Joe Satriani is releasing his sixteenth solo album this month. That’s almost insane. But considering that Satriani seems to have an endless well of licks and melodies stored up in that brain of his, it’s no wonder he keeps putting out incredibly intense, other-worldy music that never ceases to amaze us.
On January 12th, he will release What Happens Next, a day after he sets out on another round of his popular G3 tour, this time taking Def Leppard’s Phil Collen and Dream Theater’s John Petrucci along as his six-string sidekicks [for the European leg, Uli Jon Roth will join Satriani and Petrucci]. On top of that, his son ZZ’s documentary, Beyond The Supernova, about his father’s Shockwave Supernova tour, has been receiving great reviews, and his 2014 memoir, Strange Beautiful Music, debuted in paperback this past November. You certainly can’t say the famed guitar player likes to lounge around ending one year and beginning another.
When we talked to Satriani not long ago, he was ready for his 2018 adventures to begin, from promoting his new music to hitting the road and playing for his fans. The songs on his new record hit on bluegrass and blues and experimentation, from “Headrush” to “Thunder High On The Mountain,” which pulls out the light, what there is of it, from Black Sabbath and spits it back out with a psychedelic twist, to the killer “Super Funky Badass” that features bassist Glenn Hughes and Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith in their rock & roll glory, and first single, “Energy,” which comes by it’s name naturally.
Satriani is known for his perfectionism in the studio, which he says comes from ambition more than egotism. “You’re absolutely right that it’s the ambition that I want to make sure that I can really reach people as much as I should with this particular melody or phrase because it means so much to me,” he told me during a 2013 interview. “And I think it will truly move people’s spirits if I do it just perfectly. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s not perfection, cause nothing’s perfect, especially with the electric guitar. It’s a bit of a messy thing when you’re playing rock & roll guitar so it is about the ambition part.” That aspect of Satriani’s professionalism goes way back. Testament’s Alex Skolnick remembered having Satriani as a guitar teacher when he was a fifteen-year-old kid in Berkeley. “I grew up surrounded by people that were never able to achieve their goals just because of their work ethic. Joe wouldn’t stand for that, especially when it came to guitar,” said Skolnick during a 2011 Glide interview. “I had teachers in the Bay Area who had studied with Joe and told me I shouldn’t study with him. But that’s cause they were like the best on the block and they’d go study with him and he would put them in their place.”
However, when you talk with Satriani about music, his sense of humor comes out, his knowledge of guitar, his love of words – though he rarely uses them in his music. He’ll laugh when he talks about growing up in New York during Halloween – “We’d black out all of our distinguishing features, dress in black and go out and throw eggs and do all sorts of stuff we’re not supposed to do;” beginning his musical life – “Obviously I played drums because I wanted to make as much noise as possible;” and describing one of his songs as, “a typical Joe Satriani sort of schizophrenic bi-polar boogie.”
So this may be Satch’s sixteenth solo album but his musical mind is still that young kid searching for the “alien” within his guitar. Glide spoke with him about the new record, G3, what makes him insane and growing up in a New York neighborhood.
Did you grow up in the city or a neighborhood?
Neighborhoods. I actually grew up in William J. Levitt’s second sort of experiment with suburbia. He built Levittown in Nassau County on Long Island for housing for GI’s returning from WWII and that was my parents age.So after the war my parents moved out from Manhattan, where my dad was born and raised, and moved out to Nassau County in what used to be potato fields and moved into one of Levitt’s second experiments. So I grew up in one of the very first experiments of suburban living outside of the city. But we were only about twenty-five minutes from Manhattan if there’s no traffic. I think it’s about an hour and a half when there is traffic. But, you know, we’d just jump on the train and we were in the city all the time and I had relatives growing up there. But I grew up in what I always say an idyllic suburban atmosphere because we all had garages and that’s where rock & roll is really developed. Without space for kids to make noise, basements and garages like that, there really is no new movement in music. It’s interesting, the cities get all the credit for social movement and artistic movement but it’s actually the suburbs because you need space. For a garage band to work you need a garage, don’t you (laughs).
Were your siblings making music in the garage? Did you go hang out with them?
