American guitar maestro Joe Satriani loves laksa

Joe Satriani became a guitarist when he heard of musician Jimi Hendrix's death in 1970.
Joe Satriani became a guitarist when he heard of musician Jimi Hendrix's death in 1970.PHOTO: JOE CHAPMAN

American Joe Satriani, who is married to a Singaporean, will play his first gig here

Guitar maestro Joe Satriani may be performing in Singapore for the first time this week, but he has already been to the sunny shores several times.

That is because his wife is Singaporean.

The 58-year-old guitarist, who has tutored rock giants such as the Grammy award-winning Steve Vai and Metallica's Kirk Hammett, met his wife, Rubina, through mutual friends at a birthday party in 1979 in California. They married in 1981 and have a son, now 22.

Satriani, speaking over the telephone from Brisbane, Australia, tells Life!: "I decided to go to San Francisco to take a vacation from touring. So one day, my sister said, 'You should get out of the house, you should come to my boyfriend's daughter's birthday party, there're lots of people your age'. My sister's nine years older than I am.

"So I said okay, and Rubina just had to be at the party. It was love at first sight."

The American will perform in Singapore on Thursday at The Star Theatre, the final stop in a world tour to promote his latest album, Unstoppable Momentum (2013). The New York native says he intends to spend a few days catching up with his extended family here and eating his favourite local dishes, such as tapioca with gula melaka, nasi goreng and laksa.

Satriani is arguably the most successful instrumental rock guitarist in the world, having sold millions of records and coached some of the best masters of rock guitar. He has also toured with rock legends such as The Rolling Stones founding member Mick Jagger and English band Deep Purple.

Satriani began playing the drums when he was eight or nine and he played football for his school in his early teens.

But when rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix died in 1970, Satriani took it as a sign to quit football and the drums. He became a guitarist.

He recounts: "I just loved Jimi Hendrix's music more than anybody and was completely shocked when he passed away. I was, in fact, all suited up in my American football uniform at practice when I heard he had died. Then I turned around and went inside, took my gear off and told my coach I was quitting to be a guitarist. That was how it all started."

He studied with jazz players Billy Bauer and Lennie Tristano before becoming a guitar teacher in the 1980s. Apart from Vai and Hammett, Satriani's former students include American jazz and metal guitarist Alex Skolnick and American jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter.

He says of his students: "I was really lucky to have a wide variety of players who also had an original vision of how they wanted their guitar to sound and how they were going to use music theory and unusual guitar techniques.

"There's a big difference in having fun with an instrument and rising to the level of Kirk Hammett or Steve Vai, they are exceptional musicians."

Satriani has recorded 14 studio albums, including the breakthrough Surfing With Alien (1987) and The Extremist (1992), which was one of his most successful albums, hitting No. 22 on the US Billboard 200 chart.

Unstoppable Momentum has fared well too, reaching No. 42 on the same chart.

A self-professed science-fiction buff, Satriani says the genre is a theme running through many of his records.

He says of his fascination: "Science-fiction writers are really free of what we call modern restraints of daily life and they do imagine futures that science eventually pays attention to. So there's a lot of creative thinking and really great writing in the community which I love."

Among his upcoming projects is a digital animation series he is producing with fellow guitarist and animator Ned Evett, which takes inspiration from his own doodles of what he calls "pretty odd-looking characters".

"It has to do with time travel, the future and the problem of finding enough energy for modern life," he says.

"Of course, there's crazy action going on and love twists going on. It's a story that follows the path of every great myth with heroes and villains."

melk@sph.com.sg