Sep. 22—When Joe Satriani was coming of age during the '70s, guitar heroes weren't the focal point unless they also sang lead. So the guitarist known as "Satch" figured he would just be a cog in a wheel.
"I thought I would play guitar in a four-piece, like Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin," Satriani said. "I thought that would be as good as it would get. When you look at things, it's really unbelievable how things turned out."
The spotlight was focused on Satriani, 66, after the release of his second album, 1987's "Surfing with the Alien," which went gold and also garnered critical acclaim and cultivated a loyal fan base. Thanks to his unique shredding skills, Satriani became a guitar hero during the late '80s. What set him apart from most of his peers, who also delivered acrobatic runs on the fretboard, is that he appeals to the mainstream.
"I'm just fortunate," Satriani said. "Some way that I play touches people. But you know, everything changed for me after 'Surfing with the Alien' was embraced. All of a sudden, the phone started ringing. Life became very different."
That was due to Satriani's ability and style. Satriani, who will perform Thursday at a sold out Bing Crosby Theater, plays in such a fluid manner that it never seems like he's showing off. Satriani surprised music fans since he has always included melody in and around his majestic solos. As a result, the title track and "Satch Boogie" became rock radio hits. Casual rock fans were down with instrumental guitar.
"I never expected to get airplay but then it happened and it got more exciting from there."
Mick Jagger called the New York native and asked if he would play guitar for the legend's initial solo tour in 1988.
"Working with Mick was an eye-opener," Satriani said. "I had the time of my life with Mick. Who wouldn't want to work with an icon like him? Not only was it a great opportunity, it was fascinating getting to know him. He is a tremendous musician. I had no idea that he came up with the riff to 'Brown Sugar.' To play with a Rolling Stone is just an amazing thing."
It might even be more amazing how many guitar monsters learned how to play courtesy of Satriani. Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Primus' Larry LeLonde and Steve Vai were each Satriani students.
"I really enjoyed teaching guitar," Satriani said. "It's especially gratifying when you have incredibly talented students like I did. It really was fascinating since they were all different but they were all musical. No matter who they were, I made sure they memorized all the scales, all the notes and all the chords. It was then about determining what their assets are in terms of physicality. The interesting thing is that not all of my students who became successful guitarists wanted to be shredders. David Bryson (of Counting Crows) had no interest in shredding. He wanted to know about harmony, chord sequencing, scales and key signatures. I think the students learned a lot and I did as well."
The 15-time Grammy nominee continues to set the pace. Satriani has recorded 18 albums, including his latest, "The Elephants of Mars," which dropped in April. Satriani's latest album is comprised of complex, rousing and melodic tracks that were recorded during the pandemic. "I'm compelled to work," Satriani said. "When I'm not touring, I'm writing and recording."