Soon after the drums thunder and the iconic opening guitar riff to Montrose’s “Rock Candy” blasts from the speakers, Dino McCord lets loose a guttural yell of “Lord, yeah” that sounds like it could have come from Sammy Hagar circa 1973, when the tune first hit the airwaves. McCord and his bandmates in Sacramento’s rising rock group Red Voodoo wouldn’t be born for another 30 years, but their rendition of “Rock Candy” not only showcases their talents but pays homage to the Red Rocker. Hagar has become a sort of mentor for the group and invited them to play three nights in October at his Cabo Wabo Cantina nightclub in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The gig for the group, whose oldest member is just 21, came during Hagar’s weeklong 75th birthday celebration.
“When you think about the grand scope of things and how young we are, not many bands get to go play the Cabo Wabo. Plus it’s Sammy’s birthday, so we thank our lucky stars that we can do this, that we get to play our music and do this and have fun with it,” says McCord, who turned 20 in September. “When I went down two years ago and
met Sammy for his birthday bash, it was seven days after Eddie Van Halen had died. So I got to not only honor Sammy on his birthday, but also honor Eddie. We sang “Eagles Fly” and “Finish What Ya Started,” and that was the best moment, so far, in my life. I was trembling in my boots.” This time, the entire band was onstage at Cabo Wabo and played originals off its nine-song debut album, called “Bring It Back,” which was produced by Tesla’s lead guitarist Frank Hannon, himself once a rock ’n’ roll wunderkind.
Red Voodoo is named after the Sammy Hagar solo album that came out in 1999, two years before the band’s oldest member, drummer Andy Nathan, was born.
Before Tesla broke out of playing Sacramento rock clubs and released its platinum-selling debut, the band was known as City Kidd. When City Kidd formed in 1982, Hannon was just 15—the same age as McCord when he started Red Voodoo—and Tesla bassist Brian Wheat was 20. The now-defunct Oasis Ballroom was City Kidd’s home base, just as Roseville’s Opera House Saloon or Folsom’s Powerhouse Pub is home for Red Voodoo.
“I can see some parallels, because we changed our name, too,” says Red Voodoo lead guitarist Davin Loiler. “We were Teazer. But we knew we needed another name. With Sammy being such a big influence, we looked at the album ‘Red Voodoo.’ That title fit the idea and motif of the band, and what we were doing. Sammy himself said that’s an awesome name.”
Wheat and Hannon changed from City Kidd to Tesla during the recording of their debut album, “Mechanical Resonance,” which went platinum in 1989. They also got help from Ronnie Montrose, who hired Sammy Hagar in 1972.
Now Hannon is helping the next generation.
“When COVID-19 hit and shut everything down, I had a refueled interest in helping local Sacramento artists learn and produce music in the recording studio,” Hannon says. “My band, Tesla, has been blessed to work with many great producers and songwriters over the past 35 years and make many contacts. I wanted to help and pass that experience forward to young local musician kids as a coach.”
Hannon helped Red Voodoo write, record, produce and promote a song about the COVID-19 lockdown called “Rise Up!” The song was played on radio stations coast to coast and on many streaming sites.
Fast-forward 50 years since Hagar recorded “Rock Candy” and 35 years since Hannon and Tesla released “Mechanical Resonance” and Red Voodoo is bringing the 1970s and ’80s hard rock back with “Bring It Back.” The title track features a throaty “Oh, yeah” roar from McCord that’s incredibly similar to the one that opens “Rock Candy.” The lyrics, too, are emblematic for Red Voodoo.
Red Voodoo is still unsigned by a record label, and touring opportunities have yet to materialize. But that hasn’t stopped the band from taking gigs wherever and whenever, winning over rock fans of all ages by bringing it back. McCord is the band’s de facto manager and was working at his day job at Skip’s Music this past September when the manager for 1990s rock stalwart Everclear called to say its opening act had suffered a COVID-19 outbreak and asked if Red Voodoo could fill in on 72 hours’ notice.
The boys loaded up the van and off they went to Rolling Hills Casino in Corning. It’s gigs like that, and at Cabo Wabo last month, where the band will likely make a connection with an industry bigwig who will then guide the band to its next, higher step. The band is preparing new material and reworking some songs from “Bring It Back” to record at San Francisco’s famous Hyde Street Studios with producer Jaimeson Durr. Durr has worked with Hagar in the past, Nathan says, extending that connection.
“For a young band, we’re doing pretty good for ourselves, but we’re putting everything back into the band,” says Nathan, who joined the band just six months ago after a stint in a psychedelic indie rock band and attempting to make it big in the Los Angeles rock scene. “I was moving back from LA and Dino sent me a message on Instagram and asked if I wanted to audition,” Nathan recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve never heard of you guys, but I’m moving back and I want to keep playing.”
McCord heard about Nathan from J.T. Loux, who played with Nathan in Tonic Zephyr, the psychedelic indie rock group. Hannon also produces Loux’s solo effort, which is more straight-ahead, bluesy rock ’n’ roll. “I heard Davin and, damn, this kid can play Eddie Van Halen so well,” Nathan says. “My dad’s favorite band is Van Halen, the David Lee Roth version. The fact that they do all these songs and had such a high level of technicality, I had a lot of respect from the get-go.”
Andrew Edwards, the bassist, answered a Craigslist ad posted by McCord. Edwards was a guitar player when his father told him about a Van Halen tribute band holding a tryout.
“When I joined, we didn’t have any originals and I had 36 cover songs to learn,” Edwards says. “I took a month to practice and then we started booking shows. We wrote ‘Bring It Back’ first, like three years ago. The song sounded a lot different back then. We dabbled writing originals, and as time went on, we started writing more and more and got better and better.”
The band still holds down day jobs because payments for downloads from streaming sites and local gigs are not enough to make them fulltime musicians.
McCord works at Skip’s Music; Edwards works at Del’s Family Pizza in Fair Oaks; Nathan is an instructor at Rocklin’s Bach to Rock music school, and Loiler works for his father’s Ione based gutter installation company.
“Putting up gutters keeps me humble,” Loiler says. “It keeps me active, but I’d rather be out on the road. We’re out here paying our dues because we all gotta start somewhere. Slowly but surely the shows are starting to get bigger and the numbers are growing on our socials (media) as we’re honing our craft.”
Nathan says each member has supportive parents and the band is growing at a pace everyone is happy with, so there’s not as much pressure to be signed as there might be with older groups with family commitments and mortgages to pay. The band hasn’t given itself a deadline. “We haven’t hit a block where we’re all like, ‘We gotta pay these bills,’” he says.
“This is a conversation that a lot of musicians have with themselves: ‘When am I a professional musician?’ It’s not just when you make money because you can get $20 to play at a bar for an hour,” Nathan says. “For me, I feel successful when it feels like there’s a connection with the audience and people are really getting something from our music. Sharing that experience with people I may have never met is special.”
The band, to a member, says they can feel the momentum building and as long as they stay true to the music and each other, the call from a high-powered agent with a big-name record company will happen. They’re still young, still hungry, and the music they play is timeless. In the meantime, it’s back to the grind—in their day jobs and on local stages.
“They still need time to mature as a band,” Hannon says. “All the guys in the Red Voodoo band are extremely talented musically. And if they continue to develop, they will have a successful career. I know they are paying their dues and doing a lot of local shows. I wish them the best of luck and hope they can stick it out. It’s a long way to the top . . .”
If you wanna rock ’n’ roll.