No, I think my two older sisters were already on their way to be professional artists so there was a lot of painting and drawing and sculpture going on in the house. My middle sister was a folk guitarist, so that’s where I first started to get the idea about how cool a guitar was. My older brother was not a professional musician but he could play guitar, he played blues harp really well. He could play anything, any woodwind instrument; he was just a natural for that. I came along and obviously I played drums because I wanted to make as much noise as possible (laughs). But that only lasted about three years. It was like when I was nine, nine to twelve.
Then when Hendrix died, I decided that I wanted to become an electric guitar player. You know, by then, that was 1970, my older siblings started to leave the house to go to college or to move out so the house became a lot easier for me to start to have my buddies down in the basement. My parents let us rehearse down there and they would fend off the neighbors and the cops for us (laughs). It was a great way to grow up. I loved growing up in the suburbs.
When you first picked up a guitar, was it an acoustic like your sister’s?
It would have been hers. She would let me pick it up and try to strum on it and she probably gave me one of those magic chord sheets that had twenty chords on it. I think they were relieved anytime I didn’t practice my drums (laughs). Cause not only was it loud but I kind of sucked and so it was, “Oh great, he’s not playing the drums.” But that’s what happens when there are seven people living in a small house.
What did you find was the hardest part about playing that acoustic guitar?
I think what I experienced is what I noticed all my students experienced many years later when I was teaching, which is the guitar feels so incredibly awkward when you pick it up. It’s not like the piano or the drums.Almost anybody can hit something, you know, pick up a stick and hit something. So the drums feels more like a natural thing and the piano is great because nothing moves. Every note is in just one place and one place only and you can look at it and there they are, left to right, low to high. And you can’t make a piano go out of tune unless you move it across the room or something, you know what I mean.
But the guitar is convoluted. The same note can be found in four different places, the thing is constantly going out of tune and then it’s not in tune in all the places where you can play. It shifts, it has idiosyncrasies that drive people crazy; and then it hurts your fingertips unless you’ve played for a while, built up calluses and desensitized your fingertips to a degree. It’s hard to hold, you don’t know where to balance it, and everybody’s body is different so it fits differently. You sit at the piano, you sit at a drum kit, but the guitar you have to hold itand hold it next to you. There are few instruments like that, that you have to deal with your anatomy and everybody has a different experience with it because we all have different bodies. That’s always the key when you’re a beginner, is how do you get over that awkward stage, and that could last a year, you know.
What was the first song you obsessed over trying to learn?
I think I really didn’t get down into it until that day Hendrix died and I just kind of made my mind up what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Then, I think they thought it was cute, you know. My older sister Carol said, “I’ll donate my first paycheck.” She was teaching Art at a local high school and she bought me an inexpensive electric guitar. My other sister Marian, who was the folk guitarist, said, “You can have all my printed information that you need to learn chords.” Cause you know, there was no internet and there were no videos, DVDs, nothing. It was very sort of human-to-human or printed stuff. But we were used to that so I would just find a corner of the house and hold that guitar and try to tune it and then try to memorize those chords. I realized I had to memorize those chords cause it seemed like that was what everyone was doing when they played guitar. They sort of effortlessly went from one chord to the next and they seemed to be the right chords, you know.
And now you’re back to making loud music, just not with drums
(laughs) I know, yeah. That quiet period didn’t last very long.
In regards to your new record, how do you have Glenn Hughes on a record and not have him sing?
(laughs) That’s easy! It’s funny, you know, I’ve been putting out records for the longest time and I noticed that I always get a lot of questions about what the record is NOT instead of what the thing IS. It’s so funny. But, the thing is, is that the album is an instrumental record, first of all, and that’s not unusual because I’ve put out sixteen of them (laughs), and countless DVDs and the like. But I’ve been a fan of Glenn’s for, I don’t know, forty years that he’s been making music. And you know that he’s always played bass and I, being a musician, always noticed that and thought that sounds great, that guy is always doing something, it’s important.
