JOE SATRIANI Talks About Challenges He Faces In Replicating EDDIE VAN HALEN's Guitar Parts On Upcoming Tour

December 22, 2023

In a new interview with Ultimate Guitar 's Justin Beckner, Joe Satriani spoke about how he plans to play Eddie Van Halen's parts on the upcoming summer 2024 tour with vocalist Sammy Hagar, bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Jason Bonham that will focus largely on the music of VAN HALEN. Asked if there are some VAN HALEN songs that he found most challenging to perform, Joe replied: "The main thing is that for the last five decades I've tried so hard to be myself and to be me and not copy anybody. I've been lucky, since the late '80s, to have a solo career, so I really had a job that forced me to be myself as much as possible. So I made a point not to play like anybody. But it happens eventually when you're having fun, you're at a party and someone says, 'Oh, can you play this song?' and you realize, 'I have no idea how to play that song. I love that song. I've listened to it a million times. I don't know what the guy's doing.' And then you go to learn it and you go, 'Wow, that's really weird. It feels so awkward for me to be like this.' And it's not the parts, 'cause I can hear the chords and I know what everything is when I hear it. It's just the sensibility of timing, vibrato, picking. If you're so deep into your own thing, it's really hard to get out of it and try to properly emulate somebody else's playing. It would almost be like if you gave a guitar to Eddie and you said, 'Okay, Eddie, we want you to play 'Summer Song' note for note.' He'd be, like, 'What? I don't play like that. I don't do that. I just kind of do this, this and this.' Of course we'd love it no matter how he did it — it would be fun — but it wouldn't be exactly the same."

Joe continued: "When I was young and I was in cover bands, I knew what it was like to try to get as close as possible when you were playing — for me, it was [LED] ZEPPELIN and [BLACK] SABBATH and THE [ROLLING] STONES and stuff like that; that's what we played. But eventually, you'd have to go, 'I don't play like that. That's not my vibrato.' If I go to play AC/DC, there's no way I can do Angus's [Young] vibrato. He just has his own vibrato. If you're gonna try to play like Jeff Beck — he's so personal. You can play the notes and remind people of this part he did and that part, but it's not gonna sound quite the same.

"If we heard Eric Clapton trying to play 'Since I've Been Loving You' by LED ZEPPELIN, there's no way it would sound the same. It would be great, but it wouldn't sound the same. So, what I noticed right away, when I realized, 'I really have to figure out these songs,' [I asked myself] what is Eddie — what's he operating on?

"So here are a couple of things I've noticed," Satriani added. "Number one, he plays so on the beat and makes it feel like he's pushing the beat, but he's actually not. It's really amazing how he does it. And I realized, when I went back and I listened to my stuff back to back, I thought, 'Oh, that's me, sitting on the backbeat as much as I can,' because I'm playing the melody. When you play the melody, you don't wanna be on top. Actually, you want the band to be pushing, and you're sitting back here, like a singer, playing. I like the way Robert Plant sings in 'Since I've Been Loving You'. He's so behind. Or listen to any hip-hop song — the vocals are way in the pocket; they're just late on purpose. So that's something I've worked on my whole life is 'sit back, sit back, sot back,' and all of a sudden you go to play a song like 'I'm The One', and it's like, 'No, you have to be the guy way in front.' And Alex [Van Halen] is gonna be going, 'No, no. Sit back here.' And that's a difficult sensibility when every nerve ending in your body is saying, 'Sit back.' But to make the song work, you've gotta sit forward. That's the first thing I noticed, like the difference between Eddie's sensibility in timing and mine in terms of timing.

"Our vibratos aren't that different," Joe said. "He holds hick pick [with his thumb and middle finger], so he's always got [his index] finger for tapping, and I don't. So I always have to do something. And what I started to do early on was to use my pick for a lot of hammer-ons because I just wanted to be different, and I thought I'd get a better sound, I'd be able to do some different things that other players weren't doing. And I saw guys using their fingers back in the early '70s, when Eddie was my age, just a young teenager. There were other guys doing tapping for decades before, but as my generation started to figure out how to do tapping, I saw the thing was a split. There's tapping for effect, tapping for riff, and then there's tapping to create an entire musical piece. And Eddie did all of it. The way that he would do the tapping, when he would use it, [was] totally opposite of the way that I had forced myself to go with it.

"The third thing is… Again, we're talking about someone who was just an incredible virtuoso in several areas. One of the things that Eddie had was this super-tight swing that was ultrafast with his right hand. And that is something, again, that once… I remember hearing for the first time and thinking, 'Well, I'm gonna have to work on that.' That's gonna take me, I thought, I bet, three months of 45 minutes a day just working with a metronome to work that into my bag of tricks.' 'Cause that's kind of like what it is."

