is probably the most successful solo instrumentalist in all of
rock. In a radio industry that frowns on lyricless music, Satriani
not only gets airplay, but his "Surfing with the Alien"
is used by many commercial rock stations for their commercials
and background music.
Satriani had a long-running relationship with Relativity records,
a label known for it's fondness for solo guitarists (Steve Vai
was also on Relativity). That chapter of rock history came to
a close when Relativity turned into an all- hip hop and rap label.
Satriani was immediately picked up by Epic/Sony, which had long
been distributing his records, but it's not hard to hear the disapointment
in Satriani's voice as he described the events leading up to his
change of labels. But that's starting at the end so let's go to
released a self-titled CD a few years back that was a bit of a
departure in approach for you. Was that something you were anxious
Satriani: Well, I started the project nine months before
it was completed and I did everything I could to proceed in an
unorthodox fashion and to do everything as differently as I could.
curious- what does it mean when Joe Satriani says, unorthodox?
Satriani: (Laughs) I'll tell ya, I wrote a lot of the record
on instruments I don't normally play. I switched everything upside-down.
I got rid of the idea of an album title. I had 2 or 3 studios
going at once. Instead of planning things out, I would go into
the studio with the barest of ideas- I was recording first takes,
I wasn t correcting mistakes. Even down to the kind of tape we
used, and the location and time of day we recorded... Just about
everything you could think of down to the size of guitar strings.
I did things to catch myself off-guard- not only in the performing
aspect but in the recording aspect.
in a sense you were challenging yourself...?
Satriani: Yeah, yeah. You know, I've done that, I've tried
to do that with every album. But being my seventh album, I really
had to look for things to tweak, that I'd never done.
I first heard the record, I thought there was a raunchy blues
feel to it and then I read that it was produced by Glen Johns,
who worked with the Stones...
Satriani: Oh man. Glen has worked with everybody. He's
been the seminal producer behind the Stones, The Beatles...
It seems like he had a lot of impact on the project...?
Satriani: Oh he did, yeah. I mean here's a guy who's worked
with Joan Armitrading and Belly, who s sat down and worked things
out with Keith Richards and The Eagles. He's just recorded so
much music- he s got a great set of ears and he's a wonderful
Was that the first time you ve worked with him?
Satriani: Yeah. Coincidentally, I recorded an album with
his younger brother, Andy Johns, a few years ago called, The
This all sort of ties together as you're first break came with
the Mick Jagger tour...?
Satriani: That was really a fortuitous thing to happen,
just as Surfin with the Alien was out for about 3 months
and was just beginning to gain some mometum. Mick auditioned me
for two tours, one over in Japan and a later tour of Australia
and New Zealand. That whole association really helped because
suddenly MTV paid a little attention and I got a
page in Rolling Stone and Mick, of course, was really great
at making sure every opportunity I had... he was able to help
me take advantage of it.
So Mick was really instrumental to your career in a lot of
Satriani: He even recorded some harmonica tracks for the
album but unfortunately, they didn't make the final cut. (Laughs)
Satriani: Oh! He's not sore about it. I saw him (afterwards)
in London. He came to our show at Wembley and he was a good sport
about it. (Laughs)
Since we're talking about famous rockers, a couple of your
students are pretty famous guys...?
Satriani: Yeah (laughs) I wish they all were! I wish they
all had the success that the ones like Kirk Hammet & Steve
Vai have had.
road to success has been different than most...
Satriani: Yeah... you know, I came from such an outside
position where I started my own record company and publishing
company and recorded two albums, one of which was done on a credit
card and I wound up making a deal with Relativity Records which
Steve Vai put me in touch with. Relativity is the only company
that would put out his record, Flexible. So he said to me, Look
man, if they re crazy enough to put out my album, they ll definitely
put out yours.
was told that a fifteen year old Steve Vai showed up at your door
one day with a beat-up guitar and asked for guitar lessons?
Satriani: Yeah, but I m sure he was 12. (Laughs) I was
15 at the time so I m sure he was 12. Yeah, he came with a pack
of strings in one hand and a guitar in the other. (Laughs)
Of course you're known as a solo artist but you were in a band
called The Squares at one time?
Satriani: That's right, yeah. We were sort of like... if
you can imagine, The Everly Brothers meets Gang of Four meets
The Beatles meets The Jam.
a bit different from what you're known for...
Satriani: Yeah, I'm tellin you- it's totally weird. While
I was in that band, I was so frustrated trying to get a professional
career started that on a Christmas holiday, I purposely recorded
the most bizarre guitar EP I could think of, and that became a
self-titled EP that I eventually remastered and released as the
Time Machine album. That goes back to 1984 and when I got a review
in Guitar Player magazine for that
album I suddenly realized that I d been concentrating on showing
people the wrong thing. People saw me in this band called The
Squares in clubs and that was me, the professional musician trying
to get a record deal, working with a band. But what I did at home,
working with these weird instrumentals, that was what was getting
me noticed. So I decided to drop the professional musician thing
and become a full-time
playing has a very emotional quality to it. I ve noticed that
unlike most quote-unquote guitar heroes, your music appeals to
the female audience quite a bit...
Satriani: You know, it's a funny thing. I wouldn't call
it embarrassing but it's an uncomfortable feeling to think of
yourself as a hero. When you choose the life of a musician, part
of you at least is an exhibitionist, I supposed, even though my
basic day to day emotional state is that I'm kind of shy and reserved
and I like really don t like to be in crowds yet somehow I end
up being in front of thousands of people. (Laughs)
I get the feeling that commercial success is something you
don't worry too much about...
Satriani: It's funny but to answer that, there was an interview
I did prior to this where the writer wanted to interview me for
a guitar book he's writing. I had to say, Look, I ve told my management
that I want to sell records and go on tour, which allows me to
continue to play guitar, but I don t want to become a quote-unquote
personality. So don't book me on Love Connection or Hollywood
Squares or Regis & Kathy
Lee. I just don't want people to think that I exist along
side Cher and Richie Sambora and all the people that really thrive
on that side of the entertainment business. I would rather be
successful in spite of myself.