Photo by Joseph Cultice
ALBANY — Take into account the legions of button-mashers who played “Satch Boogie” on Guitar Hero, Joe Satriani has taught millions how to play guitar.
Of course, that’s a ludicrous statement to make, as the Playstation game truly did not teach anyone how to play guitar. It was, perhaps, a step-up from the air guitar you, yourself, played for years. But, if you look at the list of names he actually mentored over the years, it’s just as ridiculous.
“I still feel like there’s never enough time to explore all the music I wish to explore,” Satriani said about the challenges he now faces, after having achieved a legendary status among guitarists. “So, in that way, the challenges are the same. It’s just the landscape that’s changed.”
His environment is a different plane of existence. For more than 20 years, Satriani has invited two other guitarists to join him on tour for G3, a concert-event that will come to The Palace on Saturday, Feb. 10, at 7:30 p.m. Those two other guitarists from his peer group have included the likes of Steve Vai’s talking guitar and Eric Johnson’s string-skipping harmonics. This tour, fans will recognize Phil Collen of Def Leppard and John Petrucci of Dream Theatre.
Each G3 tour is no different than how life rolls for Satriani. He is surrounded by awe-inspiring talent, much of which he helped cultivate. Satriani has earned six gold and platinum discs over his 30-year career, selling more than 10 million albums and garnering 15 Grammy nominations. All on an instrument he fell into after failing to learn the piano and drums as a kid growing up on Long Island.
But then, the guitar came along. The guitar didn’t feel as awkward as the piano to him. And, after a few days, he learned a few chords. He saw progression and the guitar was hardly giving him any resistance. “Once it got in my hands,” he said, “‘I’m never letting go of this guitar because this is my ticket to expression,’ you know?”
He was still a teenager when he was teaching others how to play. Vai was one of his first students. “He was a great student,” Satriani said. “Completely motivated, with ‘Fingers of Doom!’ It was so exciting to see him get better by leaps and bounds week after week.” Consider the two guitar greats together in one room,
both teenagers, one the mentor and the other the student.
Years later, Satriani is navigating uncharted waters by earning Grammy nominations with his instrumental album “Surfing with the Alien.” Around the same time, Vai would join David Lee Roth on his solo venture following his departure from Van Halen. “Yankee Rose” aptly opens with Roth in conversation with Vai’s guitar, without anyone thinking about Eddie Van Halen. Satriani’s list of accomplished students also include Larry LaLonde, Rick Hunolt, Kirk Hammett, Andy Timmons, Charlie Hunter, Kevin Cadogan and Alex Skolnick.
This is the seventh G3 tour, and each one has featured the world’s greatest guitarists, selling out legs in the U.S., South America, Europe, Australia and Japan. “I love collaborating with talented people,” said Satriani. “It really brings new ideas out of you and makes you a better player. I’m always up for something new and interesting. I live for it.”
Satch’s collaboration work on this tour includes a little bit of theatre and just as much sugar.
Collen’s rise to stardom happened nearly overnight, thanks to the rise of cable television’s 24-hour music video channel MTV. He had joined Def Leppard in 1982 to help the band record “Pyromania.” His aggressive guitar licks helped catapult the band to No. 2 on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1983, behind only Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Petrucci is in Guitar World’s Hall of Fame. He shreds his guitar in Dream Theatre, a band he co-founded while attending Berklee School of Music in Boston. Since its formation, Dream Theatre has received two Grammy nominations for Best Metal Performance, earned multiple Billboard 200 Top 10 chart debuts, all while selling more than 12 million records. Like Satch, Petrucci grew up in the Empire State, looking up to a handful of guitarists, including Satriani.
At 61, Satriani said he feels “tightly wound” when he picks up the guitar. But, he said, age doesn’t stop him from playing. He said his ability to compose and perform have improved with time. “Those are the two things that most challenge beginners. It takes a lifetime to fully reach your potential. You have to love the process.”
What helps him limber up for each performance is to practice, stay healthy and surrounding himself with the people he loves. He was limber enough to duck the next question when asked who he’d pay to go see among of past students, and present-day collaborators.
“All of them,” he said. “And, I do my best to get them on my G3 tours so we can play together.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.