How Steve Vai Almost Lost Joe Satriani His Record Deal

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Joe Satriani’s original recording contract nearly collapsed because he didn’t sound like his former student Steve Vai.

A contract was in sight after the success of Satriani’s self-titled debut EP in 1984. But he had to endure an awkward moment before the promising LP Not from this land came out in 1986.

“I go out to [Relativity Records] offices,” Satriani said on the Mitch Lafon Jeremy White Show, which you can watch below. “I’m up [with] all the employees right next to Barry Kobrin, the president, and he looks really nervous because he’s looking at me. And he said out loud, ‘You don’t look like a rock star!’ And there was 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 made to be a rock star, you know? Satriani added. “And so I said, ‘Well, what I’m doing is something different. It is 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 these guys, ‘You have to understand what Joe is doing here: it’s something unique where he doesn’t have to wear spandex.’

Before Surf with the alien secured his future in 1987, Satriani trained a number of guitarists who went on to success, including Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. Still, he nearly went broke after putting $5,000 on a credit card to fund the debut EP.

“I’m in a small guitar store. …I’m teaching, I get a call from a collection agency while I’m at it, saying the $5,000 I owe has to be paid by the end of the week, or bad things are going to happen Satriani mentioned. “You’re probably wondering, ‘Why did Joe put all that debt on his card?’ …That’s how I got discounts from all the local studios – to pay everyone upfront [using] this credit card. This is back when they just mailed you credit cards in the early 80s.”

Watch Joe Satriani talk about his debut

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