One of the things I noticed, besides the fact that we all noticed that he sings like crazy, he’s just a great vocalist, is that when you would see him and you’d listen to him, you would notice that the voice and the body and the bass playing all seemed to be a unified musical experience. It was like, that’s Glenn Hughes. You can’t really separate them. He seems to have this rock and soul element that are combined in a way that is completely unique to Glenn and his musicianship. So that’s what came to my mind when I was thinking about moving into a direction for the new album that was going to be rock and soul.
And immediately I thought of Chad and how much fun we’d been having with Chickenfoot and how I always picked up on the fact that those are part of our shared roots; kind of like being in the same age group and learning from that whole era of rock and funk and soul. It’s sort of in our DNA. I always noticed that with Glenn, so once it got in my mind that I was going to ask Chad to do the record, I thought, I need to find someone who is that other component that shares that same thing. And of course Glenn popped into my head right away. We’d never really worked together before, we just sort of knew each other from running into each other on tour around the world now and then. I think we’d only been onstage together once in the last five or six years. We did a Marshall anniversary show once and oddly enough played a Deep Purple song. But it was enough for me to remember the experience of just standing next to him, how soulful and relaxed he was onstage but what a superstar he was. And he just brought all of that to the session. It was difficult to not think, I should just make this an entire vocal record. But you can’t just do that on the fly because it takes a while to write great songs and you wouldn’t want to release crummy songs (laughs).
But I should point out that we have made a point, Glenn and I, to write songs together, to do it the right way, to spend several months seeing what we can come up with as a writing team for a complete vocal-oriented project. So I know that’s coming.
It could be like a companion almost to this or a part two
It would be great. Now I just have to get Chad to quit the Chili Peppers (laughs). That’s not going to happen.
I’m sure he has some time to take a break and come over and play with you
Yeah but then there’s Chad’s wife I have to deal with because the whole idea of taking a break means taking a break (laughs). Every time I call up, it’s like, she’s going to kill me cause I’m taking him away from home during his vacation (laughs).
Since this is an instrumental, for your songs, what is the biggest inspiration for you?
I suppose the idea that it’s a story and an inspiration from emotional experience that’s all kind of wrapped up into one thing. Some of them are very profound and based on personal tragedy, some based on observed tragedy, things happening around the world or across the street. Some of them are just general metaphysical questions. Some of them are just based on the physical experience, the joy of your body or simple pleasures, driving your car really fast, falling in love and everything from eating to sex and everything in-between. I’m going to write a song about that. Whether it turns out to be something that I put on a record is another thing but I tend to be writing from the vantage point of what it’s like to be alive in this body today and what have been my experiences, all the way to silly daydreams, like Surfing With The Alien. It just popped into my head that all alien science-fiction movies have to do with them coming to eat us or kill us or something.And I thought, how come they don’t make a movie where the alien shows up and he’s bored and you meet him and he says, “Well, what do you guys do for fun here?” And the guy says, “Well, I’ll take you surfing.” And that was it. It was a daydream that took me about three seconds to realize in my head and I thought, well, I should write a song about that. That’s it. Keep it very simple and direct and see how you would put music to that to make people feel the excitement of that from not only the human’s point of view, of like, “Oh my God, I’ve just met an alien being and now we’re at the beach and surfing;” and then what would an alien think if he’d never seen oceans before.
It doesn’t make any sense and when I explain it to people they go, “What? You’re out of your mind!” (laughs) But sometimes I have to write a song about what I see in the news or I’m pouring my emotions about everyday life.We all go through good and bad times so I’ve written plenty of songs about that as well. But I’ve always thought the power of the instrumental is that the listener can ascribe their own story to it. If I write a love song that has a positive outcome to it and somebody uses it to commiserate a failed relationship, I’m not going to try to change their mind over it. And because there are no lyrics, the audience CAN change the meaning of the song to fit whatever it is they are going through. There have been hundreds of years of instrumental music, from epic music to what we call classical music to Jazz; people have been enjoying instrumental music for a very long time. Things have gotten very vocal these days, mainly because there are cameras and the camera hates instrumentals. They want singers looking right in the lens all the time (laughs). It’s changed the shape of what people think is the most vital form. For hundreds of years it’s been the instrumental music that has really created social change and brought us together and that has never been lost on me.Even as a kid growing up listening to all forms of music, I was always attracted to the instrumental form because there wasn’t anybody telling me what to think about the song through their lyrics.
