Guitar wizard Steve Vai definitely has his own sound

Published on March 26th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Guitarist Steve Vai is not easy to define when it comes to style, and that is perfectly fine with him.

“The fun part is mixing it up,” he said. “When you are playing there are some things you aren’t aware of and that’s when ideas can come to you. You don’t want to be in one style and have to just do that. It’s about new ideas and ways of thinking.”

Vai is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his landmark album, “Passion and Welfare,” with a show at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside on Saturday.

 “When I was a kid I would buy up and listen to anything in the Top 40,” he said. “I just loved the melodic music, and I was attracted to it and wanted to compose and write it. I had a bunch of the K-Tel records and just played them to death.”

He was already becoming adept at the guitar at an early age. When he was 13, he started to play the guitar having already learned the organ and accordion. Subsequently, he took lessons with Joe Satriani.

“I knew in my head I was a rock star, a legend in my own mind,” he laughed. “I really was into the music, the melodies like that Motown sound, the intricacies of the way music was constructed.”

He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and later joined Frank Zappa’s group after he began to transcribe Zappa’s music. Within a few years, he joined David Lee Roth’s band following the singer’s departure from Van Halen.

“When I heard Roth was looking for a guitarist, I just knew it was going to be me,” he said. “Billy Sheehan had recommended him to me, and I coveted the position. In my early days, I would wonder if I could get a gig. I figured I would go for it and tried out with Alice Cooper, KISS and others. But for some reason, I just knew this would be my gig and I would just have to wait for it. Sure enough, I got the call.”

Of course, he was a little surprised too because he wasn’t exactly a household word.

“I’d done the stuff with Zappa and had filmed ‘Crossroads’ but the movie hadn’t been released yet,” he said.

When he joined Roth, of course there might have been comparisons to Roth’s old guitarist.

“You don’t compete with Eddie Van Halen,” he said. “He was a monolith and brought so much inspiration for me. He’s a genius.”

He was determined to have his own sound, which he provided in songs like “Yankee Rose” and “Goin’ Crazy.”
“It’s difficult for me to try to sound like someone else,” he said. “I couldn’t sound like my heroes. Why would anyone do that? It was important to develop my own style, to create music and playing that was unique to me.”

So now, 25 years later and a great deal of fame, he is revisiting his classic album.

 “This is the right time for this tour, and we have a record we can do from beginning to end,” he said.

“For the tour, you have to visualize it, block out the dates, call the management, call the record company and find out who in the band is available

During his time with other bands, such as Roth’s band in the ‘80s, he was free to focus on just playing.

“I wasn’t responsible for all the intricacies of the tour,” he said. “I was focused on what I need to do. Now, I certainly have more freedom but also a lot more responsibility. But it also means I can do the whole album in its entirety, which we are doing. Some of these songs I’ve never performed live.”


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