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Under The Influence: Joe Satriani

The technical guitar virtuoso discusses how the blues taught him about feel, heartbreak and the breathtaking magic of imperfection.

When I was taking bebop lessons many years ago from Lennie Tristano, he had me do this exercise where I would bring in a record and sing the melody, scat sing the solo note-for-note and sing the rest of the melody of the song.

His reasoning was that if I just learnt to play it I would be stuck with playing that version, but by doing this exercise I got the spirit of the music into my body so I could experience it and then go play my own stuff. It’s the same with the blues. When you hear Rollin’ Stone by Muddy Waters you know there is so much to experience rather than just studying and learning the music. The most profound realisation of the blues early on for me came from my older brother. He was getting into playing harmonica so I’d hear him playing blues harp. I’d just started playing guitar and I was focused on mid-to-late 60s rock and was learning Black Sabbath, Hendrix and the Stones. All of a sudden I was hearing my brother playing John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. I was fascinated by that. Once that was awakened to me I realised I had listened to a lot of blues without realising. The first time I sat down and listened to John Lee Hooker I realised this is the golden source of Hendrix, Page and Clapton, it was what they must have been listening to. I remember saying I had to find out what this was and I’d sit down and try to play along to John Lee Hooker. I had to find out what the mystery and the voodoo behind the timing and groove of it was. Today, the blues remains more often than not the basis to my phrasing and playing, I always refer back to the blues.

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