Legendary Guitarist Coming To Charleston With Experience Hendrix Tour
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
While his overall career may span 40 plus years, Joe Satriani's recording career is just over three decades old. Highly regarded as one of the premier guitar instrumentalists of the baby boomer generation, Satriani honed his skill under a few jazz greats including Billy Bauer and Lenny Tristano while still a teenager. A 15-time Grammy Award nominee, selling over 10 million albums, makes Satriani the biggest-selling instrumental rock guitarist of all time.
Oddly Satriani's first musical leanings were towards the drums. "Coming of age in the 1960's I thought guys like Ringo Starr (Beatles) and Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones) were really cool." Try as he could during his pre-teen years, Satriani soon discovered the drums weren't him. "It just wasn't going to happen. They were just so difficult for me to master."
The death of one of his childhood idols prompted Satriani to pick up the guitar. "When Jimi Hendrix died my whole life changed. I quit football and decided I was going to focus all my energy on playing guitar. I remember I announced it at the dinner table that night. My parents knew Hendrix had died and all they could imagine was I was going to follow in his footsteps. I'm not sure how they took it. They were music lovers, and appreciated jazz, but it was my sisters that came to my defense. One said she'd buy me a guitar, and another said I could have her old guitar."
His dad's older brother came from a musical background, and young Satriani remembers his uncle pushing him. "Even when I trying to learn the drums he'd be on me. He'd say did you practice today. I recall times when he'd get me up at night and trot me downstairs to rehearse. He was a stickler for staying dedicated to the craft. I definitely had family support all around me."
Satriani admits picking up the guitar seemed natural. "I know there are artists that can play all kinds of instruments, and there are those who are destined for one instrument. Having given the drums a go early on I sensed the guitar was the one instrument that provided less resistance. Your body has to connect with the instrument. That's the way it felt when I finally started to learn how to play. The guitar and I are one in the same."
As a twist of fate Satriani began giving guitars lessons to one of his younger class mates, Steve Vai who is equally regarded as a guitar guru. "He's a freakin' guitar god now. It's ironic that we grew up in the same part of New York and attended the same high school. I was teaching him and no doubt learning a little myself. We were both just teenagers trying to master the craft."
After graduating high school in 1974 he continued to take lessons eventually touring with a disco band in the mid 1970's. "It was the emerging pop music of the day. It wasn't who I was or what I wanted to do, but it did provide a few helpful things for me. First of all I was getting paid to play music. And they didn't have a keyboard player so I had to synch up with the rhythm section. So I learned timing and how to work with a band. It wasn't a total loss for me, but it certainly wasn't going to be my life's work."
He adds, "I was really into bands like Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. Bands that had heavy guitar sounds. I remember popping into a 7-Eleven early, around three in the morning because we played sometimes until 2am. In the background I would hear the Stones or Aerosmith on the radio and think to myself, what the hell am I doing. But I was getting paid real money to play guitar so I rolled with it."
By 1978 the then 22 year old Westbury, New York native headed for one of the music epi-centers in America, making San Francisco his new home. "Two of my sisters were living out there so that made it a littler easier. Not long after I was there I went to Japan, returning to New York before I came and settled in the Berkeley area. The San Francisco area has always been a hotbed for musicians and bands. Seemed like a good place to further my career." 40 years later he still has his home in northern California.
To enhance his on stage skills Satriani performed in a bay area band. "I was in the hottest pop band that no one ever heard of for about five years (79-84). We were called The Squares. We were a power pop band that didn't quite fit in. We recorded albums and put out singles but somehow couldn't find our place in the industry. We weren't hard enough for rock or pop enough for pop, nor were we hip enough to be called new wave. By the mid 1980's we called it quits." Fans of Satriani take note. 'A rare collection of the songs may soon be available."
He followed that stint up by touring with pop rockers The Greg Kihn Band. "It was near the end of their popularity. Still a paying gig and valued stage presence. More importantly is helped pay down some debt I incurred recording my debut album 'Not Of This Earth'." After nearly a decade in San Francisco Satriani was ready to record and release his own music. "All musicians have that itch to record their own music."
Satriani's reputation preceded him, and soon he was instructing future rockers such as Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Alex Skolnick (Testament), Larry LaMonde (Primus), and Kevin Cadogan (Third Eye Blind), among others. "I actually taught guitar for ten years from 1978 until 1988 at a second hand guitar store. My last official lesson was to Kirk Hammett."
Although his debut release showcased his guitar expertise it was the 1988 follow up, 'Surfing With the Alien' that began to make Satriani a name. The album garnered support among mainstream rock radio stations, leading his manager to suggest touring. "That's what you do if you want to sell records or get your name out there. There's never really a right time for an artist who just plays guitar to tour, but I gave it a go. I wasn't selling out, but the audiences were decent and receptive."
Not long into his solo tour he got a call that was mind boggling. "My manager rings me up and says, how would you like to audition for Mick Jagger. I said Kevin how do you know Jagger. He said someone with Bill Graham (famed San Fran rock promoter) knows him. Long story short Mick is about to go out on a solo tour and he's looking for a guitar player that will mesh with him. Apparently he's picky because Kevin said they had gone thru 60 guitar players, and Mick couldn't find the right one."
Satriani continues the story, "I was in New England and they wanted me in New York in a few days. I said I'm doing a couple of shows at the Bottom Line down there, so it worked out. So I'm jamming with a few musicians and in pops Mick. I'm a bit apprehensive but he puts me at ease right away. He says he'd been listening in the next room and liked what I was doing. Before I knew it he said would you like to go on tour with me. Every musician's dream is to play with the legends of rock n' roll. You don't turn down a gig with Mick Jagger."
