There are beloved musicians, and then there are those musicians loved by other musicians. The problem with the latter usually lies with the musician in question living in the calm of relative obscurity. Joe Satriani can easily fall into both categories, but unlike some of those in the latter, obscurity's never been his thing.
No, obscurity doesn't gel with Satch. A naturally gifted guitarist with an affinity for complicated techniques and an innovative spirit unhindered by popular trends, Satriani burst onto the American music scene as an instructor in California in the late '70s. In what can only be described as a fortuitous set of circumstances, his teaching career brought him into contact with a large showing of the instrument's luminaries of the following decades.
Among his tribe are Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Primus' Larry LaLonde, Exodus' Rick Hunolt, and Testament's Alex Skolnick. Most famously, he was Steve Vai's music teacher. Vai, widely considered a modern master of guitar, is four years Satriani's junior, and the world has assigned them a quasi-comical and completely nonexistent rivalry, à la Sampras/Agassi. If a tennis analogy seems a little off-kilter, then a quick look at the athleticism is necessitated. To say that Satriani is a "highly technical" guitarist is a bit of an undersell. He might be the most highly technical, followed closely by his former pupil and, to a degree, that other virtuoso with an appetite for Ferraris oft-seen on South Florida's roadways, Yngwie Malmsteen.
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In his G3 showcases, he has aligned himself with top talent, working with luminaries like Mick Jagger in the late '80s, and in 2008, he formed the hard-rock, initially just-for-fun jam band Chickenfoot with some of his old pals from Planet Us (Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony) and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Satriani's "mind-bending guitar daredevilry" comes from the numerous techniques you can find him using for his performances. That he never delves too much into technique that would render his compositions garbled aural messes is a testament to his ability as a musical craftsman. A two-handed tapper, an arpeggio tapper, master of legato and harmonics who knows how to use effects, Satriani has hands that are almost robotic blurs as he machine-guns through sweeping and alternative picking, a sight that can be enjoyed by connoisseurs and neophytes with equal gusto.
Maybe there is something to his long-running association with extraterrestrial themes. His debut album, Not of This Earth, turns 30 this year, and while it might've been named after a movie he enjoyed with his school chummies, the inside joke carried over into a career-spanning connotation of alien life. His follow-up effort, Surfing With the Alien, is a glossy and polished work that heralded, not unlike the Silver Surfer on the cover, a new age in guitar-driven rock 'n' roll.
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With 15 studio albums under his belt by now, Satch is as innovative as ever. By his own admission, Satriani is not a "singer," and his almost-exclusively instrumental catalog is marked by how seamlessly he has been able to create vocal and percussive elements via the guitar. It's hard to think of anyone playing today exhibiting any degree of technical prowess who doesn't link back through musical DNA to Satriani.
Satch will highlight his three-decade-plus career in his latest tour, Surfing to Shockwave. Backed by a pair of Dethklokers, Bryan Beller and Mike Keneally, and onetime Necrophagist drummer Marco Minnemann, this retrospective package is sure to please die-hard fans and enthrall newcomers to his guitar daredevilry.
8 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $52.50 to $97.50 plus fees. Call 954-462-0222, or visit parkerplayhouse.com.