JOE SATRIANI, ERIC JOHNSON, STEVE VAI – G3 Live in Concert (1997 Epic)
It took me 21 years to finally buy this CD. Why? It was hard to get excited about three live Satch songs, three live Vai songs, and so on. But a collector needs to catch ’em all, and it’s actually a pretty fabulous listen throughout.
Joe Satriani opens the set with “Cool No. 9” from his self-titled blues album. Blues to Joe Satriani is a different kind of animal. It’s trick-laden and thick with notes, although this doesn’t mean light on feel. His landmark classic “Flying in a Blue Dream” is more what people expect from Joe. I like to describe his albums as regular vocal rock records, just with the lead guitar singing the melody instead of a person. I think I stole that description from Joe himself. You can’t really call “Flying” a ballad but it sure is epic. Finally it’s “Summer Song”, Joe’s big 1992 hit from The Extemist. It doesn’t get more accessible for instrumental guitar rock. Joe’s actually the perfect artist to open this CD for that reason. His music, more than most instrumentalists, is door-opening for listeners.
The sublime Eric Johnson is in the middle position. “Zap” is a tour-de-force of instrumental prowess, built into the framework of a nice shuffle. Though you can certainly bop along if you like, the musicianship here is not for the timid. “Camel’s Night Out” is a busy groover. One of Johnson’s best tunes ever has to be “Manhattan”, which goes down unbelievably smooth live. The playing is lyrical and warm.
Steve Vai’s threesome includes “Answers” and “For the Love of God” from Passion & Warfare. “Answers” is one of Vai’s more challenging songs, fast and funky with weird tones and melodies. This is probably the most blistering song on the whole disc, including a solo that isn’t in the studio version. For all that, “For the Love of God” is the most awe-inspiring. This ballad puts the passion in Passion and Warfare. This is the one with Steve’s soul in it, every bend and every beat. “The Attitude Song” is an oldie from the first Vai album Flex-able, just a solid rocker with some shredding. Live it is much heavier than the tinny studio cut.
Finally, there is a trio of tunes with the three maestros playing together, as is the G3 tradition. The blues standard “Going Down” is a typical jam, with Joe on vocals. Then a tribute to Steve’s mentor, Frank Zappa, on “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” with everyone singing…and shredding. Finally, Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” finishes the CD with Eric Johnson on lead vocals. Of these three tracks, “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” smokes the other two.
May as well pick up the original G3 CD if you find it in the wild. It’s good stuff.
Given everything that happened in 2018 (cancer, more cancer, death), I wasn’t as tuned-in to rock and roll as I normally would be. I missed a lot of new releases, some on purpose, others by accident. Therefore, this year I’m doing something different from my Top Lists of 2018. Before we get to the lists, let’s talk about the past 12 months.
2018: RELEASES IN A NUTSHELL
January saw new CDs by Joe Satriani and Corrosion of Conformity, finally reunited with Pepper Keenan on vocals. There was new Loudness, and a release by Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa. Def Leppard had a low-key EP exclusive to iTunes (The Lost Session). In February we got the return of the mighty Saxon. March was a big month, featuring Judas Priest, Stone Temple Pilots, Jack White and Myles Kennedy. The rock kept rolling in April. The big metal one here was Stryper‘s God Damn Evil, along with new Godsmack and Thirty Seconds to Mars. During this time I was personally only able to get the Stryper and Priest.
As temperatures warmed in May, Bad Wolves came out with their novelty cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries which became a predictable hit. Frank Turner and Five Finger Death Punch also released new records in May. News in June was unfortunately dominated by Kanye West and Drake, but don’t forget Ghost, The Darkness (with their first live) and Nine Inch Nails! In July, Halestorm came out with the critically acclaimed Vicious. Alice in Chains made their long awaited return in August with Rainier Fog, an album I bought but have not yet fully penetrated.
Autumn began with the biggest name in rock and roll, Sir Paul McCartney himself. Slash, Paul Simon, Lenny Kravitz and Suicidal Tendencies had records out on the same day. VoiVod, Therapy?, Metric and even Rod Stewart returned in September as well. October featured two big soundtracks: Bohemian Rhapsody, andA Star Is Born. Ace Frehley, Greta Van Fleet, and The Struts came out with new music the same month. In November we got Mark Knopfler, the Smashing Pumpkins, Ted Nugent and yet another live Beth Hart. The month closed with the latest Def Leppard best-of. December boasted Metal Church but not a lot of rock. Thank the Metal Gods that Max the Axe swooped in with Status Electric to save the year.