I hear some rockabilly in “Headrush,” maybe psychotic rockabilly, but I hear a little bit of that in there. Am I way off base on that?
No, not at all. That song is a curious blend of American boogie mixed in with, because I grew up in New York, I call it country but obviously I’m sort of throwing a blanket term out there. I know people south of the Mason-Dixon Line will probably roll their eyes to hear somebody from Long Island say that (laughs). But yeah, when I brought that into the studio, I said, you know, this is like a high-powered boogie/ZZ Top/Van Halen kind of something.But then I said, you know,it has other elements of some of those southern rock bands that we’ve heard growing up, where you can tell in some part of the band, and in this case it’s the drums, is doing a real country shuffle. You called it rockabilly and it’s kind of like all the same. It’s basically from that era, the middle of the last century, the way that they interpret swing was very different than let’s say Chicago or New York Jazz swing. Of course the way the British interpret swing when they turned it into their version of rock & roll, like John Bonham or somebody like Ringo would interpret American swing and how they would bring it into rock & roll. It’s very interesting how different countries reflected what they thought was their version of authentic American blues and Jazz.
So yeah, I think there is like elements of Canned Heat and a lot of country swing that I don’t even know what the components are, the best components of it are, because I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of that kind of music. I was introduced to southern music by way of the southern rock bands of the late sixties and early seventies – Allman Brothers and stuff like that. Then of course the chord progression is very southern rock style, for that middle section. It’s a typical Joe Satriani sort of schizophrenic bi-polar boogie, where I always throw in a left turn and you’re not expecting that sort of country swing to come in.
What I have always found is that when the tempos of the song get to a point where they’re really fast, they just go that ten more clicks over fast to be really fast, that it allows the soloist to go into complete slow gear and sort of ride on top of the band that is going really fast. You can play slower things that are very emotional. The boogie part of the song has got a smile on it but when that solo section comes it’s somewhat melancholy. I like to do that. I always like to show two sides of the coin of a feeling.
The G3 is really a celebration. There is a lot of getting gear together and figuring out what songs to play and that can be difficult because you don’t have that much time. Every band plays just under an hour so it’s hard for us to get rid of 90% of our songs, just whittle it down to a short set. But that is so much fun. We walk onstage and we forget about us and our specific careers and suddenly just become friendly guitar players who just want to see how crazy we can get (laughs). Who can play the craziest thing? We just love that. We learn from it and it’s kind of nice to jump off our individual little career campaigns or to try to sell the new single or new record or whatever it is we’re trying to do. That’s what happens when the three of you stand next to each other and you suddenly realize, Oh, we’re just three comrades and the audience is freaking out because we’ve decided to drop all pretense and just jam in front of them. So that’s easy.
I think preparing for an album, doing an album, the most intense period is realizing that you have to stop working on the album. That drives me insane, because you’re never finished, you only abandon things. It’s like a painting or something. You can just keep working on it for the rest of your life but at some point you must walk away, even though you know artistically you’re not done, you have to accept that you’ll never be done with it artistically. When I play “Flying In A Blue Dream” for audiences on stages around the world, I’m continually working on each measure that I remember way back when in 1989 when I was recording that. I kept thinking, did I play that right? Did I do that a little bit more in the pocket? Should the vibrato be faster? Should I shorten the length of that note? I mean, I spend hours working on that.But I have to stop at some point because you can’t record forever. You work until your schedule and your budget says that’s it (laughs). Thankfully, I go out on tour and I can keep working on it. So every time I play those old songs, I’m very happy to have the opportunity to continue to work on them and see if I can get them better.
With the G3, you have Phil Collen coming in for the first time. How did that happen and why do you think he’s such a good fit for the G3?
I had the pleasure of working with Phil for the first time this past August. He was one of the stars that came in for my G4 Experience Camp and he just wowed the audience. He just made those campers so happy because he’s a really fantastic human being and he’s a fantastic musician and he had so much unique experience to pass on to the campers that the rest of us didn’t. He’s been in a superstar band for like thirty years and it’s amazing what he had to offer the campers in terms of advice and stories about experiences – everything from keeping your guitar in tune to what it’s like to walk out in front of 100,000 people every other night and put on a show and how to keep your musicianship and your gear together.
