Personalities | Joe Satriani | Guitar Giant | Guitar Heroes

American guitarist Joe Satriani is widely credited with pioneering the rock-instrumental style in the 1980s, opening up the genre for guitarists like Steve Vai, Eric Johnson and Yngwie Malmsteen.

His talent for creating highly evolved music, using a pop-song structure with tuneful melodies before applying his own virtuoso skills, has made him one of the most successful guitar instrumentalists.

Satriani was born in 1956 and brought up in Westbury, New York, the youngest of five siblings, who all played musical instruments. He played piano and drums until he first heard Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ and picked up the guitar. Three years later, he was told of Hendrix’s death, and the hobby became a compulsion. ‘I went home and played my Hendrix records,’ he told the Los Angeles Times. ‘Then I had to play.’

He acquired a Hagstrom III solid-body guitar and, although he never had any formal lessons, he studied music theory at high school. By the age of 17, he was giving guitar lessons to students, one of whom was his classmate Steve Vai. In the mid-1970s, he was on a Rolling Stones list of possible replacements for Mick Taylor before they opted for Ron Wood. Unsure what musical direction to take, Satriani spent two months studying with jazz pianist Lennie Tristano and six months living alone in Japan, practising constantly. In 1977, he returned to America, settled in Berkeley, California, and resumed teaching. Among his students were Vai (again), Kirk Hammett (Metallica), David Bryson (Counting Crows), Larry Lalonde (Primus, Possessed), Alex Skolnick (Testament) and Charlie Hunter.

In 1986, he released his first, self-financed album, Not Of This Earth, focusing on sound textures rather than technique. Surfing With The Alien (1987) was his major breakthrough, highlighting his composing, production and playing talents, including two-handed tapping, sweep picking, whammy-bar effects, frenetic legato runs and volume swell. The album became the most successful rock instrumental album since Jeff Beck’s Wired a decade earlier, with ‘Satch Boogie’ and ‘Always With Me, Always With You’ getting extensive airplay. On the back of his new profile, Satriani was recruited by Mick Jagger for his solo tour of Japan and Australasia in 1988.

Flying In A Blue Dream (1989) felt more experimental, introducing Satriani’s vocals and displaying a sense of humour on ‘The Phone Call’. The Extremist (1992) put more emphasis on melodic rock, with catchy hooks on ‘Friends’, ‘Why’ and the stirring ‘Cryin’.

In the early 1990s, Satriani guested on albums by Alice Cooper and Spinal Tap, and in 1993, he joined Deep Purple at short notice when Ritchie Blackmore quit the band in the middle of a tour, but he turned down the offer to join them permanently. Time Machine (1993) consisted of studio tracks from earlier EPs together with recent live material, while Joe Satriani (1995), produced by Glyn Johns, took a more relaxed, bluesier approach.

In 1996, Satriani set up the first G3 tour of North...

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