Steven Siro "Steve" Vai (born June 6, 1960) is a three time Grammy Award-winning American virtuoso rock guitarist, composer and producer who has sold over 15 million albums. After starting his professional career as a music transcriptionist for Frank Zappa, Vai recorded and toured in Zappa's band for two years, from 1980 to 1982. The guitarist began a solo career in 1983 and has released 8 of his own solo albums since. Apart from his work with Frank Zappa, Vai has also recorded and toured with Public Image Ltd., 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, intending to showcase, as Vai describes, "...artists that have attained the highest performance level on their chosen instruments."
1970s and 1980s
Vai began playing guitar in 1973, at the age of 13 with Foghat. In 1974, he took guitar lessons from guitarist Joe Satriani, and played in numerous local bands, one of which was called "The Steve Vais." He acknowledged the influence of many guitarists including Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Glen Buxton, and jazz fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Vai followed those lessons by attending the Berklee College of Music, afterwards recording a promotional piece for them in which he spoke about auditioning for Frank Zappa at age twenty.
Vai mailed Frank Zappa a transcription of Zappa's "The Black Page", an instrumental for drums, along with a tape with some of Vai's guitar playing. Zappa was so impressed that, in 1979, he hired him to transcribe a number of his guitar solos, including some 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 sometimes asked 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 listed him in the liner notes as performing "stunt guitar" or "impossible guitar parts." Later, Vai was a featured artist on the 1993 recording Zappa's Universe. In 2006 he returned to Frank Zappa's music as a special guest on Dweezil Zappa's 'Zappa Plays Zappa' tour, alongside friends from his early years with Zappa.
After leaving Zappa in 1982 he moved to California, where he recorded his first album, Flex-Able, in 1983 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.
In 1986, Vai played with 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. When Adrian Vandenberg injured his wrist shortly before recording was to begin for the album Slip of the Tongue, Vai played all the guitar parts. 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, 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 in Guitar World Magazine.
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. Another track, "Dyin' Day", appeared as an instrumental on Vai's Fire Garden album. Vai's band members in the 90's 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.
Steve Vai released a DVD of his performance at The Astoria in London in December, 2001. The performance featured Billy Sheehan, guitarist/pianist Tony MacAlpine, guitarist Dave Weiner, and Australian drummer Virgil Donati.
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 and orchestral arrangements including some 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 Virgil Donati. Vai's latest album, Sound Theories, was released in 2007.
In February 2005, Vai premiered a dual-guitar (electric and classical) piece that he 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, guitarist-singer Ray White, 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; Halo Theme, and a second song for the world premier trailer for Halo 3.
Steve Vai made an appearance at the London Guitar Show in 2007 on the April 28, 2007 at the ExCeL Center. In late April 2007, Vai confirmed the release of his most recent record, Sound Theories, on June 26. The release is a two-CD set, mostly of previously released material that Vai rearranged and played with a full orchestra. Vai says the project was a great joy because he considers himself 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 followed the record later that year. He guested on the Dream Theater album, Systematic Chaos, on the song "Repentance". The appearance was vocal rather than instrumental, as Vai was only one of many musical guests recorded. The song features contributions from many artists, with the aim of apologizing to important people in their lives for wrongdoings committed in their pasts. On August 29, 2009, he appeared on stage with Dream Theater during the final show of their Progressive Nation tour at the Greek Theater, where he performed in an improvised jam with the other musicians on tour. Broken Records magazine (Volume 1, Issue 3) quotes Vai as saying, "I enjoy challenging myself to come up with new ideas that I believe are unique."
In 2010, Vai released several "VaiTunes" singles of tracks that were previously recorded and later finished. They are available on www.vai.com, iTunes and Amazon.com. On September 14, 2010, Steve released "Where The Wild Things Are" as double vinyl through his label Favored Nations and made a guest appearance with Rickey Minor and The Tonight Show Band on NBC. In October, 2010 Steve completed his first full symphony and performed the compositions at the Steve Vai Festival which featured Vai and the North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra (NNO) on October 20–24, 2010. Immediately after the Holland shows, Steve embarked for the US to headline the "Experience Hendrix Tour" which features Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shephard, Susan Tedeschi, Billy Cox, Vernon Reid, Robert Randolph, Johnny Lang, Brad Whitford and other top-notch guitarists.
