Guitar God Steve Vai
TOP 10 GUITARISTS OF ALL TIME! At the Cox Capitol Theatre Monday, Nov. 28
The Guitar Gods will be shining down on the Cox Capitol Theatre and our town of Macon on Monday, November 28 when Steve Vai will bring his unique guitar style to the stage. Vai comes to our historically rich city while on his Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary World Tour, a concert experience in which he has been performing the album in its entirety to commemorate the certified Gold record’s release from September 1990. Passion and Warfare featured some of his best known tracks ‘Erotic Nightmares,’ ‘I Would Love To,’ ‘The Audience Is Listening,’ and perhaps his most popular instrumental ballad, the powerful ‘For The Love Of God.’ Passion and Warfare was commercially Vai’s most successful release, reaching as high as 18th on the Billboard 200, as well as attaining certified Silver in the UK (over 500,000 albums sold) and Gold in Canada.
Vai’s extensive career has included working as Frank Zappa’s transcriptionist, and eventually joining his band, as well as appearances on Whitesnake’s Slip Of The Tongue and David Lee Roth’s Eat ‘Em And Smile and Skyscraper albums. In a 2012 Guitar World Reader Poll, Vai was named the 10th Greatest Guitarist of all time. He has won three Grammy awards for his many collaborations: two wins for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for ‘Sofa’ from Zappa’s Universe (1994) and ‘Peaches en Regalia’ from Zappa Plays Zappa (2008), and Best Pop Instrumental Album for his role as Producer/Engineer of Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather’s No Substitutions (2001). We here at The 11th Hour and 100.9 The Creek were lucky enough to catch up with Vai by phone a couple weeks ago during his stop at The Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
How’s the tour been going so far?
Tour’s been going great, you know, touring for me is like an escape. It’s like being in La-La-Land, like a vacation land or something. We’ve been out since May, and we started in Europe, we did a nice run in Europe and now we’re doing an American run and it’s going great. The show is basically a celebration of the 25th anniversary of my record Passion and Warfare so, besides some other things, we play the entire record from beginning to end, and one of the things I’m doing on this tour that I haven’t done before is I have screens, so I have some friends come up on the screen and I jam with them through the show so its kind of fun.
What’s the reaction from the fans been like on the tour? Well what’s interesting is when you find a record, the right record comes into your life at the right time, it’s like a snapshot out of your life at that time and it has a nostalgic value to it and it has an evergreen shelf life and for a lot of people, luckily for me, that record Passion and Warfare was one of those records for them so now when they come to the show and they get to see the performance of it, I guess it would be like me having an opportunity to go back and see the entire Ziggy Stardust record performed by David Bowie, you know?
Tell me about your connection to this album Passion and Warfare and why you wanted to do this 25th Anniversary Tour.
The record was my most successful record, and it came out, like… It was a perfect storm, it was the perfect time, the right record from me and when it came out I actually didn’t tour on it, I never toured on that record because I had toured with Dave Roth, David Lee Roth, and then I was with Whitesnake and that was a really long tour, like a thirteen-month tour. Passion and Warfare came out about the middle of that tour. By the time that tour was done, my wife and I just had a baby and I just wasn’t ready then [laughing] you know, to go back out and tour. I thought one day it would be really great, I would love to just go out and play this whole record because it is such a milestone in my catalog. And I think this is as good of a time as any because my fingers can still do it, I’ve got a great band, and it turned out great because I thought it was going to be virtually impossible to play this record because a lot of times the stuff I do is kind of dense and compositional but with today’s technology we can use backing tracks for some of that bizarre stuff and its great. The show is really fun.
When you made this album, it was a little over 26 years ago, what were some of the influences or stories behind the tracks?
I had just come from being with these big rock bands, and when I was younger, you’re subjected to the music your parents are playing in the house and lucky for me they were playing everything from Engelbert Humperdinck to Tom Jones to Italian polka music. But one record that they had was West Side Story and that had a huge impact on me because it had a story to it, it had drama, it had incredible melody, you know all this really cool stuff. I was hooked on composing, I wanted to learn how to compose, so when I was younger I actually studied how to write music and I learned how to write, I had written orchestra scores in high school and many orchestra scores through the years so when it came time to mix it all together, meaning my interest in rock music and my interest in composition music, that was a burning desire when I decided to make Passion and Warfare. That was the opening of the brand of music I had in my head.
