One of the great appeals of the electric guitar is that, in the right hands, each note can have pitch, waver, and modulation – – a wordless vocal, if you will – – like a human singer (Peter Frampton’s talkbox is a different topic for a different discussion). One of the electric guitar’s all-time greatest “voices” is Joe Satriani.
I’ve never understood the knock that he’s “all technique and no soul.” Sure, he can play a thousand notes per measure, but so can countless other skilled axemen. Joe has a knack for always picking the perfect notes, sequences, patterns, scales, and pyrotechnics that the song and the moment and the solo demand. That is incredibly impressive and rare, but it’s not the heart of his greatness. The secret of the Satch is that he infuses every single one of those notes with poignance of feeling, soul, tone, and nuance. That kind of raw ability is not of this earth; it borders on the mystical. Aretha had it with her voice, Ronnie James Dio had it with his voice, Coltrane had it with his sax, and Joe Satriani has it with the guitar. Whether he’s conveying the celebratory elation of “Summer Song,” the rapturous abandon of “Surfing With the Alien,” the funky drift of “Is There Love in Space?” the gentle sensuality of “Rubina,” or the tender, sincere promise of love in “Always With Me, Always With You,” Satch weaves a narrative with his playing. He gracefully sets a scene, compellingly portrays Pollack-splatters, Escher puzzles, still lifes, and motion pictures (usually) unburdened by lyrics.
Metal and Hard Rock History are well-populated with guitar legends. Rhoads, Van Halen, Hendrix, Page, Malmsteen, Vai, Darrell, Loomis, Gilmour, Abasi – – just to name a few of the elites. My respect for all of those players is boundless, but for my money, Joe Satriani sits at the head of even that class. Speaking of guitar class: the pedigree of his actual students is astounding, including: Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Alex Skolnick (Testament), Larry LaLonde (Primus, Possessed), Phil Kettner (Laaz Rockit), Rick Hunolt (Exodus), and Steve Vai himself. Joe’s influence on Metal riffs, solos, and crazy guitar sounds cannot be understated.
“Always With Me, Always With You” is the song my wife and I danced to at our wedding. We chose it because we’d seen him in concert a number of times together, and this was always one of the highlights of the evening, and was always her favorite song from each show. I’m a guitar player, so I can appreciate all of the intricacy and cleverness of the chords and his note selection, but she just found the song to be a beautiful, special instrumental ballad. Mind you, this was during the era when he and his bandmates were stretching out the 3-minute song into an extended jam, tacking on 6 extra minutes of joyous outro and soloing.
Was your wedding dance scored by tasteful, gorgeous finger-tapping? (I don’t want to hear about the honeymoon). Satriani is one of a handful of people who’s able to create something so powerful, so virtuosic, and yet, so breathtakingly lovely, on this level. The texture of the notes in this song convey the genuine love contained within better than any crooner could ever manage.
Joe Satriani has incredible moments like this throughout his entire career oeuvre, from 1986’s “Not of This Earth” album to 2022’s “The Elephants of Mars,” and presumably beyond. As great as “Always With You” is, it’s not even his pinnacle. The song is special to me, for numerous reasons – – one obvious – – but he’s hit even greater heights with a number of other tunes; for examples, see “Searching,” “Time Machine,” “Shockwave Supernova,” “The Bells of Lal, parts I and II,” and “Andalusia,” “Cool #9,” “Super Colossal,” for starters.
If you’re not familiar with the depths and wonders of his catalog, then I almost envy you. Hop in the time machine, take a surf through his decades-spanning album list and discover how strange and beautiful Joe Satriani’s music really is.
Joe Satriani is a Metal Hall of Fame inductee.
Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as the co-host of the popular Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s also the lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel and a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.