Episode #228 – Joe Satriani – Surfing with the Alien

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Lead up to the Album:

  • The album was put together on a limited budget of $13,000.
  • Satriani used two Kramer Pacer guitars and a modified Stratocaster where he changed the pickups to get different sounds.
  • Guitar effects used were the Roland JC-120, a Marshall ‘68 half-stack and a Rockman.
  • With the limited budget Satriani had to use whatever times and rooms were available.  With the limited time he added the effects to tape while he recorded.
  • The album features a lot of drum machine, much like his debut, to save money.
  • Jeff Campitelli overdubbed hi-hats, toms, cymbals, and snare.
  • Recorded and mixed at Alpha And Omega Recording and Hyde Street Studios, San Francisco, California.

Core Band:

  • Drum Programming, Performer [Sound Design], Percussion – Bongo Bob Smith
    • Percussionist.
    • Played with Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Clarence Clemmons.
  • Drums, Percussion – Jeff Campitelli
    • Worked with Satriani in Squares.
  • Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Drum Programming, Written-By, Arranged By – Joe Satriani
  • Percussion, Engineer – John Cuniberti
    • http://johncuniberti.com/
    • Worked with Dead Kennedys, Tracy Chapman, Kevin Gilbert, PJ Harvey, Aaron Neville and the Grateful Dead.
  • Programmed By [Pre-Production], Sound Designer – Jeff Kreeger
    • Only a couple of other entries on Discogs.


Album Art & Booklet Review

  • Art Direction – David Bett
    • Currently works creative at Columbia Records. Formerly at Relativity, Lous, and Sony.
    • Worked with 24/7 Spyz (Gumbo Milennium), Steve Vai (Passion and Warfare), Additional albums with Joe Satriani, Peter Frampton, Easy E, Wu Tang Clan, Aerosmith (Honkin’ on Bobo), Vinnie Moore.
  • Cover [Cover Concept] – Jim Kozlowski
  • Originally Joe was going to title the album ”Lord of Karma” but changed it at the suggestion of a British journalist who said that it would give listeners the wrong idea about the album.  Joe did his first interview about the album in the summer before it was released.  The journalist said, “I don’t understand why guitarists always go into some Indian spiritual thing.” Joe called the label and asked to change the title to “Surfing with the Alien” because everyone will know he has a sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
  • Satriani had a stipulation in his contract that his albums cannot have any negative or violent imagery.
  • The album cover features the Silver Surfer with the hand of Galactus on the back cover. The artwork was licensed from the publisher and was taken from Silver Surfer #1. Artwork was drawn by John Byrne. Byrne did not receive a royalty for the use on the album cover.
  • Satriani said he came up with the name and was unfamiliar with the comic book character.  His production manager, Jim Kozlowski, was a big comic book fan and had used the name “Silver Surfer” when he was a radio DJ. He suggested the album art.
  • Marvel Comics later repaid Satriani by naming a planet “Satriani” in his honor.
  • The licensing for the cover was limited and had to be renewed. In 2018 Marvel and Satriani could not come to an agreement so the cover art had to be redone. All digital retailers and deluxe editions feature the new artwork.
  • The license was around $5,000 for 20 years.  Silver Surfer was not doing well and this album helped boost it.  Every year they kept “tightening the screws” on how much they charged to renew the artwork and eventually Joe had to just stop using the artwork.

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Album Tracks:

  1. Surfing with the Alien
    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surfing_with_the_Alien_(instrumental)
    • The solos were recorded with a Eventide H949 which was malfunctioning. As it was the end of the studio time they went with the recording giving it its distinct sound.
    • Satriani said this song was written because he was a huge fan of science fiction. He said in sci-fi aliens are always attacking or trying to kill us but wouldn’t it be cool if they wanted to do something fun like go surfing..
  2. Ice 9
    • Written referencing the substance from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 book “Cat’s Cradle.”
  3. Crushing Day
    • Joe said this was the only solo he worked out in advance. All others were improvised.
    • Satriani said he regretted this and felt like he had to play this solo as is when ion stage.
  4. Always with Me, Always with You
  5. Satch Boogie
    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satch_Boogie
    • This was the only track that used live drums played by Campitelli. It was originally recorded using a drum machine.
    • The song fades out quickly at the end as the drum machine was being picked up by the amplifier.
    • This song was regularly played by Deep Purple in 1993-94 when Joe toured with them.
    • AllMusic calls this a “ZZ Top homage.”
  6. Hill of the Skull
  7. Circles
  8. Lords of Karma
  9. Midnight
    • A Casio CZ-101 was used to do the flute and orchestrations.
    • Joe uses two-handed tapping on this song.
  10. Echo

