"I can't think of a Van Halen song that doesn't put a smile on my face – it's just a question of figuring out how to play them": How Joe Satriani is preparing to pay tribute to Eddie Van Halen

Studio portraits of Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Joe Satriani: Eduardo Peña Dolhun | Eddie Van Halen: Ann Summa via Getty Images)

Joe Satriani is in the midst of a tour with longtime friend, and former guitar student, Steve Vai – with whom he's just released their first ever single together, The Sea of Emotion, Pt. 1. But when they're not on stage the two players are busying themselves preparing for their next gigs – Vai with Adrian Belew's King Crimson-saluting Beat and Satriani deep diving into Van Halen territory with Sammy Hagar's The Best of All Worlds tour in North America, which gets underway on July 13 in West Palm Beach, FL.

"My task right now is trying to unravel the mystery of Eddie Van Halen's strange guitar playing," Satriani tells Classic Rock. "I spent decades voiding how to learn this stuff so I wouldn't copy it, and now all of a sudden I'm doing a crash course on the idiosyncrasies and the genius of his guitar work. I know these songs but I've never actually played them. It's a task."

The Hagar crew – which also includes Jason Bonham and drums and original Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony (also part of Chickenfoot with Satriani and Hagar) will play 28 dates during the tour (full dates below), surveying all of Hagar's career but with a particular emphasis on Van Halen, both the Hagar and the David Lee Roth years. The song list is coming together, but Satriani notes that, "I was so happy when Sammy said he wanted to do The Seventh Seal, which I thought is such a great, progressive Eddie Van Halen song, so different from Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love and Panama – although when you play Panama live with a band, it's so exciting.

"I can't think of a (Van Halen) song that doesn't put a smile on my face – it's just a question of figuring out how to play them. What I can guarantee is they're gonna see someone who's hell-bent on being the most respectful guitar player to the legacy of Eddie and his playing. I'm busy creating workarounds. I have every intention of nailing everything, and when I can't I'll wink to the audience and they're gonna know that one's just gonna slip by."

Satriani has been a Van Halen fan from when he first heard the group's debut album in 1978 ("I heard Eruption and I was cheering") but he only met Eddie Van Halen once, while he was recording his 1992 album The Extremist in Los Angeles. "He showed up at 11 in the morning, just going a million miles an hour, one of the most energetic people I ever met," Satriani recalls. "In walks Eddie and he's all smiles and happy and, 'Hey, Joe, how's it going? Play me something!'" 

Satriani was, in fact, grappling with one of the tracks and says that Van Halen "gave me some really great comments – and then (co-producer) Andy Johns come in and took him out and the whole day was lost 'cause they went out partying. 

"I never got to talk to him and say, 'I'm a fan. You’re amazing,' ask him about a song or something like that, so it was a very brief encounter. But even in those few minutes where we got to hang out, I could tell his energy was extremely special."

Sammy Hagar: The Best of All Worlds tour 2024

Jul 13: West Palm Beach iThink Financial Amphitheatre, FL
Jul 14: Tampa MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, FL          
Jul 16: Alpharetta Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, GA
Jul 19: Charlotte PNC Music Pavilion, NC
Jul 20: Bristow Jiffy Lube Live, VA
Jul 22: Saratoga Springs Broadview Stage at SPAC, NY 
Jul 24: Bridgeport Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater, CT
Jul 26: Mansfield Xfinity Center, MA
Jul 27: Holmdel PNC Bank Arts Center, NJ
Jul 29: Cuyahoga Falls Blossom Music Center, OH
Jul 31: Toronto Budweiser Stage, ON, Canada
Aug 02: Clarkston Pine Knob Music Theatre, MI
Aug 03: Tinley Park Credit Union 1 Amphitheatre, IL
Aug 09: Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena, NV
Aug 11: Morrison Red Rocks Amphitheatre, CO
Aug 13: Spokane Airway Heights BECU Live at Northern Quest, WA
Aug 14: Ridgefield RV Inn Style Resort Amphitheater, WA
Aug 16: Wheatland Toyota Amphitheatre, CA
Aug 17: Concord Toyota Pavilion at Concord, CA
Aug 19: Los Angeles Kia Forum, CA
Aug 20: Phoenix Talking Stick Resorts Amphitheatre, AZ        
Aug 22: Dallas Dos Equis Pavilion, TX
Aug 23: Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, TX
Aug 25: Rogers Walmart AMP, AR
Aug 27: Cincinnati Riverbend Music Center, OH
Aug 28: Nashville Bridgestone Arena, TN                     
Aug 30: Noblesville Ruoff Music Center, IN
Aug 31: St. Louis Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, MO

Tickets are on sale now.

Hagar summer 2024 tour

(Image credit: Live Nation)
Gary Graff

Gary Graff is an award-winning veteran music journalist based in metro Detroit, writing regularly for Billboard, Ultimate Classic Rock, Media News Group, Music Connection, United Stations Radio Networks and others. Graff’s work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, Guitar World, Classic Rock, Revolver, the San Francisco Chronicle, AARP magazine, the Detroit Jewish News, The Forward and others. Graff has co-written and edited books about Bob Seger, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. A professional voter for the Grammy Awards and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Graff co-founded the Detroit Music Awards in 1989 and continues as the organisation’s chief producer.