Joe Satriani Kory Grow of Rolling Stone interviewed guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani. Portions of the interview appear below.

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.


8 Responses

  1. Saw Joe in CT two weeks ago. Man, what a FUN and entertaining show. Can’t believe I waited 20+ years to finally see him. Will really make more of an effort in the future to see him again. A genuinely cool guy, ridiculous player. (BTW, his drummer is IN-SANE! As in GOOD!)

  2. When I first heard Joe, I thought he was good, but there was no way he could sustain a career doing instrumental albums and tours. I couldn’t believe the audience (other than guitar players) would be there to sustain it. Then again, I also thought Metallica would never take off because they seemed heavy but not at all melodic. I thought they were just heavy with bad vocals.
    This concludes today’s lesson on why I know absolutely nothing about anything.
    Thank you.

  3. Joe had a little of something most of the other instrumental guitarists didn’t have, and that was a sense of how to make catchy and interesting melodies, and draw you in with just his guitar. Yet he still wove in cool technique and strange chord progressions that you wouldn’t normally put in rock songs. That’s pretty unique, and I can’t think of any other guitar instrumentalist besides Vai, that has been that successful at bridging that gap. I’ll put Paul Gilbert in there too, but he never really broke that barrier.

    I knew when I heard Surfing way back in ’88, that there was something big hidden in there.

    On the downside, is that it birthed a zillion guitar instrumentalist dudes that could play the notes, and copped the techniques, but completely missed all the musicality and heart of doing something unique. I’m guilty of that, since my first attempts at releasing albums 11 years ago sound like 2nd rate Satriani… Bad idea.

    1. I think *nearly* every artist (musical, visual, etc) is their own harshest critic….at least you put your stuff out there (assuming that’s what you mean by releasing albums). Maybe to you it was 2nd rate Satch but to someone else it was cool. Better to have jumped and fallen than never jumped and wondered if you could. Sounds like you hit a roadblock and mistook it for a brick wall when you should have just kicked over that block and kept running.

    2. Mike, I think you really nailed the “secret” to Joe’s success. The man just writes good songs that happen to contain great technical guitar playing, but done in such a way that still has good melodies and dynamics. Most of his songs are structured the same way that most “normal” songs are – with a verse and chorus melody, a solo break that’s normally not overly excessive, and then back to the core of the song – it just happens to be all done with the guitar instead of a singer. Compared to many super guitarist’s instrumentals, Joe’s are very accessible to the non-guitar player as well as other players. I’ve been a fan of his since I heard Surfing, and to tell you the truth these days I buy his albums as much or more so because I enjoy the songs as a whole rather than just wanting to be blown away by stellar technical guitar playing. I guess what I’m trying to say in other words is that Joe Satriani is a true musician rather than a technical demonstration. That he has been able to maintain the level of success he has based predominantly on solo instrumental records, in my opinion, he gets my vote for the greatest rock guitarist of his time.

    3. Agree 100%….The first taste I got was “Flying In A Blue Dream”. I never knew Rock music without vocals could still capture your attention until I heard that title track, and it’s still one of my favorite pieces of music (not just from Joe). Then I picked up “Surfing” and from that moment on I’ve been a fan and follower, especially of the stuff he’s done with Chickenfoot.

  4. He’s definitely one of a kind. He’s always done his own thing no matter how in or out (mostly out) of fashion it was. His music isn’t for everyone but you got to give the guy respect. Personally, I listen to his albums frequently. I listened to Flying In A Blue Dream a couple of days ago and it’s as great now as it was when I heard it for the first time close to 25 years ago.

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