|Steven "Steve" Siro Vai (born June 6, 1960 in Carle Place, New York) is an American instrumental rock guitarist, songwriter, vocalist, producer, and guitar virtuoso often regarded as one of the world's best shredders. 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 performing "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 joined Whitesnake, replacing Vivian Campbell, but when after Adrian Vandenberg injured his wrist shortly before recording was due to begin for the album Slip of the Tongue, Vai played all the guitar parts on the album. 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.
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, 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.