The biggest surprise for me was, it kind of validated what I thought, because I was thinking in my mind, I don’t know Phil Collen but I bet anybody who has been able to do what I’ve seen him do from afar, must have so much talent in reserve to be able to keep it together for so many decades and be so successful; he must have this reserve of extreme talent, organization, confidence. I thought, once we’re standing next to each other and we’ve got Paul Gilbert or Tommy Emmanuel, that he will surprise us. And he did. He turned out to be the kind of guy you could just whisper a couple of chord changes in his ear and he would just learn the song instantly, turn around with a smile on his face and join the rest of the band and we would play something and he would wow everybody just by playing stuff we never thought he was capable of.
And he loves it. He loves music, he loves guitar and I think he enjoys, like the rest of us do, we enjoy the fellowship of hanging around with other musicians who feel the same and have that same positive attitude and will do anything to include the audience in the fun. That’s an important thing. It’s not a private club (laughs). We’re all about sharing the experience with the audience.
What is the boldest thing you have ever done as a musician?
That’s a good question. I suppose every time I make one of those weird left turns. I followed up Surfing With The Alien with a record that had six vocal tracks. There were eighteen songs on Flying In A Blue Dream and six of them were vocal. That was an insane thing to do. In 1995, I released an eponymous album that was live in the studio. That was a very bold thing to do. Two years later – it was released in 2000 but in 1999 it was recorded – I recorded a Trans/Techno, I guess you’d have to call it, album, just myself and Eric Caudieux. That took everybody by surprise and drove my record company crazy (laughs). So every time I’ve done those things, I think those could be seen as bold. It didn’t seem to me. I mean, it seems like in a way they really weren’t.
But I think in all honesty, the most difficult thing to pull off was G3. In 1995, when I walked into my management’s office and I complained that, first of all, saying thank you, I’ve got a great career, I’ve toured the world and it’s really great, but how come I don’t ever get to play with anybody? So we sat down and thought, let’s develop something that allows me to play with people I respect and make it a regular thing. After a few hours, we had dreamed up the G3 concert experience.It took a year to convince other guitar players, their managers and promoters around the world that it was worth doing. Artists had always been told by their managers, whatever you do, don’t stand next to somebody who might play better than you (laughs). It’s like that old thing with Hollywood – never work with animals and children. They steal the show, right (laughs).
But I thought to myself, and I’ve always liked the idea of thinking contrarian for a moment to get perspective, I thought, I’m a music lover and if I saw a notice on my phone that said – well, when I was a young kid of course I didn’t have a phone (laughs) – but if I found out that Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck were going to be going on tour and they were coming to play at the Westbury Music Fair or the Uniondale Coliseum, which is around where I grew up, I would have been nuts! I’d be losing my mind to go see that show. And it would be the most important thing to me. I wouldn’t care about what they’re worried about because when I walk in there I probably already know who my favorite guy is but I don’t care. I love them all for just doing it and I’m waiting for that experience of being in the audience and sharing the excitement with the fans and the musicians.
So that concept took a very long time to convey to the artists that I decided to invite. I was sort of dead set on Steve Vai and Eric Johnson being the first. The first thing they said was, “You’re crazy! You don’t want to do that.” (laughs) Like, who is going to play better every night and there’s going to be this competition. And I said, “Yes, of course. That’s how we’re going to make each other play better every night.” I would keep telling them the same thing: “Don’t worry about it.” I’d tell Eric, “Look, there are people in the audience, they love you and there is nothing I can play that will ever make them say, ‘You know what, I don’t like him anymore. I’ve decided I like Joe.’” (laughs). It’ll never happen. I said, “Your fans are your fans. Steve’s fans are Steve’s fans and my fans are my fans. BUT, they are completely willing and capable of liking all three of us, and being so thankful that we’ve decided to show up and play next to each other and to show them things that we never get to show them when we’re doing our albums, you know.” And it turned out to be right but it took that first gig.
