Player Spotlight: Steve Vai
While many musicians fit easily into a single category, Steve Vai’s unique musical vision remains unclassifiable. After more than 30 years, Vai continues to use unbridled guitar virtuosity and soulful artistry to explore the spectrum of human emotion.
A virtuoso guitarist, visionary composer, and consummate producer who sculpts musical sound with infinite creativity and technical mastery, Steve Vai has awed fans of all genres with his exceptional guitar skills and musicianship for decades. At age 12, he started taking guitar lessons from Joe Satriani. At 18, he began his professional music career transcribing for, and then playing with, the legendary Frank Zappa. More than three decades, over 15 million in album sales, and three GRAMMY Awards later, Vai has proven himself, in his own right, to be one of music’s true originals.
Vai’s work has been recognized with a long list of awards and honors, including over 15 from Guitar Player magazine alone. His career accomplishments have earned him honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music and Musicians Institute. The 2016 Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee was voted the 10th “Greatest Guitarist” by Guitar World magazine and consistently lands among the best in various lists of the top guitarists of all time.
In 2012, the TEC Foundation honored him with the prestigious Les Paul Award, created in 1991 to salute those who have set the highest standard of excellence in the creative application of technology. Past winners of the Les Paul Award include Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan, and Bob Clearmountain. In bestowing it on Vai, TEC noted, “Steve Vai’s sheer breathtaking facility on the guitar is acclaimed in the rock world and beyond…Vai has dedicated his talents to creatively advance the language of music. While many artists fit easily into a single category, Steve Vai remains unclassifiable. He is a musical alchemist of the highest order.”
Vai has toured the world as a solo artist, as a member of G3, and with Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth (just after Roth left Van Halen), Alcatrazz, and Whitesnake—at the peak of its popularity. Vai’s full discography encompasses more than 60 albums, including many with Zappa, others from stints with Roth and Whitesnake, as well as live releases, collaborations, compilations, and orchestral works.
Highlights include 1990’s groundbreaking Passion and Warfare, and 2007’s Sound Theories Vol. 1 & 2, performed with the Netherlands’ Metropole Orkest. Vai’s other orchestral compositions include “The Middle of Everywhere,” which had its world premiere in 2011 with the Noord Nederlands Orkest. The orchestra’s director, Marcel Mandos, said of Vai’s work, “Steve Vai’s music can easily compete with that of famous contemporary composers.”
As an accomplished audio producer, Vai has written, produced, and engineered all of his solo albums, and released many via Favored Nations Entertainment, his own independent record label that has also released over 70 albums by legendary musicians such as Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Lukather, Eric Johnson, Billy Sheehan, Larry Carlton and many more. For Vai, virtuosity and versatility are not mutually exclusive. He has created music for blockbuster films, bestselling video games, national sports franchises, and corporate brand initiatives.
In 2012, Vai embarked on an epic three-year tour spanning 253 engagements (including shows, concerts with various orchestras, & master classes) in 52 countries in support of his 16th solo album release, the critically acclaimed The Story of Light. Upon signing a multi-recording agreement with SONY Music Entertainment and Legacy Recordings in 2015, Vai released Stillness In Motion – Vai Live in L.A., a 2-CD set and 2-DVD set, internationally. The multi-album deal marked an SME homecoming for Vai, who set the gold and platinum standard for instrumental rock music across a series of albums released through Relativity and Epic Records from 1990’s game-changing Passion and Warfare (his second album and first major label release) through 2007’s orchestral Sound Theories, Vol. I & II.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of his landmark album, Passion and Warfare — highly regarded as one of the greatest instrumental rock guitar recordings of all time — Vai released Modern Primitive/ Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Edition in 2016. The release, which included previously unreleased material, was celebrated by a very special 100+ date world tour in which he performed the entire Passion and Warfare record live from top to bottom for the first time. Having conquered Europe and the U.S., the third leg of the Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour will come to South America, Mexico, and Puerto Rico in May and June 2017.
In addition to his solo tour work, Vai is known for his creative live performances with orchestras around the world and for projects such as Vai Academy (his yearly guitar camp), Alien Guitar Secrets master classes, and Generation Axe — a unique combination of five fiercely talented guitar players in which he currently tours internationally with Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi.
Vai’s signature instruments include the Ibanez JEM guitar, which he designed in 1985 with first-of-its- kind features including the floating tremolo and the monkey grip. The JEM is now one of the longest running, most successful signature series guitars in history, and for over a decade its sister model—the RG—is second in worldwide sales only to the Fender Stratocaster. Also for Ibanez, Vai designed “The Universe,” the first commercial 7-string electric guitar. This instrument inspired a revolutionary metal subculture that started in the mid ’90s. Among his many other innovative collaborations with equipment manufacturers, he designed the Steve Vai Legacy V3 series of all-tube amplifiers with Carvin Corporation.
In the film realm, Vai has credits including Executive Producer for the acclaimed 2008 Hank Garland biopic Crazy, in which he also appears as Hank Williams. In the 1986 movie Crossroads, inspired by the legend of blues icon Robert Johnson, Vai appears as Jack Butler—“the devil’s guitarist”—and collaborated with Ry Cooder on the music scenes.
In 1998, Vai established (with Ruta Sepetys) the Make a Noise Foundation to provide instruments and music education to young musicians without means. “Music educates the whole person as an integrated individual. It educates the mind, the senses, and the emotions,” says Vai. “Those interested in music should not have to sacrifice their ability to develop important skills and express emotions due to limited financial resources.” – vai.com