Joe Satriani first gained attention as a six-string teacher in the late '70s, but that was only a stepping stone to platinum records and 15 Grammy nominations. "When I moved from New York to Berkeley, I was spending way too much time in this guitar store playing everything," Satriani says. "The owner said, 'You're not just going to sit here and play these guitars all day long. How about you give lessons?' I said, 'Oh, I don't want to do that again,' but he talked me into it. It was during that time when Kirk Hammett, Larry LaLonde, David Bryson, and Charlie Hunter were walking through the door. So I was the accidental but extremely lucky guitar teacher. During that period I also created my solo career."
Satriani returns to master classes with the G4 Experience (August 11-15, 2014), along with Mr. Big's Paul Gilbert, Danger Danger's Andy Timmons, and former Frank Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally. Fans can also dig into "Strange Beautiful Music: A Musical Memoir" (out May 6), which traces Satriani's career from teacher to legendary artist, and "Joe Satriani: The Complete Studio Recordings" (out April 22), a 15-CD box set that will also be issued as a limited-edition USB drive exclusively on satriani.com.
With every rocker doing clinics these days, why did it take you this long to do something like the G4 Experience?
They've been trying to twist my arm to do one of these things, but I've never been very aggressive with the clinic kind of thing. But I guess this G4 Experience is something that when brought to me, I thought, "This is different; this is something I could get excited about." One thing I can bring to players and fans is the exchange of ideas and camaraderie seen at my G3 tours. That's something unique, and people who want to move their playing to a higher level, this kind of immersive experience is going to be great for them.
How did you get your co-facilitators on board?
I hate clinics, but I love playing with other guitar players. So the next step was, Who would I want to bring with me? The first person I thought of was Mike Keneally, a world-class guitarist with amazing technique, who's original in his approach -- two things that work best in a clinic situation. From there I thought about other players that would complement us, who have that extra something, where they can tell a 14-year-old or 40-year-old, "This is what we're doing here." Paul and Andy fit into that really well. They have that unique extra ability to reach people and bring them along.
What's your expectation of your students?
There's no pressure for students at all. They just show up for pure guitar pleasure. They can just watch, or participate and work really hard. It's similar to how I put it across to my students when i was teaching in the late '70s and early '80s, that the student really defines their level of participation. I understand that sometimes the best way to do it, is just to watch. There's no requirement other than showing up.
There's that old cliche that those who can't do, teach, yet you've managed to do both very well. How did you defy the odds?
If I pull the curtain off the experience, I suppose in a nutshell I was always a guitarist in a rock band striving to emulate my heroes, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. On the side, I started to teach only because people asked me to. So it happened that people heard of me as a teacher first. But it was always a side gig for me, because while I was teaching, I was always in a band, playing clubs, writing, recording, trying to get a record deal. But the perception from outside was quite different.
Your first-ever memoir is coming out in May. What are some of the things that your fans are going to learn about you?
I think they'll be surprised about the stories behind every record. The book is set up as a musical memoir that tracks each of the studio recordings. I think what will surprise them is the intense drama behind each of the recordings, because when you're about to release a record, you focus on what's new and promotable, and tragedies and missteps are just swept under the rug. The book is really a great opportunity to pull the curtain back and show fans not just the nuts and bolts of making a record, but also the life that goes on when you're doing it. For those people not into the tragedy and agony that went into the music, they can go right to the back of the book, and see which guitars, pedals, and amps I used for every album.
As an accompaniment to the book, you're also releasing a career-spanning box set.
The book and remastering of the catalog are two ultra-cathartic events in my life where I really had to shine a light on my memory on everything. One of the worst things for a musical artist to come to grips with is the old work. We tend to record it and move on, but my partner, mastering engineer John Cuniberti, accepted the challenge of remastering my entire catalog. There's been a digital revolution in recording since the early CDs. A lot of the early CDs were mastered in a less perfect way with less fidelity than we have now, so they could compete on the radio or television. Now that we can free ourselves from the constraints of promotion and take advantage of better digital technology, we can remaster our catalog in a way that makes it sound as wonderful as it sounded when we mixed it in the studio.
"Joe Satriani: The Complete Studio Recordings" will also be available as a collectible limited-edition USB drive, exclusively on satriani.com. Check out the promo here:
Which recording software do you favor?
I run Avid Pro Tools on my Mac computers, and that's how we've been recording exclusively since 1999. When you're recording with Pro Tools, it's almost entirely compatible with every other software out there. Software synths have become important composing tools for me, and sometimes they make their way on to the actual recording. Companies like Native Instruments make a lot of great tools that I use for recording, and it only gets better and better.
What are your top apps?
I use my Voice Memos the most. I must have recorded six song ideas just yesterday using my iPhone. I really enjoy the convenience. Right next to it is GuitarToolkit, which I really like. It's got a great tuner, and then it's got all sorts of interesting things to play around with, like a banjo, mandolin, 12-string guitar -- all sorts of stuff. I use the camera a lot, believe it or not. I love drawing and taking pics of my drawings and manipulating them with Photoshop or other art programs. I use PayByPhone, GrubHub, and Uber almost all the time. Beside iTunes, probably Art Studio, a drawing program, sort of like brushes. I tried a lot of drawing apps, and Art Studio just does things that I like. It's great to have on your phone, whereas other software is more fun on an actual computer.
Because I record music and create art, I still rely on my desktop and laptop and can't leap to mobile devices only. I'm always doing something creative on mobile, laptop, and desktop. When I put together my book last year, I used A&I Book Creator, which is good for that or just putting together something for the family. It's a lot of fun, and you can do it by yourself on the computer. The color, with the quality it produces, is just incredible.