For over twenty years, Joe Satriani has enthalled guitar fans the world over with his much celebrated G3 tours. In January, Joe, John Petrucci, and Phil Collen will embark upon a US tour as the latest incarnation of G3. Fans will be treated to solo sets from each artist, and at the end of the night Petrucci and Collen will come back out to jam with Joe and his band on a series of Rock classics. We recently caught up with Satch, John, and Phil to find out what fans can expect this time around.
[GTR] Joe, what inspired you to start doing G3?
[Joe Satriani] I’d just finished a huge tour behind the eponymous release, and the label (Relativity) fell apart and was absorbed by Sony. There was lots of turmoil going on there. Plus, the record was such a strange departure. The 90’s were odd.
When I came back to have a management meeting, I sat down and said, “Everything is great, and I’m playing these huge shows, but I never play with anybody anymore. When I’m in Los Angeles, Steve Vai is in Stockholm, and when I go to New York, my New York guitar playing friends are in Australia. With all of this success, when do I ever get to hang out with my friends and play guitar? Could we do something where we organize it, like an organized set of jam nights? We kept whittling it down, and we finally realized that if we make it a regular night at a theater, like The Warfield, we know the theater will have a curfew and tell us to be off the stage by eleven o’clock, and we can’t start before seven thirty or eight. We backtracked and thought about having three and a half hours that we could carve up, and we wondered how many guitar players we could fit into that, and if they would be willing to come if we told them that they get to play one song, or three songs, or six songs, or an hour, and they would make a certain amount of money.
We were becoming like the subcontractor, or the sub-promoter at that point. The idea was that I would have to be able to reach out to somebody like Steve Vai and say, “Hey Steve. I have a great idea. You can come and play for forty-five or fifty minutes and play whatever you want. And at the end of my set at the end of the night, come back on and we’ll play three songs together. And the other guy will be Eric Johnson.” That was my plan, to keep it to Steve and Eric as my first G3 touring mates. It took almost a year to convince them that it was a good idea. Now, it seems normal. But back then there were still ideas in the music industry that were deeply entrenched in every manager’s mind, and every artist, which was to never perform next to somebody who might be better than you. And always work to get the upper hand, to always look better and sound better. It went totally against what I felt, as an audience member, would really matter to me.
All of what I just said took forever to convey to, not only those guys, but also to their managers and then to the promoters, who kept saying, “I don’t want to spend all that money on one night, when I can get Eric for one night in March, Steve Vai for one night in April, and Joe Satriani for one night in May. I feel a lot more relaxed if I spread my risk out.” And I understand that, because a promoter takes the monetary risk right up front. If an artist gets booked and the tickets don’t sell, they lose money. They had a legitimate gripe that I was trying to get them to book three headliners all at once and pay us all this money. But, of course, I had to turn around and meet the demands of my other two G3’ers, who said, “I’m only doing it if you give me ‘x’ amount of money and I get to play my own set.” This is where I relied heavily on Nick Brigden’s experience at putting on shows. He was able to work out the details with each venue, each promoter, and each manager for the artists.
I have to say though, after the very first one that we did, both those guys came back smiling and said, “This is the greatest thing ever!” I don’t think they really expected it to work until after the show was over. Then, when they looked out in the audience and felt that love, they realized that this actually works. All that stuff that I was going on about for the past year was right. The audience and the musicians suddenly become one because we are together in celebrating the event. It’s not a competition, like you might think.
So, that’s how G3 got started. And we had some interesting things. That first run in California, we had Kenny Wayne Shepherd join us, so it was kind of like a G4. But then we also had Robert Fripp playing the intro house music, which he insisted on doing, unannounced. It was just great. It was a wonderful beginning. So, it’s great to be doing it again.
[GTR] John, Dream Theater has had great staying power, but as a guitar player your popularity really seems to have grown over the past decade. What role has G3 played in that?
[John Petrucci] I think the G3 tours played a huge role. Prior to doing G3, I certainly had some recognition with the band as far as starting to get signature instrument endorsements and things like that, as well as some recognition from the guitar publications. But it was all really associated more as being the guitarist in Dream Theater.
When I broke out and did this solo thing where it was my name, and it was my solo material and band, not only did it raise my level, as far as people’s awareness of who I was as a player outside of Dream Theater, but it also helped with my confidence in that role. On the G3 tour I was playing with guys who have been in bands, but for the most part had such highly elevated solo career status and name. Joe Satriani and Steve Vai… these are names that are iconic. Everybody looked up to them and wanted to be like them.
