So here’s a short feature in unashamed praise of one of music’s finest and most frequently marginalised talents. Rather than say a whole lot here about Joe Satriani, I’m going to allow the man to do what he does, so there’s a bunch of video clips below which showcase a few of my personal favourite Satriani moments – demonstrating his genius as a technician and, more pertinently, his skill as a songwriter and a musical artisan. There’s a fantastic article to be written about Satriani’s technical style, influences and musical legacy, but that’s not what I’m going for here. This is about sharing my personal enjoyment of Satriani’s music; my growing up and being influenced and inspired by the sheer joy of his musical output, and telling you fine people a little about it.
Just a few words though to introduce the man: New York-born Satriani began his career ostensibly in 1986 with his debut album Not of This Earth. Since then he has released some fourteen studio albums as well as series of collaborative works and live albums, and been nominated for fifteen Grammy awards – without ever winning one. Despite this considerable output, critical recognition and sales of more than ten million records, Satriani is still something of an item of the unknown and curious to many music lovers – remaining the preserve of the guitar-riff fanatic and resident of the backwater niche province of hardcore technical guitar players. Regularly overlooked and innocuously sidestepped in popular polls and compilations of ‘greatest’ musicians and guitarists, Satriani has somehow failed to convert his technical acumen and precocious skill into the wider acknowledgement that he perhaps deserves.
Satriani is often seen as a ‘virtuoso’ guitarist, but for me that’s a mildly pejorative label which ignores his more expansive skill as a song-writer, composer and producer. The songs below bear testament to far more than technical expertise being accomplished for the sake of exhibitionism. Satriani has not only a masterful controller of his craft, but his song-writing is frequently outstanding, featuring sweeping melodies, brilliant structures and at times, a simply stunningly, stunningly beautiful and profound understanding of exactly how the human mind responds to specific notes, chord progressions and combinations of sounds. There are times when, having listened to Satriani for more than 20 years, I forget that his songs have no lyrics (in the main): through his acute, intricate and incisive guitar work, many of his songs bleed together into some wonderfully strange and intransigent noise that speak as clearly to the listener as if they were packed full of lyrical verse.
Finally, praise should be offered here also to the many collaborators Satriani has worked with down the years. Despite his extraordinary talents, Satriani’s studio and live work has been more than ably abetted by the stellar musicians he has surrounded himself with; talents that have helped structure, shape, expand and evolve to his ‘sound’ throughout his many recordings. Due particular praise is Satriani’s long-time drummer Jeff Campitelli, whose flawlessly energetic, creative and sharp percussion has formed the rock-solid basis on which Satriani has been able to lay his exuberant notes on top of for more than a quarter of a century.
So, if you’re already a fan, sit back and enjoy some of his greatest works one more time – I hope you’ll enjoy watching this little collection as much I did when assembling it. If you’ve never heard of the man they call ‘Satch’, please take a few minutes to and immerse yourself fully in an astounding and rare talent. Throughout history, it has become evident through their talents, their works and their sheer feats in their respective fields that some people were simply placed on this planet to do certain things: Michelangelo painted, Shakespeare wrote and Einstein thought. Joe Satriani plays guitar, so listen up…
To kick off, here’s ‘Crushing Day’ from Satriani’s 1987 album Surfing with the Alien. I’ve decided to feature a live version here, just because the technical accomplishments exhibited are so extraordinary they really need to be seen to be believed. There’s a stunning level of energy in this track, an inescapably catchy melody, and generally, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Check out the original album version for a slightly more clinical and crisper rendition that’s also a wonderful experience.
When I mentioned earlier about Satriani’s songs at times transcending into utter beauty, this is what I mean. Probably his most profound piece of work, ‘Rubina’ is a delicate, sweeping symphony which features poignant cascades and apogees that are heartbreaking, irresistible and utterly arresting. Again, I’ve plumped for a 2001 live rendition here, in which Satriani and his band somehow managed to make the song possibly even more technically brilliant and emotionally overwhelming than the 1986 Not of This Earth album version; a short bass solo section by Stu Hamm in particular is a lovely addition that adds an another element and mood to the track.
The final track from 1987’s Surfing with the Alien, ‘Echo’ is one which again demonstrates Satriani’s peerless ability to compose a stunningly atmospheric and sublime piece of music, filled with technical marvels and melodic charisma. Haunting and melancholic, ‘Echo’ was a perfect way to end his sophmore album, fading away into the haze of time at its conclusion like a once powerful force slipping into entropy. Possibly my personal favourite Satriani track which conjures a wealth of nostalgic, poignant memories each time I listen to it.
One of Satriani’s better known tracks, ‘Always With Me, Always With You’ is another entry from Surfing with the Alien. There are a variety of live versions of this track online, so check them out for a slightly different take on the original; for me though, the studio original remains the rendition: at face value, it is such a simple concept, with a sweet, endearing melody which is crisp and clear with an uninhibited percussion which anchors the track. A beautiful piece where Satriani’s ability to compose uncomplicated, unfussy and powerful melody is at its zenith.
A live performance from his ‘Satchurated’ tour, this version of ‘Why’ really captures the essence of Satriani and his band as a working, living and functioning entity. The song has a great melody and pace, with some typically brilliant hooks and solo sections. The supporting cast is brilliant, and overall, this is just a great experience to listen to and watch.
Dripping with 1980s production traits and conventions, ‘The Snake’ is just a fantastically catchy, intricate piece which really captures Satriani’s style at the end of the decade. I challenge you to stop yourself humming this one about half an hour after you’ve listened to it.
Finally, here’s a clip of the man himself talking about his style and his work; a fascinating little glimpse inside a precocious artistic mind.