Joe Satriani: my 8 favorite blues records

When I was taking bebop lessons many years ago with Lennie Tristano he made me do this exercise where I brought a record and sang the melody, scat sang the solo note by note and sang the rest of the melody of the song .

His reasoning was that if I learned to play it I would be forced to play this version, but by doing this exercise I received the spirit of the music in my body so that I could experience it and then playing my own stuff. It’s the same with the blues. When you hear Rolling stone by Muddy Waters, you know there is so much to discover rather than studying and learning music.

The deepest early blues realization for me came from my older brother. He was starting to play the harmonica so I could hear him playing the blues harp. I had just started playing guitar and was focusing on rock from the mid to late 60s and learning Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. All of a sudden I heard my brother play John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. I was fascinated by it.

Once this was awakened to me, I realized that I had listened to a lot of blues without realizing it. The first time I sat down and listened to John Lee Hooker I realized this was the source of gold for Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, it was what they had to to listen.

I remember saying I had to find out what it was and just sit down and try to play with John Lee Hooker. I had to find out what the mystery and the voodoo was behind the timing and the groove. Today, the blues is most often the basis of my phrasing and my playing, I always refer to the blues.


Jimmy Reed – Little Rain (Vee-Jay Records)

I get a lot of CDs and YouTube links from this last eight year old who plays like Stevie Ray Vaughan. It depresses me in a way because I’m excited that these people like music, but on the other hand, I’m looking for the next guy who will be as classic as Jimmy Reed. I mean, where does it come from? There is something to be said for not having absolutely nailed everything.

Small rain by Jimmy Reed has magic, something happens on this recording that is magical, be it the saturation of the tape, the ambiance of the room, the microphones. All of Jimmy Reed’s songs had this stuff. Hearing this makes me want to never focus on perfection again. The pursuit of perfection can prevent you from achieving real magic. There’s so much about this song that’s wrong, like guitar tuning, but it’s priceless.

The Rolling Stones – 12×5 (London)

I remember loving everything about this album when I was a kid. I think my family thought it was cute that the family runt spent hours hunched over that portable record player listening to the Stones over and over again. I was feeding on something that I found fantastic. It was these second generation electric blues players that I loved, but I had no idea where they got this music from. It took me my teenage years to find out.

BB King – The thrill is gone (ABC)

I woke up and finally realized that these rock bands that I loved were celebrating Howlin ‘Wolf and Muddy Waters and all these guys like Albert King and BB King. I saw BB King live and he blew me away. I saw him in a small club that had maybe 200 people. He used the lean tone of the guitar to convey more heartache. When he started, everyone was competing to be great, bold guitarists and he stood up to them all, but he just connected with the lyrics and the guitar on something like The thrill is gone.

ZZ Top – Charged (RCA)

Billy Gibbons reinvents the way of writing a blues song every time ZZ Top releases a new record. It’s amazing. Sometimes people focus too much on the game, but it’s the writing that presents the canvas for the game. They released a record called Rhythm, he had the song Charge on it, and it was absolutely gorgeous. Billy plays Charge with a broken guitar sound it’s mind boggling how he got to this point and he convinced everyone that this was the sound!

Led Zeppelin – Since I Love You (Atlantic)

I raised with Jeff Beck, Hendrix and Jimmy Page. That’s what I started jamming with. Something like Since I love you [from Led Zeppelin III] was a perfect example of taking a blues structure but going it alone. They innovated, they did not copy. I like that Page always pushes forward. He might not have thought he could always pull it off, another guitarist might have better technique, but what Page did will always win because the mind was so overwhelming. Everything he did on the guitar would become a technique.

John Lee Hooker – Boogie Chillen (Modern)

The first time I heard John Lee Hooker it was an old collection that started with cold boogie, I’m in the mood and Boom boom. I doubt this collection is still available but it was the original recordings. I sat there listening to the voice thinking, “Oh my God, there is so much going on in her childbirth.” You could spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what was going on there.

His guitar playing was one with this feeling of blues that he put forward. His playing style wasn’t going to work for the bands I was in so I was interested in why he sounded the way he did, I loved the set. As a kid who played The Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, and The Doors, they were extremely organized compared to John Lee Hooker, who held the chord as long as he wanted before moving on to the next.

No 16 bar has ever matched the previous 16. You couldn’t plot it and learn something, the graphics had nothing to do with it. There was a mystery for a suburban kid putting these guys like Mississippi Fred McDowell on and learning from them.

Slim Harpo – Shake Your Hips (Excello)

Howlin ‘Wolf and Muddy Waters had real structured songs that made more sense to a young rocker than what John Lee Hooker did. Put Robert Johnson or Lead Belly and it was like, “It’s so old, I don’t understand. Why are they going to the deal then? The first time I heard a lot of this stuff was through covers, like Slim Harpo’s music that I first heard through the Stones. Exile on Main Street.

I would go back and hear the original versions and wonder what was going on. I found the blues and then I enjoyed the rock bands that I loved for where they took it. You can hear the bands that did it wrong, but the bands that did it right did it with love and respect.

Eric Clapton – From The Cradle (Warner Bros)

One of my favorite mid-blues records was Eric Clapton. From the cradle. I loved the way he approached this album by recording everything live. I was a Clapton fan since I started playing guitar but this record was truly remarkable.

Joe Satriani was speaking with Rich Chamberlain. Joe’s 2022 UK Tour Tickets On Sale Now.

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