After more than 30 years as a solo artist, Joe Satriani figures it’s hip to be square — or, at least, Squares — again.
The guitar hero, who came to prominence with 1987’s Surfing With the Alien and has played with the all-star Chickenfoot, Mick Jagger and Deep Purple — has resurrected the recordings of his late ’70s/early ’80s band for a new release, Squares — Best of the Early 80’s Demos, whose cover of the Paris Sisters’ 1961 hit “I Love How You Love Me” is premiering exclusively below. It’s a blast from the past that’s long overdue and, according to Satriani, comes with myriad emotions.
“We made a big mistake in the early 80s by never doing a self-released album,” Satriani tells Billboard. “We kept thinking that if we did and it wasn’t a success it would send the wrong message to the major labels who we were courting. Every time we’d make the trek to L.A. to try to get a record deal and get turned down we’d think, ‘Well, it’s a good thing we didn’t released it…'”
“In the end we should have just put something out and see what happened.”
Satriani and his brother-in-law Neil Sheehan formed Squares during the late ’70s in San Francisco, with the latter writing lyrics and managing. Singer-bassist Andy Milton, who passed away in 1999, and drummer Jeff Campitelli filled the lineup, and the group developed a fusion of hard rock, power pop and New Wave (“part Van Halen and part Everly Brothers” is how Satriani terms it) captured in recording sessions with engineer John Cuniberti. Squares ended when Satriani briefly joined the Greg Kihn Band and then started his solo career with 1985’s Not of This Earth.
“We laid down some seriously good music….(but) we were out of step with what people were looking for back then,” Satriani recalls. “I had reached a point in my musicianship where I was done chasing Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, all the players I grew up on. I felt like I was not gonna use their tools. I was not gonna play like that. I wanted to be in a band where it was more pop-oriented, more immediate, not trying to rehash American blues artists and turn them into something else. I was really thinking of boldly moving into the future back in ’79, and Andy and Jeff went along with our crazy ideas, and we were playing clubs every weekend trying to figure out, ‘How come we’re not getting a record deal?!'”
During the years since Squares broke up, Satriani says the group members stayed in contact and would occasionally ask each other if they had copies of the recordings they’d made. Cuniberti, it turned out, had everything and made sure the tapes were digitized and preserved. And after making last year’s Supernova documentary directed by his son, ZZ, Satriani softened to the idea of revisiting his days in Squares.
“The documentary was all about revealing the behind-the-scenes,” Satriani says, “and I suddenly came out of that project thinking I’ve been around for so long and people have heard all the albums and I’ve played around the world a million times. I didn’t want to hold anything back anymore, and it was so obvious. The music was actually really good and we were really something unique, in retrospect. Back then we thought we were failing, but now I realize there was nobody quite like us.
“I think everybody had been waiting for me to say, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ And I finally got to the point where I wanted people to hear this music.”
Satriani — who will be part of this year’s Experience Hendrix tour, starting March 3, for the first time since 2010 — says the Squares project, which comes out April 5, was “difficult” but also “extremely cathartic.” He also feels a twinge of regret since Milton is not here to see the music finally come out. “It would’ve been absolutely perfect if he was still around and could’ve done some shows. That would’ve been really great,” Satriani says. “But I feel really great that at least for the people who were close to him and knew him, they finally get to see this come out and he gets the accolades he deserves as a bassist and singer.
“It’s kind of better late than never, I guess, but I think what we did holds up really well, so I’m glad people will finally get to hear it.”