Joe Satriani is best known as the guitar virtuoso who plumbs the outer regions of space for music which needs no words. His instrumental progression has only yielded a few songs with lyrics, but they tell stories. Satriani’s most recentrecord, The Elephants of Mars, is basically a travelog, which includes a dip in the waters beneath Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. But many Den of Geek readers might remember him as the talent behind a towering ‘90s instrumental record which featured a surprising visual connection to the Marvel Universe.
Satriani’s 1987 album Surfing with the Alien has nothing to do with surf music, a musical genre which produced quite a few brilliant guitarists, or even the Marvel character Silver Surfer. Released on October 15, 1987, Satriani’s second album featured the famed Marvel hero on the front cover and the hand of Galactus on the back, as illustrated by John Byrne.
But when the album was about to be released, Satriani had never heard of the Silver Surfer. He got the idea from a friend after a British music journalist suggested he rethink the name of his next record.
“Jim Kozlowski, who was production manager at Relativity Records, introduced me to the character when I wanted to change the title of the album from Lords of Karma to Surfing with the Alien,” Satriani tells Den of Geek.
“Jim was not a full-on musician. But he loved comic books and he lived right down the street from Marvel in New York City at the time. It was just by chance, a funny conversation about an interview that ended bad. I called him up and said the guy didn’t like the title of the album. Within two minutes, we decided it was going to be called Surfing with the Alien.”
The string master who gave Steve Vai lessons got an education from the Marvel fan at the record company. “He said, ‘I’m putting these two comic books in the mail, you’ll get them next week.’”
Silver Surfer was first introduced in early 1966 in Fantastic Four #48 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Originally a reluctant sideman to the planet-eating alien Galactus, the chrome-domed hero from the utopian planet Zenn-La proved popular enough with readers to launch his own solo series a few years later, and he’s been a Marvel mainstay ever since. The story resonated with the changing times. Pink Floyd even at one point considered using Silver Surfer on the The Dark Side of the Moon cover, according to Rolling Stone.
“I fell in love with the character because I think he had this metaphysical problem,” Satriani says. “It was so epic. He was caught in the world of his own making, but on the grandest scale anyone could ever imagine. It was preposterous in a way. But at the heart of it was: How could he have a relationship with the love of his life? I just thought that part was so interesting to be able to write about. But the album was already done, and didn’t reflect the story at all.”
Satriani has unabashed admiration for the story of the Surfer and more.
“What Marvel has done with their characters, and turning them into movies, is great,” he tells us. “They were made for modern digital moviemaking.”
The superhero machine gained so much power redefining the box office, when Surfing with the Alien was reissued in 2019, Marvel commanded too high a licensing fee. The Silver Surfer artwork was replaced with Satriani’s chrome guitar bursting through a multicolor wormhole.
Marvel didn’t double up with Satch to score Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), but if asked, the composing guitarist would consider an opportunity to score an MCU Silver Surfer movie, when it inevitably happens.
“Certainly,” Satriani tells us. “But, to tell you the truth. I don’t see the trend where they would be knocking on my door. Styles of music these days really revolve around pop and hip hop.”