Joe Satriani, then and now: Guitar star revisits questions from 1996 interview
Consistency has long been a hallmark for Joe Satriani.
A veteran solo artist and former member of Deep Purple and the Greg Kihn Band, he is one of the rare rock guitar stars capable of bringing his intricate, technically demanding studio recordings to life on stage with exacting precision and fire.
The New York native has brought those same qualities to his collaborations with Mick Jagger, Todd Rundgren, Sammy Hagar and Pat Martino. His consistency is also showcased on his arresting new album, “What Happens next,” which teams him with two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees — Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith and former Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes.
Satriani’s four-month 2018 G3 world tour with fellow six-string virtuosos Phil Collen of Def Leppard and John Petrucci of Dream Theater includes a Saturday concert at San Diego’s Balboa Theatre. That makes this an opportune time to test his consistency in another way.
At the start of a recent interview, we asked Satriani to answer some of the same questions we asked him in 1996, shortly after the launch of the first G3 tour. That concert trek three decades ago teamed him with Eric Johnson and Steve Vai, whose band then featured veteran San Diego guitar and keyboard wiz Mike Keneally.
By coincidence, since 2013 Keneally has been a member of Satriani’s band, which now also features two longtime Keneally band members. They are Bryan Beller on bass and Satriani band newcomer Joe Travers on drums.
“Mike is a genius guitar player and keyboard player,” Satriani said, laughing. “I realized that, with this group, I just joined Mike Keneally’s band!”
But back to the matter at hand: How do Satriani’s new responses compare with his responses to the same questions from 22 years ago? See for yourselves, then read his answers to some new questions. (For our new interview with fellow 2018 G3 performer Collen, click here.)
Q: What is the least and most you hope the G3 tour will accomplish?
Then: “I suppose this is one of those things where you get to have your cake and eat it too. We’re not only going to do improvisations and songs from our back catalog, but we’ll invite people to come up on stage to join us. And at the end of our set every night, Steve (Vai) and Eric (Johnson) will join (me), and that’s very unusual.”
Now: “Speaking for myself, I knew (back then) that — if I was in the audience — I would think it was the greatest show in the world if three of my favorite guitarists dropped their guards and celebrated their guitar playing with the audience. It’s something I never saw as a kid. People toured to promote their new album or single, and rarely got together on stage to jam …
“G3 is designed to celebrate the guitar. There is no act. I’m just standing next to two great guitar players at the end of the show and everybody becomes very humble and this enthusiasm takes over. It’s like we’re kids in a candy store just drooling to play off each other!”
Q: Is there any fear of “guitar overkill?”
Then: “Fear? I think it’s designed for guitar overkill! If people are not interested in guitar, they should not buy a ticket. This is for people who want to see and hear as much guitar as they can get. It kind of goes against the trend in some people’s eyes.”
Now: “Are you kidding? Anytime you go to see a band with a guitar player, there’s always a fear of guitar overkill! That’s a funny question. If you went to a Taylor Swift concert or a Jay-Z show, people would think: ‘Oh, my god, I hope I don’t get guitar overkill.’ People come to our show for guitar, and there can never be enough.”
Q: What was your first musical epiphany?
Then: “The first one probably was Jimi Hendrix, listening to “Purple Haze” on the radio. It was when I was still a drummer, when I was 9 or 10. It sounded completely different from any kind of music. It had a profound effect on me that — mentally — there was no way I could explain.”
Now: “Well I think the first one was more spiritual and visceral — the first time I heard Jimi Hendrix. I think it was ‘The Wind Cries Mary,’ which I heard coming over the family stereo system when I was 8 or 9. I felt like I was in some sort of weird Alfred Hitchcock film, staring at this big stereo system that looked like a piece of furniture in our family room! It sounded beautiful. I was transfixed, body and mind, as much as a young kid can be. I recall asking my older sibling: ‘What is that? Who is that? How is that possible? ‘It sort of changed my DNA all at once.”
