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1960 – Steve Vai: Widdlywiddlywiddlywiddlywiddlywiddlywiddly-SCREECH! Yes, it’s happy birthday to Steve Vai, born today in Long Island, N.Y. this day in rock Guitar God History!
Steven “Steve” Siro Vai (born June 6, 1960 in Carle Place, New York) is an American instrumental rock guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and producer.
After starting his professional career as a music transcriptionist for Frank Zappa, Vai would also record and tour in Zappa’s backing band starting in 1980. The guitarist began a solo career starting in 1984 and has released 13 solo albums as of 2008. Apart from his work with Frank Zappa, Vai has also recorded and toured with numerous musical artists including Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake. Vai has been a regular touring member of the G3 Concert Tour which began in 1996. In 1999 Vai started his own record label Favored Nations with the intent to showcase, as Vai describes: “…artists that have attained the highest performance level on their chosen instruments.”.
1970s and 1980s
In 1974, Vai took guitar lessons from guitarist Joe Satriani, and played in numerous local bands. He has acknowledged the influence of many guitarists including Jeff Beck and fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Vai then attended the Berklee College of Music.
Vai mailed Frank Zappa a transcription of Zappa’s “The Black Page”, an instrumental song written for drums, along with a tape with some of Vai’s guitar playing. Zappa was so impressed with the abilities of the young musician that he hired him in 1979 to do work transcribing several of his guitar solos, including many of those appearing on the Joe’s Garage album and the Shut Up ‘n’ Play Yer Guitar series. These transcriptions were published in 1982 in The Frank Zappa Guitar Book.
Subsequent to being hired as a transcriber, Vai did overdubs on many of the guitar parts for Zappa’s album You Are What You Is. Thereafter he became a full-fledged band member, going on his first tour with Zappa in the Autumn of 1980. One of those early shows with Vai on guitar, recorded in Buffalo was released in 2007. While touring with Zappa’s band, Vai would sometimes ask audience members to bring musical scores and see if he could sight-read them on the spot. Zappa referred to Vai as his “little Italian virtuoso” and was listed in liner notes as “stunt guitar” or “impossible guitar parts”. He would later be a featured artist on the 1993 recording, Zappa’s Universe. In 2006 he returned to playing Zappa music as a special guest on Dweezil Zappa’s ‘Zappa Plays Zappa’ tour.
After leaving Zappa in 1982 he moved to California where he recorded his first album Flex-Able and performed in a couple of bands. In 1985 he replaced Yngwie Malmsteen as lead guitarist in Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz with whom he recorded the album Disturbing the Peace. Later in 1985 he joined former Van Halen front man David Lee Roth’s group to record the albums Eat ‘Em and Smile and Skyscraper. This significantly increased Vai’s visibility to general rock audiences, since Roth was in a highly public battle with the Van Halen members and Vai was favorably compared by many commentators to Eddie Van Halen.
In 1986 Vai also surprised everyone by playing with ex-Sex Pistols John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd on their album Album (also known as Compact Disc or Cassette). Then in 1989 Vai stepped into guitarist Adrian Vandenberg’s shoes to record with British rock-group Whitesnake after Vandenberg injured his wrist shortly before recording was due to begin for the album Slip of the Tongue. Vai also played on the Alice Cooper album Hey Stoopid along with Joe Satriani on the song Feed my Frankenstein.
1990s and 2000s
Vai continues to tour regularly, both with his own group and with his one-time teacher and fellow guitar instrumentalist friend Joe Satriani on the G3 series of tours. Former David Lee Roth and Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan also joined him for a world tour. In 1990 Vai released his critically acclaimed solo album Passion and Warfare. The song For the Love of God was voted #29 in a readers’ poll of the 100 greatest guitar solos of all time for the magazine Guitar World.
In 1994 Vai began writing and recording with Ozzy Osbourne. Only one track from these sessions—”My Little Man”—was released on the Ozzmosis album. Despite Vai penning the track he does not appear on the album. His guitar parts were replaced by Zakk Wylde. Vai’s band members throughout the 1990s included drummer Mike Mangini, guitarist Mike Keneally and bassist Philip Bynoe. In 1994 Vai received a Grammy Award for his performance on the Frank Zappa song Sofa from the album Zappa’s Universe.
