A couple of retrospective projects are letting Joe Satriani take a look back at the nearly three decades he’s spent making “Strange Beautiful Music.”
On April 22, the guitar hero issues “Joe Satriani: The Complete Studio Recordings,” a 15-disc box set on Legacy that includes his 14 released albums plus an extra disc of “Added Creations and Bonus Tracks” from those sessions. He follows that on May 6 with “Strange Beautiful Music: A Musical Memoir,” co-written with Jake Brown and sporting a forward by Queen’s Brian May.
“It’s been more catharsis than I ever bargained for,” Satriani tells Billboard with a laugh. “I think more than anything else I gained quite a lot of newfound respect for the contributions by all my fellow musicians, and I almost felt like writing letters of apology to everybody from my wife to my manager and all the other people I’ve put through the ringer. When you look at all the different artistic directions I’ve pursued from the outside looking in, it looks like the actions of a mad person, you know? I’m sure there have been countless conversations I’ve had on the phone with all these people who I argued with in the heat of the moment, making records, where they’ve hung up and thought, ‘What the hell is wrong with that Joe guy?’ But you learn that with artistic decisions there’s not really right ones or wrong ones, just the ones you did and the ones you didn’t.”
Hear an unreleased song off the box set:
Satriani says he enjoyed the opportunity to remaster his catalog for the box set, though he cracks that, “Overall, I wish I could’ve remixed and re-written and re-played everything.” Nevertheless, he acknowledges, “I have to remember it’s in the past and really had to think about preserving (the music) as if it were an unearthed photograph no one has seen before and we have the chance to prepare it in a way that puts it in higher resolution than ever possible before. A lot of my catalog was done on analog tape, and a lot of it was then transitioned to the very early days of digital, which pales in comparison to today’s fidelity. So I finally have a chance to deliver the recordings to the audience in a way that sounds exactly like it sounded to me in the studio the day we mixed it. Then it becomes very exciting. Basically, everything sound better, which is great.”
In “Strange Beautiful Music,” meanwhile, Satriani, with Brown’s help, dissects the recording of each of those albums as well as his work with the all-star Chickenfoot in a depth that will please those who geek out on the smallest details but might disappoint those looking for gossip about Mick Jagger, Sammy Hagar or Deep Purple.
“We had to make a decision early on — is it an autobiography or what?” Satriani explains. “I felt like I’m too young to be putting out an autobiography. It evolved into a book that was more autobiographical than what we originally intended, but we still kept to a certain set of guidelines. Like, for instance, there are no pictures of my family, and I don’t talk about my family in depth. I’ve read maybe 15 autobiographies in the last year and a half by rock ‘n’ roll stars; some make you feel like you’ve learned a lot, some make you feel like you’ve learned way too much, some feel like they were a waste of my time. I just hope mine gives the fans some useful information.”
And Satriani says “Strange Beautiful Music” — which also incorporates comments from many of his peer, students and collaborators — may not be the last time he picks up the pen to write about his life. “When I was in the middle of it the last thing I wanted to do was think about another book,” he says, “but once the book was done I thought, OK, at some point maybe 10 years from now there could be a real autobiography that goes deeper and includes family and some of the other things I’ve done.”
With his past well documented by the book and box set, Satriani is ready to start doing some more music. He’ll be touring Europe this summer to continue promoting his 2013 release “Unstoppable Momentum,” and he’ll also play at the Acoustic-4-A-Cure benefit on May 15 in San Francisco and will host the G4 Experience Aug. 11-14 in Cambria, Calif., joined by Paul Gilbert, Andy Timmons and Mike Keneally. Satriani and Hagar have talked about working on a blues album together, but Chickenfoot seems to be on hiatus after 2011’s “Chickenfoot III.”
“I don’t know what’s going on with Chickenfoot,” Satriani says. “I’m really on the outside of that. I think I always have been. I tried really hard to get the guys to spend more time making records and more time on the road, but in fact I think Sam (Hagar) and Chad (Smith) have other ideas, and I just don’t know what those are — besides the obvious, which is they’re very busy with their other projects. I think that’s what it’s about. It’s been a big heartbreak for me (that) we weren’t able to get together and record another record like real bands do. So I don’t know where that sits now.”