|Born on: 06.06.1960
Steven Siro Vai (born June 6, 1960 in Carle Place, New York) is a Grammy Award winning guitarist, composer and record producer.
When growing up, the young Vai became interested in rock giants such as Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, Queen and Led Zeppelin which led him to take up learning the guitar. Prior to attending Berklee College of Music, Steve frequently jammed with his teacher Joe Satriani and played in numerous local bands. He has acknowledged the influence of many guitarists, including Jeff Beck and fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth.
Work with Frank Zappa
It was also at this time that he became fascinated by the music of Frank Zappa. A persistent rumor at Berklee tells how Steve would skip classes while spending time in the school's library transcribing Zappa's works by ear. Steve mailed transcriptions of Zappa's guitar solos to him, and after meeting Vai for the first time he was so impressed with the abilities of the young musician, he hired him to do work transcribing his seemingly endless array of experimental symphonic rock. In these formative stages of his career, Vai's talent was showcased on such songs as "Moggio" and "Stevie's Spanking."
While employed by Zappa, he would at times tour with Zappa's band and engage in a friendly competition with the audience, wherein audience members could bring in musical scores and see if Vai could sight-read them on the spot.
Zappa referred to Steve as his "little Italian virtuoso" and was listed in liner notes as "stunt guitar." He would later be a featured artist on the recording, "Zappa's Universe." In 2006 he returned to Zappa music, as special guest on Dweezil Zappa's Zappa Plays Zappa tour.
Rise to prominence
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 1984 he replaced Yngwie Malmsteen as lead guitarist in Graham Bonnet's Alcatrazz with whom he recorded the album Disturbing the Peace.
Later in 1985 Vai joined former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth's newly assembled group (which also featured acclaimed bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette) to record the multi-platinum albums Eat'em And Smile and Skyscraper. These albums, along with their accompanying videos and arena tours significantly enhanced Vai's reputation and popularity. At the time, Roth engaged in a war of words with the members of Van Halen. Many commentators favorably compared Vai's guitar-playing to Eddie Van Halen's.
In 1986 Vai also surprised many by playing with ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon's Public Image Ltd on their album "Album". Following 1988's popular Skyscraper Tour, Vai left David Lee Roth's band. 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
Steve 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 bassist Billy Sheehan also joined him for a world tour.
In 1990 Steve Vai released his critically acclaimed solo album "Passion and Warfare". This cemented his place at the forefront of 'Virtuoso' guitar music. In 1994 Steve Vai began writing and recording with Ozzy Osbourne. Only one track from these sessions "My Little Man" was released on the "Ozzmosis" album. Despite Steve penning the track he does not appear on the album. His guitar parts were replaced by Zakk Wylde.
Vai received a Grammy Award in 1991. Vai's band members throughout the 1990s included drummer Mike Mangini, guitarist Mike Keneally and bassist Philip Bynoe.
In 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, Donati was replaced by drummer Jeremy Colson. Vai's latest album, Real Illusions: Reflections, was released in 2005, and Steve Vai and the Breed, as the band is now called, has embarked on a world tour in support of that album.
Steve Vai released a DVD of his performance at The Astoria in London in December 2001, featuring the lineup of bassist Billy Sheehan, formerly of David Lee Roth and Mr. Big, guitar and piano virtuoso 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 2 Theme", known as "Halo 2 Theme (Mjolnir Mix)". He also performed on the track "Never Surrender". In the second iteration of the soundtrack, 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 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'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. 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, and has become a favorite apprentice-piece among many guitar students. He later borrowed the opening riff from the track "Head Cuttin' Duel" for a song called "Bad Horsie" from his 1995 album Alien Love Secrets.
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 to the score for John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, performing on the tracks "Ghosts of Mars" and "Ghost Poppin".
Where Vai's contributions to others' material has been constrained by the largely rock or heavy-rock style of those bands, his own material is somewhat more eclectic.
Vai's playing style has been characterized as quirky and angular, owing to his superb technical facility with the instrument and deep knowledge of music theory. Vai has also been credited with the recent revival of the 7-string guitar.
An interesting point to note is Vai's commitment to practice. In several guitar magazines and texts, he is reported to practice upwards of eight hours per day, a habit he began as early as his high school days.
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 Hard Disc 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, and Ibanez's Edge locking tremolo system (which is Floyd Rose licensed), as well as an elaborate and extensive "Vine of Life" inlay down the neck. Steve 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 heavy metal bands to create nu-metal sounds in the late 1990s. He also has a signature Ibanez acoustic, the Euphoria.
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 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 paintjob 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 JEM7V, which is inscribed with the letters "Evo", mainly in order to allow him to distinguish between the guitars he uses onstage which are practically identical, his "Flo" guitar however is equipped with a Fernandes sustainer pick-up in the neck.
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, Morley Little Alligator Volume pedal, Digitech Whammy, and an MXR Phase 90. His flightcases are labelled "Mr. 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.