One for the road: Joe Satriani

(Image credit: Christie Goodwin)

Joe Satriani surfs his way through live TV nightmares and expresses a fondness for plain crisps…

What was your first gig?

“My first gig was at Carle Place High School, which is in Nassau County, Long Island, New York. I was 14 and I was invited to play with this band and I was so excited but I was really petrified.

“There’s a photograph of me at that gig and my back is to the audience; I was two feet from the drummer and I just looked at him the whole night. I had my Hendrix hat on and this small bottle of cheap Champagne that had a multi-coloured candle in it - my Hendrix candle - and I brought that on stage to give me courage and invite Jimi’s mojo to help me through the gig.”

Describe your current stage rig…

Every time I go out on tour I like to bring relatively new [Ibanez] JS guitars

“Every time I go out on tour I like to bring relatively new [Ibanez] JS guitars, so in 2018 I might bring six guitars maximum - probably four brand new ones and maybe two from the last season. There will be a Fractal Axe-Fx II giving me some delays and some other effects, but there will be some pedals on the ground. 

“I still like using my [Vox] Big Bad Wah, a Whammy pedal, maybe some Tone Benders and an EHX POG, but they’ll go into my Marshall JVM 410HJS - the amp with the longest name possible! I’m using one head with four channels, three modes per channel and so there’s enough alternative tones in there to get you in tons of trouble, and I usually use a stock set of 4x12 cabinets.”

What piece of gear is most essential to your live sound?

“It would have to be the guitar, I guess. If I don’t have my Ibanez JS, I’d feel really put upon, you know? I have some funky vintage and custom shop guitars and they’re fun and they give me insight now and then, but I wouldn’t ever want to play a gig with them. Every time I go back to one of my JS guitars I relax and better music comes out.”

(Image credit: Jon Luini)

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

“We had to do this thing called Hellfest [France]. You never have a soundcheck, you always just run on stage and hope for the best. So we start playing but right away we notice that it doesn’t sound quite what we’re used to. We started to hear somebody else talking and hitting drums in the monitors while we’re playing. 

“Poor Marco Minnemann [drummer] is 30 feet away and he’s got that look of total fear on his face and it turns out he can’t hear a note I’m playing. The realisation of the Spinal Tap moment comes when we see the playback, because this was being mixed live and broadcast on French television and across Europe. 

“We start our show with Shockwave Supernova but we hear somebody going ‘bang bang bang, test… one, two’ louder than my guitar and that’s what Marco was hearing in his monitors. For some reason, he was getting the feed from the other stage as the techs were setting up for the band that was following us… and this is going out on live TV!”

What’s on your rider?

“There’s nothing really weird on the rider other than there’s a conspicuous lack of weirdness. I really dislike flavoured potato chips and so I always insist on just potatoes and salt, y’know? But that’s not weird. We have a small collection of beer, some wine and peanut butter; that’s an American thing, people like to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches late at night.”

What’s the best venue you’ve played in and why?

“We played right before Metallica on their stage in Quebec City a couple of years ago. Beautiful night, the day after my birthday in the middle of July, 120,000 people spread out over these beautiful grounds.

“That was unbelievable and it was kinda cool because I was backstage with Kirk [Hammett], who I’ve known since he was a really young person, just hanging out and the fact that we got to play on the same night on the same stage together was really great.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve had either to or from a gig?

It’s important for me not to peak before I hit the stage - I save all of my creative and physical energy for when I walk on stage

“Flying from Moscow to Krasnodar. The guy sitting next to me was completely drunk or drugged out and incredibly upset about something. He’s sitting in the window seat and I’m in the middle and he immediately starts arguing very loudly with the staff of the aircraft. Then, just like that, he drinks a glass of water and passes out on my shoulder. He was drooling the whole time, I had to keep pushing him to the window. I was waiting for him to wake up, but we got off the plane and just left him there, totally passed out.”

What’s the key to a good live sound?

“You have to have a sound that inspires you to play, because if not you won’t be able to make the sound you have work. You won’t be able to make magic with it if you’re not happy with it so it’s important that you at least please yourself to the level where you can just relax and be an artist. The audience will pick up on that; if you’re not happy, they won’t be either.”

How do you warm up before a gig?

“Practise slowly. It’s important for me not to peak before I hit the stage, in other words I save all of my creative and physical energy for when I walk on stage. If I can get 45 minutes of just easy going, playing rhythm, songs, stuff like that, then that’s what I do, to make sure that I’m all stretched out and ready.”

What’s your favourite live album?

“Oh, that’s so hard… I think the one I listen to the most is Jimi Hendrix Band Of Gypsys. That record has got some serious credibility and Hendrix set a standard and wrote the bible for where electric guitar was headed for several decades. Even now, no one’s come close to walking on stage and doing that.”

Joe Satriani’s new album What Happens Next is out now on Legacy Recordings/Sony Music. The G3 UK Tour featuring Joe Satriani, John Petrucci and Uli Roth starts on 24 April.

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