The Jagger tour further cemented Satriani's career taking him to Australia, Japan and the eastern Asia. "I couldn't believe how generous Mick was. He allowed me time to showcase my own music. With my second album just out, Mick said whatever you need to do I'll help. Need studio time or space for an interview. He was just so gracious with his time." Being out with Jagger was definitely a shot in the arm. "Rolling Stone magazine did a full page article on me. The tour and the article helped put me on the map."
His career would take off by leaps and bounds. He would record with Alice Cooper, tour with Deep Purple, and lend his guitar work to several 1990's hit movies, including the eerie sounding lawn mower blade sharpening scene from the 1996 cult classic 'Sling Blade'. "It's cool to know the music in the scene comes from my guitar."
Satriani continued to stay busy, putting out a new album almost ever year. In the 21st century he lent his talents to movies, television, and sports. He played himself in the 2011 Brad Pitt film 'Moneyball'. For the better part of a decade he has been one of the founding members of the hard rocking band 'Chickenfoot', with Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony of Van Halen fame, and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers). "I had jammed with Sammy in the past. The three initially played together and it just became a band when I signed on."
Perhaps what Satriani is most proud of is his more than two decade run of the G3 series, a concert originally intended to showcase the talents of three guitarists. The debut tour featured him, Vai, and Eric Johnson. Others who have taken part over the years include Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robert Fripp, Andy Timmons, Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, Adrian Legg, Paul Gilbert, Steve Morse, and Steve Lukather. "It was always a who's who of the best and most admired guitarists out there. I've had so much fun over the years jamming with these guys."
Five years ago he adopted the G4 Experience as an extension of the series. G4 allows fans a combination guitar clinic and jam concert all in one. "It's a win win for attendees. It's lots of fun for me and the fellow musicians. We instruct during the day and jam at night. It's an up close and personal experience. This year we had Neal Schon (Journey) and Rick Nielson (Cheap Trick) take part." They joined regulars like Bumblefoot, Carlos Alomar, and Lari Basilio. The 2019 event was held in January.
Satriani spent all on 2018 on tour in support of his latest release 'What Happens Next'. The 12 track album is a departure for Satriani who had adopted more of a alien or supernatural persona in recent recordings, especially the 2015 'Shockwave Supernova'. "I wanted something more simple. Something more of a return to my roots. I had been relying on a formula that was proven to me, but I didn't want to lock myself into that. So I went 180 degrees and decided to put out an album that is more grounded. Hopefully more rock with soul."
Satriani's morphosis from Shockwave's pretense to the more feet on the ground 'What Happens Next' is chronicled in a 2017 documentary DVD, filmed by Joe's son ZZ. Just 26 years of age ZZ is a film school graduate. "First of all it was great to have him out on tour with me. It may have been a labor of love for both of us."
The film is a behind the scenes look taken during the Shockwave Supernova tour, capturing early accounts of Satriani's life and his emergence as a guitar superhero, with poignant and personal reflections from Satriani. "During the end of that tour I discovered, maybe I was hiding behind a character, and maybe I needed to sever ties with parts of my past. That's how the whole concept of 'What Happens Next' came about."
Keeping it bare bones Satriani recorded the tracks with blues rocking bassist Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple fame, and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers & Chickenfoot). Smith' resume alone is impressive. According to Satriani he had one goal in mind. "Keeping it simple and stripped down. I wanted to recapture a little of the reason I picked up the guitar in the first place. I didn't want to become one dimensional." 'What Happens Next' has garnered rave reviews for Satriani's refreshing rebirth.
As if Satriani's resume wasn't strong enough he can add another round of the Experience Hendrix Tour to the list. He first participated back in 2004. Billed as 'The All-Star Concert Event of the Year' the show brings together legendary artists, mainly guitar players paying homage to the late great Jimi Hendrix. Born out of Seattle based festivals in the mid 1990's, the Experience Hendrix Tour has been a constant since early 2000. Among those who have taken part include Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), Slash (Guns N' Roses), Ace Frehley (KISS), Kid Rock, Robby Krieger (The Doors), Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), Buddy Guy, and Carlos Santana.
The 2019 lineup is equally star studded. Joining Satriani will be longtime Hendrix contributor Billy Cox (Band of Gypsy's), Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), Jonny Lang, Mato Nanji, David Hildago (Los Lobos), blues greats Taj Mahal and the Slide Brothers, as well as female electric funk guitar great Ana Popovic.
Satriani recently spent several days rehearsing with Doug Pinnick of King's X fame and long time John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff. "I had a blast. These guys are at the top of their game. Of course Kenny and I know each other from Chickenfoot. Anyone who is a musician whether you're a guitarist or a drummer, wants to play Hendrix. What Hendrix did with just three musicians on stage is phenomenal. Performing Hendrix' music is the ultimate challenge for a guitar player."
Hendrix may be raw blues laden rock n' roll but according to Satriani it's not that easy. "In just over four years he (Hendrix) created a legacy. Why is he considered the all time greatest to strap on a guitar, it's because he could do everything and anything with it. You can emulate Hendrix but what he did stands alone. To go out with all these great musicians and honor Hendrix, it's like travelling in a crazy rock n' roll circus. I am so blessed to be able to take part."
The 2019 Experience Hendrix Tour will play the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Friday March 8th. "If you're a fan of Hendrix or really talented musicians who are the best at what they do, this is a show you don't want to miss." Satriani will continue his solo tour as well in 2019.