For most guitarists, there can be two ways to approach writing a song on the instrument — the technical route, where they try to fit in as many notes as they can, and the more melodic path, where the adage suggests less is more.
While guitarist Joe Satriani has often been characterized by the former – a reason he’s featured heavily in guitar magazines – he decided to change it up for his 16th album “What Happens Next.”
G3 2018 featuring Joe Satriani, Phil Collen and John Petrucci
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 23
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
Tickets: $29.50 – $89.50
But he first had to break out of the mindset of his previous albums. Satriani admits he had his doubts as he headed into the studio to record as a trio with Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.
“It always makes you feel you’re doing something dangerous when you not playing a lot, when it’s just a drummer, bass player and rhythm guitar and a melody,” Satriani says. “You worry if people will really hear the musical message, the emotion, in it. Or will they just rate it at a technical level?”
But he quickly realized that doing less was just as effective.
“You listen back and go ‘wow, that sounds huge. Somehow playing less makes it sound bigger and makes the impact more powerful,” he says. “And some of the arrangements were so unusual like ‘Cherry Blossoms’ and ‘Catbot.’”
The rhythm section of Hughes and Smith helped give the songs an added dose of personality and charm, Satriani says.
“They did their homework and showed up with great ideas and were open to improvisation and making things up on the fly and giving everything they had in the performance. We had a short time to record the bass and drums, only about a week. But I think it added to the excitement. Every song we did every day made us feel better and better. It made us more excited to move on to the next song.”
“I told everyone to spread your wings,” Satriani continues. “Make your personality on the bass or drums as big as you want. It’s got to be about the three of us in the room rocking out.”
They came up with an eclectic collection of soulful tunes, boogies, rockers, and ballads. It was a fun time for Satriani, who ditched the sci-fi personas and album concepts from previous albums to be himself. His son’s documentary “Beyond the Supernova” inspired him to break the mold of his recent work.
“This cathartic experience of going through the making of the documentary was just thing I needed to come full circle to really understand the difference between persona and real personality and come to terms with all of it,” he says. “Internally, it took a lot of emotional, psychological work to battle my way out and come back and embrace my original love of music and guitar playing. That has manifested itself in the new stage show which is more upbeat and exciting.”
That stage show is featured in the 2018 version of his long-running, guitar-centric tour G3, which pairs him with two other guitarists (he started G3 in 1996). For this leg of the tour and Chicago stop, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and John Petrucci of Dream Theater will join him.
Collen and his band Delta Deep will take the stage first, followed by Petrucci and his trio featuring fellow Dream Theater member Mike Mangini. After playing their own set, Satriani and his band is joined by Collen, Petrucci and Delta Deep vocalist Debbie Blackwell.
“I think it invigorates the creativity when you mix up as many different guitar players as possible,” Satriani says. “The cool thing about G3 is the chemistry is built on two things that are really opposite each other. One is shared roots, which really help… rock and blues and improvisation and things like that. And then the things that make us so different from each other.”
“That’s where this special energy comes, in where there’s a genuine interest between all three of us to see what makes us tick and how we improvise and what we have to draw from. … They’re eager to jump on stage and stand right next to you to see how we can push each other to play better.”
Joshua Miller is a local freelance writer.