Vai playing a twin-necked IbanezIn July 2002, Steve Vai performed with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan, in the world premiere of composer Ichiro Nodaira’s Fire Strings, a concerto for electric guitar and 100-piece orchestra. In 2004, a number of his compositions for orchestra, as well as orchestra arrangements of previously recorded pieces, were performed in The Netherlands by the Metropole Orchestra in a concert series entitled The Aching Hunger. In 2003, drummer Jeremy Colson joined Vai’s group replacing previous drummer Virgil Donati. Vai’s latest album, Sound Theories, was released in 2007.
Steve Vai released a DVD of his performance at The Astoria in London in December 2001, featuring the lineup of bassist Billy Sheehan, guitarist/pianist Tony MacAlpine, guitarist Dave Weiner and drummer Virgil Donati.
In 2004, Steve Vai was featured on Xbox’s Halo 2 Volume 1 soundtrack, performing a heavy rock-guitar rendition of the Halo theme, known as Halo Theme (Mjolnir Mix). He also performed on the track Never Surrender. He later featured in the second volume of the soundtrack, where he performed on the track Reclaimer.
In February 2005, Vai premiered a dual-guitar (electric and classical) piece that he wrote called The Blossom Suite with classical guitarist Sharon Isbin at the Châtelet Theatre in Paris. In 2006, Vai played as a “special guest” guitarist alongside additional guest Zappa band members, drummer Terry Bozzio and saxophonist-singer Napoleon Murphy Brock in the Zappa Plays Zappa tour led by Frank’s son Dweezil Zappa in Europe and the U.S. in the Spring as well as a short U.S. tour in October.
On September 21 2006, Vai made a special appearance at the Video Games Live concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, California. He played two songs with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. One song being the Halo Theme, the second was for the world premier trailer for Halo 3.
Steve Vai made an appearance at the London Guitar Show 2007 on the 28th April 2007 at the ExCeL Center by doing a masterclass. In late April 2007, Vai confirmed the release of his next record, called Sound Theories, on June 26. The release will be a 2-CD set consisting mostly of previously released material that Vai rearranged and played in front of a full orchestra. Vai says that the project was a great joy because he considers himself to be a composer more than a guitarist, and he is happy to see music he has composed played by an orchestra that can play it well. A DVD will eventually accompany the record but will be released in August. He makes a guest appearance on the most recent Dream Theater album, Systematic Chaos, on the song “Repentance”. However, this appearance is vocal rather than instrumental, as Vai is one of many musical guests recorded apologizing to important people in their lives for wrongdoings committed in their pasts.
Vai is set to release a DVD of his show dated 19 September 2007 at the Minneapolis State Theater from his 2007 Tour.
Steve Vai’s music has been featured in a number of feature films, including Dudes and Ghosts of Mars. He appeared onscreen in the 1986 Ralph Macchio movie Crossroads, playing the demonically-inspired Jack Butler. At the film’s climax, Vai engages in a guitar duel with Macchio, whose guitar parts were dubbed by Vai and also Ry Cooder, who played the initial slide work in the duel and Macchio’s earlier performances in the film. The fast-paced neo-classical track entitled Eugene’s Trick Bag with which Macchio wins the competition was also composed by Vai. The body of the piece was heavily based on Paganini’s Caprice #5. He later borrowed the opening riff from the track Head Cuttin’ Duel for a song called Bad Horsie from his 1995 EP Alien Love Secrets. Later the Crossroads duel reappeared on the 2002 album The Elusive Light and Sound, volume 1.
In 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey the introductory riff to KISS’ God Gave Rock ‘N Roll To You II, as performed by the Wyld Stallyns in the Battle of the Bands was performed by Vai. He also composed and performed the soundtrack to PCU (1994), and made contributions in 2001 to the score for John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, performing on the tracks Ghosts of Mars and Ghost Poppin. His track Drive the Hell Out Of Here can be heard during 1992’s Encino Man in the scene where Brendan Fraser is taking a driving lesson.
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Vai performing in 2001Vai is widely recognized as a technically highly advanced rock guitarist and has been described as a virtuoso in the world of guitar music . He has mastered many performance techniques on the instrument including legato, pinch harmonics and volume swells, and is noted for his whammy bar effects and sporadic outbursts on the instrument often contrasting sweep-picking or finger tapping with slower sections to his compositions. His 1990 album Passion and Warfare and the ballad For the Love of God in particular received a significant amount of press and are often cited by critics and fans alike as amongst his best work to date .
