Personalities | Joey Santiago | The Force Behind the Pixies | Guitar Heroes

Alternative-rock guitarist Joey Santiago (b. 1965) was born in Manila, Philippines, to a wealthy family, who emigrated to the United States when President Marcos declared martial law. The family eventually settled in Massachusetts.

Joey first played guitar at the age of nine, becoming a fan of Seventies punk and David Bowie. At the University of Massachusetts, he met Black Francis (Charles Thompson) and they jammed together on guitar. On returning from a student exchange trip, Santiago dropped out of school and formed a band with Francis in January 1985. Bassist Kim Deal was recruited via a telling advertisement seeking someone into Peter, Paul & Mary and Hüsker Dü. Drummer David Lovering completed the line-up, which became the Pixies.

Securing a contract with British independent 4AD on the basis of their demo tapes, the Pixies debuted with the mini-album Come On Pilgrim (1987). The album utilized eight songs from the demos and established the band’s powerful, guitar-driven sound. Santiago’s innovative, angular lead was evident on ‘Holiday Song’ and ‘Vamos’. Their first full-length album Surfer Rosa (1988) was heavy and frenzied, while Doolittle (1989) was less raw and included some of their best-known songs, the poppy ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ferocious opener ‘Un Chien Andalou’, which was distinguished by Santiago’s chiming, churning guitar. He favoured the Gibson Les Paul but also used the company’s ES-355. After two more albums the Pixies fell prey to internal tensions and disbanded in 1993.

Santiago maintained a good relationship with Francis, now known as Frank Black, and contributed lead guitar to several of his solo albums. He formed the Martinis with wife Linda Mallari, but the outfit only recorded one song in the Nineties and played live only occasionally; their debut album Smitten emerged in 2004.

Santiago was influenced by jazz guitarists Joe Pass, Chet Atkins and Wes Montgomery as well as Jimi Hendrix and Iggy Pop. The Pixies were a force in late-Eighties and early Nineties alternative rock; Kurt Cobain was a great admirer. In 2006 Santiago began concentrating on film and commercial work, saying there would only be a new Pixies album ‘if it happens in an organic manner’. He played a benefit concert in 2007 as part of the Martinis.

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