Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Something Special

Joe Satriani

Surfing With The Alien


Remastered       @320

Biography by Greg Prato

Along with teaching some of the top rock guitar players of the '80s and '90s, Joe Satriani is one of the most technically accomplished and widely respected guitarists to emerge in recent times. Born on July 15, 1956, in Westbury, NY, and raised in the nearby town of Carle Place, Satriani -- inspired by guitar legend Jimi Hendrix -- picked up the guitar at the age of 14 (although he was initially more interested in the drums). Quickly learning the instrument, Satriani began teaching guitar to others and found a kindred spirit in one of his students, Steve Vai. By the late '70s, however, Satriani had relocated to Berkeley, CA. With his sights set on his own musical career, "Satch" kept teaching others, including such future rock notables as Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Larry LaLonde (Primus), David Bryson (Counting Crows), and jazz fusion player Charlie Hunter. 

In the early '80s, Satriani got a gig playing guitar with power popster Greg Kihn, doing some session work and touring with the group (an archival release recorded around this time, King Biscuit Flower Hour, was later issued in 1996), and issuing his own solo self-titled EP in 1984, financing and releasing the project entirely on his own. But when Vai hit the big time as the guitarist of David Lee Roth's solo band in 1986, he offered praise for his good friend and former teacher in several major guitar publications, leading to widespread interest in Satriani's playing. The timing couldn't have been more perfect for Satch, as he'd just issued his first full-length solo album, Not of This Earth, which automatically made ripples in the rock guitar community. 

But the best was still to come, in the form of his sophomore release, 1987's Surfing with the Alien. Almost overnight, Satriani was widely regarded as one of rock's top guitarists, as the album earned gold certification and the guitarist would finish at the top of guitar magazine polls for years afterward. He was even handpicked by Mick Jagger to accompany the famous singer on a tour of Australia and Japan around this time. A stopgap EP, Dreaming #11, combed both studio and live tracks and was issued a year later, and in 1989, Satriani issued his third solo full-length, Flying in a Blue Dream. Another sizeable hit, the album also marked Satch's debut as a vocalist on several tracks. His career received another big push the same year when his song "One Big Rush" was included on the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's hit movie Say Anything. 

The '90s began with Satriani creating his own line of guitars for the Ibanez company (the JS Joe Satriani model), but it wasn't until 1992 that he would issue his next solo release, The Extremist. The double-disc set Time Machine followed a year later (a combination of new tracks, live material, and the long out-of-print Joe Satriani EP from 1984), and in 1994, Satch filled in on tour for the departed Ritchie Blackmore for heavy metal pioneers Deep Purple. Although he was asked to become a full-time member, Satriani turned down the offer to return to his solo career. 

Satriani issued two more solo albums during the '90s -- 1995's self-titled release and 1998's Crystal Planet -- and also started the G3 guitar showcase tour with Vai in 1996, becoming an annual event and issuing a live document of the tour's initial run, G3: Live in Concert, a year later. 2000 saw Satriani issue his most musically daring release yet, the electronic-based Engines of Creation, and a year later, Live in San Francisco. Engines was nominated for a Grammy the next year, and after a successful tour he stepped back into the studio. The result, Strange Beautiful Music, was released in 2002. Electric Joe Satriani: An Anthology arrived in 2003, followed by Is There Love in Space? in 2004, Super Colossal in 2005, and Satriani Live! in 2006. In addition to his own albums, Satriani has guested on several other artists' albums over the years, including Blue Öyster Cult's Imaginos, Alice Cooper's Hey Stoopid, Stuart Hamm's Radio Free Albemuth, Pat Martino's All Sides Now, and Spinal Tap's Break Like the Wind.

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Surfing with the Alien belongs to its era like Are You Experienced? belongs to its own -- perhaps it doesn't transcend its time the way the Jimi Hendrix Experience's 1967 debut does, but Joe Satriani's 1987 breakthrough can be seen as the gold standard for guitar playing of the mid- to late '80s, an album that captures everything that was good about the glory days of shred. Certainly, Satriani was unique among his peers in that his playing was so fluid that his technical skills never seemed like showboating -- something that was somewhat true of his 1986 debut, Not of This Earth, but on Surfing with the Alien he married this dexterity to a true sense of melodic songcraft, a gift that helped him be that rare thing: a guitar virtuoso who ordinary listeners enjoyed. Nowhere is this more true than on "Always with Me, Always with You," a genuine ballad -- not beefed up with muscular power chords but rather sighing gently with its melody -- but this knack was also evident on the ZZ Top homage "Satch Boogie" and the title track itself, both of which turned into rock radio hits. This melodic facility, plus his fondness for a good old-fashioned three-chord rock, separated Satriani from his shredding peers in 1987, many of whom were quite literally his students. But he was no throwback: he equaled his former students Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett in sweep picking and fretboard acrobatics and he had a sparkling, spacy quality to some of his songs -- particularly the closing stretch of the Middle Eastern-flavored "Lords of Karma," the twinkling "Midnight," and "Echo" -- that was thoroughly modern for 1987. The production of Surfing with the Alien is also thoroughly of its year -- stiff drumbeats, sparkling productions -- so much so that it can seem a bit like a relic from another era, but it's fine that it doesn't transcend its time: it captures the best of its era and is still impressive in that regard. 


  1 Surfing with the Alien  
  2 Ice 9  
  3 Crushing Day
  4 Always with Me, Always with You
  5 Satch Boogie  
  6 Hill of the Skull  
  7 Circles  
  8 Lords of Karma
  9 Midnight
  10 Echo


Guillermo said...

Classic!! thanks!