ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 25, 1997
A concert by Bay Area guitar wizard Joe Satriani is usually all it takes to transport his followers to instrumental-rock heaven, but come Friday (September 26) at the Plaza of Nations, they’ll be getting way more twang for their buck. That’s when Satriani brings his G3 tour to town, which sees him in the company of metal maestro Steve Vai and youthful blues bender Kenny Wayne Shepherd. As if that weren’t enough, the gig’s special opening act is innovative fret guru Robert Fripp. The idea for the groundbreaking tour—which sees the G3 principals performing separate 40-minute sets before uniting for a climactic jam-o-rama—came out of think-tank sessions between Satriani and his handler at Bill Graham Management.
“We were just looking for a really new way to tour,” explains Satriani, calling from San Francisco during a break from recording his next album, “something that would be really challenging artistically and that people hadn’t seen before. So we just started thinking about including all the other guitar players that we really liked, and before you knew it, we had this G3 idea.
“Then it took another two years to convince other guitar players that it was something that was really cool,” he adds with a laugh, “but here we are. It’s our fifth or sixth leg of going out, so we’re pretty happy.”
The original G3 lineup, which began touring North America in October of last year, had Texas tone master Eric Johnson on the bill with Satriani and Vai, and their efforts were captured for posterity on the G3—Live in Concert CD, released last June with an accompanying home video. Satriani points out that Vai and Johnson were the obvious first choices to join him on the tour.
“Steve and I grew up together,” he says, “and we had a lotta the same hopes and dreams. And then Eric opened up for me on the Flying in a Blue Dream tour for about six weeks, and we had such a good time. I just felt that those two guys were guitar players that really scare me, you know, and that it would be really cool to have them on tour.”
The G3 tour was certainly cool for a while: there’s chills aplenty on tunes like the live album’s closing track, a blistering nine-minute jam on Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House”. But it must have gotten a tad too frosty for Johnson, whose departure now causes Satriani to sigh heavily when he’s asked about its cause.
“The one compromise that an artist has to make with G3 is that he realizes that he’s joining a community of players for the evening,” he relates, “and he’s not just goin’ out for himself. Eric Johnson had just finished an album that took him six years to record, and I think he was planning on going out on tour on his own, so that he could get onstage for two hours and play all the stuff from his new album.
“I think he went along with it [the G3 tour] as far as he could, but…whatever. Everybody that came aboard was well aware that the idea was that every year it would change, so this is movin’ along just like we had hoped.”
Satriani claims that there hasn’t been any backlash from the guitar community regarding the switch to Shepherd. Some may have felt it was a risky move to bring the 20-year-old picker into the G3 fold, especially since he’s relatively new on the music scene and isn’t an instrumentalist per se. But Satriani doesn’t regret the recruitment one bit.
“Not at all, man,” he enthuses, “not when you see Kenny. Not only is he a great player, but he’s a really good performer and he has never let anybody down as far as when it comes to jumpin’ onstage and jamming. He shows up, he plugs in, and he gives the audience a hundred percent of what he’s got. It’s been a joy having him, Steve, and Robert Fripp. They’re just all great, consummate professionals, as well as inspiring performers.”
Satriani reveals that Fripp opens the concert with a solo performance of his new, “very unusual” guitar-generated electronic music. “It’s an interesting segment that he designed himself for the show,” says Satch, “and he plays right up to the minute that Kenny Wayne comes onstage.”
Apart from G3, Satriani’s solo career is in full flight, with his next album—produced by Vancouver’s Mike Fraser—set to hit the stores in late January. It features his incomparable rhythm section from G3, bassist Stu Hamm and drummer Jeff Campitelli, and, according to Satriani, is “extremely different” from his last CD, 1995’s eponymous homage to Jeff Beck.
“The last record was a dip into the past a little bit,” says Satriani, “with a more classic, old-rock-record sound in approach to recording. This is a totally modern affair. It’s a very high-energy, very varied, and more futuristic kind of a record.”
Between his G3 commitments and solo outings—which have sold more than seven million copies and earned six Grammy nominations—Satriani has managed to record a track for an upcoming Christmas collection comprised of favourite seasonal tunes chosen by today’s top rock guitarists.
“I picked ‘Silent Night’,” says Satriani, “because I always thought that was a very beautiful and tender song that had everything to do with what Christmas is really all about, you know what I mean? Obviously, it’s become ‘Jingle Bells’, but it started out being a celebration of the birth of Christ, so I always sorta held on to that.”
Satriani’s current G3 cohorts each contribute a tune to the Christmas disc, as does the aforementioned Jeff Beck. Considering Satriani’s fondness for that Brit guitar legend, is there any chance that he might be the next “scary” player to enter the G3 configuration?
“Ahh, well…we try!” replies Satriani with a chuckle. “Every year we’ve tried to put it together, we’ve invited Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, you know. They just haven’t said yes yet.”