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Joe Satriani

The tutor to the stars, in respects to his teaching to subsequent rock axemen; STEVE VAI, Kirk Hammett (of METALLICA), David Bryson (COUNTING CROWS) and Larry LaLonde (PRIMUS) are among his more famous ex-pupils, six-string maestro SATRIANI has played in various classic-rock outfits, G3, DEEP PURPLE and supergroup CHICKENFOOT. “Instrumental” in bringing a refined audience to the world of hard rock, conventional song structures and strong melodies were given just as much emphasis as the, admittedly impressive, soloing and flying-fingered technicality. Possibly overlooked and taken for granted by his peers and critics at Rolling Stone’s awkward “100 Greatest Guitarists” (KEITH RICHARDS was No.4, and PAUL SIMON: No.93) the “Satch” surely should’ve been Top 30.
Born Joseph Satriani, July 15, 1956, Westbury, New York (although he was raised in nearby Carle Place in Long Island), Satch was shocked and inspired enough by the death of JIMI HENDRIX, in 1970, to drop his drum-kit and his future as a promising (American) footballer, to take up the guitar.
Having taught the aforementioned VAI, and encouraged by many of his proteges in his new Berkeley, California abode (he moved there in 1978), SATRIANI supplemented his day job as a teacher by teaming up with San Francisco combo, The Squares, and, in turn, the GREG KIHN BAND; this mid-80s era also unearthed his “untitled” vinyl debut 12” EP and his first full-set, NOT OF THIS EARTH (1986) {*7}. Totally instrumental and augmented by producer/musician John Cuniberti and drummer Jeff Camptitelli, the record introduced SATRIANI as more then just another fret-board acrobat; the towering title track, the tempered `Rubina’, the STEVE HACKETT-like `Memories’, `Brother John’ and `Hordes Of Locusts’, widened his spectrum and ability to perform outside the claustrophobic confines of his “classroom”.
So it was then, that SATRIANI attracted conventional rock fans and guitar freaks alike. The follow-up effort, SURFING WITH THE ALIEN (1987) {*8}, climbed into the Top 30, a remarkable and unique feat for an instrumental opus. A master of mood, SATRIANI’s forte was his ability to segue smoothly from grinding jazz-tinged raunch rock like `Satch Boogie’ into the beautiful lilt of `Always With Me, Always With You’; mainstay Stuart Hamm (bass) had been added to his growing studio entourage.
FLYING IN A BLUE DREAM (1989) {*8} developed this approach, a flawless album which took in everything from dirty, ZZ TOP-like boogie (`Big Bad Moon’ and `The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing’) to the PRINCE-esque white funk (`Strange’) as well as the obligatory ballad (the corny yet heartfelt, `I Believe’), careering guitar juggernauts (`Back To Shalla-Bal’) and even a back-porch banjo hoedown: `The Phone Call’. The album also introduced SATRIANI the singer, and as might be expected, his vocal talents didn’t quite match his celebrated axe skills. Nevertheless, it was a brave attempt to advance even further down the song-centric route and his vox did have a certain sly charm, although the most affecting tracks on the album remained the new-agey efforts where SATRIANI was talking through his instrument; just listen to the likes of `The Forgotten’ (parts 1 & 2), and lie back and melt!
A long-awaited fourth effort, THE EXTREMIST (1992) {*7} almost cracked UK Top 10 (Top 30 in America) and consolidating SATRIANI’s reputation as one of the foremost fusion fusiliers of his era. His ability to explore new territories in the field of folk, jazz, blues and hard-rock were served best by classy examples such as `Rubina’s Blue Sky Happiness’, `Why’, `New Blues’ and `Summer Song’. Follow on double-disc, TIME MACHINE (1993) {*7}, collected rare and previously released material from his debut EP, with a smattering of new studio tracks, alongside a concert disc of his best live performances.
His fifth album proper was eventually released in the form of the eponymous JOE SATRIANI (1995) {*5}, a set that was a million miles from the guitarist’s filler stint with classic rock combo, DEEP PURPLE; he declined an offer to join full-time. Fusion jazz and blues was in full swing on this radio-friendly record, the guitar virtuoso exploring melody and the mainstream on `(You’re) My World’, `Cool #9’ and the soaring `Down, Down, Down’; seasoned sessioners Manu Katche (drums), Nathan East (bass) and ANDY FAIRWEATHER LOW (rhythm guitar) supplied the backing.
On the back of the previous year’s G3: LIVE IN CONCERT {*7} (an album shared with fellow guitarist stormtroopers STEVE VAI and ERIC JOHNSON), once stalwart retainers, Hamm and Campitelli, were back in place for 1998’s CRYSTAL PLANET {*7}. A welcome return to the all-instrumental inventiveness of his late 80s works, the transatlantic Top 50 set – his last to achieve that status – deepened his balance between hard rock, jazz rock and sharp pop; `Raspberry Jam Delta-V’, `Up In The Sky’ and the title track were its best exponents.
