How Joe Satriani Took Tapping to a New Level

March 8th, 2017

By Damian Fanelli

Recently, Music Radar sat down with Joe Satriani to discuss his landmark 1987 album, Surfing with the Alien, which turns 30 this year.

Although it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, Satch said he had certain goals in mind when writing and recording the album, including taking two-handed tapping to the next level. He says we can hear the results in two Surfing songs in particular: “Midnight” and the bridge section of “Satch Boogie.” Let’s start with the latter.

“Satch Boogie”

“For the middle pitch axis section, I wanted to take two-handed tapping to some different level, so with ‘Midnight’ and with this section I was thinking, ‘What has Eddie [Van Halen] not done?’ I mean, Eddie is just a genius. He’s the Number 1 guitar player of my generation, but I thought, ‘I’m not going to step on his toes.’

“And so I applied things to the idea of tapping the ‘board that I thought moved into an area that Eddie hadn’t explored. And then using it as a bridge in a boogie song I thought was the weirdest thing. I just love that. I love it when you do a bridge that’s so completely weird that when the song starts up again, you go, ‘Oh, that’s right, it’s the boogie!'”

“Midnight”

“Like I said, I was a big Eddie Van Halen fan, and I just loved playing his stuff, but I could sit back and if I was going to be analytical I could say, ‘Well, he’s not doing this. He’s taking it in that direction, but what about all this other stuff you could do with it?’ And, so, again, I tried to be as respectful as I could—I thought, ‘Well, maybe the way to do it is to write a song first and then see if you can interpret it as a two-handed piece.’

“I wrote a piece of music based on this baroque music that I’d been listening to and I literally wrote it out on manuscript, and it was just chords and a looping melody. And then I thought, ‘Okay, now how can I turn this into a two-handed piece?’ And I spent months taking the thing apart and trying to figure out a way to play it like it was Beethoven or Chopin or something. And that’s what I wound up with.

“Then I thought, ‘Okay, now I’ve got it, it’s rather mechanical… how do I create a recording that’s rather fantastical?’ Because that was the other thing. I mean, Eddie was all about rock and roll, like fun rock and roll band. Giant guitar hero playing loud, wearing striped clothes and jumping around and trying to avoid the crazy lead singer, that kind of thing. And I thought, ‘What about a pure fantastical thing, like music that is accompanying some weird ceremony in the middle of the night, in the middle of a forest?’

“I played my black Boogie Strat direct into a mic preamp, right to the tape machine and then we used some sort of stereo chorus and some beautiful reverb, and I recorded all the pieces. I used a little Casio CZ-101 to record the flute.”

For the entire track-by-track interview, head to musicradar.com.

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