Q: What was your most recent musical epiphany?
Then: “The most recent was on my last tour. I used to really like listening to the most recent Rage Against the Machine album (‘Evil Empire’), especially ‘People of the Sun.’ That song was just so perfect. When they came each night and told me I had three minutes before hitting the stage, that song was the perfect length to get me going. I really like that band.”
Now: “The most recent has been probably a little bit more down to earth and grown up. I was sitting in this theater in Mill Valley, about three months ago, at the premier of my son’s film ‘Beyond the Supernova.’ It’s a documentary about me and it includes some of the cathartic moments I was going through while finishing up my last tour in 2017. I had an epiphany of watching myself from a vantage point I’d never seen before.
“I was blessed to have my son, ZZ, doing it; he managed to pull nothing but the truth out of me. Put all that aside and you think how strange it is to watch a movie about some small, but important, part of your life. I learned something about myself that I didn’t think I could learn — about how much more free I am than I perceive I am while I’m in the middle of working and creating.”
Q: Can you complete the following sentences? In the right hands, a guitar can …
Then: “Sound really great.”
Now: “Change the world.”
Q: In the wrong hands, a guitar can …
Then: “Sound really great too!”
Now: “Change the world.”
Q: In my hands, the guitar can …
Then: “Only sound the way it sounds. I’ve come to know that’s the truth.”
Now: “Hopefully, inspire me. And, really hopefully, inspire someone else as well.”
Q: Thanks. Now, here are some new questions for you. Has Phil Collen, whose ‘Physical Mechanics’ workout video came out in 2012, invited you to join him for any of his intense workouts?
A: (laughing). “I think he took one look at me, and went: ‘Ugh!’ First of all, he’s probably seen me eat everything that’s around. And nothing is worse for a vegan than contemplating an omnivore. He’s not the only really fit one; John Petrucci is also into body building and could crush me!”
Q: When you look out from the concert stage, do you see young people, in addition to older fans who grew up with you?
A: “Yes. When we play an outdoor venue, you’ll see whole families — boys, girls, men and women — from kids to grandparents who somehow heard the music. … Think about how hard it is for artists who can never get a gig at an all-ages gig. Who goes to hear music in bars? People who can get into bars; people who drink. That’s a part of the industry that always used to bother me. Growing up on Long Island, at 16, I played in a lot of bars that I could never get into as a patron and then had to stand in the alley or basement between sets. I thought: ‘This is wrong. I’m playing music for my generation — and my generation can’t get in the door’.”
Q: The title track of your new album, ‘What Happens Next,’ sounds like a song that — without you having compromised — could get radio airplay. For someone in your specialized instrumental music field, does airplay still figure in the equation?
A: “I think it still does. If you and I sat down and compared the number of rock stations today, compared to when G3 started 22 years ago, we’d be shocked. The numbers have shrunk a lot. Certainly, streaming is most important because it’s worldwide, and we tour worldwide.
“Back in the day, concert promoters wanted to know the story behind a band. Meaning, what was happening at radio or MTV? And then, basically, they’d collate all the numbers to see if it was worth bringing an act to town. Today, the story is more complicated, but a lot more democratized. They can look at numbers more quickly on Spotify and Pandora, and see how many streams are happening for an artist, anywhere in the world.
“I still think radio is important. It’s not a good idea to discount an avenue of — I don’t want to say ‘promotion,’ so let’s say radio — just because there are less (stations and listeners). My analogy would be that it’s like when a band plays in a small town, in between shows in big cities, and thinks it’s not as important. That’s such a mistake. Every show is important! You do the best you can and try to get as many people as you can to hear your music.”
G3 2018, featuring Joe Satriani, Phil Collen and John Petrucci
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave., Gaslamp Quarter
Tickets: $37.75-$52.75, plus service charges
Phone: (800) 745-3000
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