Joe Satriani: Prime Cuts
WOODSTOCK JAM Time Machine (Relativity, 1993)
That’s the kind of thing I spend a lot of time doing, especially when I’m with musicians with time to kill, usually during rehearsals and soundchecks. It’s the stuff we all love to do. You almost live for it when you're out on the road. But the fans never hear these jams because you’re always playing things off the album. The night of “Woodstock Jam” I was working on the first sessions for The Extremist with Simon Phillips [drums], Phil Ashley [keyboards] and Doug Wimbish [bass]. We were at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York, rehearsing in a huge, two-story barn. We were going over a song that didn’t have a title and was really just a super-electronic piece of weirdness. I had given them directions that drew from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew technique. Simon and Doug were improvising off some riffs I’d given them, and I told Phil to float on top and not get involved in any rhythmic figures. We just started doing it. And unbeknownst to us, Cuniberti, who was engineering and co-producing the record, was listening and thought to himself, “Man this sounds really good. I bet Joe’s gonna want to hear it tomorrow morning.” So he sticks a DAT in the machine and fades up to “record.” That’s why it fades up on the record. He captured the last 16 minutes of the jam. When we heard it back it was like, “Wow! It’s the coolest thing.” I couldn’t believe what those guys were doing, especially Phil. I mean, he was way out there somewhere.
I had studied with [noted jazz pianist] Lenny Tristano many years earlier, for about two or three months. He would stress that in order to play free, you had to remove all clichés. You had to remove anything that was an automatic part of your style, because to him it was like a twitch or something. Playing some blues riff that’s been around for 30 years was not improvising for him, just repeating. That was in my mind when I finally got around to doing a solo on that piece, about 10 minutes into it. I tried to free-associate and deconstruct myself, and it was exciting to hear my playing sound so non-committal. And yet, it sounds like there’s something really screaming going on. You can’t hear Chuck Berry, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix or whoever. You can’t pick out the specific lick, but you can hear the emotional influence.
ALL ALONE (also known as LEFT ALONE) Time Machine (Relativity, 1993) That’s the first time I’ve ever done someone else’s song. When I was about 16, my mother gave me a Billie Holiday songbook, and I performed “All Alone” for her birthday one year. She was really into Billie Holiday. It was the only Holiday song I could really relate to at the time, because I was so into Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and the Stones. The song stayed with me all these years. I’ve always played it, always loved it. And when the Time Machine project came about, I knew it was unusual, because there would be live material, the “Woodstock Jam,” and all sorts of new things. I thought the way to complement this mix would be to step outside myself for one song and play something that wasn’t mine.
I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so I played “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppelin for Stu [Hamm, bass] and Jonathon [Mover, drums] and said, “What I want is just that slow, crawling blues.” I told Stu he could get distorted, told Jonathon to go crazy with his kick drum and told Cuniberti to make it sound very big and old.
Some people say the solo reminds them of Beck, but to me it was more Jimmy Page, because I did the whole thing on a ’58 Esquire. I wasn’t prepared to play solos on a guitar like that because it was strung with heavy strings. They were probably .10’s or .11’s and I usually play .09’s. But the struggling during the solo, I think, added to the feeling of the song. It was the total opposite of a slick solo.
I don’t try to hide my influences, but I don’t go out of my way to copy people either. I’m not ashamed of it. You listen to Jeff Beck and there’s so much Albert King in his playing, it’s ridiculous. But you can’t hold it against him, because Beck is still an original and one of the greatest players of all time. The same thing with Stevie Ray Vaughan. I mean, every other note is a quote from Albert King or Jimi Hendrix, but that’s in no way a detrimental comment.
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