Interview with Joe Satriani (Chickenfoot)

Joe Satriani on stage.

Joe Satriani, one of the greatest guitarists of all time, dropped by Metal Express Radio to chat with Mick Burgess about Chickenfoot, the exciting new supergroup featuring Joe, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith.

The first question has to be, why Chickenfoot? That’s quite an unusual name for a band. Was that a working title that just stuck after time or did you set out to come up with something slightly different?

The truth is it started out as a joke codename as we had to call it something when we were sneaking around and recording. Nobody ever thought it was going to be called Chickenfoot. I actually never thought it was a bad name and I thought it was kind of cool. Before we knew it so many people were calling us by the code name that it wasn’t a secret anymore and it just stuck.

Chickenfoot is a band formed by yourself with Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith all of who have impressive and extensive track records in the business. You must have crossed paths with them many times over the years. At what point did you think “I’m going to do something with these guys”?

It was a surprise as I got a call out of the blue from Sammy, we both live in the San Francisco Bay Area so we are practically neighbours and he was putting a band together. We were in a band together about 6 or 7 years ago called Planet Us with Neal Schon and Deen Castronova from Journey and Michael Anthony was playing bass as well but we could never really get together to record much as I got busy and Sam got busy and everyone else was busy too. We did however record 2 songs that ended up on Sammy’s last solo record. One of the songs we wrote together back then ended up on the Chickenfoot record. About a year and a half ago Sammy called me and asked me to come to a show he was doing in Las Vegas and he said Chad Smith and Michael Anthony were going to be there. I went down to the show and we jammed for 35 minutes and it was such a fun thing to do. When we finished, the response from the audience was great. More importantly we felt that something really important had happened between us. We didn’t want this to be a one time thing and we wanted to do something about it. We promised each other that we’d follow it up with some kind of writing session to see if we could make it last. I had a writing session with Sam and it turned out great and we had so many great ideas and I got a feel of the kind of music he was looking to move into and he also got to know the kind of Rock ‘n’ Roll I was into and how we shared the same roots. What came out of the writing sessions is how much everyone loved great music and all the guys were into all this great new music just like me too. It was very exciting and we felt it was going to provide a lot of energy for a new direction.

How did you go about writing the material for the album? Did you sit down and write together?

The first 2 sessions were just me and Sam. Each time I’d go back home and make a demo and I’d send it off to the rest of the guys and I’d get thumbs up and thumbs down and I’d get suggestions on writing another part or changing something. The opinion of Mike and Chad was very important even though they may not have been coming up with chord sequences; their attitudes helped me stay focussed stylistically. At first I didn’t know them very well and wasn’t sure what kind of songs they liked or disliked so when I started I’d send out every kind of thing and send out 7 or 8 songs and they’d come back and say that they loved these 5 but those 2 were really weird so I wouldn’t write any more like those and concentrate on the type that they liked.

Often the rhythm section in a band tends to get overlooked but Chad and Michael are one hell of a rhythm section to play with.

Oh yeah, they are incredible. Sitting in the guitar players chair they are so much more than you could ever ask for. There’s so much creative output from those guys and you don’t really need to say much as once they hear a demo they just take it where it needs to be taken and it’s often better than you could ever have imagined. I really enjoyed that process. They took their individual parts and took it to a level that I could never have imagined. Every day in the studio was so challenging and was such fun because of their musicianship.

In Van Halen, Michael was overshadowed by Dave and Sammy’s vocals and showmanship and of course by Eddie’s guitar playing but his role in that band was so important not just with his bass playing but his backing vocals were such an integral part of the Van Halen “sound”.

He’s an absolute force of nature. His vocal style is unbelievable and his musicianship really comes through on the album and he can really do it live, he’s absolutely incredible. He has a way of playing bass that is absolutely massive. When you’re playing guitar in front of that bass it’s like a tidal wave, it’s fantastic.

The album is very diverse from driving Hard Rock to Blues to ballads. Do you think you each brought different influences to the songs?

Yeah, I think we did. You know, I can tell you stories about every one of those songs. The Blues track “Bitten By The Wolf”; I wrote that and recorded it directly to my laptop. When we got together to record, I showed up at the studio and they really liked that one and we recorded it in literally one and a half takes. That’s what I enjoyed so much about this is that when I wrote something that was a little off the beaten track and they’d say, “let’s record that”, that was great.
The ballad, “Learning To Fall” was actually a song that I wrote for Sam many years ago for the Planet Us project. It started off as an acoustic number with a different melody and chorus. I played it to Sam and he really liked it. I said I figured that he would play it on stage by himself with his guitar as a way of reaching each and every one in a personal way at a concert. He worked on it and changed just about everything about it but it ended up 100 times better and that’s the sort of the thing we all got used to. Everyone would bring in some kind of idea and then we’d go to the others “Right, now you guys go and play with it”. I’m really happy that the album did turn out as diverse as it did. There’s a really interesting, creative consistency and it will ultimately give the record legs, it’ll have longevity.

