Guitar wiz Joe Satriani says he initially thought he’d become a drummer. But when he discovered the late, great Jimi Hendrix, he decided he’d rather play guitar.
“After three years [of drum lessons], I knew I wasn’t destined to be a good drummer because I couldn’t get all four limbs to work together at the same time,” says Satriani, who plays Hard Rock Live at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 10, in a recent phone interview. “During that time off from trying to be a drummer, I was getting into the music of my siblings. I was a Hendrix fanatic. The day he died, I decided to be a guitarist. I was getting used to the idea that the guitar was way cooler than the drums. You could play it on your own. I remember thinking I should get my hands on one as soon as possible. He provided me with that courage to put up with that noise I made when starting out. Hopefully, you’re slightly deaf to that when you start out because everyone starts out poorly.”
Initially, Satriani found work as an instructor to help make ends meet.
“I started playing professionally almost immediately,” he says. “We were playing high school dances and battles of the bands. The other kids would see me play and they started asking for lessons. I thought it would be a good way to pick up money for stings. I thought it was normal to teach. I got in the spirit of things very easily.”
One of his first students was shredder Steve Vai, a guy who’s gone to have a successful career.
“It reminded me of what my mother had said, namely that these young super talents are fertile minds waiting to be simulated,” says Satriani. “It’s a crime when they’re not educated. When teaching kids, I realized they would be able to play faster and better than all the previous musicians and the meaning of life came crashing down on me. I suppose the spirit that my mom had instilled in me was that it was a cool thing to help nurture young talent.”
With his first album, 1986’s Not of this Earth
, Satriani decided to go against the grain. While the instrumental songs enabled Satriani to show off his chops, they also show off Satriani’s tendency to want to be different for the sake of being different.
“My co-producer was also my engineer — it was just the two of us doing most of the record,” he says. “He was my live sound engineer for tis power pop trio the Squares that I was in. We had experience in the studio and we were trying to compete with other bands. I finally said, 'Screw trying to fit in. Forgot about getting a record deal. I don’t have to answer to anybody.' That’s what we did. We did things different on purpose. If we heard that this amp was the best amp, we would use the other amp. Everyday in the studio was an invention.”
Dubbed Surfing to Shockwave, Satriania’s current tour offers a 30-year career retrospective of his back catalogue, though he promises set list will also include some “gems” pulled from the Satriani Songbook which may not have ever been performed live, or in some cases, for a very long time. Expect to hear hard rock instrumentals such as “Big Bad Moon,” “Friends,” “Crystal Planet,” “Not of this Earth,” “Luminous Flesh Giants” and “If I Could Fly.”
"[The tour] wasn’t my idea, but it’s 30 years since we released Not of this Earth
, which came out in 1986,” he says. “I wasn’t keeping track of it. The other guys said it’s 30 years, and I think that our friends and promoters around the world were keen on getting us to do an ‘evening with’ style show. We own the stage from the first song to the last. This allows us to play a lot more material, and I think the fans really appreciate it.”
The tour also gives Satriani the opportunity to show his support for Little Kids Rock
, an organization that benefits music programs in schools.
"It’s a great charity run by some really special people who have hit upon a perfect formula for fixing a problem and filling a need in schools today," he says. "Communities have had education systems that have suffered budget cuts. This is devastating. We need to be able to express ourselves physically and artistically. Sometimes when you take on the whole thing at once, you’re in a political mess. Little Kids Rock went into one specific direction. They wanted to get guitars in the hands of students right away. We go from community to community and get guitars into the classrooms. That’s what we do. It’s a great program. If anyone wants to help out, every dollar counts.”