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Bustin’ Out The Spreadsheet

Reception and Charts:

  • The album peaked at #10 in Australia, #53 in Canada, #16 in New Zealand, and #29 in the US Billboard 200.
  • The album was certified gold in Australia (35,000 copies), silver in the UK (60,000 copies) and platinum in the US (1,000,000 copies).
  • From: satriani.com
    • On August 7th, 2007, Epic/Legacy Recordings celebrated the 20th anniversary of this groundbreaking album with the release of a new expanded edition of Surfing with the Alien. This meticulously restored two-disc set includes the newly remastered album and a previously never-before-seen live show filmed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1988. It also features new liner notes written by Joe and special deluxe packaging featuring photos, notes and other memorabilia from Joe’s personal archive.
    • On Nov 29th, 2019, Sony/Legacy released a Deluxe version in conjunction with Record Store Day, with new artwork and a bonus disc, Stripped — the Backing Tracks, featuring the songs with all guitar solos removed. This version received a wider digital release on Jan 14, 2020.


  • Kerrang!
  • AllMuisc:
    • Surfing with the Alien belongs to its era like Are You Experienced? belongs to its own — perhaps it doesn’t transcend its time the way the Jimi Hendrix Experience‘s 1967 debut does, but Joe Satriani’s 1987 breakthrough can be seen as the gold standard for guitar playing of the mid- to late ’80s, an album that captures everything that was good about the glory days of shred. Certainly, Satriani was unique among his peers in that his playing was so fluid that his technical skills never seemed like showboating — something that was somewhat true of his 1986 debut, Not of This Earth, but on Surfing with the Alien he married this dexterity to a true sense of melodic songcraft, a gift that helped him be that rare thing: a guitar virtuoso who ordinary listeners enjoyed. Nowhere is this more true than on “Always with Me, Always with You,” a genuine ballad — not beefed up with muscular power chords but rather sighing gently with its melody — but this knack was also evident on the ZZ Top homage “Satch Boogie” and the title track itself, both of which turned into rock radio hits. This melodic facility, plus his fondness for a good old-fashioned three-chord rock, separated Satriani from his shredding peers in 1987, many of whom were quite literally his students. But he was no throwback: he equaled his former students Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett in sweep picking and fretboard acrobatics and he had a sparkling, spacy quality to some of his songs — particularly the closing stretch of the Middle Eastern-flavored “Lords of Karma,” the twinkling “Midnight,” and “Echo” — that was thoroughly modern for 1987. The production of Surfing with the Alien is also thoroughly of its year — stiff drumbeats, sparkling productions — so much so that it can seem a bit like a relic from another era, but it’s fine that it doesn’t transcend its time: it captures the best of its era and is still impressive in that regard.
  • I actually found a review. It’s from a Norwegian magazine called Street Fighter (issue from April/May 1988), which, by the way, was the precursor to Scream Magazine that still exists today, and where I have found a couple of reviews before. Just some useful information first: Street Fighter had a scoring system going from 0 – 100 points, 100 being (obviously) the best score. Surfing With The Alien got 65 points, which means that it was perceived as a really good album. I have included a photo of the review itself and the cover of the magazine. 
  • Here’s a translation of the review: 
  • This is an excellent album for guitar freaks. Joe Satriani is one of the greatest guitar players today, and he really proves his chops on his new solo-album. This is, like his previous album “Not Of This Earth”, a 100 % instrumental album. What is negative about that, is that it’s too boring with only instrumental songs through the whole album. I would have been much more satisfied if he had joined up with a good singer. But – of course – the guitar playing matters a lot on this album. The guitar playing alone is worth 90 points, but I don’t want to give such a high score for a purely instrumental album. But what could have been if a great vocalist could have sung most of the songs? Well, we must take this album as the study in great guitar work that it is. Joe Satriani has his distinctive style, and when a song starts, you can hear that it’s him immediately. Guitar freaks must buy this album. 

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