Vai’s playing style has been characterized as quirky and angular, owing to his technical facility with the instrument and deep knowledge of music theory. Vai was the first to use the 7-string guitar in a rock context – having designed the 7-string electric guitar, and has used double and triple neck guitars on many occasions.
Vai is an accomplished studio producer (he owns two: “The Mothership” and “The Harmony Hut” ) and his own recordings combine his signature guitar prowess with novel compositions and considerable use of studio and recording effects, such as the Eventide H3000 ultra harmonizer and Digidesign’s Pro Tools HD recording system and plug-in effects architecture.
Vai also helped design his signature Ibanez JEM series of guitars. They feature a hand grip (fondly referred to as a “monkey grip”) cut into the top of the body of the guitar, a humbucker-single coil-humbucker DiMarzio pickup configuration with several different types of pickup including Evolution, Breed and EVO 2. He also uses Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, as well as an elaborate and extensive “Vine of Life” inlay down the neck. Vai also equips many of his guitars with an Ibanez Backstop, a tremolo stabilizer that has been discontinued. Vai also has a 7-string model designed by him named Ibanez Universe. The Universe later influenced the 7-string guitars used by Korn and other bands to create nu metal sounds in the late 1990s. He also has a signature Ibanez acoustic, the Euphoria. Before he used Ibanez, he briefly endorsed Jackson guitars, but this relationship would only last for two years.
Steve Vai has also worked with Carvin Guitars and Pro Audio to develop the Carvin Legacy line of guitar amplifiers. Vai wanted to create an amp that was unique and equal in sound, versatility, and affordability to any guitar amp he had previously used. Over his long musical career, Steve Vai has used and designed an array of guitars. He even had his DNA put into the swirl paint job on one of his signature JEM guitars, the JEM2KDNA, in the form of his blood. Only 300 of these were ever made. Nowadays he mainly uses his white “Evo”, a JEM7V, and his “Flo”, which is a customized Floral Jem 777FP painted white. They are both inscribed with their names in two places, mainly in order to allow him to distinguish between the guitars he uses onstage. “Flo” is equipped with a Fernandes sustainer system.
He also has a guitar named “Mojo” in which the dot inlays are blue LED lights. Additionally, he has a custom-made triple-neck guitar that has the same basic features as his JEM7V guitars. The top neck is a 12-string guitar, the middle is a 6-string, and the bottom is a 6-string fretless guitar with a Fernandes Sustainer pickup. This guitar was featured on the G3 2003 tour on the piece I Know You’re Here. Vai’s effects pedals include a modified Boss DS-1, Ibanez Tube Screamer, Morley Bad Horsie, TC Electronics G-System, Morley Little Alligator Volume pedal, Digitech Whammy, and an MXR Phase 90. His flight cases are labeled “Mr. Vai”, or latterly, “Dr. Vai”. He used a number of rack effects units controlled via MIDI, but used a floor-based TC electronics G system instead for the Zappa Plays Zappa tour. Vai also has a signature pedal in the works with Ibanez called the “Jemini” pedal (see external links for a picture). This pedal is expected to be released at Winter NAMM 2008.
In 2005, Vai signed on as an official supporter of Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that provides free musical instruments and free lessons to children in public schools throughout the U.S.A. He sits on its board of directors as an honorary member.
Vai owns Favored Nations, a recording and publishing company that specializes in internationally procuring and maintaining recording artists. Favored Nations is separated into three sections, ‘Favored Nations’, ‘Favored Nations Acoustic’ and ‘Favored Nations Cool (Jazz style)’
Artists who the Favored Nations label works or has worked with include Eric Johnson, Steve Lukather, Neal Schon, Yngwie Malmsteen, Mattias IA Eklundh, Tommy Emmanuel, Vernon Reid, The Yardbirds, Larry Coryell, Mimi Fox, Eric Sardinas, Dweezil Zappa, Dave Weiner and Johnny A.