Satriani went on to say: "I think when you're getting ready for a tour and you're gonna play a song that you haven't played in 20 years, you remember it but you go, 'Ah, I don't do that anymore,' and it physically feels odd. So you say, 'Okay, I've got six weeks before the tour. I'm gonna play this thing ten times a day and I'm just gonna keep working, and start slow and figure out all the different ways of doing it so that when I hit the stage, I can relax and play it the way it should be played.'"

Earlier this month, Satriani was asked by Rolling Stone if he plans to try to replicate Eddie's guitar tone on the upcoming summer 2024 tour. He responded: "It's really interesting. There's an interesting period with Ed, which he starts with an old Marshall [amp] head and he moves forward into the late 1980s, getting more and more complicated with these Marshall heads. And then at some point it flips and he goes to a Soldano [amp] and he starts developing the 5150 with Peavey, and then he keeps moving forward. And then the new era of the [EVH] 5153 starts up.

"For a guitar player, this is a remarkable set of changes that affords you different ways of pulling things off," Joe explained. "And one doesn't work for the other. Using one of the brand new amps to represent something from the first album, it's very difficult. And it's difficult playing later songs with the earlier setup. So in the last week, my idea is the setup he was using in 1986 on 'Live Without A Net'. He was still using Marshalls, but it was really complicated.

"If you've ever seen pictures of the rig, how he was using the amps, he wasn't just plugging in and turning them up. They were going into Power Soaks. They were going into effects loops, and sophisticated effects processors, and then going into power amps. It was a complicated setup, but at the heart of it was his incredible touch. He just had a beautiful touch on the guitar. He played with such intensity. I don't want to generalize and say that he made everything sound good, but he did. [Laughs] You notice that when you have one of his guitars and his setup or his model, he just can't be replaced.

"But in direct answer to your question, I'm going to try to get close to the sound of each of those eras," Satriani added. "Primarily, it'll be for me. It'll help me get in the mood to play the parts the way he did. And he played them one way on the album, and then every night he played them live. As far as I can tell, he changed them every night. He just could not be contained. That was what was so beautiful about his enthusiasm about playing guitar and being a musician. He just kept reinventing the parts and the chords and how he would embellish it and how he would solo over it. If you've been tasked with the job of imitating him, it's like, 'Well, which moment?'"

Hagar and Anthony previously worked with Satriani in the supergroup CHICKENFOOT. They recorded two albums between 2009 and 2011 and toured across America but never performed any VAN HALEN material. More recently, Hagar and Anthony have played some of the VAN HALEN catalog with guitarist Vic Johnson and Bonham in SAMMY HAGAR AND THE CIRCLE.

Hagar mended his relationship with Eddie Van Halen months prior to the legendary VAN HALEN guitarist's October 2020 passing.

Sammy, Eddie, Alex Van Halen and Michael last teamed up in 2004 for a U.S. summer tour. In exchange for taking part in the tour, Anthony reportedly had to agree to take a pay cut and sign away his rights to the band name and logo.

Produced by Live Nation, the 28-date "The Best Of All Worlds" tour will commence on July 13 in West Palm Beach, Florida and will conclude on August 31 in St. Louis, Missouri.

"We're gonna go deep into the VAN HALEN catalog," Hagar told "The Howard Stern Show". "If you're gonna go deep into the VAN HALEN catalog, you need Joe Satriani."

Although Hagar and Anthony normally play five or six VAN HALEN songs" on the road with THE CIRCLE, Sammy told Stern they are planning to only play "five or six of my songs" alongside VAN HALEN classics and deep cuts.

"When we go out next year in July, it will be almost exactly 20 years since Mike and I did a reunion with Ed and Al in '04," Hagar said. "Mike and I just said, 'We can't wait another 20 years. How long can I even sing these songs? How long can I do this stuff? I just thought it's time to serve the fans."

"There's stuff we're going to do on this next tour that we haven't played since that tour in 2004," Anthony added.

Regarding the challenge of learning legendary VAN HALEN guitarist Eddie Van Halen's parts, Satriani said: "There are things that are so iconic, you have to nail it. But if you go deep with what he did live, he never played the same thing twice. He kept evolving; he kept pushing. He'd do the recorded version a little bit, but then he moved on.

"It's a daunting task when you do the deep dive into what he did," he continued. "But it's good to start at the beginning, and then you just learn all his little improvs and you get the idea of what he was trying to do. It's thrilling; it's fun."

Eddie died in October 2020 at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. The iconic VAN HALEN axeman passed away from complications due to cancer, his son confirmed.

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