Joe Satriani on Jason Newsted’s Van Halen Tribute Tour Leak: “It has only caused grief in the family” – 2022
Many fans were surprised to hear that you may or may not be in conversations to play with the remaining members of Van Halen. Can you give us the rundown as to what’s happening there?
Yeah, it is true. I was contacted by Alex Van Halen, and Dave [Lee Roth] and had some conversations a little less than a year ago about putting together a full tour to celebrate Eddie and the Van Halen legacy. And yeah, it’s terrifying. I mean, I literally heard myself saying, “Yes,” and then the other part of my brain said, “Did you just say yes? Are you nuts?” I think I remember telling them that any sane guitar player would just turn around and start running away as fast as possible because you can’t measure up to Eddie. It’s like one of those jobs where you just try because you know it’s important to you, and a labor of love, but still, people are always going say, “It doesn’t sound like Eddie,” no matter what you do. I took on the challenge that way, and I did say, “Okay, I’ll agree to keep talking about this to see what happens.”
But I’m not in the family, and I’ve never worked with Dave before. I’m just a guy that they called and started the ball rolling. We were not supposed to talk about it, because it may never happen, and obviously, you know, Sammy [Hagar] and Mike [Anthony] were contacted, but I don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes there. I can’t say I know exactly what’s going on. I do know that Jason [Newsted] was called at one point, and he was told – like I was – to not talk about it, because it may never happen. And so, we were all shocked when he went public because he certainly wasn’t supposed to. And it has only caused grief in the family, which is not nice, you know? So, yeah, that’s all I can really say about it. I don’t know much more today to tell you the truth. I do know that for the next year and a half I’m probably on tour starting in September, just doing The Elephants of Mars/Shapeshifting combo tour. So, whatever comes with this, it’s sometime in the future. I mean, in a way, now that the cats out of the bag, at least I don’t have to feel like I’m keeping something from people, you know?”
In a hypothetical world, if it was to happen, would you play Eddie’s licks straight, or put your own spin on them?
I had a similar experience when I was touring with Deep Purple back in ’93 and ’94, and I was confronted with the same thing. I’d been comfortably doing my own stuff for years, and all of a sudden, I had to think about that very question, “Do I put my own spin on Ritchie Blackmore? Or do I pay my respects by just trying to nail what he did?” I had to pick and choose because there’s always something idiomatic about a player that will hit you like a brick wall. It’ll be one goofy little technique that only they can do, and even they don’t know why. It’s just something that they developed, and they leaned on it a lot, and it might be the one thing that you’re weak at. It’s one of those funny things, like, if you had to replace Ian Gillan, how would you do those screams? How would you sing “Child In Time?” You might be a great singer, but you may not have that high scream. It’s the same thing with Sammy Hagar, those high vocals, and there are plenty of amazing singers out there, but very few can do what Sammy was really great at. How do you work around that? With Eddie, there are a couple of things that came naturally to him that doesn’t come naturally to other players.
So, I just looked at the whole catalog at the time where we had started these conversations, and I knew right away, “Okay, I can nail 90% of this stuff because it’s almost the way I play.” But then there are these other things that he did that I thought, “That is so awkward. How do I even approach it?” And when you started looking at it, you realize that there’s a community of guitar players out there who work on this very issue. Which is like, for some reason, Eddie held his right hand over here, and he held his pick like that, and with most people, it hurts their hand, but with Eddie, it didn’t. It comes down to me thinking, “How am I going to do that really funny stuff?” I mean, it’s just nitpicking, nerdy guitar stuff, but once you get in the room with a bunch of guitar players, they can talk about it for hours about how they do the workaround to try to get the same sounds. In the end, I think that the spirit is the most important part.
I will say this in regards to Eddie, I think that the other biggest thing that people sometimes miss when they bring up Eddie Van Halen is that his writing was really the biggest expression of his talent. When you start to learn the songs, you start to see the genius of the compositions and the arrangements. Of course, there’s the solo or the intro that blows your mind, but it wouldn’t be there unless he had written the song. Whether it’s “Hot For Teacher, “Jump, or something, it’s the actual song that then forced him to whip out some crazy solo. The average person is gonna love those songs, whether it was Dave or Sammy singing. It’s all in the writing, you know? That’s what makes it so much fun and attractive. I guess that’s what attracted me to the gig, just the thought that I could go from playing “Atomic Punk,” to “Unchained” in one show. It’s just so much fun. The songs are just fun to play.
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