Vai is married to Pia Maiocco, former bass player of Vixen, who can be seen in Hardbodies. Vai and Maiocco have two children, Julian Angel and Fire. In his spare time Vai enjoys keeping bees, which regularly produce a crop of honey that Vai sells for his Make a Noise Foundation.
Band History – not including guest appearances
Frank Zappa (1980-1982)
Steve Vai (1982-1984)
David Lee Roth (1985-1986)
Public Image Ltd. (1985-1986)
Frank Zappa (1986)
David Lee Roth (1987-1988)
Ozzy Osbourne (1995)
Current band members
Steve Vai – vocals, lead guitar
Dave Weiner – rhythm guitar
Ann Marie Calhoun – Fiddle, keyboard
Brian Beller – bass guitar
Jeremy Colson – drums, percussion
Alex Depue- Violin
Flex-Able Leftovers (1984)
Passion and Warfare (1990)
Sex & Religion (1993)
Alien Love Secrets (1995)
Fire Garden (1996)
The Ultra Zone (1999)
The 7th Song (2000)
Alive in an Ultra World (2001)
The Elusive Light and Sound, volume 1 (2002)
The Infinite Steve Vai: An Anthology (2003)
Real Illusions: Reflections (2005)
Sound Theories (2007)
Appearances on Zappa albums
Year Album Credit
1981 Tinseltown Rebellion Rhythm guitar, vocals
1981 Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Rhythm guitar
1981 You Are What You Is Strat abuse
1982 Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch Guitar parts
1983 The Man from Utopia Guitar parts
1984 Them or Us Guitar
1984 Thing-Fish Guitar, vocals
1985 Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention Guitar
1987 Jazz from Hell Guitar
1988 Guitar Stunt guitar
1988 You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore Sampler Stunt guitar
1988 You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1 Stunt guitar
1989 You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 3 Stunt guitar
1991 You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 4 Stunt guitar, vocals
1991 Beat the Boots I: As An Am Stunt guitar
1992 You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 5 Stunt guitar
1992 You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 6 Stunt guitar
1995 Strictly Commercial Guitar
1997 Have I Offended Someone? Guitar
1998 Cheap Thrills Guitar
1999 Son of Cheep Thrills Guitar, vocals
With other artists
Year Artist Album
1983 Lisa Popeil Lisa Popeil
1985 Heresy At The Door
1985 Alcatrazz Disturbing the Peace
1985 Public Image Ltd. Album
1986 Bob Harris The Great Nostalgia
1986 Shankar & Caroline The Epidemics
1986 David Lee Roth Eat ‘Em and Smile / Sonrisa Salvaje
1986 Randy Coven Funk Me Tender
1986 Western Vacation Western Vacation
1988 David Lee Roth Skyscraper
1989 Whitesnake Slip of the Tongue
1990 Rebecca The Best of Dreams
1991 Alice Cooper Hey Stoopid
1994 Whitesnake Whitesnake’s Greatest Hits
1995 Ozzy Osbourne Ozzmosis (cowriter on one song)
1996 Wild Style Cryin’
1997 Munetaka Higuchi with Dream Castle Free World
1997 Joe Satriani / Eric Johnson / Steve Vai G3: Live in Concert
1997 David Lee Roth The Best
1998 Gregg Bissonette Gregg Bissonette
1998 Al Di Meola The Infinite Desire
1999 Joe Jackson Symphony No. 1
2000 Whitesnake The Back to Black Collection
2000 Gregg Bissonette Submarine
2000 Thana Harris Thanatopsis
2000 Andrew Dice Clay Face Down, Ass Up
2001 Robin DiMaggio Blue Planet
2001 Billy Sheehan Compression
2002 Tak Matsumoto Hana
2003 Surinder Sandhu Saurang Orchestra
2002 Girls Together Outrageously (G.T.O) Solo in their cover version of “I’ll Be Around”
2003 Eric Sardinas Black Pearls
2003 Steve Lukather & Friends SantaMental
2003 Hughes Turner Project HTP 2
2003 Shankar & Gingger One in a Million
2003 Yardbirds Birdland
2004 Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen G3: Live – Rockin’ In The Free World
2004 Motörhead Inferno
2004 Bob Carpenter The Sun, The Moon, The Stars
2004 Mike Keneally Vai: Piano Reductions, Vol. 1
2005 John 5 Songs for Sanity
2005 Dave Weiner Live at Astoria DVD
2005 Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John Petrucci G3: Live in Tokyo