Have you ever played with Jeff Beck?
You know, I have never actually shared the stage with him. I’ve shared the backstage jamming room with him on several occasions. We came close, though.There was one year where Billy Gibbons and Jeff Beck were like 90% sort of penciled in on doing a G3 and then one thing or another happened and they decided to take another offer to do something else. But I still think there is quite a few combinations out there that would be an unbelievable experience for them and the audience would lose their mind. I keep asking Eddie Van Halen to come out and do one. His fans would go crazy because they can’t get enough of him and they would love to see him step out of the Van Halen unit and show everybody all the other stuff he can play, cause he’s such a complete musician. He’s got so many sides to him that we never hear. But whatever, not everyone is cut out for G3, you know. Some people are not comfortable standing next to other guitar players and I respect that. It doesn’t bother me.
What can you tell us about Beyond The Supernova?
It’s a documentary written, directed and edited by my son, who goes by ZZ Satriani, which is short for Zachariah Zane. You know, I sort of roped him into it.He’s a young filmmaker in LA, he’s twenty-five years old and a year ago I invited him to just come out again, cause he’d been touring with us since he was four years old. I said, “Why don’t you come to Europe, have a vacation, bring your camera. I think I need some background footage for a live DVD.” So basically what happened was over the course of six months the idea for the live DVD became less attractive to everybody but I still wanted to do something with the footage that he got because it seemed to have a life of it’s own.He started to also feel like there was a story that needed to be told.
It was so interesting to work with him and have him pry secrets out of me (laughs), and we realized that there was this narrative to what was happening, which was the end of the Shockwave Supernova tour, the coincidence that we were also celebrating thirty years of Surfing With The Alien and the fact that I was struggling artistically with how to break free from all of that so I could create a new album, which turned out to be What Happens Next. So he found and created and shaped and molded this narrative.He came out with us on our very last leg of that tour, which was going through Asia, and what he captured was a very unique glimpse through a son’s eyes his father’s artistic struggle and artistic triumphs and just good fun out on the road playing for people from Europe to Asia that leads to the next step, to me struggling with issues of having an alter ego, to have me walk through public life when I’m really kind of a shy, retiring type of person. Anyway, it is a one hour documentary. It’s beautifully shot and edited, he has his own unique style that you just have to see it; great performances by the band – Bryan Beller on bass, Mike Keneally on keyboards and guitar, and Marco Minnemann on drums – and you get to see behind-the-scenes of touring as well as concert footage. Steve Vai and Guthrie Govan make an appearance as well as a bunch of other notables. On the Facebook page you can find the trailers that we had put together. You know, these projects take a long time, longer than albums, it’s crazy. Anything to do with TV or movies, it’s crazy. I don’t know how those guys do it. I’m so used to being able to write a song and then go out onstage and play it (laughs).
Oh I think everybody does. It just manifests itself in a different way. You know, I remember reading about Joan Baez, an icon, right. I’ve seen her play before and I’ve never seen her mess anything up. She sings great, she plays great, she rarely looks at her fingers on the guitar. I’ve marveled at that. When she walks out to do it, I mean, wow, it’s like decades and decades of her really being great. But then what I found out was that she has such stage fright that she would throw up sometimes right before walking out onstage, which is terrible for your voice and she’s got a beautiful voice. Other people don’t do that. They’ll have a couple of shots of whiskey or tequila or something and that’s their, what the Italians call their coraggio, they need a little courage before they go out there because it’s kind of nerve-racking; and for some people it’s debilitating and they just give up.
And then other people, like me, we love it but we’re also petrified at the same time. It’s one of those things that I think I’ve always struggled with. Even if I go to a concert. I remember when I was a young kid, the thought of going to a concert would make me nervous, not because I’d be seeing the band but because I’d be standing around 8,000 people. Just the thought of that would make me kind of nervous because I was more comfortable with a couple of friends rather than being around 8,000 strangers (laughs). So you can imagine when your love of music and making music onstage suddenly is conflicted with this idea like, Oh damn, there are 8,000 people staring at me! But almost every performer has some form of it – some people just get cold hands or they get very meticulous with making sure everything is right that they drive everybody crazy who works for them.
