Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #129. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Joe Satriani returns to Australia, 30 years since his first visit with Mick Jagger and with plenty of Oz tours in-between. But it wouldn’t be a Satriani tour if there wasn’t some kind of twist. Words by Peter Hodgson.
Joe Satriani’s first visit to Australia was 30 years ago, as a member of Mick Jagger’s band for a massive solo tour. Since then, he’s been back countless times with countless lineups on solo tours of his own (sidenote: we would absolutely kill for a Chickenfoot tour) and as part of his G3 extravaganza.
Now Joe is coming back in celebration of that 30th anniversary, and also in support of his most recent album, What Happens Next. And whereas What Happens Next is anchored by the rhythm section of Deep Purple legend Glenn Hughes on bass and Satriani’s Chickenfoot bandmate – and Red Hot Chili Peppers legend – Chad Smith on drums, the lineup for this tour is driven by the crack combo of Mike Keneally, Bryan Beller and Joe Travers – all of whom have played together for decades as part of Keneally’s various ensembles, including Beer For Dolphins and the Mike Keneally Band.
It’s all emblematic of Satriani’s constant search for musical reinvention, and exploring the possibilities that happen when you swap out established elements in favour of something new.
So this is the first time you’ve been to Australia with Joe Travers!
Joe joined the band at the beginning of the year, and it’s been going great. This band is amazing, and I’m so lucky to have Mike Keneally, Bryan Beller and Joe Travers touring with me. It’s basically the Mike Keneally Band, and they’re letting me play with them! Every night is really fun, and it’s a good adventure. We get to improvise and we get to really rock.
You’re a player with a lot of blues in your approach to rhythm. When a guitarist plays with that approach, the drummer makes a huge difference.
I think a really good way to look at it is to look at the previous band with Marco Minnemann in the drummer’s seat. It was so interesting for me, over the last six years or so, how I was exploring different kinds of arrangements that would allow the three or four drummers to play around with basic rock and deep-pocket stuff like Jeff Campitelli, to kind of a deeper, almost jazz and progressive swing from Vinnie Colaiuta, to then go to a younger, hyper-progressive approach from Marco Minnemann, and then, in a way, circle back to Joe Travers, who is like a sum total of all that.
I find that Joe has got such a deep rock pocket which is really quite unique. It’s night and day to Marco’s approach, which brought out different things in my playing, but it feels a bit more comfortable because Joe shares some roots with Jeff Campitelli in their love of rock and blues and that backbeat, and letting the song really shine in the front instead of each individual musician showing their ability to multiply every little aspect of a song structure.
And it all comes down to the message you want to send with your style. To completely transmit a style to the audience, you need to repeat certain things. If you’re going to be a blues player, you need to imitate the consensus of who the greatest blues players are. You need to show your audience, “Look, I have listened to and know how to play like BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King and Buddy Guy.” Your audience appreciates it when you kind of copy somebody. That’s what every stylised artist has to do; they have to show their roots and their connection to the audience. But in essence, it’s being unoriginal.
But then you take a look at progressive music, and what they’re doing is they’re saying, “Well, here’s the song, and while we’re playing the song, I just want to show you how good I am at reinterpreting every measure.” And that becomes repetitive as well. So I think that when you change members, like with a drummer, you get into this thing where they come with their own approach to the music.
They may want to be a little more ornamental like Marco was, or they may want to lay down the biggest groove possible like Joe or Jeff. And I leave that up to the drummer. That freedom makes everybody have fun on tour, month after month.
What was it like for you when you first started touring? Because there was no blueprint for being an instrumental guitarist leading your own shows.
That’s right, there was no blueprint, and it was pretty comical. I started with Stu Hamm on bass and Jonathan Mover on drums, and we didn’t even know each other. So we thought, “Do we just go out and play the songs, or do we bring the experience from our other bands to this?” There wasn’t a common thread, really.
So we just started out trying to present a night of songs, and we didn’t have that many songs that worked in front of an audience. We were playing two sets a night to a club audience, and the audience was as confused as we were! Y’know, how is an audience supposed to behave when it’s a rock instrumental? So I think we all grew up together. Me, the band and the audience. And I learned quite a bit in that first year of touring, because after three weeks on that Surfing With The Alien tour, I got the lead guitar job with Mick Jagger. After a two week break, I was just thrust into this rockstar arena.
You have to act and project yourself in a very particular way. Luckily, I was very comfortable with the material, but playing in front of 90,000 people was still a bit of a shock! But Mick was very forthcoming with advice on how to project yourself to big audiences, and how to pace yourself in a three‑hour show. So I was able to return to Stu and Jonathan and say, “Hey, I’ve learned some stuff!”
So we toured for months, and then I went back for one last tour with Mick Jagger. And it grew. As the records became more popular, people accepted the fact that I was just gonna walk out there and start playing, and to behave in a natural way – which was that I just really wanted to come out and rock the house. But it was those first three weeks of the tour in January 1988 that were the most awkward, because we didn’t know what to do!
Saturday November 24th - Astor Theatre, Perth
Monday November 26th - HQ, Adelaide
Wednesday November 28th - Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Friday November 30th - Canberra Theatre, Canberra
Saturday December 1st - State Theatre, Sydney
Sunday December 2nd - The Tivoli, Brisbane