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Guitar great Steve Vai gets real

Sharlene Celeskey, Contemporary Culture, Puma Press

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Guitarist Steve Vai has been a guitar virtuoso for years and plays a myriad of musical styles. Although he started out primarily as a hard rock guitarist, he refused to be boxed into one style and continues to expand into new musical areas. He began his career working with the ’60s avant garde legend Frank Zappa, and then toured and recorded with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake in the ’80s. Vai released his most successful album, “Passion and Warfare,” in 1990 and rounded out the decade with four additional albums. He also developed Ibanez Universe, the first mass-produced seven-string guitar, for Ibanez in 1990.

He continued to record and released his first album of a three-part trilogy, “Real Illusions: Reflections,” in 2005. The second album of the trilogy, “The Story of Light,” appeared in 2012. He toured regularly, played guitar on other musician’s albums, developed guitar lessons, created an intensive guitar camp and wrote and arranged orchestra music.

I witnessed Vai’s guitar wizardry first hand in 1986 and 1988 when he enthralled the audience as David Lee Roth’s lead guitarist. That was nothing compared to the magic Vai created during his last solo tour in support of, “Story of Light” in 2014. I heard and saw some of the best guitar playing that was both musically and visually stunning. I eagerly anticipate his return when Vai brings his “Passion and Warfare,” Tour to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Monday, Dec. 12. The tour celebrates the 25th anniversary of his most popular and critically acclaimed album of the same name.

I had the opportunity to interview Vai by telephone about his upcoming tour and music.

1. Why did you seek out Frank Zappa and want to work with him?
I was a huge Frank Zappa fan. His music contained so many elements: humor, stories, incredible composition and was very melodic. It was a musical treasure chest if it resonated with you. My parents listened to the soundtrack to “West Side Story.” After I heard it at an early age, I too wanted to compose music. At 18 I started communicating with Frank and sent him my music. He asked me if I wanted try out for his band. Although I wanted to, I was only 18, and he said I had to be 20. He put me to work transcribing his music, and then I moved from New York to California (where Zappa lived). When I turned 20 I joined his band. It was really an organic process.
2. What led you to add an extra string to your guitar?
The desire to move air. I instinctively knew if I added another cord, I could tune it down and get a lower sound, which made it easier to move the air.
3. Is there any type of music that you have not recorded but would like to?
There are all kinds of conventional genres – classical, blues, rock – but my music has never been genre specific because I take multiple genres and mix them up. I would like to go into non-conventional musical directions. If I had enough lifetimes, I would like to record a set of albums where each one was a very specific genre like Steve Vai jazz with Venetian blues. I am very content on what I have accomplished, but I still have the desire to put out more music.
4. What is your advice to a young musician that wants to know how do you create a practice routine so you stay on track?
The best way to construct a practice routine is to base it on a particular goal. Try to imagine first what it is you want to accomplish. What is most exciting and interesting to you? That is what will dictate your best practice regime. Develop technique and that will steer you in the right direction. The best tool is to give your undivided attention to what you want. If you get distracted, look at those distractions as opportunities you can use as you set your own goals. Now, this is going to sound like self-promotion, but I designed a 10 hour and a 30 hour workout guide for “Guitar World” that can guide musicians in building their technique.
5. What can the audience expect from this current show as opposed to your last tour? (“The Story of Light Tour”)
The construction and flow is very different than the “Story of Light” Tour. Although we play “Passion and War” in it’s entirety, it is sandwiched in between other songs. I have a large screen on stage with videos playing throughout the show, and you can see me playing alongside guitarists like Brian May, Frank Zappa, Joe Satriani and Tommy Emmanuel and others. It adds another dimension to the concert.
6. What was the inspiration behind “The Love of God” from “Passion and Warfare?”
Music that inspired me to enter the creative zone had energy about it, particularly an emotional charge. I would look and see all the extraordinary things people would do with passion and love. The song visually represents that charge.
7. What musical accomplishments are you most proud of?
Rather than considering it an accomplishment I would say I am more appreciative or grateful for it all. I see it as a blessing. I have had so many incredible moments in my career. One moment that stands out is I was inducted into the Long Island Hall of Fame recently, and I grew up only two miles from there.
8. Did your musical career exceed your original expectations?
This is always what I wanted to do. It has far exceeded my expectations. When I sit and look around in my studio in California, I see it looking like a gentleman’s library with beautiful guitars people have built for me; I savor them and think of them as privileges.
9. When and how did you learn to deal with your success?                                                                                                                              I realized if you complained a lot and stayed in your ego nothing would ever be good enough. But if you are content and grateful it changes your perspective. When you eliminate the need to be something you aren’t and base your life on your interests, you develop another way of thinking. Otherwise you live a miserable life.
I was a seeker and that led me to soul searching and wanting to know the why. When I came across metaphysics it made real sense since the thinking starts you focusing on peace. The most important thing is to know what you want. A common thought is, “if you are not stressed out you will not be creative,” and that is an illusion. Once you get into peace you find creativity is already there and you find what you need.
Stress is a product of the quality of thoughts in your head. They are conditioned deep and have been there for years. You believe these thoughts are real. Do away with that. You will have a better quality of thinking and more inspired insight when you are not stressed out.
Any type of church can help if you start from where you are in the process. The people there are trying to find their true self and are on different levels. You figure where you fall and push in that direction. Remember everyone is okay. I fully learned how powerful this thought process was six years ago.

For tickets and additional information on Vai’s upcoming concert, check out:
http://www.dannyzeliskopresents.com/event/1326639-steve-vais-passion-warfare-scottsdale/ and http://tickets.scottsdalearts.org/single/SelectSeating.aspx?p=8870



1 Comment

One Response to “Guitar great Steve Vai gets real”

  1. Dean on October 30th, 2017 3:02 pm

    Watching Steve Vai is definitely an experience and not just a show! Here’s some more interview snippets from Steve: http://www.playguitarlive.com/the-gig-files-steve-vai/


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Guitar great Steve Vai gets real