“It’s been two weeks and a bit of a whirlwind just getting it started, but we have had so much fun,” said legendary guitarist Joe Satriani of his current G3 Tour, from a hotel in Denver. “We have this beautiful day off and I almost don’t know what to do with myself (laughs).”
Satriani — whose G3 tour stops include Feb. 18 at NJPAC in Newark — has been lighting up stages with his incredible talent and is widely considered one of the world’s best guitarists. G3 has a different lineup for each tour; the current version also features guitarists Phil Collen (of Def Leppard) and John Petrucci (of Dream Theater).
Why does Satriani put together a tour of his peers, in a business that can be very competitive and/or ego driven? To hear him tell it, it’s very simple.
“I came into my management office around 1995 and I said, ‘Thank you. I’ve got a career and I’m playing around the world, but my one complaint is that I never get to hang out with my buddy guitar players and jam. Every time I’m in New York, all of my friends are in Shanghai or London, and when I’m in Paris they’re in Sydney, Australia, and how come I feel more and more isolated the more successful I get? And what can we do to fix that?’ So we started this conversation that lasted a few hours where the craziest ideas came together. You know, like, how we would formulize guitar players getting together and jamming on a regular basis, and we ultimately came up with this formula that we called G3.
“It was mainly because, for instance, if we tried to get 10 guitar players on a bill, then nobody would play more than two songs apiece and who would join a tour if they could only play two songs, right? Then there was the problem of, what venue on a regular basis would accept us when there’s a general curfew? Doors open at 7 and close at 11; people have to work, they’ve got to go home, they have to lock the place up. But if we kept it at three players, then everybody got to play enough time onstage where they felt that they could promote their new album or really show people what they’re all about, and then we would always have enough time at the end of the show to have a jam where all three were onstage together.
“So it took about a year for us to convince the musicians and their managers that it was good to stand next to somebody else who might play better than you, which was tough because it’s sort of ingrained in show business minds that you never … you know that old thing about never working with animals or children because they’re going to steal the show? I kept thinking, no, you have to think like an audience member. They have their favorites and they’re not going to change their minds and the musicians can relax about that. It’s not that kind of competition. They’re going to be so happy that we dropped our guard, that we dropped our showbiz attitudes and we decided to have a friendly jam in front of them where we all get to celebrate guitar and play other people’s music.
“I think that first show that I did with Eric Johnson and Steve Vai was the one that convinced them, and they were the two most important people and when they walked off the stage after that first show, they finally understood what I was telling them. I said, ‘You have to think like you’re in the audience and how excited you’d be if three of your top 20 guitar players decided to show up and jam.’ You wouldn’t be thinking who’s one, who’s two and who is three; you’d be thinking this is the coolest thing ever, and that is the reality.
“That is why G3 survived and grows and it’s the heart and soul of what G3 is all about. As far as choosing the players, it’s hard because I have to find players that I’m excited about, players that like each other and players that the promoters around the world are excited to take a chance on because they’re the ones who are taking the financial risk. So they don’t want you to just bring unknown people. They’d really prefer that you bring Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page (laughs), but good luck getting that one together, right? I always start very innocently. I just go with who I’m excited with at the moment and then we float the idea out behind the scenes to a number of candidates. I have to have a hunch that there’s good chemistry between the players. It could be explosive or simpatico but it has to work.”
Satriani says he feels very fortunate to have Collen and Petrucci on board for the ride.
“It’s very tough getting musicians like John and Phil, who are part of really big rock bands who have a very complicated schedule booked years in advance. Just getting Phil to have two months out of Def Leppard is an amazing feat … Phil was a guest at my G4 Experience Camp last August and he just wowed the crowd of 200 campers, students and hardcore guitar enthusiasts. He was able to bring in something that was so different because not only is he an incredible musician who is well rounded and with a superdeep musical history but he also has the experience and knowledge of what it’s like to play stadiums and arenas for decades and be part of a band that sells tens of millions of albums. And his shows are complicated. He sings and he plays and he physically performs but he was so good at just sitting in a room with a hundred guitar players and being friendly and open and talking about everything from the thickness of the pick to how to warm up, to what it’s like to be playing in front of 100,000 people.
“We were very surprised when he made himself available for a G3 tour. I never thought he’d do it but I’m glad he did because he’s an inspiring person and once he jumps onstage he shocks you every night with just how good he is. I have a real good chemistry with him and John, and in this case it’s a genuine respect, interest and excitement which makes each show a lot of fun.”
Previously the word “ego” was mentioned and when prompted, Satriani chose his words carefully while saying he and the crew are somewhat responsible for keeping everyone happy and level.
“Myself, my manager and others on our team, it’s our responsibility to manage everybody and their individual needs and some people need more than others. I don’t discriminate. I’ve invited them to do something that’s very unusual which might be a bit awkward and uncomfortable at times, especially if they’ve never done one before, and some artists are not comfortable standing next to someone similar. They just don’t like it. They like to be in their own environment and I totally respect that, and G3 isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Other players are very relaxed about it, and Phil and John are totally relaxed about it. They have such confidence that it never enters into the question. They are actually walking onstage thinking, ‘This is gonna be so much fun. I’m gonna get to play something crazy and those other guys are gonna make me play something that I’ve probably never thought of before or I’ve never been sort of nudged to play before.’
“In respect to this G3, we’re all on the same page. We want to go out there and live dangerously and see what happens. We get a good thrill out of it and after every show you’ll find us backstage just talking about what just happened (laughs); like three teenage kids who just played their first battle of the bands and are all excited. So we’re still guitar nerds at heart, I suppose.”
Touring can get interesting and many hours spent on a bus can lead to discovery. Discovery of new music, new artists, books and/or knowledge. Satriani has some new favorites.
“I’ve been listening to this young band, Greta Van Fleet, and I’m really enjoying that exuberance that I’m hearing. When I first heard them, I sent their album to all my friends that were in my high school band. We’re still good friends and we stay in touch and, I swear, that’s what we were trying to do when we were 15 years old. We were just trying to be like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Stones, but these guys are really good at it (laughs)! They have that same kind of … it just sounds like they love music and they love what they’re doing and yeah, I’ve been listening to that quite a bit.
“The other day on the bus, I played some Scott Henderson. Do you know him? Scott’s more of a … maybe call him a blues jazz player, fusion player? I don’t know, I can’t categorize him; he’s just so supremely musical. Every time I hear him play, that album he did a couple of years ago called Vibe Station is pretty outrageous. I just don’t know of another guitar player who can play like that. I’m stupefied. When I hear it my heart rate goes up and I go, ‘Wow!’ I always find myself sending him an e-mail, ‘Hey Scott, just listened to your record again, totally amazing.’ More people should encounter him, he’s an amazing guitarist.”
Feb. 16, the G3 Tour pulls into New York with a stop at The Beacon Theatre, followed by a Feb. 17 show in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theater and then a final area appearance at NJPAC in Newark, Feb. 18.
Joe says they are “looking forward to getting onstage every night and having a good time.” Who are we to doubt him?
For more about Satriani and/or G3, visit satriani.com.