Interview: Joe Satriani on Chickenfoot covering Deep Purple's Highway Star

Joe Satriani and Chickenfoot contribute a smokin' live version of Highway Star to Re-Machined - A Tribute To Deep Purple's Machine Head
Joe Satriani and Chickenfoot contribute a smokin' live version of Highway Star to Re-Machined - A Tribute To Deep Purple's Machine Head (Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/TJM/Corbis)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Deep Purple's landmark album Machine Head, and to commemorate the occasion, some of rock music's biggest names have contributed their own special versions of that album's tracks on the record Re-Machined - A Tribute To Deep Purple's Machine Head.

Executive produced by Drew Thompson, the disc will be released on 25 September by Eagle Rock Records. In advance of that, fans can grab a limited-edition Classic Rock "fanpack" on 3 September. (Click here to preview the fanpack and for ordering instructions.)

The tracklisting for Re-Machined - A Tribute To Deep Purple's Machine Head is as follows:

1) Smoke On The Water - Carlos Santana & Jacoby Shaddix
2) Highway Star - Chickenfoot
3) Maybe I'm A Leo - Glenn Hughes & Chad Smith
4) Pictures Of Home - Black Label Society
5) Never Before - Kings Of Chaos (Joe Elliott, Steve Stevens, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum)
6) Smoke On The Water - The Flaming Lips
7) Lazy - Jimmy Barnes with Joe Bonamassa
8) Space Truckin' - Iron Maiden
9) When A Blind Man Cries - Metallica
10) Highway Star - Glenn Hughes / Steve Vai / Chad Smith

We have audio and video samples of the set below, along with exclusive interviews with Joe Satriani (who discusses the recording of Chickenfoot's raucous version of Highway Star) and Executive Producer Drew Thompson.

Above: Chickenfoot - Highway Star

Interview: Joe Satriani

How did Chickenfoot's live version of Highway Star come about?

"It was pretty much when Mike, Chad and I were goofing around in the studio. Everything we did in the early days involved us writing and recording, so to blow off steam, we'd play things by Humble Pie, the Stones and then Deep Purple. One day we just started playing Highway Star. I remember having a Pog pedal and imitating Jon Lord's keyboard sound with it. We just loved playing the song. It was a real blast.

"Then what happened was, we started our first tour with a show at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and we were threatening to play it. Funnily enough, I don't think Sammy wanted to do it; he'd never really memorized the lyrics. But somebody printed them up and threw them on the stage. At the beginning of the song, you hear me starting up Bad Motor Scooter, because that's what was on the setlist. But as I was finishing the intro, Chad, in a most mischievous way, started playing Highway Star. So I had to kind of segue into it." [laughs]

Even so, it's a ferocious take on the song.

"We went for it. It was our first time playing it from top to bottom. Usually what happens is, when somebody throws a song out there in rehearsal, we only do half of it. So this is us doing the whole thing live in front of an audience. There's a great clip of it - I think for the second verse, Sammy is literally on his hands and knees reading the lyrics. It's just the experience of how Chickenfoot does things sometimes. We do crazy things, and sometimes you just have to go with it."

How did Chickenfoot come to be involved with Re-Machined?

"Actually, we never gave it a lot of thought to the track until Dr Drew, as we like to call him, came to us with the idea of contributing. At the time, there was no way to get us together in the studio, but then somebody remembered that we did the song live, so we had a look at the film and had Mike Fraser mix it, and it came out great."

Now, you have some experience with the song - back in 1993, you performed with Deep Purple.

"Yeah, It's a funny thing, my relationship with Deep Purple. I already felt the pain and confusion of trying to replace Ritchie Blackmore, which is a difficult thing to have in your head - since the time when you were a kid, that guitar sound and approach is what you associate with Deep Purple. So every time you go to play something like Highway Star, you're thinking, OK, this is the way that Ritchie did it, and how does it that work with how I'm doing it? There's the rub."

Did all of that come back to you when you played the song with Chickenfoot?

