As an awkward teenager I found most of my heroes in guitarists. Middle school was littered with cassettes of guys with names like Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine, Steve Howe, Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. Every time I picked up a Guitar magazine I’d flip to the back of the magazine and find what new Shrapnel Records album I needed to look for on the next trip to the mall. There were exceptions, but for the most part these were cats playing as many notes as possible to the fastest drum beat they could muster. Not much for melody and pop hooks, the neo-classical shredder was about melting the guitar neck to songs with themes like dragons, fire, warriors, and time travel.
In that time frame of 7th and 8th grade there were a few exceptions in the guitar god world. Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, and Steve Howe kind of broke the mold. They were lyrical players that hooked you with a great riff and melody before pummeling you with super sonic speed. Vinnie Moore was a tasteful neo-classical player, and his album Time Odyssey is a classic in that genre. He covered “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on that one and it was a fantastic rendition. Steve Howe on his High Gear album went full Van Halen boogie and with his brother made a classic Sunset Strip-inspired rocker. And Paul Gilbert? He’s Paul “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” Gilbert. Need I say more?
But in the 9th grade my mind was fully blown when I discovered Joe Satriani. Surfing With The Alien is easily one of the absolute greatest guitar instrumental albums ever made. It may only be second to Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow. Joe made an album that you could indeed imagine riding through space and time on a silver surfboard. It was an all-out assault on the senses, and was inspired by science fiction, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Not only was the playing on a whole other level, but the songs were catchy as hell. “Crushing Day”, “Lords Of Karma”, “Ice 9”, “Always With Me, Always With You”, and “Satch Boogie” are just a sample of the timeless tracks Joe wrote for this monumental record. I still go to sleep hearing “Circles” and “Echo” playing over and over in my head.
So of course after hearing Surfing With The Alien I wanted everything I could get my hands on. At that time Satriani only had one other album out, his debut Not Of This Earth. Of course on the next trip to the mall I found Joe’s debut at National Record Mart and excitedly put it in the family’s Honda Accord cassette deck for the ride home.
To say I was thrown through a loop is putting it mildly. I really wasn’t sure what I was listening to. It was weird, and definitely NOT Surfing With The Alien. The fun, driving tracks and mind-blowing solos were subdued and in their place were these odd tracks with names like “The Snake”, “The Enigmatic”, and “Driving At Night”. “Hordes of Locusts”? What? The guitars were much cleaner, and when they weren’t it sounded like weird computer noises. I just wasn’t connecting at all to Joe’s trip on Not Of This Earth.
The album found a place in the cassette case and there it sat for years. Joe would release Flying In A Blue Dream in 1990 and from that point on it was only looking forward, leaving Not Of This Earth in the case until my cassettes were traded in for CDs. I would occasionally wonder about that first Satch record, but it wasn’t until a few years ago when streaming services allowed easy access to albums did I give Satch’s debut record another spin. Man, was I wrong about Not Of This Earth.
With age comes wisdom I guess? Or maybe just better taste, or the tools to be able to unlock those hidden layers we don’t hear on a surface level. Whatever it was, I can say that Not Of This Earth is easily in my top 3 or 4 favorite Joe Satriani albums. There are so many gems on this album. From the mysterious title track to the funky and otherworldly “The Snake” to the quiet beauty of “Brother John”. I did get to love “Hordes of Locusts” thanks to the live version on Joe’s Dreaming #11 EP from 1988. “The Enigmatic” is full of alien-esque sounds and just feels like this strange musical trip. “Driving At Night” is a hard-driving track, like 100-mile an hour music down the freeway. “New Day” has a triumphant lean.
Listening to Not Of This Earth with older ears I can hear hints of future Satch to come, but there’s this sort of bedroom vibe to the album. From the Tom Scholz Rockman guitar sound to the 80s drum machine rhythms to the funky bass lines, it all feels like some cool project that Joe and producer John Cuniberti did over a couple weekends. There’s an intimacy here that would continue on thru Surfing With The Alien. Flying In A Blue Dream was the next-level record. It put Joe in stadiums and made him the almighty king of guitar nerdery, at least until Steve Vai would take that crown for a bit with Passion and Warfare.
Even to this day I’m listening to Joe. From 14 to 46 Joe Satriani has been a constant in my life and ears. Whenever I think I’m past the whole guitar god thing, I’ll hear “Ice 9” or “The Snake” and I’ll suddenly be that 14-year old kid getting a Squier Strat for his birthday and dreams of shredding on a concert stage come flooding back to me.
I think the thing that made Joe Satriani stand out from everyone else was that he seemed like a completely humble guy. This guy from Long Island that moved to San Francisco and became the guitar teacher du jour to cats like Kirk Hammett, Larry LaLonde, Alex Skolnick, and back in New York to a teenage Steve Vai, was still that humble guitar teacher while on the cover of Guitar and on MTV Unplugged. But he was also making mind-blowing guitar albums that rewired the brains of awkward teenage boys everywhere, including mine.
Not Of This Earth may not have been the go-to guitar album for the 14-year old me, but it’s certainly a favorite of the current 46-year old me. It’s a fun, eclectic, and otherworldly guitar record that was a glimpse of the monumental work to come.
My favorite Satch albums(if you’re interested):
- Surfing With The Alien
- Flying In A Blue Dream
- Strange Beautiful Music
- Not Of This Earth
- Joe Satriani
- Crystal Planet
- The Extremist
- Time Machine
- Engines of Creation
- Shockwave Supernova
- Super Collossal
- Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards
- Unstoppable Momentum
- What Happens Next
- Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock
- Is There Love In Space?
A special shout out to the EP Dreaming #11. “The Crush Of Love” is an absolute classic track. Maybe one of my favorite Satch tracks.