Joe Satriani takes a techno turn on new Engines of Creation


By Steve Newton

I’ve yet to be bitten by the techno bug. You won’t find any discs by the Chemical Brothers or Crystal Method in my collection, or any stashes of Ecstasy in my dresser drawer.

But after listening to the new Joe Satriani CD, Engines of Creation, I’m starting to warm up to a futuristic electro vibe. Gone are the rollicking, metallicized guitar/bass/drums workouts that Satriani established himself with in the late ’80s. The new century’s Satch still wields a killer axe, but he tempers his boggling fret freakouts with his own keyboards and programming, along with coproducer Eric Caudieux’s keys, bass, programming, and editing. (Caudieux is best known for his expert digital editing and programming work alongside famed producer Trevor Horn.)

Traditional-minded rock-guitar fans who worry about the human, fingers-on-strings element getting phased out in Satriani’s current space-age leanings shouldn’t get too agitated. It’s still there. And besides, he’s the kind of guy who might just turn around and release an acoustic-guitar album next.

“Ya never know,” says the virtuoso string bender from a New Orleans tour stop. “Ya never know with me. I tend to like to change a lot.”

If Satriani were to pull an about-face and follow Engines with a low-tech, live-on-the-back-porch Dobro showcase, for example, it would surely feature some wicked slide-playing. His performance on the new disc’s bluesy “Champagne?” shows him to be a natural with the metal or glass cylinder.

“I really do like playing slide,” he imparts. “I don’t do it very often, so it’s something that when the chance comes to do it, I have to be careful and do my best to try and do it well.”

Whether via bottleneck or bare fingers, Satriani has been doing things well ever since blasting onto the scene with 1987’s Surfing With the Alien, which went on to sell two million copies, a formidable number for an instrumental-rock release.

The members of Deep Purple were so taken by his six-string skills that they offered him the job Ritchie Blackmore abandoned in 1994, but although Satriani toured with the band for a while, he declined the offer to become a fully-fledged member.

“I didn’t want to be in the position to have to follow Ritchie Blackmore for the rest of my career,” he points out. “That’s what the gig is, plain and simple. Ritchie put his stamp on that band, and I just didn’t feel like being the guy who had to follow it up.

“Plus I’ve got a solo career, so it wasn’t like I needed work or something. So it was a purely artistic decision, and difficult to make, because those guys were really great. It’s very hard to walk away from an offer like that.”

Shortly after Satriani turned down the position, it was filled by another American picker of monstrous talent, former Dixie Dregs fret burner Steve Morse. Those familiar with Morse’s uncanny technique and progressive approach to rootsy fusion music might have thought him an unlikely (i.e., overqualified) candidate to take over the “Smoke on the Water” duties, but Satch figures he fits the bill quite nicely.

“I knew that he was one of the players that they were thinking about asking,” he reveals, “and I certainly gave him my full endorsement. I’ve known Steve for quite a while, and he’s an amazing guitarist, I mean really amazing. So I thought it would be a really great match, and I think it has been.”

When Satriani mentions that he’s putting together another G3 tour for this fall—the last one having been a guitar freak’s wet dream that put him on a bill with the likes of Steve Vai and Eric Johnson—it’s fun to ponder whether or not Morse, if his Purple obligations allowed it, would be on the shortlist of performers this time around. That’s when Satriani’s favoured reply of “Ya never know” makes its noncommittal return.

But one thing’s for certain: you won’t see German guitarist Michael Schenker up there trading licks with Satch. At the suggestion of its European promoters, the former UFO and Scorpions guitarist was enlisted for part of the last G3 Tour, but he didn’t win favour with Satriani.

“Against my better judgment I went ahead with it,” he says, “and it was a disaster. There was a time when he was really quite an impressive player, but unfortunately, at least while he was with us, those days seemed to be behind him.”

Some rockers have been known to lose their magic touch over the years, but Satriani isn’t one of them. Though his current music is less heavy, he still plays with the same level of passion that made Surfing With the Alien so popular. And for those who never tire of returning to the furious shredding of Alien ear burners like “Crushing Day” and “Hill of the Skull”, that album—and everything else Satriani released prior to the ’97 G3: Live in Concert CD—has recently been remastered. Satriani says that the Alien album is particularly improved by the touching-up.

“It sounds almost exactly like what it sounded like when we made it in the studio,” he claims. “See, when that record was first mastered it was the beginning of CD-mastering technology, so it was barely a good representation of what the album actually sounded like. Since then, of course, there’s been a revolution in digital music, and this really made a fantastic difference to the sound of that record.”

Here’s hoping Satriani pulls out the odd number from Alien—the ravishing “Always With Me, Always With You” would be a welcome choice—when he plays the Vogue on Saturday (May 20), accompanied by veteran bass god Stuart Hamm and long-time drummer Jeff Campitelli, with Caudieux on rhythm guitar and keys.

And don’t expect Satriani to be fiddling with pesky programming devices and tape machines on-stage, because he isn’t concerned with precisely re-creating Engines of Creation’s techno-based tunes.

“We just take a number of the songs and find new ways to do them,” he says. “I find that a more interesting way of doing it, because then it gives you the feeling that you’re sort of in the game with the record. You can still come up with new ideas about it; it’s not like it’s something that’s finished, in the past, and you just have to replay it. You find the essence of the song, really, and you can kind of take it from there, and then you find that it’s all just music.”

To hear the audio of my interviews with Joe Satriani from 1990 and 2018 subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 200 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover of Deep Purple, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

….with hundreds more to come

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