You’re coming to Macon November 28th. Macon’s a city that’s really proud of it’s place in music history. Did that have any influence on your decision to come here?
I have a connection to them in that they’re part of my musical encyclopedia of records and stuff. Most musicians have some of that stuff in their blood. But, Macon I have a different relationship with. I have a lot of friends there, actually [laughing]. It wasn’t so much a musical, historical value for me to go there, it’s just a great stop when I get an opportunity because I have friends there and it’s a great music community and the fans are really supportive there.
You have a new album out that you just released in June, Modern Primitive, it’s a really fun album to listen to, tell me about that one.
That came out with the 25th anniversary of Passion and Warfare. The funny thing was, when I finished my first solo record in 1982 or 1983 and released it, it was a bizarre record. I was just learning how to record and produce and after I released it, I realized I loved the idea of making records so I put a band together and I started to record a whole bunch of stuff and I wrote a bunch of new music, but then I joined this band Alcatrazz and all of that music got put on the shelf. So that was the music that I eventually completed for Modern Primitive because my first solo record was flexible and the Passion and Warfare, there’s such a vast difference in those records, you’d never think the same guy made them so this Modern Primitive is almost like a missing link between those two records. It was nice to revisit the music that was burning a whole in my psyche for thirty years, it kept beckoning me to finish it so I did. It’s a very adventurous record, really kind of brave and fearless to that kind of music. But I like it, and the fans that follow what I do really seem to be responding really great to it.
Are you one of those people who sort of thinks in music?
Well, occasionally, if I’m writing something then I think in notes.
You brought up Whitesnake and David Lee Roth earlier, can you tell me what it was like working with them?
It was a great time to be a rock star in the eighties, especially with those guys. I mean, touring with David Roth in the eighties was an amazing experience because it was, on many levels, first of all, he was David Lee Roth!
He was the biggest rock star on the planet at the time.
Yeah, and he was a consummate entertainer and I was mentored by him, you know, on how to relate to a large group of people from the stage which is a whole different kind of an aura that you put on that was different than when I was with Frank Zappa, which then I was more focused on what my fingers were doing and not making mistakes. But with Dave Roth it was a great show, we had Billy Sheehan and Gregg Bissonette and we just, we played our butts off. And that was a time in which you could wear all kinds of crazy clothes [laughing] and the stage was like the size of a football field, you know? It was a great time. And then Whitesnake, it was sort of more of the same, bunch of great guys just out there in the eighties kicking butt in these arenas.
You mentioned Frank Zappa, he was the one who gave you your first big break. Give us your best Frank Zappa story.
Oh my gosh. Frank was on this television show called The Joe Pyne Show. Joe Pyne was like a television announcer, from what I understand. Sort of a Howard Stern type, and you never want to try and put Frank on the spot because you’re going to get it. You’d better be prepared. Joe Pyne had a wooden leg, so Frank walked into the studio and sat down and the first thing the guy says is “With all that hair, that must make you a woman,” and without missing a beat Frank said “With that wooden leg, that must make you a cable.” [laughing]
[Laughing] Yeah, I guess you didn’t want to mess with Frank Zappa.
No no no no no.
So you’ve got this new album, you’ve got this big world tour, what do you see coming next for you? What are your plans for after the tour wraps?
Well I have the Vai Academy camp, January 2-6, which this year is in Carmel, California and it’s a great event where people come from all over and we spend three or four days with these great classes and jamming, I jam with everybody, and we’ve got really great instructors and also other artists. Zakk Wylde is going to be there, and you get to see and play and talk with him, Al Di Meola, one of my heroes, and Carlos Alomar. So that’s at the beginning of the year, so after that I’m probably going to be hunkering down, strapping on a hot guitar and sitting, playing forever and seeing what comes out. As usual, I love to, at the end of the project, plant a seed to completely reinvent what I’m doing so you don’t keep doing the same riffs and kinds of things and that’s one of the more exciting parts, coming up with all new stuff, new moves and shapes and stuff. It’s great.