Watching them and seeing how they handled their careers, as well as watching their stage presence and then interacting with them gave me more insight into how to have a solo career as a guitar player. And it gave me more confidence. Even on the stage with Dream Theater I felt a change in my confidence level as a performer. When I was playing with Dream Theater and it was my turn to have a spot, I felt more comfortable with taking the reins, stepping out, and taking that spot as a solo performer. If I hadn’t done G3, I might never have had a solo album, which contributed towards people seeing my name outside of Dream Theater and recognizing me as someone who has a solo career.
[Joe Satriani] There are players out there that don’t realize how good and how unique their solo voice is. They may be in a band, and the band might be so successful that they don’t want to rock the boat. I totally get it. I mean, who would have thought that John Petrucci wanted to try that? We really didn’t know, and maybe even he didn’t. But it turns out that he’s got a huge solo voice.
I think that it’s a little more difficult for those players who have been in really successful bands, like Phil in Def Leppard. It’s so big, and the sound of the band is such a unified, identifiable sound. You wouldn’t think so much about Phil as a solo artist, although he has solo releases out there. But given the proper forum, a whole other thing takes place. I think that is always a pleasant surprise for the artist and the audience. At the heart of it is that some people really do rise to the occasion when they get on that stage, which is what you’re always hoping for.
[GTR] Joe, everyone loved having Phil (Collen) at this year’s G4 Experience guitar camp. Noting that this will be his first G3 tour, what was the inspiration behind inviting him to come along?
[Joe Satriani] It was that event, to tell you the truth. He’s definitely not underappreciated, but when I listen to his contributions to Def Leppard, I’ve always thought that the talent and credibility behind his playing was sometimes overlooked because of the success of the entire band. As I’m sitting here, always trying to brain child the next G3 or G4, I look for things like that. In my mind, I go over those observations that I’ve made. Phil’s name came up, as these things often do, in a group, but I just thought that he would never do it. But when I heard it come back to me from another source, like Mick, and Danny Heaps, and Wayne Forte, my agent, are mentioning it to me, then I’m not alone here. Other people are thinking the same thing.
I think, like everybody at the last G4 Experience, we were overwhelmed with what a cool guy he is, how talented he is, how much he has to offer, what a great singer, performer, and shredder he can be. If you give him the spot to shred, he can shred! If you give him the spot to play note-perfect Def Leppard stuff, he’ll do that too. For this coming G3 tour, I didn’t really think he was in the running. I just thought that I was lucky to get him for G4, but that he was back in his real world now, back in Def Leppard. But I think he was up for it because he did have a little bit of time, and I think he had such a great time at G4 that he wanted to expand it a little bit. We’re so lucky to have him.
[GTR] Phil, as Joe pointed out, everybody loved having you at the G4 Experience. What was that experience like for you?
[Phil Collen] The G4 Experience was actually the first time that I got to hang out with Joe, we just had a blast. It was wonderful. Joe’s so amazing, and I’ve always been a fan. He raised the bar with instrumental guitar music. Apart from the Jeff Beck stuff, or jazz things like George Benson, Joe was the first player of my generation to actually do something that was a little different and cross over. What I really got out of it was that, even though there were all these monster players, there was absolutely no ego there. That’s something I really enjoyed. Everyone was just fans of the music they were playing. When I got asked to do the G3 thing, it didn’t surprise me because we had such a great time doing G4, it was a blast!
[GTR] John, you’re a G3 veteran at this point. How did you get involved?
[John Petrucci] At first, I was really surprised. I thought it was awesome, and I wasn’t expecting it. But I was also a little bit hesitant because prior to that I really didn’t have any sort of solo career. So, if I were to say, “Yes,” what would I play? I didn’t have any solo material.
It was a great honor, and a great surprise, but I was a little nervous too. Of course, how could I say, “No?” There is such prestige in the guitar playing world that was associated with Joe’s G3. To be a part of that was something very special.
I was in the studio doing Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, and I actually had to convince the guys to break from that writing and recording session for a few months so I could do the G3 tour. During that time, I wrote a few songs that I ended up playing on that tour, and those songs ended up being my first solo album. It kind of happened backwards. I got asked, and then I had to write solo material to play, and then I recorded a solo album and everything changed from there.
[GTR] Joe, your new album, What Happens Next, features Glenn Hughes and Chad Smith. That’s a pretty amazing band! Will they be coming with you on this G3 tour?