I spent most of 2018 checked out mentally. I missed most of the new releases and have a lot to catch up on. The summer was spent on Highway 401, and a flash drive loaded with music helped me survive it. New releases were not the be-all and end-all for me. Therefore, my Top Albums of 2018 list includes some oldies that just helped me get through it all. It seems right to do it this way, since I can’t really do a well-curated list of new releases without absorbing them properly.
It took some searching, but I finally found a copy! This is the first Christmas mix CD I ever made, back in 2006. I didn’t start making these until I had left the Record Store. Nobody who works retail wants to listen to Christmas music outside of work. Once I had been gone a year, my brain and soul were freed!
As discussed in the previous Christmas Mix article, after a few years I was running short on good songs to use, so I had to repeat a few from prior years. Several tracks from the 2006 disc made a return appearance in 2010.
1.Hawksley Workman – “3 Generations”. Truly an incredible, family-oriented song that is a highlight of Hawkley’s excellent Christmas album, Almost a Full Moon. The 2006 CD has lots of Hawksley songs.
2. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”. My sister always liked this one, which sounds like early Extreme – perhaps first album era.
3.The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”. I leaned heavily on this one, though not a great song, just because it’s the Beatles and it’s a rarity you may not have heard.
4.Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas“. Bon Jovi have done several Christmas songs, but Jon’s solo version of “Please Come Home for Christmas” is by far the best. Let’s face it, this is a great tune!
5.Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”. Another one I lean on because a song about New Year’s Eve is a nice change of pace. Plus, it’s Jim Cuddy!
6.Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”. I think every Christmas mix needs a kick in the nuts to keep things interesting. Here’s the kick!
7. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It can get a little tedious, as many joke songs are, but people know it and like it.
That’s not bad for repeat. I’m sure Kiss have repeated more than just seven songs on their greatest hits CDs….
For creative types, the first thing you try something is often the best. Maybe that’s the case with my line of Christmas mixes. This first instalment is a great listen, even if you hate Christmas music and everything to do with it. Check out the amazing songs you would have heard in 2006!
“Linus & Lucy” isn’t a Christmas song at all, but it works because Charlie Brown is associated with Christmas. Wynton and Ellis Marsalis did an entire album dedicated to the music of Charlie Brown (Joe Cool’s Blues), but “Linus & Lucy” is the most instantly memorable. And now, all of a sudden, you’re a kid again watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special.
Hawsley Workman’s first appearance here is “First Snow of the Year”, a song that is much too happy for a song about snow! It’s homey, upbeat and jovial. Keeping things upbeat, I went for the Brian Setzer Orchestra next. “Jingle Bells” mixes the big band style with jaw-dropping guitar as only Setzer can do. I then chose to cool things out with “The First Nowell” by the sublime Eric Johnson. His acoustic/electric instrumental contains just as much original music as it does traditional. It’s wonderful.
There was a time when Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” was a rarity. Now you hear it on the radio. When I first had it, it was on a bonus CD within a Queen Classics/Greatest Hits box set. (The “Green Cover”.) Since just about everybody likes Queen (then and now) including it is a slam dunk. It’s 80s Queen but that’s OK, isn’t it?
I used a lot of instrumental music on these Christmas mixes, which tended to come from Merry Axemas 1 and 2. “Joy to the World” by Steve Morse is a beautiful rendition, much like the Eric Johnson track, though Steve’s is entirely electric. Then it’s Joe Perry’s Hawaiian guitar version of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”. You may recall that I put Elvis’ version on my 2010 CD. Joe’s version is cool because it’s different, though not as popular around our dinner table.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra is, honestly, a band I don’t get. Look, I’m a huge Savatage fan. Massive Savatage fan. I’ve been a fan since I was 15. Trans-Siberian began as a spinoff of Savatage, and I was absolutely shocked when little old men and ladies would come in to the Record Store asking for them! Trans-Siberian isn’t as “metal” as Savatage, but the bombast is all there. They’re popular though, so I put as much Trans-Siberian on here as I could handle. “A Star to Follow” is a pretty gothic version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. Much better is “A Mad Russian’s Revenge”, an interpretation of Tchaikovsky. I also threw on “The Silent Nutcracker” because it is a simple acoustic guitar instrumental, not at all like the other TSO tracks.
One of Marillion’s very best Christmas tunes is “I Saw Three Ships”, so for my debut Christmas mix, I used nothing but the best Marillion. This is from 2001’s A Very Barry Christmas. There is something special and unique about this band. “I Saw Three Ships” is both true to the song, yet intrinsically Marillion.
