How Steve Vai Nearly Lost Joe Satriani His Record Deal
Joe Satriani's original record deal almost fell apart because he didn’t look like his former pupil Steve Vai.
A contract was in the offing following the success of Satriani's self-titled debut EP in 1984. But he had to endure an awkward moment before the promising LP Not of This Earth was released in 1986.
“I go out to the [Relativity Records] offices,” Satriani said on the Mitch Lafon Jeremy White Show, which you can watch below. “I’m standing [with] all the employees right next to Barry Kobrin, the president, and he's looking really nervous because he’s looking at me. And he says out loud, ‘You don’t look like a rock star!’ And there was a silence in the room. … Everyone was thinking, ‘Well, why would you say that?’
Kobrin “was generally nervous about signing me because I didn’t look like my good friend Steve Vai. He was cut out to be a rock star, you know?” Satriani added. “And so I said, ‘Well, what I do is something different. It’s something unique. … You have to get it or you don’t.’ And luckily there were other people in the record company, especially the head of A&R, who really understood. … [They] told those guys, ‘You have to understand what Joe’s doing here: It’s something unique where he doesn’t have to wear the spandex.’”
Before Surfing With the Alien secured his future in 1987, Satriani tutored a number of guitarists who went on to find success, including Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. Still, he almost came to personal ruin after putting $5,000 on a credit card to fund the early EP.
“I'm at a little guitar store. … I’m giving lessons, I receive a call from a collection agency while I’m there, saying that the $5,000 that I owe needs to be paid by the end of the week, or things bad things are going to happen,” Satriani said. “You’re probably wondering, ‘Why did Joe put all that debt on his card?’ … That was the way I got discounts from all the local studios – to pay everybody upfront [using] this credit card. This is back when they used to just mail you credit cards, in the early ‘80s.”
Watch Joe Satriani Discuss His Early Days