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Joe Satriani always working to improve his songs

Saturday, September 28, 2013
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“You write a song and you may wind up recording it in about a week and putting it on an album, and your audience feels that is the definitive version,” says Joe Satriani, “but really it’s your first attempt at coming to grips with what you’ve written.”
“You write a song and you may wind up recording it in about a week and putting it on an album, and your audience feels that is the definitive version,” says Joe Satriani, “but really it’s your first attempt at coming to grips with what you’ve written.”

The way guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani sees it, he’s never finished writing a song.

The Westbury native, known equally for his solo work and collaborations as well as for being guitar teacher to such big names as Steve Vai, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and Primus’ Larry LaLonde, has released 14 instrumental solo albums since 1986. His most recent, “Unstoppable Momentum,” hit No. 42 on the Billboard Top 200 when it was released in May, making it his highest-charting album in 20 years.

But for Satriani, the real work on his songs takes place not in the recording studio but on the road, where even such established classic tunes as “Surfing With the Alien” and his signature “Satch Boogie” are reworked on an almost nightly basis.

“You write a song and you may wind up recording it in about a week and putting it on an album, and your audience feels that is the definitive version, but really it’s your first attempt at coming to grips with what you’ve written,” Satriani said recently from a tour stop in Durham, N.C.

Joe Satriani

WITH: The Steve Morse Band

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany

HOW MUCH: $78, $58, $38

MORE INFO: 465-3334, www.palacealbany.com

“Something I think would be a better process would be to write a song and then go on tour for 15 years to figure out exactly what it is you’ve written, but such is the world — we do things backwards like that. The tour is a great time for the live musician to finally understand what they’ve done and work on it over and over again. When I hit the stage playing ‘Satch Boogie,’ I’m still working on it and finding new ways to make it better.”

Satriani’s current U.S. tour with The Steve Morse Band, which heads to the Palace Theatre on Wednesday night, has given him even more opportunities to rework material both new and old. He’s playing with a brand new rhythm section, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann, along with his longtime keyboard player Mike Keneally.

While Satriani hadn’t played with either Beller or Minnemann before the European tour that began in May, the two had performed together and with Keneally before in various configurations — Beller and Keneally both play in the real-life version of animated band Dethklok, and Beller and Minnemann make up two-thirds of power trio The Aristocrats. This has given the new band a strong chemistry, which in turn allows for plenty of improvisation.

“There’s a long history there, and I get to tap into that,” Satriani said. “I just have to raise an eyebrow, and off we go in another direction. There’s a lot of improvising because of the history between all the musicians. And of course, they come from a different era — they’re all younger than I am, so they have a different set of influences.”

While Keneally also performs on “Unstoppable Momentum,” drums and bass on the album were handled by Frank Zappa veterans Vinnie Colaiuta and Chris Chaney, respectively. Having two new bands — one in the studio, one on the road — has helped the new material grow and develop in interesting ways. The band is currently playing most, if not all, of the new album live.

“I’ve been able to tap into something quite unique with this whole cycle — not only did I have a new band in the studio, then to find another unit with a long history together to come out and reinterpret the new record and the catalog as well, which is half the show,” Satriani said. “There’s a lot of interpretation opportunities available to whoever . . . sits in those chairs.”

Influenced by locations

The writing and recording process behind “Unstoppable Momentum” came at a busy, and unusual, time in Satriani’s career. Last year, the guitarist resurrected his G3 tour after a five-year absence, playing in Australia and New Zealand, South America and Europe — the first time the tour has ever had multiple legs.

Since its inception in 1996, the tours have all featured Satriani playing alongside two other renowned guitarists — last year, G3 veteran Vai played the Australia/New Zealand and European legs; Morse played Europe and South America; and Steve Lukather joined the tour for the Australian/New Zealand leg and replaced Morse for the end of the South American tour.

Also in 2012, Satriani hit the road with supergroup Chickenfoot, which features former Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. And both Satriani and Hagar were involved in a tribute to Ronnie Montrose in San Francisco in April 2012, following the guitarist’s death the month prior.

“Overall, in 2012, I played in more different situations than ever before, and in between all those tours I was at home writing a lot,” Satriani said. “When I got home at the end of the year, I had about 60 pieces of music to choose from, all of which were influenced by the different locations, and all the different musicians I played with. That just sort of increased my enthusiasm level, and that’s what the title track of the album is about — how strange it is to be so enthusiastic not only about writing and recording, but using new equipment, testing out new guitar straps, strings, pedals. I felt just like a kid, and I thought that feeling sort of needs a theme song.”

Book on the way

Satriani’s current U.S. tour runs through October, but the guitarist has plenty on his plate after that. He’s currently working on a book, “Strange Beautiful Music: A Musical Memoir,” which will be released in April, alongside a box set featuring remastered versions of all his albums along with extras.

“It’s been cathartic going over all that material,” Satriani said. “I’m in the process of working with editors, and I think it’s going to turn out to be a really great book; the fans will really love it.”

 
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