Joe Satriani has reflected on his first and only meeting with Eddie Van Halen ahead of what is set to be a busy 2024 for the electric guitar virtuoso.
It was recently announced that Satch would be joining Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Jason Bonham for the Best of All Worlds tour – a string of shows that could be the closest thing we get to a Van Halen tribute tour.
Stepping in to play the parts once pioneered by the late Eddie Van Halen could be perhaps one of the most daunting yet rewarding gigs a guitarist could get, but Satch was deemed by his bandmates as the best player for the job.
His pedigree for the role has already been demonstrated, with the Ibanez signature artist teaming up with his new bandmates to perform five Van Halen tracks live on air.
Though Satch said there was a slight slip-up during his demo of Mean Street – and it “hurt like a thorn in my side” – the rest of the performance was a success, especially when the supergroup assembled mere minutes before going on air.
Now, with a new Van Halen-heavy chapter of his playing career set to begin, Satriani has gone all the way back to his first-ever encounter with the player who started the whole journey.
It proved to be a double-edged experience: he got the chance to meet Eddie Van Halen, but it came at a time when Satch himself was in the studio working on a particularly bothersome song – a song that he didn’t particularly want to show Eddie.
When asked by Ultimate Guitar about his one and only meeting with Van Halen, Satch recalled, “It was brief. I was in LA at Record One. I was in the last set of sessions for The Extremist album. Andy Johns was producing. Unfortunately, that morning we had put up a track that was really bothering me.
“It was just one of those songs that was a bit of a puzzle,” he went on. “I’d worked on it for two-and-a-half years and I still couldn't figure it out.
“It was one of these songs where – if I could get specific for a second – I was blurring the line between rhythm section, riff and melody, and I had this idea that, instead of it just being like, chords, melody, like a typical instrumental… it was more like a chugging melody that seemed to sit with the band.
“There were two songs that were like that, Motorcycle Driver and this song, Speed of Light. At the time, Andy and I had just finished doing a lot of 12-strings, and so it was really jangly.”
For all intents and purposes, it was proving to a particularly tricky day in the studio in 1992 – which made Eddie Van Halen’s shock impromptu visit all the more surprising.
“All of a sudden, this was like 11 in the morning, Eddie walks into the studio,” Satch went on. “I had no idea he was coming and I was totally shocked.
“He’s got a cigarette and a beer, and he’s just racing a million miles an hour. He’s like, ‘Hey, Joe, what’s going on? Play me what you got.’ I was like, this is the last song that I wanted to play [for] Eddie Van Halen.”
Unsurprisingly, Van Halen proved to be a dutiful and constructive listener: “But there it was, so we just sat there and we listened to the song and he made some comments and he picked up on the fact that it was really jangly at the moment… I didn’t see him again after that, unfortunately.”
Speed of Light didn't make it onto The Extremist's tracklist, but would finally be conquered and released as part of 1993's Time Machine – perhaps, in part, thanks to Van Halen's feedback.
It’s not the first time Satch has spoken about Eddie Van Halen and his upcoming role as the Best of All Worlds guitarist. After admitting he was coming to terms with the fact he doesn’t sound like Eddie Van Halen – “I don’t want to lose myself” – he then discussed the biggest challenge in covering his material.