Joe Satriani: The Best Musician You’ve Never Heard Of

I think it’s safe to say that everyone has that one musician or band that they absolutely adore but relish the fact no one else has ever heard of them. It’s like they are your own personal find and you love that you are the only one cool enough to enjoy and appreciate them.

For me, that musician is Joe Satriani.

Satriani is considered one of the greatest guitar virtuosos to ever pick up the instrument. He has mentored the likes of Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett and has been releasing instrumental guitar rock albums since 1986 when his debut album Not of This Earth arrived.

However, it was his second effort, 1987’s Surfing with the Alien, where most people stood up and took notice of what Satriani could do. The album includes 10 tracks of blistering guitar work that continues to amaze me and his legion of fans to this day. Every time I take the vinyl out of the sleeve and put it on the turntable I find something new that I never noticed before. It is considered a classic of the genre and a must own for anyone who takes their music seriously.

I first heard Surfing with the Alien shortly after it was released thanks to a friend of a friend who had the album. He insisted on playing it while we shot pool in my buddy’s basement and I was transfixed by what I heard. Where was the singing? You mean it’s all just instrumental guitar? That’s it? You can do that?

A few days later I bought the cassette and it didn’t leave my tape deck for two solid months.

I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. Songs like the title track, “Crushing Day” and “Lords of Karma” were just Satriani shredding nonstop while songs like “Always With Me, Always With You” and “Echo” showed a slowed down, more musical side to what he could do. And unlike many guitar albums, this wasn’t just someone showing off how fast they could play or what noises they could make with a guitar. This was actual music, the kind you could really listen to, enjoy and get something out of.

Despite the fact I consider myself a pretty hardcore Satriani fan, I’ve only had the opportunity to see him perform live once. It was during the Flying in a Blue Dream tour in 1990 when he played at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby. A friend and I waited outside all night to make sure we got great seats for the show. (This was back when you had to physically wait in line to buy concert tickets kids.) Live he was even better than on his albums, taking songs in surprising new directions and playing off his incredibly talented bassist Stu Hamm.

Overall Satriani has released 17 albums, including his latest, Shapeshifting, which dropped just last week. Over the course of his career he has experimented with almost every type of music you can think of. There is the aformentioned Flying in a Blue Dream where he tried his hand at singing. There is his self-titled 1995 album which is a straight up blues record. There is Engines of Creation from 2000 where he did EDM before it even had a name and 2018’s What Happens Next where he does a more striped down, simple style of guitar record.

Joe Satriani has always been the music I turn to when I need cheering up, when I want to celebrate something or I just need something to listen to while I’m doing the dishes. And it’s time for more people to discover just how talented he is. I can’t keep it to myself anymore. The secret needs to get out.

Do yourself a favor and pick up Surfing with the Alien or Shapeshifting or any of Satriani’s albums. You really can’t go wrong no matter which one you get. You won’t be sorry.

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