While this record further explored the parameters of his own unique sonic territory, ENGINES OF CREATION (2000) {*5} found SATRIANI gamely attempting to translate his six-string alchemy into an electronic framework. As with JEFF BECK’s recent plunge into the digital age, the album worked best when the guitar components went with the electronic flow rather than trying to stem it. The obligatory LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO (2001) {*6} was recorded at that city’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium, and while SATRIANI may have been just the latest in a long line of artists to have cut albums there, he proved that his talent was one of the more unique to have graced that stage. As good a primer as any for the uninitiated, it drew liberally from the cream of his studio work, although there were no sneak previews of 2002’s STRANGE BEAUTFUL MUSIC {*5}, wherein the fret-master dabbled in ethnic sounds and elements of electronica to middling success.
Another G3 LIVE: ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD (2004) {*5} – shared this time with VAI and YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – was just the ticket for his hardcore hard-rock contingent, fans who tipped their wigs to a couple of JIMI HENDRIX numbers (`Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ and `Little Wing’, plus the title track a la NEIL YOUNG. 2005’s G3: LIVE IN TOKYO {*5} substituted Yngwie for JOE PETRUCCI, although this format was wearing as thin as Joe’s shaved head.
IS THERE LOVE IN SPACE? (2004) {*6}, SUPER COLOSSAL (2006) {*6}, PROFESSOR SATCHAFUNKILUS AND THE MUSTERION OF ROCK (2008) {*5} and the prog-addled BLACK SWANS AND WORMHOLE WIZARDS (2010) {*5}, sold moderately enough to chart domestically, albeit overshadowed critically by concert double sets: the Euro-only SATRIANI LIVE! (2006) {*7}, LIVE IN PARIS: I JUST WANNA ROCK (2010) {*6} and SATCHURATED: LIVE IN MONTREAL (2012) {*6}. In the intervening years, Joe was slightly perturbed with alt-pop Messrs COLDPLAY, who allegedly infringed copyright on his 2004 song, `If I Could Fly’, for their chart-topping `Viva Le Vida’ hit, of ’08, however, a settlement was reached without too much fuss and bother.
Expectations were again on a high after his work with superband, CHICKENFOOT (led by SAMMY HAGAR), and there was no disappointment on the Satch’s unlucky-for-some 13th studio album, UNSTOPPABLE MOMENTUM (2013) {*7}. Suggesting to fans and critics alike his 56 years on the planet wasn’t going to curtail his elasticated guitar licks, Joe swung into action on bluesy boogie trips: `Three Sheets To The Wind’, `Jumpin’ In’, `Lies And Truths’ and the storming title track.
2015’s SHOCKWAVE SUPERNOVA {*7} reunited Satch with producer John Cuniberti, while his resident usual suspects Mike Keneally (keyboards), Chris Chaney (bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) had to share album credits with the rhythm team of Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann (both of The ARISTOCRATS). A Top 50 seller on both sides of the Atlantic, the guitar maestro was allowed freedom and space on sonic-rock fusion instrumentals, best served by way of `Lost In A Memory’, `On Peregrine Wings’ and the intricate title track.
Calling upon old muckers from CHICKENFOOT (drummer Chad Smith) and BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION (bassist GLENN HUGHES), maverick guitar virtuoso JOE SATRIANI emboldened his space-age instrumental rock appeal for transatlantic Top 50 album, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT (2018) {*7}. In this hard-rock fusion record (tinted with a side-serving of jazz), there was no shortage of ideas, frenzied fingerpicking and erudite licks; pick of the bunch:- `Energy’, `Thunder High On The Mountain’ and the blistering `Headrush’.
Swapping one “Chickenfoot” for another when drummer Kenny Aronoff filled Chad’s vacancy; bassist Chris Chaney in for Hughes; keyboardist Eric Caudieux reinstated, the superb SATRIANI fired from the hip again with the otherworldly 18th album, SHAPESHIFTING (2020) {*7}. A masterful and inventive instrumental record, co-produced by Jim Scott, that saw the maestro extend his horizons from fiery fusion rock (`Ali Farka, Dick Dale, An Alien And Me’) to blistering boogie (`Perfect Dust’), our man Joe twisted and twanged his strings to the max. The opening title track was equally breath-taking, whereas a spot at the piano for former PRINCE affiliate Lisa Coleman (WENDY & LISA) slowed the pace down with the sedate, `Waiting’. Single selection, `Nineteen Eighty’, built up a head of steam again, whilst actor Christopher Guest (star of Spinal Tap) performed acoustic mandolin on the infectious finale, `Yesterday’s Yesterday’, without turning the dials up to 11.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS May2013-Apr2020

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