2006 The Devin Townsend Band Synchestra
2006 Marty Friedman Loudspeaker
2006 Meat Loaf Bat out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose
2007 Aki Rahimovski U vremenu izgubljenih
2007 Dream Theater (spoken voice only) Systematic Chaos
2007 Eros Ramazzotti e²
Year Soundtrack Type
1986 Crossroads Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1987 Dudes Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1991 Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1992 Encino Man Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1994 PCU Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1997 Formula 1 Original Video Game Soundtrack
2001 Ghosts of Mars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
2004 Halo 2 Soundtrack Volume 1 Original Video Game Soundtrack
2006 Halo 2 Soundtrack Volume 2 Original Video Game Soundtrack
Year Artists Compilation
1989 Various Guitar’s Practicing Musicians
1993 Various Zappa’s Universe
1995 Various In From The Storm
1996 Various Songs of West Side Story
1997 Various A Guitar Christmas
1997 Various Angelica
1999 Various Radio Disney Kid Jams
2001 Various Roland Guitar Masters
2002 Various Guitars For Freedom
2002 Various Warmth In The Wilderness Vol. II – A Tribute to Jason Becker
2004 Various Halo 2 Original Soundtrack
2006 Various Monsters of Rock
Awards and Nominations
1994 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Sofa” from Zappa’s Universe
2001 Best Pop Instrumental No Substitutions [Steve Vai Producer/Engineer]
1990 Best Rock Instrumental Album Passion & Warfare
1995 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Tender Surrender” – from Alien Love Secrets
1997 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “For the Love of God” – from G3 Live in Concert
1999 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Windows to the Soul” – from The Ultra Zone
2001 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Whispering a Prayer” – from Alive in an Ultra World
2006 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Lotus Feet” — lost to Les Paul & Friends’s “69 Freedom Special”
2008 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “The Attitude Song” — lost to Bruce Springsteen’s “Once Upon a Time in the West”
Guitar Player Magazine
1995 Gallery of Greats
1995 Best Rock Guitarist (Tie with Jimmy Page)
1995 Best Overall Guitarist 3rd Place
1995 Best Experimental Guitarist (Tie with Buckethead)
1995 Best Metal Recording 3rd Place
1995 Best Overall Guitar Recording 2nd Place
1995 Best Metal Guitarist 3rd Place
1990 Best Rock Guitarist
1990 Best Overall Guitarist
1990 Best Guitar Album
1990 Best Metal Guitarist
1989 Best Rock Guitarist
1988 Best Rock Guitarist
1987 Best Rock Guitarist
1987 Best Overall Guitarist
1986 Best Rock Guitarist
1990 Most Valued Player (tie with Stevie Ray Vaughan)
1990 Best Album
1990 Best Rock Guitarist
1990 Best Guitar Solo (For the Love of God)
1989 Best Rock Guitarist
International Music Awared Nomination
1990 Best Guitarist
Select Magazine (UK)
1990 Best Album (Passion and Warfare)
1990 Best Musician
1990 Sexiest Male
Guitar for the Practicing Musician
1993 Editor’s Choice Award
1990 Reader’s Choice – Guitar Album of the Year
1990 Best Instrumental Guitarist of the Year
1988 Rock Guitarist of the Year
1987 Hall of Fame
1986 Guitar in the 90’s Award
1993 Best Hard Rock Performance
1990 Guitarist of the Year
1989 Best Rock Guitarist
Young Guitar (Japan)
1997 Best Rock Guitarist
1991 Best Rock Guitarist
1996 Best Guitarist
1997 Best Guitarist
990 Best Selling Album (No. 10)
1990 Best Selling LP Sleeve (No. 1)
1990 Best Selling Promo Video (No. 5, I Would Love To)
1990 Best Selling Promo Video (No. 7, The Audience is Listening)
1990 Best Sex Object (No. 6)
1990 Best RAW Cover (No. 3)
1995 Best Hard Rock Guitarist – 2nd Place
1990 Best Album
1990 Best Guitarist
1990 Best Musician
1990 Best Guitarist (Reader’s Poll)
California Music Awards
2001 Outstanding Guitarist (nominee)