But I do know some people who it doesn’t faze them at all. They get nervous about other things, like they can’t talk in front of a small audience. That’s what makes them nervously stumble on words or something. But once they put the guitar on, they’re like gods.I think as human beings, there is always something that gets us, something that doesn’t feel right to us. But sometimes I think it’s kind of a protective mechanism, like having a healthy fear of heights. It stops you from falling off things. Or a healthy fear of going too fast, whether it’s a bicycle or motorcycle or car, whatever, at some point your natural instincts say, this could be dangerous. And fear kicks in and it reminds you that perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it. In a way I think that’s all it is. It sends a message, let’s say, to the musician that maybe you should check your tuning, your strap, make sure your fly is up (laughs). You’ve checked for pieces of food on your face or whatever. It’s just like, get it together because when you walk out there it’s serious business and people are going to take pictures (laughs).
Has it ever stopped you?
No, no, and I don’t know why. I’m like a glutton for punishment, you know. One of the things I really don’t like is I don’t like television. That drives me crazy because when you appear on television you relinquish all control. When I go out onstage, I have my entire crew and band with me, everything is set up for me, everybody does everything for me. So I have this feeling of calm about me because I know the people I work with are fantastic and they’re always looking out after me and they’ve arranged everything so that I’m comfortable. But when you get invited to do, let’s say, Jimmy Fallon or something like that, it’s their world. You show up and they go, “Hey, you’ve got to stand here and you can’t move because there’s no place to go and you can’t play through your amp because we don’t have any place for it so you have to play through something you’ve never played before; wear this mic because he might talk to you, or he might not.” And the band may have just learned your song like forty-five minutes before the show. It’s nerve-racking cause you relinquish all control. And you realize, wow, anything can happen, and it always does; something always happens when I do TV that I would never allow to happen on my show. But that’s TV.
I remember playing with Chickenfoot on Conan O’Brien and I was playing with a stereo system at the time and we went up after rehearsal to the control room and I told the guys, “I have a stereo system so make sure that the two mics are panned left and right. Don’t sum them together, otherwise it’ll be out of phase and it will sound very thin.” And they said, “We got it, Joe. Don’t worry about it. We got it.” I play the show, after the show we jump on Sammy’s plane, we fly back to San Francisco and I walk in the door just in time to turn on the TV and there I am playing on the show and my guitar is out of phase. And I thought, that wouldn’t happen if my guy was there. He would immediately say, “You’ve got Joe’s guitar out of phase.”
And here’s another one. The last time I did the Jimmy Fallon Show, all great guys, The Roots, an amazing band to play with, right. So right before we are just about to go on, a guy comes up with a little live mic and he puts it on and he goes, “You’ve got to wear this mic just in case Jimmy wants to talk to you, alright.” He’s having a hard time getting this thing to attach to my leather jacket. I have no idea why he can’t do it but he goes, “Yeah, it’ll be fine.” So we’re just standing around waiting and then all of a sudden we hear, “We’re going live, let’s go.” They count off the song and as soon as they count off the song, the mic falls. Not only does it fall off my lapel but it goes in-between my guitar strings. So I’m thinking, okay, I have a couple of bars here cause my part on the guitar doesn’t come in with the band. I’m supposed to wait like six bars or eight bars before I start playing.
So I think to myself, I can probably dig the microphone out of my strings before my part. I looked up to see where the camera was and I saw the boom camera way on the other side of the theatre, which is sort of off to my left, the way the theatre is arranged. So I’m thinking, I bet the camera is not on me. It’s at the audience, they’re looking at Jimmy, so I’ll do it. I fish it out, takes about five or six seconds, I get the pin back on my lapel and I’m right there in time to start playing. Okay, so we’re in New York City, and later that evening I’m back in my hotel room, I turn on the show and what do you see on camera? As soon as the show starts you see a picture of me, the whole band is playing but Joe Satriani is like fidgeting with something (laughs). And I thought, this is what happens every time!And I thought, I’m never doing this again. It’s too nerve-racking.
Live photographs by Marc Lacatell