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.

God I miss The Ramones

Yesterday marked 19 years since Joey Ramone, the lead singer of the legendary punk band The Ramones, passed away. He died at the much too young age of 49 after valiantly battling lymphoma for several years.

At the time the passing of Joey Ramone hit me pretty hard. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the band. When people ask my top five favorite bands, The Ramones is always near the top of the list. Even though they had broken up in 1996, there was always a faint hope of a reunion down the road and maybe a new album. But with Joey dead, that wasn’t going to happen. The Ramones were really, truly gone for good.

The day after Joey died I clearly remember playing Ramones CDs practically nonstop at work and my wife went out and bought me a bootleg live CD from a store in New Hope hoping it would cheer me up. That’s how bummed I was about the loss of one of my musical heroes.

The funny part is that if it wasn’t for Stephen King and a trip to the Jersey Shore, I never would have fallen in love with the band in the first place.

My indoctrination into the world of the Ramones came in the form of 1989’s Brain Drain, the band’s eleventh album. On that record is the track “Pet Sematary” which was featured in the film of the same name. Based on the bestselling novel, the track was included thanks to King having been a huge Ramones fan for a number of years. It was written by Dee Dee Ramone and became one of the band’s only radio hits.

I had gone to see the movie with some friends when it hit theaters and remember enjoying the song a lot, more than the actual movie if I’m being honest. One trip to Wall to Wall Sound and Video later and I was the proud owner of the cassette version of Brain Drain. I listened to it a couple times and promptly put it on the pile with all my other cassettes, forgotten.

Flash forward a few months and my family was heading down to Ocean City, New Jersey for a long weekend at the shore. While my mother and sister had each brought a friend with them to hang out, I was going solo. The person I had asked to go had backed out at the last minute so the weekend turned into a party of one.

Luckily I had my Sony Walkman with me (ask your parents if you have no clue what a Walkman is kids.) and I had grabbed a couple cassettes to take with me. One was a Bon Jovi album and the other was Brain Drain.

I must have listened to that cassette 20 times over the course of that weekend. Each of the 12 tracks became permanently burned into my memory. “Learn to Listen”, “Palisades Park” and “Don’t Bust My Chops” are all songs I can recite the lyrics to from heart. I fell in love with the band that weekend and what followed was a binge of Ramones music the likes of which few had seen. In the span of a little over a year I would own most their discography as well as a few bootleg live shows.

In 1992 the band released Mondo Bizarro, the follow-up to Brain Drain and I had it the day it arrived in stores. Two years later I would finally get to see my heroes live when they played the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. I went to the show with some guys from my job and it was everything I tought it would be and more. I still vividly recall when the band broke into “Pet Sematary” and how I completely lost it.

Once Joey was gone, it made me really appreciate the fact I got to see them live that much more. If the end had come for The Ramones and I had not had the chance to see them live, it would have been a regret I would have had to live with the rest of my life.

Last December I had the chance to see the band’s drummer Marky Ramone play Ardmore Music Hall with his group Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. It was a great show and they played Ramones classics for almost two hours straight without taking a break. But it wasn’t quite the same as seeing the genuine article all those years ago.

It’s still hard to comprehend that next year it will be 20 years since the world lost Joey Ramone. It feels like just yesterday when I popped that cassette into my Walkman and really got to know a band like few others.

Rest in peace Joey. Gabba Gabba Hey.

A Thank You to Kelly Clarkson

I have always been a music fan. From the time I was little I remember my mother playing records nonstop on weekends. The Carpenters, Anne Murray and John Denver were staples on the turntable at our house. Later, when I wanted to something to listen to on my little toy record player, my Mom introduced me to The Beatles by giving me her copy of A Hard Days Night to play. I must have listened to the title track a dozen times that day as I fell in love with the Fab Four.

Over the decades my musical tastes have become ridiculously eclectic. My iTunes library is a mess of bebop, 80s hair metal, R&B, progressive rock, hip hop and anything and everything else. It can take my 10 minutes just to decide what I want to listen to.

I mean, right now I’m listening to a playlist that includes The Ramones followed by Dokken and then Cher.

I love music. I love the way it can bring back memories that have been long buried. I love the fact I can tell you exactly where I was the first time I heard Joe Satriani or Pink Floyd or the B-52s and why I happened to be listening to that particular artist at that particular time.

(There’s a whole sad tale about why I love the B-52’s that is so funny and yet pathetic at the same time that it will make you cry. Another time perhaps.)

My wife Lisa and I spent countless hours listening to tapes on her small portable cassette player in the earliest days of our relationship. We’d spread a blanket on the floor and just listen to music, whether that be Kenny G or Bread or just the local smooth jazz radio station. Later we would go to Penn’s Landing for their smooth jazz free concerts or go see bands we loved down at the casinos in Atlantic City or in Philadelphia.

So when the Alzheimer’s that was slowly taking Lisa from me progressed to the point that she had to be placed in an Alzheimer’s facility, it made perfect sense that I would retreat into music in a big way, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.

Lisa and I had lived together for years and being alone in our home for the first time was incredibly rough. Because I knew that she wasn’t on a trip to see family or that she was just out doing some shopping and that she would be home later. I knew that she wasn’t coming home ever again due to the Alzheimer’s and what it had done to her.

I used to think I enjoyed being alone. Turns out that isn’t the case.

Most evenings, I would sit at my Mac and listen to music for hours. Some nights I wouldn’t even bother to turn on the television. I would just sit at the computer, listening to the songs that made up the soundtrack of our lives. The songs that brought back the good memories of what life was like before Lisa got sick.

Which brings us to Kelly Clarkson.

Clarkson had released a greatest hits album back in 2012 titled Chapter One. It included all the monster hits she had recorded since winning American Idol as well as a new song titled “Catch My Breath.”

For some reason I will never be able to explain, “Catch My Breath” connected with me and made me feel better. The lyrics didn’t really apply to what I was going through at the time and it’s not like it spoke to me on some emotional level, but the song took a small amount of the pain that I was going through away.

I must have listened to that song hundreds of times. Watched the music video more times than I can count. I still listen to it on a fairly regular basis.

Is it possible to connect with a piece of music so deeply and not know why? To know that it makes you feel like you can go on but have no clue why it does that?

It’s isn’t an exaggeration to say that Kelly Clarkson got me through some of the worst days of my life. That one song and a multitude of others made it possible for me to get past those first lonely nights at home.

In the months since Lisa passed I still listen to a lot of music. I’ve taken to finding the music videos I loved watching on MTV as a teenager and keeping a playlist of them on YouTube. I’ve made countless playlists on iTunes that cover the entire musical spectrum.

My favorite? The one titled “Lisa” that includes “Catch My Breath” about midway through.