On March 3, 2011 the online education division of Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music and Steve Vai, set the Guinness® World Record for the world’s largest online guitar lesson. This first-of-its-kind initiative, held at streaming media platform Livestream Studios in New York City, brought together thousands of members of the international guitar community in a celebration of online music education.
Berkleemusic and Steve Vai have also co-authored a new twelve-week online course: Steve Vai Guitar Techniques. This online course, presents students with the chance to gain a deep understanding of Vai’s death-defying playing styles, repertoire, techniques, and musical concepts from anywhere in the world, and to incorporate their learnings into their own playing.
"Juice" was featured on the 1996 video game "Formula One" for the PlayStation.
In 1998, "Erotic Nightmares" was featured as the menu music in the video game WCW/nWo Revenge for the Nintendo 64.
Steve Vai's guitar-work appeared in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. David Lee Roth's "Yankee Rose" was featured on the game's soundtrack as well as "God Blessed Video" by Alcatrazz as part of the Lazlow-led, 1980s rock/metal radio station "V-Rock."
In 2004, Steve Vai was featured on Xbox's Halo 2 (a game by Bungie Studios) 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 2008, Steve Vai's For the Love of God and Halo Theme (MJOLNIR Mix) were featured as downloadable tracks for the game Guitar Hero 3. A live version of the song "For the Love of God" was also available at release on the Rock Band Network as well as the song "Get the Hell Out of Here" from his 2002 album "The Elusive Light and Sound, Vol. 1" on March 4, 2010.
A re-recording of "Speeding" is featured in the 2010 video game Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock for Xbox 360, Wii and Playstation 3.
Steve Vai's music has appeared in a number of feature films, including Dudes and Ghosts of Mars. He appeared onscreen in the 1986 Walter Hill film Crossroads, playing the demonically-inspired Jack Butler. At the film's climax, Vai engages in a guitar duel with Ralph Macchio, whose guitar parts were dubbed by Vai and also Ry Cooder, who played the initial slide work in the duel and Macchio's earlier performances in the film. Vai also composed the fast-paced neo-classical track Eugene's Trick Bag that wins Macchio the competition. He based the body of the piece heavily on Paganini's Capriccio number 5. He later borrowed the opening riff from the track Head Cuttin' Duel for a song called Bad Horsie from his 1995 EP Alien Love Secrets. Later, the Crossroads duel reappeared on the 2002 album The Elusive Light and Sound, volume 1.
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 in 2001 to the score for John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, performing on the tracks "Ghosts of Mars" and "Ghost Poppin'". His track, "I'm the Hell Outta Here", can be heard during 1992's Encino Man in the scene where Brendan Fraser is taking a driving lesson. He plays guitar in the animated short film "Live Music".
Vai is a virtuoso in the world of guitar music. His 1990 album Passion and Warfare and the ballad For the Love of God in particular received a significant amount of press and are often cited by critics and fans alike as among his best work, often noted since the entire piece, at just over six minutes, was reportedly recorded in one take.
Vai's playing style has been characterized as quirky and angular, due in large measure to his technical ability with the guitar instrument and deep knowledge of music theory. He regularly uses odd rhythmic groupings and his melodies often employ the Lydian mode. Perhaps his most readily-identifiable stylistic feature is his creative use of the floating vibrato, using it to add melodic lines that sound odd to the ear. His playing can also be described as lyrical, as if sung by a human voice. During the recording of "Eat 'em and Smile," with David Lee Roth, he employed several guitar techniques that "mimicked" the human voice, as heard in the opening bars of the opening track "Yankee Rose." He often uses exotic guitars: he plays both double and triple neck guitars (including a custom-made heart-shaped triple-neck model built by luthier Joe Despagni). Vai is regarded as the first to use the 7-string guitar in a rock context. Along with Ibanez, he designed a signature 7-string guitar, the Ibanez Universe, in 1989. He is also noted for being physically expressive as he plays his guitar.
On Composing/The "Evo Era"
“I wanted to be a composer ever since I was a young boy. To me written music on paper was (and is) beautiful. It looked like art and I wanted to have a complete understanding of how to speak, read and write that language. I knew that through the little black dots I could get the music that was in my head out into the world. Though the guitar fell into my lap and my fingers were glued to the instrument, I studied composition and musical notation long before I even started playing the guitar. Through high school, college and beyond, I kept up my studies and kept composing through the years as I felt my eventual calling was in the compositional world. Although I have listened to and studied most of the great older and contemporary composers, when I compose my music I take a similar approach as to when I am developing my voice on the guitar and that's to find and cultivate ideas that I have not heard before. That's the exciting part!