"To some degree, I wanted to make sure that I honored the harmony, rhythm and melodies that Deep Purple created. Rock music is a funny thing: You can actually take it too far sometimes, and then it's not rock music anymore - it's something else, but it's not rock. But Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore and Roger Glover and Ian Paice, they had a knack for going the perfect distance with musicianship and with harmony, melody and rhythm to create incredible music that rocked really hard. They didn't take it into progressive-land - they held back. There's just the right amount of classical influence, the right amount of blues, the right amount of irreverence, and those were all things I was trying to capture.

"For my solo, I couldn't re-create the keyboard part exactly, so I tried to establish the right vibe and get to the beginning and the end points of the arpeggios that Jon Lord was doing. Then I tried to faithfully reproduce Ritchie Blackmore's double-tracked solo. That's the one thing that any guitar player knows when they go to play the solo from the record - that there's two guitars there. So basically, I had to pick one! [laughs]

Mike and Chad sure nail their parts.

"They're a double freight train, just out of control. The pulse and the rhythm those guys put down, it's always fun, it's always exciting to try to fly on top of that. They afford me a lot of space to do some crazy stuff. But it stays rock, which is very special.

"As the years go by, I realize how unique a style rock music is and how delicate you have to be with it sometimes; otherwise, you turn it into pop music or progressive rock or something else. Deep Purple knew that instinctively, and it's something we tried to capture with our version of Highway Star."

Interview: Executive Producer Drew Thompson

What was the genesis of the idea for Re-Machined?

"Under my charter, managing the catalogue from 1968 to '76, I'm always looking for ways to reinvigorate certain albums. Forty years on, I wanted do to something special to remind people how great Machine Head is. I was talking with Glenn Hughes, and I said, 'Wouldn't it be great to get some guys together to record the songs that were on the album?' Even though he wasn't in Deep Purple at the time of Machine Head, he was very instrumental in getting this process going. We spoke to Chad Smith, and he said he'd love to be involved. It all started from there."

How did Metallica come on board?

"I made a call to Metallica's management, and within 20 minutes, the band came back and said they would love to be involved. It was really interesting because they said, 'Would you mind if we did something a little off the radar and did the B-side to Space Truckin', When A Blind Man Cries?' For me, that was as much a part of Machine Head as the main album. It was a bold move on their part.

"Then I went to Iron Maiden, who already had a version of Space Truckin' recorded. Things happened very quickly at this point."

The obvious question: Were all the other bands arm-wrestling to do Smoke On The Water?

"Oddly enough, no. Every band chose the track they did; there wasn't one conflict. The two songs that I thought would be difficult to get somebody to do would be Smoke and Pictures Of Home. I was talking to a friend of mine, who said that Pictures was right up Zakk Wylde's alley. So I made a call to Zakk's manager, and the funny thing is, when Zakk came back and said yes, he said, 'Can we do Pictures Of Home?' I hadn't even mentioned it yet.

"It continued along like that. I sort of stayed away from Smoke On The Water. But then it was suggested that we talk to The Flaming Lips, and they said straight away, 'Oh, can we do Smoke On The Water?' Of course, we said yes.

Above: Carlos Santana & Jacoby Shaddix - Smoke On The Water

Carlos Santana doing Smoke On The Water is a pretty interesting.

"Yeah, it is. And the curious thing about it is, he tackles the song in a pretty straight way. That's why I was very keen to have both versions on the record, because Carlos' take on Smoke is different from the Flaming Lips, which is more alternative."

One complaint, though: Not enough Chad Smith.

[laughs] "Yeah, I know. He's on three different tracks. Firstly, you're not going to meet a nicer human being than Chad, and my word, what an astonishing talent he is. Chad is a huge rock fan, and he loves British-based music. He's been so enthusiastic about the whole project. The version he does of Highway Star with Steve Vai and Glenn Hughes is amazing, as is the Chickenfoot live cut. I could try to pick a favorite, but that would be difficult.

"This whole project has been a labor of love, and I think the end result just proves how great the original album was - and is. It really became apparent to me while putting this record together how great the original recordings were. That's not to disparage anything these acts have done, but when you consider the conditions Deep Purple worked under to make Machine Head and the performances they managed to get, it's astonishing.

"That said, I think the performances from the artists on this album are all stunning in their own unique ways. I couldn't be happier with how it all turned out. For fans of Deep Purple and fans of the individual artists, this is going to be something they'll be quite pleased with."

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.