Hawksley’s third appearance is a hat trick of perfect celebratory pop. “Claire Fontaine” isn’t particularly seasonal, though it’s from his Christmas CD. It’s about a girl who makes lovely decorative paper. There’s a line about “going home for Christmas” but otherwise there is little connection. Claire could use her paper to wrap gifts, though Hawksley uses it for writing. “Your sheets are very smooth, I like to rub my pen across them.” This was a selfish inclusion. I just love this song.
“Ring Out Solstice Bells” is also a selfish inclusion, because although it is a brilliant track, nobody I knew actually liked Jethro Tull. In fact some, like Mrs. LeBrain, are quite anti-Tull. So who was this song for? Me! And I stand beneath the Christmas tree, doing my best Ian Anderson single-leg stand.
Lo, what is this I hear? More Hawksley? Yes, Hawksley Workman had four tracks on my Christmas CD. That is a full one-half of his original album! I chose “Common Cold” for the last Hawksley. Nobody gets through the holidays without getting sick, not in my family anyway! (Last year I had the flu.) “Nearly OD, on Vitamin C, you’re standing in a lineup with a gift just for me.”
The disc ended with a slew of tracks I’d use again. Cuddy, Nugent, and Bob & Doug closed the CD. A joke song makes a good closer sometimes, so that’s why I re-used Bob & Doug in the exact same position on 2010’s CD!
I like this CD, but I today I would axe the first two Trans-Siberian tracks. I don’t think I’d change anything else. In fact I’m quite thrilled to hear “Linus & Lucy” again for the first time in ages. (I’ll have to give the whole Wynton & Ellis CD a spin again.) Hawksley is always a delight, and I used his very best Christmas songs here. And that Jethro Tull song is brilliant; I don’t care what cynics say.
Do you have a favourite Christmas album? Perhaps you need some Merry Axemas in your life. The first one, in particular.
I used to have an annual tradition of making a Christmas mix CD. I dropped it because after a while I ran out of good Christmas tracks. Something from Merry Axemas used to make the list every year. Not only are there great traditional songs, but also the finest guitar slingers in the world. For an album of (mostly) instrumentals, this one really rings the bells.
Louisiana blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd gets things started with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Anyone on board with the blues should enjoy the solid jamming going on here! This isn’t for grandma. This is for guitar maniacs! Progressive stylist Eric Johnson has a beautiful “First Nowell”, on a classical and electric guitars with accompaniment. Grandma won’t mind this one at all, in fact she might want a copy for herself. The wizard of the wires, Jeff Beck, then presents his slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace” complete with choir. A different mix of elements, but not too hard to digest.
Not the version from this CD, which is instrumental
The Brian Setzer Orchestra comes out swingin’ with their instrumental “Jingle Bells”. If you ever needed reminding how awesome the former Stray Cat is on six strings, then check this out. Brian keeps it all accessible while simultaneously blowing off your nuts. The big band is icing on the cake. Joe Satriani is next up to the plate with an adventurous “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”. This one is strictly for guitar-heads and players, as it’s more a Joe showpiece than anything else. Picture Joe circa Flying in a Blue Dream and you’re in the right place, but not very Christmas-y. This is the only song that has never made one of my annual Christmas mix CDs. Steve Morse’s “Joy to the World” is far more successful as far as the Christmas theme goes. Steve does do it his way, but at least you can tell which carol you’re listening to. If anyone can capture angelic Christmas guitar tones, it is Steve Morse.
How big can these names get? Try Steve Vai on for size. You might recall “Christmas Time is Here” from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special. Vince Guaraldi made it popular for all ages, and Steve does a playful take on it, using his guitar like a voice. And the names keep getting bigger. Heard of Joe Perry before? The Aerosmith guitar hero does Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” as a Hawiian guitar instrumental which suddenly goes surf rock. Rush’s Alex Lifeson then brings “The Little Drummer Boy”, with a low-key and quiet instrumental.
“‘O Holy Night”, performed by Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi, swings and just barely misses. It just doesn’t have that Christmas feel. The Japanese guitarist Hotei has the final track, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which is actually a traditional that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote lyrics to. He goes a little over the edge partway through, but it mostly maintains the right feel.
Here’s the great thing about Merry Axemas. Even if you don’t care for Christmas music, there is usually a need for it around, once a year. Merry Axemas, with some modest editing, could suit your needs. Don’t celebrate Christmas? No problem — if you’re a fan of these players (particularly Morse, Vai, Perry, and Johnson) then you’ll want to hear what they did with these tracks.