Legendary guitarist Joe Satriani talked with Guitar World about the beginning of his career as a musician and revealed the song that made him realize what music is about.
Read what he said:
“We used to do a version of the Cream song ‘I’m So Glad’ [written by Delta blues musician Skip James, covered by Cream on their 1966 debut album ‘Fresh Cream’]. I just played it the way I knew how to play it. To this day I don’t know if Eric [Clapton] uses the first finger now and then or something like that.
“But it’s, you know, E to D. And how they get so much music out of that is amazing. But when we first started to try to play that song at high-school dances and stuff like that, we instantly realized that there was this magic that had to be created within the four of us as a group.
Hear the song below:
“We were three instruments and a singer. And we knew instantly once you start playing in front of people you become aware of the tools that you’ve got. Not only the instruments and the amps but the fact that your music… You really come to grips whether or not it’s good enough because you’re getting a reaction right away.
“And you have a song that’s just got those few chords in it and suddenly you go, ‘Wow, there are no other chords to wow the audience.’ There’s no wah-wah pedal to step on, or anything – it’s just playing these two chords really good and communicating with everybody else in the band and creating some sort of magic in the room.
“This is what got me thinking that I really needed to practice not just memorizing the chord and where the chord could be played everywhere else on the guitar. Although that was important, I had to know what went with the chord, not just what you would learn out of a music theory book. That if you have these two chords it would be E Mixolydian. Because that’s certainly not what Eric Clapton sounded like, he just sounded completely free and perfectly timely for the moment for the way that he played.
“But when you have a great reference like that to point you into direction, you can say, ‘OK, I get it. I’m kind of in this major key but I can play blues on it because I heard Eric Clapton play blues on it. And he’s God, so it must be okay for me to just try to emulate that.’ [Laughs]
“You have to be exposed to what’s acceptable, what is possible in a particular chord progression. And then you have to learn how far is too far. And, of course, when you make that journey from a beginner player to an advanced player you realize that there are no rules and anything’s possible.
“But you will incur the wrath of the audience at some point when you go too far. There’s always someone in the audience who will be going like, ‘He plays really good, but where’s all the feedback and all those weird notes?’ And then the other person next to them is like, ‘I hate when he plays feedback, and he plays all those weird notes. Why can’t he just stick to the good notes?’
“So that’s your lot as a performing musician, you can’t please everybody. But you can use the song as a form of exploration for yourself. And in those younger years, in the formative years, you should explore not only on your own and with a band but also in front of an audience to see what happens when you try different things.
“And again, that song is so simple because it’s just two chords. It’s E chord and the D chord played in first position. What could be easier? But it’s a crash course on how magic is sprinkled generously over those two chords and how it makes that song something really special.”