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Here’s our interview with Joe Satriani from the November 1989 issue of Guitar Worldmagazine. The original headline was “Blue Heaven: It was worth the wait. Joe Satriani’s Flying In A Blue Dream is a master’s masterpiece.”
"Sounds great, Joe … cool riff … hot solo there, Satch …"
These are the sounds of a man granted a private preview of a masterpiece-in-progress by a giant of rock guitar. Open-mouthed enthusiasm hardly becomes a Jaded Journalist, but what can you do when you're blown away?
I'm sitting In Joe Satriani's cozy suite in L.A.’s Le Parc Hotel. The guitarist opens a door leading to the terrace and considers unpacking his clothes. We agree to first hear “a few” of his new tunes, and discuss rock star finery later (particularly our mutual fondness for Big John black jeans).
Down to business. Satriani comes armed with his wife’s boom-box and a confusing array of cassette tapes. Since some of the mixes are in extremely rough form, he's brought along his Tascam four-track, too.
"Good thing you've got a trained professional here,” he deadpans, untangling the cords and assessing the electrical outlet situation. Momentarily nonplussed by the blaster's auto-reverse, he organizes his tapes, most of which contain material that very likely will soon set the music world on its ear.
Joe's been bearing down for a month, holed up in Berkeley Studios with trusty cohorts John Cuniberti (co-producer, percussionist) and Jeff Campitelli (drums, percussion), poring over arrangements, parts and mixes. For some sections, Satriani utilized the services of his touring rhythm section -- bassist Stuart Hamm and drummer Jonathan Mover.
In 1987 Satch’s landmark Surfing With The Alien garnered tremendous AOR play and, ultimately, gold record status -- both almost unheard of for a guitar instrumental lap. Unlike some of his colleagues, Satriani the performer was no stage elitist who ignored his audience. Satch brought his music to the crowd, playing with a zest and appeal rarely displayed by a non-singing instrumentalist.
And now he returns. Flying In A Blue Dream, his new album, is a winner -- a square sucker-punch against standard guitar-oriented music and its play-it-safe parameters. Those expecting Surfer IImay be disappointed at first;Flying In A Blue Dream cuts a large swath across some pretty wild, fairly unchartered musical territory. Heavy dance funk, grunge-ola blues, a Celtic, almost U2-flavored anthem, and other tracks that defy easy categorization all crowd this large album. It rocks as hard as it grooves. And oh, yes, Satch sings, too. Quite nicely.
Certain to excite, impress and provoke a profound, sympathetic response in guitarists everywhere,Flying In A Blue Dreamsoars-surfs on wings of wondrous extremes.
What are you going play first?
This is the title track, "Flying In A Blue Dream." It's interesting how this was composed. I took an acoustic guitar and tuned it to a low, open F chord [C-F-CF-A-C, low to high]. I play a lot with open tunings. On some songs I used open A, which is nice and chimey, but I needed something lower -- I wanted it in the solar plexus region. The F tuning had the right feel, but I knew going into the studio that the low C on the E string was going to be a problem. It 's the kind of thing that's hard to hear on a cheesy car radio. In modern systems you hear low B's all the time, especially in dance music.
Like the Bobby Brown stuff.
Yeah, it's that low. I don't even know how low this blaster's going to go. [Sweet, biting feedback leads into the faint sounds of a small boy, recorded during a Fifties radio broadcast. The words are unintelligible but the effect is magical. Over a machine-like rhythm and a repetitive set of chord changes, the song begins. The melody is one of the most haunting Satriani has ever composed. Ethereal yet stinging, the tone is unmistakably Satch. Lush, cascading acoustic harmonics beautifully complement this tour-de-force of phrasing and color.]
Joe Satriani 1993 Time Machine "The Mighty Turtle Head"
I've been hearing about vocals.
Oh, I've done that for years -- that's no problem.
Didn't you sing on the first Crowded House record?
I sang background vocals, on about five or six songs. I knew the producer, Mitchell Froom, who did some work with an old band of mine called The Squares. Andy Milton and I were the singers and we had developed an interesting blend. Andy has a great voice, and I have a very specific tone -- a Long Island whine. But together we don't sound like anybody. I was flattered that someone wanted me to sing on the record.
You command a larger audience than a lot of guitar guys. Do you think you can hold those "crossover" people?
I don't know. When I went into this, I knew that public life was going to be a very weird, fantastic and cruel sort of situation to be in. I think I'm ready for any lumps to come. You have to keep a sense of humor now, this is funny [Satch readies the boom box for the next song).
["Gimmee that phone!" a voice commands. No amount of description could prepare me for this lively piece of banjo-driven, boppin' blues. While it's safe to say Rod Stewart has nothing to worry about, Satriani's wry vocal -- delivered via phone, a la Dave Edmunds' "[Hear You Knockin' " -- is extremely effective. Better still, there's not one but two overdriven solos that are absolute corkers. "You still there?" Satriani's cornball vocal inquires coyly.]
It's called "The Phone Call." We were doing "One Big Rush" at this studio that specialized in making commercials for TV and radio. I was looking at the control room window and I saw this phone receiver. Then I noticed a little cord and a cannon plug. I asked what the hell it was and the engineer explained it was used in commercials when they needed to make people sound like they were on the phone. We borrowed it and I just sang into it.
It's one of those spontaneous things. You never think, "Well, for my next album, I think I'll do a banjo song while singing through a phone." In this case, Deering sent me a banjo with a guitar neck on it. And I swear, this is how it happened: This guy brought the banjo in, I tuned it up, sat on the floor and started playing. John came up and said, "don't move," and stuck a microphone in front of me and we recorded. I had already tracked some drums, so we did about four or five tracks and edited from there. The original four-track version featured distorted guitars, but I prefer the banjos because there's so much more air. When you get this song loud through some nice speakers, you can walk right into it.
[While searching the tape for another song, Satriani happens upon a selection called "The Forgotten Intro." The rhythm is sparse -- simply drumsticks keeping time -- but the guitar, a series of hammered staccato intervals and counterpoint bass, is striking for its bold, tasteful economy "There's this huge climax," Satriani points out, "that's not on this version.”]
Neil Geraldo once told me that when he feels like he's at a brick wall, he simply puts the guitar down for a few days, returns to it in a few days, and feels rejuvenated. On the other hand, Eddie Van Halen says he can't do that. He has to keep hammering away until he finishes. What do you do?
I do everything. I do both. Instead of just hammering away at a song, I'll approach it from a million other angles. Sometimes I'll leave all my equipment set up and just turn on the TV for five minutes; sometimes I've gotta get out of the house. I don't think it every really leaves my head. Not if it's something that I'm committed to, or I have a deadline like I did on "One Big Rush."
Which was written specifically for the movie Say Anything.
Yeah, I agreed to write music for it because there were no aliens, no gratuitous sex or violence, the acting was excellent and it was well written. I couldn't believe someone finally sent me something I liked. Cameron [Crowe, the film 's writer/director] asked me to create something for the kick-boxing scene and gave me license to do whatever I wanted. I wrote the song on a Thursday, and recorded all the music, except the drums, on Friday. Jeff did the drums on Saturday, we mixed it on Sunday and sent it to Los Angeles on Monday.
What came first?
Definitely the rhythm guitar. I just picked a tempo that I thought fit. I didn't have to place the song at all; they told me they would recut, start and stop the piece when necessary.