The other guys have been used to writing within a band set up for a long time whereas you’ve been your own boss virtually for the whole of your career. Did you find it strange writing within a band set up?

It was great actually. I can’t tell you how liberating it is not to have to be in charge. When you play guitar and Sammy Hagar is in front of you singing, the pressure is off because he takes up such a huge, huge space, it’s amazing. He just fills it up. He has this huge presence of energy and he has one of the most amazing Rock ‘n’ Roll voices ever. I’m used to having to fill that up with melody and solos all the time so this has been great for me.

There’s many highlights on the album. From the anthemic Rock of “Oh Yeah” with that great mid section and explosive solo to “Bitten By the Wolf” with its dirty Blues riff and Zep groove. Which tracks do you particularly like?

I have songs that pop up from time to time and I keep changing my mind. I love the guitar intro on “Runnin’ Out”. I’d written that song and I’d made a little QuickTime video of me playing it and I sent it to the guys. Chad was the first one to respond and he said that it was a really cool song and all it needed was an introduction. No one had heard the full song until we got to the studio to record it and I said I had this little part for an introduction and we nailed it and I think the sixth take is what ended up on the album. It was a different style of rhythm guitar playing, it was actually something that I’d played for decades but nobody had ever heard me play it. So everything that’s different to what I’ve done on my own albums has this special quality and appeal to it for me.

With a song like “Oh Yeah” it started with Sam saying that he wanted to do a real authentic kind of Blues song where we get to sing and play the same melody and that was all that he told me and I was inspired to write that type of guitar part where the vocals go with it. I knew that every time we get together with Chad and Michael it’s like this incredible Rock out session so I wanted to write lots of parts where things break down and take off. That song is pretty interesting in the way that when you get to the solo you almost can’t remember how the song started out. It’s really something. That particular recording was done in Sam’s studio and was one of the very first demo recordings that we did. We liked it so much that we overdubbed on top of it.

Andy Johns has produced the album. He’s worked with both Sammy and Michael in Van Halen as well as your own Extremist and Time Machine albums album not to mention the fact that he’s worked with Zeppelin and The Stones amongst many others. He seems like the perfect choice for you to work with? What is it about Andy you like so much?

I really felt that Andy would not only bring the right amount of creativity and spontaneity to the project I knew he would be a help to me in helping to arrange some of the things that I wanted. I really wanted some of the songs to have generous overdubs but I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come up with the right way to make it settle and one of Andy’s strengths is being able to arrange and to orchestrate Rock bands and sometimes he’ll have you doing 20 tracks of the most obscure little notes here and there and he’d send me out to do 8 harmonica tracks, a piano chord, 6 12 strings and you’d be thinking “Where is this going?” and then he would very subtly put it into the mix and you’d see why but we’d never get away from the sound of Me, Mike, Sammy and Chad on the record. He was really good at creating an environment we felt that we could be ourselves and Rock out and keep us sounding like a really fresh Rock band.

You’re supporting the album with a series of dates across Europe starting in Austria on 20th June and will include shows at festivals as well as your own headlining shows including a date in London on 25th June. Are you looking forward to getting out on the road with these guys?

Absolutely. We did a show a couple of weeks ago and that was so wonderfully liberating and exciting. It was the first time I’d played a whole record in front of an audience that they hadn’t heard. The audience really responded greatly to it. They were really into it. It was such fun to hear those songs come out of my guitar. It just felt like a new beginning for me and the guys were all fantastic live. We’re really looking forward to getting a lot of shows going.

Have you discussed the setlist yet? Will you be playing material from each of your back catalogues?

I hope that we do the entire record and maybe a couple of covers. I’m not of the opinion that we need to reflect the Chili Peppers, Joe Satriani, Van Halen, Montrose or Sammy Hagar material. I think we would waste an opportunity to establish ourselves as a separate entity. My suggestion to the guys was to play some of our favourite cover songs that had not really been celebrated. I’d like to pick some great Humble Pie songs and make them our own and make them part of the show rather than have Chad play like Alex or me play like Eddie. I’m in a band with those guys so why would we want to do that? I just can’t wait to get on out on the road with these guys and play these songs in front of an audience again.
The self titled debut album, which will be packaged in exclusive “heat sensitive” artwork, will be released on Edel Entertainment’s recently launched new international rock label earMUSIC in Europe, Australia and Japan on Friday June 5th and in the UK on Monday June 8th, the album will be released by Best Buy in America on Sunday June 7th.

Chickenfoot play at the London 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Thursday June 25th


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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