If it weren’t for Jimi Hendrix, Joe Satriani may never have become a rock guitarist. Hearing Jimi, Joe explained early in his career, was a life-changing event: “I was just completely floored. The first time I ever heard him on the radio, it was like a psychedelic event. I was just a little kid, but it seemed like the whole room was spinning. Before that there were all these really smoking jazz guys, but very few of them touched me. Wes Montgomery, to me, was perfect. First time I ever heard him, I needed no convincing, no introduction. And Hendrix sounded the exact same way – so natural and off the wall and anti-technique that I loved it.” On the day Jimi died – September 18, 1970 – Joe quit the football team and abandoned his drums for guitar.
By the late 1980s, Joe Satriani had ascended to the highest echelon of rock guitar. The January 1989 issue of Guitar Player magazine announced that he’d just won the triple crown in the annual Readers Poll, for Best Overall Guitarist, Best New Talent, and Best Guitar Album for Surfing With the Alien. On February 3, 1989, Joe called me to express his thanks for the awards. While he was on the line, I mentioned that I was working on a cover story about Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House.” This instantly caught Joe’s attention and led to some fascinating insights.
I’ve been investigating Jimi Hendrix’s approach to playing blues.
Wow. It’s funny you should mention that – right now I’m listening to “1983 – A Merman I Should Turn to Be.” I’ve been listening to Electric Ladyland all morning. I’ve got a CD of it, and it’s really nice. I let the thing roll and roll. God.
What do you think of Jimi as a blues player?
For me, for my soul, he was the deepest blues player. He played the saddest stuff and he played the funniest. He played the most outside stuff, but it was really from the gut. He strayed from the traditional blues playing, yet he always seemed to incorporate the moans and the cries into a phrasing that was completely blues. So it never threw me off when I listened to it. “Red House” is a monument to blues. It’s beyond a recording or a song. Because it’s a silly song – blues songs are mostly silly or crying-in-your-beer kind of songs.
The lyrics, you mean.
Yeah. But at the same time, he makes it heavy. And the guitar work! I mean, he plays blues throughout the entire song. It’s not like some guy who waits for the solo. The whole piece is an orchestration of blues from delicate to bombastic. It’s unbelievable. I love it. The original recording in the States here, from the Smash Hits record, is just unbelievable – I love it. I’ve worn out many a Hendrix record and tape listening to that song just over and over again. It’s one of my favorites to play. It’s great. Of course, the live versions were always different. It’s like his litmus paper about how he was feeling about blues all the time.
Alan Douglas claims that “Red House” was the song Jimi would go to whenever anything was wrong onstage or when he was feeling depressed. That’s where he’d go to mellow-out and put himself back to where he wanted to bet.
That’s interesting. That’s kind of like what I pick up from it, you know. He was really good at going live and just being open with all this arrangements, and that song certainly took a lot of changes with it. The band would stop and start up again; he’d do whatever he wanted to with it.
Don’t you perform “Red House” onstage?
Whenever I can. I don’t always have a singer around. The last few times I did it have always been with Mick Jagger. We did it a number of times in Australia and New Zealand. We used to fool around with it at rehearsals. It was the first thing that I played with him onstage, at the Bottom Line earlier in 1988.
How did you and Jagger happen to pick that song?
We were doing Hendrix songs at the audition, and “Red House” was one song that I suggested doing. After we finished playing the song, I asked Mick if he wanted to come and sing it with me onstage, because he wanted to come check me out live to see if I was a stiff or whatever [laughs]. So he agreed, and he just bopped onstage at the Bottom Line at our encore, at the second show.
Does your arrangement follow Jimi’s?
It does. Yeah, I like to do it almost verbatim. It’s just a thrill for me to try to even come close to the vibe that Hendrix gave off with the whole thing, the sound and everything. So I love playing it. That night at the Bottom Line, though, we went into an extended version at the end because the stage is so tiny and we couldn’t get our signals checked. Jonathon [Mover] and Stu [Hamm] weren’t quite sure how Mick and I had rehearsed it. They thought we had, but in fact we hadn’t. So what happened was instead of ending the song where it ends on the record, we wound up sort of extending it at the moment, and then it turned into a Joe, Stu, and Jonathan version, and Mick just sort of chimed in along. We sort of brought it up to date and ended it pretty much like he did on the record.
Why do you think Jimi’s become so popular now so many years after his death? It has to be more than just his records coming out on CD.
It’s so hard for me to answer that, because I’ve listened to his records constantly ever since I first heard them. I’ve never had a lull of interest or enjoyment in listening to his stuff. But if I try to detach myself from my own fan-ism, or whatever you call it, all the songs are different, all the guitar sounds are different from song to song. As I’m listening to Electric Ladyland now, it’s just one long trip with a lot of different stops along the way. It’s really unbelievable, all the things he did with it. This particular record is so uncommon, and no one today would dare put out a record like that. I mean, everyone puts out a record filled with ten songs that are basically the same but can be supported by a video and a tour with props and the whole thing, you know. This comes from a different age, where every song was an event in itself and an album was something you actually listened to – side one, you flipped it over. You know what I mean? So it’s got a pacing to it that is very unique, and you can sit here and listen to it and it doesn’t hit you over the head with “I’m the hit single,” “I’m the second hit single,” “I’m the third hit single.” [Laughs.] It just doesn’t.
The Experience really lived up to its name.
Yes. It’s definitely an experience to listen to. It was ahead of its time, and the production values were very much like the Beatles’ Revolver album in the fact that they were really reaching, and there’s an enthusiasm in their discoveries in the studio. That’s what I really like about it. Like right now I’m listening to all the whistles and noises that they did with tape speeds and stuff, and it doesn’t sound like a [Roland] D-50 or a [Yamaha] DX7 or a Fairlight [synthesizer] delivering something. It sounds kind of funky and unpredictable, and it’s analog and it’s complex in its lack of fidelity, you’d have to say. And it’s interesting to the mind. I can’t quite figure that out, but it’s somehow more interesting for the brain to experience it a thousand times. It’s a very difficult thing to figure out. A lot of people talk about that with digital vs. analog. There’s some sort of degradation – I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but there’s some sort of breaking down that is recorded with analog. The inefficiency of it, let’s say, and it still appeals to me. I find it very interesting.
During 1997’s G3 tour, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, and Steve Vai closed concerts with a three-way jam on “Red House.” The song appears on G3-Live in Concert, a CD issued by Epic. There are also versions on youtube.
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