Guitar legend Joe Satriani is no stranger to Australia. Touring here several times across his ground-breaking career, he is now gearing up to head over once again on the back of latest album What Happens Next, bringing him to Adelaide on 26 November to play HQ.
Speaking over the phone from San Francisco, Satriani fondly related memories of his past Australian visits.
“So many great memories of doing G3 tours there and doing solo tours there,” he said. “Of course nothing was more outrageous than arriving in 1988 with Mick Jagger and playing all those entertainment centres. Just wow. When we played Adelaide I remember it was so windy that day, we were playing outside, and they had to cut the huge banners on either side of the stage because they were afraid the wind was going to blow the whole stage off. I just remember wearing more clothing than I had ever worn when I was on stage because it was so cold outside. I was thinking, how can I play guitar when I’m wearing a shirt and a sweater and a leather jacket and gloves.”
Satriani has also developed a taste for South Australian wines courtesy of local icon, Penfolds.
“One day when we had a gig in Adelaide, we made the mistake, or we had the good fortune I should say, of going to Penfolds Winery. And Jeff Campitelli, my drummer, and I, we really drank a little too much. We arrived at the gig feeling no pain whatsoever! It was a really good gig, maybe we should do that more often. Credit to the great Penfolds wine!”
Another curious link Satriani shares with this part of the world is the surprising story of how he ended up singing backing vocals on the first Crowded House album.
“I think that was the one and only time I was ever paid to sing. I mean, I really don’t sing well. People know that because they’ve heard me sing on some records. I was in a band called the Squares. This was ’79 through almost all of ’84. We almost got a record deal with a producer named Mitchell Froom.
“Years later, Mitchell wound up producing a record for Crowded House. He called us from L.A. and he said to me and the lead singer in my band, Andy Milton: ‘come on down, I think you guys would be perfect to do background vocals cause your voices blend with theirs.’ We went down there for a few days, I sang with the drummer and my lead vocalist doubled all the parts with Neil Finn. We were on six of the songs. The hits, you know what I mean? We were singing, ‘hey now, hey now.’ I have never been hired since. The one and only time. I should’ve framed the check!”
When it came to his current record What Happens Next, Satriani chose to put together a trio rather than pulling in a roster of session players.
“I wanted to really return to my roots, to strip down as much as I could so that I wouldn’t get distracted by all the little toys and all the interesting things that happen when you bring in lots of other musicians. And I thought, if it’s just three of us then we’re really going to have to dig deep and come up with some exceptional performances.
“I reached out to Chad Smith who was on tour with the Chilli Peppers at the time and I just asked him thinking, I don’t know if he would ever do it. But he jumped at the chance. I said I was thinking of inviting Glenn Hughes who had never played on an instrumental record before, known as being one of the most incredible singers ever. I just thought it would be so interesting to capture the chemistry between Chad and Glenn, and to write for them. And that was really the key element. They both were on board quite early and it gave me a lot of time to write for it and by the time we got to L.A. at Sunset Sound, it was like the greatest week ever. We had done all the backing tracks in about 7 days. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun.”
To shape the new LP, Satriana also came armed with a whole lot of music gear that was eventually distilled right down to meet the needs of the recording process.
“Well I think much to my tech’s chagrin, I’m always bringing in like 50 amps and 200 guitars. We’re always bringing in a lot of gear. We recorded in two small places actually. Sunset Sound in L.A. is a medium-sized to small studio, although it’s probably got some of the greatest credits of multi-platinum albums of all time. And it’s crazy to think, you’re standing there and you’re thinking, my God, Eddie Van Halen stood right here and recorded his first album. It’s daunting, you know: everyone from Van Halen to Carole King recorded there.
“And then we moved up into Sammy’s studio, which is even smaller. For the overdubs my gear just dwarfed the place but you never know what you’re going to use. I wound up using less guitars than almost any album in twenty-five years, it was amazing. A short list of guitars and not too many amps, although we did have about fifteen to twenty laying about all turned on just to try this and try that. Eventually you plug into that amp that fits the part with the guitar you’re playing and sounds good with the drums and you just never know, really, it’s good to be prepared.
“It’s sort of like a master chef that’s got 800 ingredients. If they really know what they all do and how to work with the food then it’s going to be magical. But if they’re struggling and they’ve just got salt and pepper, they’re like ‘what am I going do with that?’ But in this particular case, I published a list of all the gear and it wound up being about six different amps and maybe four guitars. But like I said my poor tech had to cart the whole thing.”
The youngest of five children, Satriani can trace his own musical influences back to the material he was introduced to through his siblings.
“I sort of inherited all the music that my older sisters, my older brother sort of grew up listening to. They were the perfect age for the craziness of the sixties. Then as they all started leaving the house to go to college and move out, they would leave all their records behind. That’s when I was starting to become a musician, listening to music that was a little bit before my time.
“As a really young kid I was listening to the Beatles and Stones and I really got into the music that was happening from ’66 to ’70, which was the beginning of rock, when rock-and-roll danced into rock. Then there’s was also a lot of funk and Motown and blues so I’d be listening to Jimmy Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, anything Eric Clapton was doing and the Who. And I’d be listening to James Brown, Crosby, Sills and Nash and Sly and the Family Stone. And my parents were jazz-aged kids, so they were always playing Miles Davis and Coltrane and stuff like that in the house.
“By the time I moved out to California, I had this really broad set of musical roots that sort of defied my age. But that’s always been something that’s felt natural to me because I grew up the whole family’s music and it was all different. But Hendrix is always my number one. I decided to be a guitar player the day he died and I stuck with it. I was learning more of his tricks today actually. I was picking up the guitar and putting on the records and reminding myself of things that he played.”
Looking at the next generation of guitarists, however, Satriani is feeling quite upbeat.
“Today there’s so many players. I get a great feeling of optimism when I go on YouTube and I see eight-year-old guitarists playing like Steve Vai. These kids are going to be absolutely amazing because they’re starting with Tosin Abasi and Steve Vai, and to them Eddie Van Halen is some grandpa. It’s really astounding, but that’s how the world works. That’s the way you want it. When I was a teacher, that’s the way I thought. I just thought this kid comes in whether it’s Kirk Hammett or Charlie Hunter or Alex Skolnick, they look at me and they just see a really old guy. In my twenties, I know, but because they’re like fifteen, so they’re lookin at me like I’m just some old dude. And so you have to say, I have to stay out of their way but I have to give them everything I know and let them walk it into the future. And they do, it always happens. I’m encouraged with those kids that I see playing, they just totally blow me away.”
And thankfully Joe Satriani is still blowing audiences away. To experience it for yourself, grab your tickets to his November 26 HQ show here.
Written by Matthew Trainor
Images courtesy of www.satriani.com