Buyer’s Guide: How to buy the best of Joe Satriani
The guitar hero’s out-of-this-world albums have dazzled and inspired for three decades, and we pick the best of the bunch
He’d grown up in Westbury, New York, and was a drummer initially, yet resolved to become a professional guitarist on the day Jimi Hendrix died – September 18, 1970. Steeped in the lore of Hendrix, Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and jazzier heroes like Wes Montgomery, he headed to California to stake his musical claim, giving lessons to a litany of now-famous players – Kirk Hammett, Alex Skolnick and his friend Steve Vai among them. His first proper group, power pop trio The Squares, are still well worth seeking out on YouTube, but he was destined to be a solo star.
Hard to believe, but Satch turned 60 this year. In the past three decades he’s become one of the modern era’s true axe heroes, rated by both widdlers and civilians alike. His guitaristic tics and fret-melting heroics – the devastatingly fast legato lines, whammy bar antics and mind-bending picking – have become part of the instrument’s vernacular, and while he’s often lazily lumped in with the shredbots, his musicianly qualities elevate him onto a higher plane: sheer invention, masterful tonal control, achingly human articulation and an unerring ear for melody. For all the fireworks, Satriani’s a songwriter first.
With 14 Grammy nominations to his name, he’s joined the likes of Jeff Beck in contributing to the resurgence of instrumental rock as a legitimate thing, and he’s prolific with it. Amid the regular touring, the guitar clinics, the guest slots with Deep Purple, Jagger et al, he’s made 15 studio albums (one every two years, give or take), a host of live records (many documenting his star-studded G3 guitar tours with Vai, John Petrucci, Robert Fripp, Eric Johnson etc) and two sets with The Little Supergroup That Could – Chickenfoot.
Just one ’Foot LP makes our guide, because Satriani is ultimately a star in his own right, a lone wolf who’s very comfortable centre stage. He may not shift the units he did back in those days of free credit cards (who does?) but he’s still out there, playing his ‘strange beautiful music’ on his own terms, communicating in a language others struggle to mimic, one that uncommonly large numbers of fans want to hear. Not of this earth indeed.
Essential - Satriani’s classic albums
Surfing With The Alien (1987)
The bedrock of any Satch selection. With over two million units shifted, it’s his Led Zeppelin IV, his Electric Ladyland, his Wired, and it lays out most of his trademark moves early. Listen to the chunky phrasing on the title track, and its speedy, beautifully executed ‘solo’.
The crunchy Ice 9 might be even better, showing off his chops and use of tonal colour, and he’d never leave a venue alive if he didn’t knock out upbeat signature rocker Satch Boogie or the Grammy-nominated Always With Me, Always With You, whose hummable melody is gorgeous, its fingertapped sequence a highlight of every show.