Hailing the majesty of the guitar
by Todd K Smith

Joe Satriani is the ultimate guitar geek. The day he called us he was taking apart his guitar amp and rebuilding it. He also claimed to be sitting amidst guitar pedals, cords and spare parts strewn across the floor. He occasionally went into detail on his wife’s design business for customized guitar pics and straps. His enthusiasm for all things guitar is infectious as he describes the several projects that occupy his time. Since the late eighties, the versatile guitarist has designed custom guitars for Ibanez, amplifiers for Peavey and guested on numerous albums. He’s played with the Greg Kihn band, Mick Jagger and Deep Purple. Over the past 20 years he has received 14 Grammy nominations and has sold more than 10 million records worldwide. So, it’s no surprise he is the mastermind behind G3, the ultimate guitar extravaganza.

In 1996 Satriani, a New York native developed the idea of bringing three separate styles of rock guitar playing to the general public. His concept was to celebrate the uniqueness of each player, provide a stage for spontaneous creativity and let the audience in on the ride. He approached childhood friend and guitar wiz, Steve Vai with the idea and the two began assembling the perfect band for the project. To reduce the possibility of the show becoming an all out shred-fest, they solicited the talents of Texas guitarist Eric Johnson. All three had different backgrounds and influences. Satriani developed from the school of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix. Vai was influenced by Queen, Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa, eventually becoming a member of Zappa’s touring band. Johnson was mentored by Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Stevie Ray Vaughn and Carlos Santana. The first tour was shaky financially but the concept caught on with promoters and audiences alike.

“Every time I go out as G3, I try to give the audience an exciting lineup,” says Satriani. “I think I’ve called just about everybody from Billy Gibbons to Jeff Beck and Eddie Van Halen. We actually came close to getting Jeff Beck last year but he was committed for a solo tour. I’ll keep calling though, maybe someday they’ll say ‘yes’.” Over the last ten years the G3 tour has seen a number of rock alumni join the ranks including Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Arian Legg, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Michael Schenker and Yngwie Malmsteen. “I bring ideas to the promoters and they help with the decision process,” continues Satriani. “We’re constantly trying to expand not only as musicians but also our audience base. Any given night there’s going to be guitar players in the crowd that came to be inspired, so we’re sensitive to that. We also know there’s a lot of people out there just coming to listen to the flow of the music – that dig the spontaneity. But in the end, it still has to have mass appeal. It’s a mixture of art and commerce.”

This year’s G3 tour consists of Satriani, John Petrucci (Dream Theater) and Paul Gilbert (Racer X, Mr. Big). Hot off the heels of his own solo tour, Satriani is ready to rub shoulders with the other guys. “The greatest thing about playing with other musicians is the explosion of spontaneity and creativity,” says Satriani. “We celebrate the vitality between players and feed off the audience’s response.” The show is divided into three equal parts and closes with mesmerizing jams between players. “We have about 20 cover songs we choose from for the combined section,” explains Satriani. “Most are classic rock tunes by Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones or Zeppelin – something with a recognizable riff that the crowd will pick up on right away. That’s kind of how Paul got involved this year. He jumped up on stage in LA and played this long dramatic solo that was mind-boggling. By the end of it he had built up this frenzy and was playing behind his head!”

All three guitarists are currently on break from their solo or band work. “That keeps us fresh and able to focus on just having fun with G3,” says Satriani. “John just finished recording the new Dream Theater record – which is supposed to be a monster. Paul’s solo record Get out of my Yard is out and I just wrapped my Super Colossal tour and live DVD.” The energy of having active, working musicians reduces the amount of rehearsal time. Says the guitarist, “We’ll have a one day rehearsal with the back up band – bass and drums, and then start the tour in Phoenix. I think we hit Reno on the third date.” Reno holds a fond memory for Satriani. “It was there I started wearing sunglasses on stage,” he says. “I had just started shaving my head and came into to sound check there. I had my beanie hat and glasses on looking very much like an alien. All the guys in the band suggested I do the show with the glasses. It became a standard that night and really helps with the spotlight glare.”

Satriani is confident and excited about the future of G3. “There’s really no stopping it,” he says. “It redefines itself every time we go out. What breathes new life into it are the changing personalities. Usually it’s me and Steve (Vai) or lately John (Petrucci) with a third guest on the bill. Depending on the city, we’ll invite other well-know players on stage to jam for a couple songs. The audience loves a surprise. But, I could see an acoustic version, a blues one, a thrash one, and a fusion one – taking it to different avenues and blending it like never before.”

Website: Joe Satriani