Once you understand the written language of music and the possibilities and limitations of various instruments, composing music is pure liberation. It's an art form that allows for deep personal expression. For me composing is the ultimate playground for my imagination. And to have the opportunity to hear your music performed is the greatest gift a composer could hope for, provided it's performed correctly.
I feel that my task is to merge my authentic rock sensibilities with my orchestrational skills to create a brand of contemporary music that is unique and fulfilling on an emotional and melodic level for the listener. Although rock musicians have worked with orchestras and contemporary composers have written for rock band instruments, I believe the catalog of music that I am building in this field is not what would be expected from either. I'm very excited about this brand and hope to inspire other composers to walk their own parallel lines within this movement. I call this movement "Evo", short for evolution. As it has been in the past through all of history, the 21st century will see a whole new wave of orchestral musical awareness develop. We are now entering the "Evo Era." -Steve Vai
Vai is also a producer. He owns two studios ("The Mothership" and "The Harmony Hut"), and his own recordings combine his guitar skills and novel compositions with studio and recording effects.
Vai helped design his signature Ibanez JEM guitar series. 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 (H/S/H) DiMarzio pickup configuration with several different types of pickup including Evolution, Breed and EVO 2. He also uses the Ibanez Edge and Lo-Pro Edge double-locking tremolo systems (the current production JEMs have the newer Edge Pro), as well as an elaborate and extensive "Tree of Life" inlay down the neck. Vai also equips many of his guitars with an Ibanez Backstop, a tremolo stabilizer that has been discontinued. Lately Vai has also equipped some of his guitars with True Temperament fretboards to make his chords sound more in tune. Vai also has a 7-string model designed by him named Ibanez Universe, featuring DiMarzio Blaze II pickups in an HSH arrangement. The Universe later influenced the 7-string guitars used by Korn and other bands to create nu metal sounds in the late 1990s. He also has a signature Ibanez acoustic, the Euphoria. Before Ibanez, he briefly endorsed Jackson guitars, but this relationship only lasted two years. His two main guitars are white JEMs dubbed "Evo" and "Flo", each with their own unique modifications.
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 affordable amp that was unique, and equal in sound and versatility 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 blood put into the swirl paint job on one of his signature JEM guitars, the JEM2KDNA. Only 300 of these were made. Currently, he mainly uses his white "Evo", a JEM7V, and his "Flo", which is a customized Floral JEM 77FP painted white. They are both inscribed with their names in two places, mainly so he can distinguish between them onstage. "Flo" is equipped with a Fernandes sustainer system.
He also has a guitar named "Mojo" with dot inlays that 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 six-string, and the bottom is a six-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, Ibanez Jemini Twin Distortion Pedal, TC Electronics G-System, Morley Little Alligator Volume pedal, DigiTech Whammy, and an MXR Phase 90/Phase 100 on the Passion and Warfare album. His flight cases are labeled "Mr. Vai", or lately, "Dr. Vai." He has 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.
In 2005, Vai signed on as an official supporter of Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that provides free musical instruments and instruction to children in public schools throughout the U.S. He sits on LKR's Honorary Board of Directors.
Vai was a judge for the 3rd and 8th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists.
Vai is also the founder of the Make A Noise Foundation, which he started with his manager Ruta Sepetys. The foundation's goal is to provide funding for music education and programs for those unable to pursue music-related activities due to limited resources. Vai is also a patron of music education around the world giving master classes in such prestigious music schools as the Fermatta Music Academy.
Favored NationsVai owns Favored Nations, a recording and publishing company that specializes in internationally procuring and maintaining recording artists. Favored Nations is separated into three sections, 'Favored Nations', 'Favored Nations Acoustic' and 'Favored Nations Cool (Jazz style)'.
Personal lifeResides in Encino, CA with his family. Vai is married to Pia Maiocco, former bass player of Vixen, who can be seen in Hardbodies. Vai and Maiocco have two children, Julian and Fire. In his spare time Vai is an avid beekeeper and an honorary member of the British Beekeepers' Association. His bees regularly produce a crop of honey that Vai sells for his Make a Noise Foundation.