Joe Satriani praises new bandmates
Anyone who’s seen Bay Area guitar hero Joe Satriani in concert over the years knows that he often shares the stage with larger-than-life bass virtuoso Stu Hamm, he of the wild improvisations and mind-boggling version of Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts theme. Nowadays, though, Satch’s bottom end is provided by Allen Whitman, bassist for instrumental surf-rock trio the Mermen. Whitman doesn’t have Hamm’s prestigious musical training, but according to Satriani that’s no biggie.
“They’re very different guys,” explains Satriani from a tour stop in Denver. “You know, Stu comes from a classical and funk background—I mean, that’s a funny combination, but that’s Stu’s background—and he went to Berklee School of Music. Stu was never a rock bass player—he was never a kid who listened to Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath—but Allen grew up a total rock ’n’ roll kid from the Philadelphia area. You can sit down with him and he will sing any rock song you can think of in the last 50 years. And the other side of Allen is that he’s been involved in so many experimental music projects. He’s a great writer, and he’s just got a lotta talent.”
Another new bandmate accompanying Satriani and long-time drummer Jeff Campitelli these days is Mike Keneally, who was playing keyboards and guitar in Steve Vai’s band when Satriani invited Vai, his former student, to take part in the first G3 Tour of ’96. Before that both Vai and Keneally had honed their chops with musical genius Frank Zappa.
Whitman and Keneally hooked up with Satriani in time to play bass and keyboards, respectively, on his 14th studio album, Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards.
“It was really a stroke of luck that the two of those guys were available,” he says. “I didn’t know how they were gonna click together, but I had a good feeling, you know, and they wound up being a great compliment to each other.”
Satriani wrote all 11 tracks on Black Swans, which was coproduced, recorded, and mixed by Langley’s Mike Fraser, who has worked with him several times. Satriani’s local connections also include Vancouver guitarist Dave Martone, whose 2008 album Clean he played on, and who will open for him on four western Canadian dates.
From day one Satriani’s name has been synonymous with heavy guitar music that is technically accomplished and beautifully melodic. But he doesn’t spend much time immersed in the works of other six-string wizards.
“Since the start of the European tour a couple of months ago I started listening to Beethoven’s symphonies every morning,” notes the 54-year-old picker. “And at night, before and after the shows, we would listen to the strangest selection of music. We’ll listen to John Lee Hooker and J. B. Lenoir, and then we’ll put on Kanye West. Then it’ll be old Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Jethro Tull records, then a little Ali Farka Touré. I listen to a lot of different music.”