[Joe Satriani] I started out thinking that I was going to have an entirely new band. For What Happens Next, I decided that I wasn’t going to let any touring plans disrupt this coming together of people and styles, and the good fortune that was about to unfold on me. I wanted to just make a record, and make What Happens Next the best we could. When you think about it, the early records were done that way as well. There was no touring band for Not of This Earth, or Surfing with the Alien. With Not of This Earth, Stu and Jonathan were just touring guys, they weren’t album guys for me. So, it wasn’t that unusual for me to record an album with a different group of people than was going to go out and tour.
Increasingly, with each album I put out, whoever winds up in the band really does have to reflect the catalog. Maybe two-thirds of the set is catalog, and one-third of it is the new stuff. It’s not like they’re going to go out and only play the new record. It just never happens, so that factors into who you decide to take on tour. And at this point, the stylistic requirements for the catalog are pretty broad. What we ended up with was Joe Travers, Brian Beller, and Mike Keneally, who all just happened to be in a band together, which is quite interesting, they’ve been playing together for quite a long time. We will start rehearsals at the beginning of December, and that’s going to be the band for the first two G3 runs, and hopefully more to come after that.
[GTR] Who is going to be in your band this time, John?
[John Petrucci] It’s going to be Dave LaRue on bass. I’ve been playing with Dave since the first G3 tour, and he’s on my solo album as well. Mike Mangini is on drums. I took Mike out for the first time when I did G3 in South America a few years ago. That trio, of me, Mike, and Dave, is just a real powerful combination. It’s a small band, but it’s powerful.
[GTR] In this situation, you’re kind of covering the guitar and keyboard space. Do you have to think any differently about what to play, or do you just do what you normally do?
[John Petrucci] In a way I have to think differently, because not only am I covering all of that, but I’m covering the vocal as well. The guitar is always in action in that trio setting. I’m concerned with wanting to make the trio setting sound full and big, which all of my influences from listening to Rush and Alex Lifeson kind of covers that part. I know how to manipulate the chords and make my guitar sound bigger than just one person hopefully.
I’m kind of on the job full time. The guitar, instead of laying back and playing a rhythm part while a verse or chorus is happening, the guitar is playing the verse and chorus melodies, as well as playing the riffs. There’s never any sort of a break. So, I do have to shift a little bit in my mentality, as far as how it differs from playing in Dream Theater. In Dream Theater, I’m backing up the vocals and playing rhythm parts behind the vocals to support them, and then stepping out during instrumental sections or solo parts. But in the trio I’m doing all of that, all the time.
[GTR] Phil, who are you going to bring with you and what material will you be playing?
[Phil Collen] Usually Robert DeLeo, from Stone Temple Pilots plays with us, but he’s got STP commitments so he won’t be able to do the tour. Debbi Blackwell Cook will be at a lot of the gigs, and Forest Robinson, the drummer… we are Delta Deep. Craig Martini, who is Paul Gilbert’s bass player, is stepping in. We’re going to be doing a lot of Delta Deep songs. We have a live album coming out, so we’ll be promoting that and doing some of the harder hitting songs. There will be a lot of singing and a lot of shredding.
[GTR] Are you guys going to do any Def Leppard stuff?
[Phil Collen] I was a actually talking to Joe, and with John Petrucci yesterday. You know, the song “Hysteria” has about 4 different guitar parts during the chorus, as well as all the vocals. It’s always a compromise when we play it with 2 guitar players, whether it’s me and Steve Clark or me and Vivian Campbell. I thought, here we are with 3 really great guitar players, and it would be a great opportunity to get everyone up on stage together and play all of those guitar parts. It would be a nice thing to get to if we can.
[GTR] What are some of your favorite G3 moments?
[Joe Satriani] I remember Brian May walking out on stage when we were doing a G3 at the Wembley Arena. That moment, when Brian walked out, plugged into his AC30, turned everything up to 10, and hit a chord. First of all, the sound was glorious, and you will not find another human being who makes you feel so good when you stand next to him. He’s got something special, and the feeling and the roar from the audience was so powerful. It was a great moment.
I had a G3 with John Petrucci and Steve Vai where Billy Gibbons came out on stage. That was mind blowing too. You never know how someone is going to walk out and join you, or what they’re going to sound like. And all of a sudden, we heard that sound, and I remember thinking, “This is like listening to a ZZ Top record on headphones.” John and Steve and I looked at each other with our mouths open because we couldn’t believe what was happening. They were all feeling the same thing at the same time. He was just fantastic.
There have been lots of crazy G3 moments, but I remember the moments when they’ve suddenly expanded to G4, and they are special. I have to say that every time I’ve shared the stage with Steve Vai, there are always moments that are special. That’s because he and I go back to when we were just teenagers, and we’re always just continuing what we started back when we were kids going to high school. There’s a connection that always permeates every G3 that we do together.