out and do stuff and be creative. Chad Smith was free, Joe Satriani was free and Michael wasn’t in Van Halen anymore. They wanted to do a tour and they did it.
The Circle came out of the blue. I think it was an experiment. To be honest with you, after my wife past away, Sammy was thinking that I was kinda out of it. I needed some time and I think The Circle was him wanting to do something different. He was tired of doing the Sammy Hagar show. Chickenfoot, no problem. The Circle, for me the timing was perfect. Mona might of thought “What am I doing.” But I have good karma, man.
GD: Well, I’m kinda jealous that you guys are playing in Lake Tahoe, I wish you guys would come to Ohio.
DL: Well, I’m kinda hoping that Sam gets a big enough hard-on from doing these shows that he wants to do some dates next year. Let’s put out the word! Let’s do that. A short little Wabo tour. Let’s do Chicago and look out Cleveland!
GD: Hell yeah! David, I want to congratulate you on the new Alliance album, I think it rocks and I wish you the best. It was a pleasure talking to you.
DL: Right on brother, it was really nice speaking with you and I hope some of this was interesting!
Be sure to check out Alliance’s new record Fire and Grace by clicking here.