GUITARIST JOE SATRIANI DISCUSSES WHAT INSPIRED HIM TO PLAY GUITAR AND BEING A GUITAR TEACHER TO STUDENTS SUCH AS STEVE VAI, KIRK HAMMETT AND ALEX SKOLNICK
RS: What first inspired you to make sounds no one has ever made on guitar before?
JS: Hearing Jimi Hendrix as a little kid and falling in love with everything that he did on guitar rewired my basic nature. To me, that was a normal thing that you should do: you should strive to be as innovative as Hendrix. I would always think, “Well, how would Hendrix approach something like this?”
RS: I’ve never read any “Joe Satriani was so strung out” stories.
JS: [Laughs] I remember trying to smoke a cigarette and my body just rejected it. I couldn’t get hooked on cigarettes if I tried. But by the time all the other interesting substances were being presented to me, I just decided to stop trying things in fear that I might try it and I might like it. I was already crazy about music.
RS: As a guitar teacher, you’ve managed to coach some famous pupils, including Steve Vai, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Primus’ Larry LaLonde and Testament’s Alex Skolnick. Were you that good of a teacher or were you just lucky?
JS: I always thought I was the luckiest guitar teacher ever. I did have just a lot of great students. You’d have Larry come in, and he would say, “Man, listen to these songs we’re writing. How do you play over that? What kind of a solo can I do?” He was such an interesting student, as were Kirk and Alex. They had great technical facility, which made teaching them really great because you could show them something and six days later they had it down.
RS: What about Steve Vai?
JS: You couldn’t make a Steve Vai [laughs]. That’s a one-in-a-billion type of personality that comes out together with an incredible talent facility. You grow it; you help them grow it. Hopefully, it matures and they don’t hit any roadblocks along the way.
How did Kirk grow as a guitarist in the time you worked with him?
JS: He had a very interesting thing going on. He was in Exodus at the time we started lessons and, then all of a sudden, he got into Metallica, and they were making a record and they were on tour. So he would come in with stuff that was going to be on the Metallica records. He had a real need to get things figured out. He was totally into [Scorpions and UFO guitarist] Michael Schenker and Hendrix and stuff like that, but it didn’t really apply to what he was writing with James [Hetfield] and Lars [Ulrich], and I really was there to show him the possibilities and then sit back and watch it turn into something. He loved it. He would say, “Lay it on. Give me as much information to choose from as possible,” and then he would go on and make his own decision about it and how to apply it. And the guys in the band must have encouraged it as well, because all that stuff wound up on the records and it was so cool to hear it.
RS: What did you learn from touring with Mick Jagger in 1988?
JS: He was so professional. He wasn’t a taskmaster. He didn’t try to control everybody. He liked to bring people into the band that would surprise him. Just sitting down with him when he’d pick up an acoustic guitar and start playing, I was just amazed at what a natural musician he was. I realized at that time that he brought just a ton of stuff besides being a great showman; he was a deep musician and that was evident during the rehearsals. He was just so into the audience; he would do anything to make it a good show and that, to me, is so important. That shows the true mettle of a great artist, that they surrender themselves to the audience and want the audience to have a great time. And then, after the show, he wanted to celebrate with everyone.
RS: Were you worried about taking that gig so early in your career? It was a controversial tour, because Mick refused to do a Stones tour and Keith Richards was doing his own tour at the time.
JS: I was so out of the whole thing that I didn’t really realize what it was all about. I was so on the fringe of music that I didn’t concern myself with it. I wasn’t reading Rolling Stone magazine. That was for successful people [laughs]. And so I just didn’t think about it.
RS: What have you taken from Chickenfoot into your solo career?
JS: The same thing I took from the experience with Jagger and Deep Purple: people are the most important thing. With Chickenfoot, we all showed up for a silly, Sammy Hagar celebrity jam, just to have fun. We were shocked that there was something else to it. No one wanted to be the first one to say it, because it was too corny: “Man, that was great. We should be in a band.” But all of a sudden, it all came out of everybody’s mouth and that’s undeniable chemistry.
That chemistry is so important. When it happens, you’d be an idiot to walk away from it. I wrote two songs about it on my most recent album, Unstoppable Momentum, Jumpin’ In and Jumpin’ Out. Sometimes you just have to jump into things, because it’s so obvious it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment. And then there are times when you have to jump out, when you realize this is too much; this isn’t going anywhere.
Read the entire interview at Rolling Stone.
On April 22nd, the guitarist released, Joe Satriani: The Complete Studio Recordings, a 15 CD library box set.