As consistent an art as jazz and classical music have been throughout the years, these genres have by no means been sustained by their prominence in pop culture. Their formulas never remixed similar to the recent metamorphosis of rock and roll. The same could be said for the industry of instrumental music and in particular the instrumental guitar. From Les Paul and Wes Montgomery to more current guitar virtuosos Eric Johnson and Steve Vai, their careers though underground and underrated, have continued as a constant and stable force in music.
Now 52, Westbury, New York’s guitar master Joe Satriani is still enjoying the benefits of his over 20 year career in the business. Once recruited as Mick Jagger’s lead guitarist for his first solo tour in 1988 as well as by legendary rockers Deep Purple in 1994, he is best known for his instrumental rock guitar career. The 1996 creation of G3, an on-going concert tour which features himself and two other floating guitarists, has had Satch working alongside Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Eric Johnson and other giants of the six-string orchestra. These highly successful tours have remained a guitar players Disneyland.
From his breakthrough album “Not Of This Earth” in 1986 and subsequent chart-topper “Surfing With The Alien” in 1987, Satriani has continuously sold successful records to the tune of over 10 million to date. His twelfth and most current release “Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock” was released in April of this year. When asked in our recent interview how he approaches song writing he states, “It’s like a poet writing a poem about his subject or a songwriter who concentrates on lyrics. I’m writing about something real.“
The tour supporting the album teams Satch up with legendary bassist Stu Hamm, drummer Jeff Campitelli and additional guitarist/tour manager Galen Henson. Making its way through North America, the quartet stopped into the very welcoming Royal Oak Music Theatre in Royal Oak, Michigan. The 1928 movie cinema turned concert venue filled itself to capacity with guitar aficionados and Guitar Hero wanna-be‘s. The show opened as expected with “I Just Wanna Rock” from the latest cd. Something a little different for fans as it featured Joe using the Framptone Talkbox made famous by “Mr. Do You Feel Like We Do” and fluent guitarist in his own right - Peter Frampton. Followed soon after was the notorious and energetic “Satch Boogie” which from its onset sent a chill up your spine due to its opening riff and constant drive from the band. At this particular moment you begin to realize that catchy lyric lines and astounding vocal acrobatics are not an ingredient in the evening‘s affair. Melodies are being expressed not through Satriani’s vocal chords, but guitar cords instead. He affirms that, “Everything you do in a song is an ‘opportunity’.”
As the evening continued, even the most unfamiliar fan could be heard saying, “Ya know, I‘ve heard that riff before.” This of course true on selections such as “Surfing With the Alien” and “Summer Song”.
The show was a self-indulgence of guitar mastery. Incredible tone resonated throughout the building not only through Satch’s fingers, but also through his signature Ibanez JS Series guitars and Peavey JSX amplifiers. Recognized for his astounding techniques, Satriani was not shy in displaying his brilliance through two-handed tapping, sweep picking, volume swells, harmonics and extreme whammy bar dives. His speed mixed with incredible accuracy made you wonder how much “off-duty shredding” he must have done to get to this point.
From the haunting “Flying In A Blue Dream” and rib-cracking “One Big Rush” to newer selections “Ghost” and “Andalucia” it was a spirit-lifting performance. Neither a night of political statements nor songs of heartache as fans felt connected in the kinship of music. Without inspiring lyric lined, Satriani was able to lift the crowd to another level. With his infectious smile, dark sunglasses and some of the best rock poses money can buy, Satriani hailed supreme. An equally impressive backdrop curtain filled with imagery should be noted especially for a soft-seater performance. Also, props need to go out to legendary bassist Stu Hamm for his impressive bass solo and overall ‘thunder form down under‘.
For the finale, Satch offered up an impromptu blues jam with Mountain’s Leslie West who opened that evening. Trading off licks and both armed with West’s own Signature Dean guitar, which he claims to have a volume knob that goes to eleven, the two were like children in a musical playground, teeter-tottering riffs back and forth. Satriani maintains, “It’s a tour of a lifetime.”
As stated earlier, fortunately this genre of music seems to be unaffected by the upheavals in the music business. Though great virtuosity and skill may not be rewarded in multi-platinum success nor pop-icon status, the true instrumentalist is self-motivated. They are in it for the love of performing and communicating through airwaves, not radio waves. So for Professor Satchafunkilus, school is always in session!!
The interview conducted on October 24, 2008 may be heard in its entirety at http://tinyurl.com/487fjw .