The best 60 minutes you will spend NOT playing guitar – A conversation with Steve Vai at Musicians Institute, California.

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In this edited 60 minute conversation Steve Vai speaks about his practise regimen when he was young, his work with Frank Zappa, recording Passion and Warfare, working with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, and many other ditties that I always find fascinating. Most importantly though, there are a bunch of beautiful gems about his philosophies and thought processes when composing music and playing guitar. Notably mentioned too is his outlook on music (not just guitar) as a whole, as well as his highs and lows during his career and his 30+ year monogamous relationship.

Steve Vai and me…

My musical love affair with Steve Vai began somewhere in my teens when my then guitar teacher and now close friend and musical brother, Ross Tapson played me ‘For the love of God’.

To be very honest I didn’t really have a clue of what I was listening to. All I knew is that it intrigued the holy crap out of me. There were sounds that I didn’t know existed. Playing that I couldn’t begin to fathom. But the hair on my arm stood up though… That much I knew. And that was all it took.

I took home the pirated track and played it again and again, listening and trying to come to terms with what on earth I am subjecting my eardrums to. (At this time I was not listening to instrumental music at all, so really everything sounded like solos to me!)  Slowly though, things started to make some sense.

I listened the crap out of that tune. I was absolutely enthralled..  I obviously acquired the complete Passion and Warfare album and listened to the cassette until I completely wore it out. I then got another cassette and wore that one out as well!

I studied Vai. I got a book with some transcriptions and worked through the tunes treasured within. I listened to everything of his I could get my grubby paws on. I even (somewhat dubiously) had a photo of Steve above my bed… I was just THAT much into his playing!

As years passed and I got introduced to all kinds of other music and genres, I never got tired of listening to Steve Vai.  To this day, no matter how much I’ve listened to his stuff in the past, it always sounds fresh and inspiring and jaw-droppingly great.

And then YouTube came along… and all number of interviews and backstage antics got uploaded for anyone interested in whomever to take advantage of and troll to their heart’s content. And whom did I YouTube first? Yep, ol’ Mr Vai.

The thing about Vai’s music and his speaking is that for some reason I got what he was trying to say. (I’m obviously not the only one if we look at record sales…) I love his music and 95% of what he speaks I completely can relate to and take something away with me. (The other 5% is because we are separate entities and one cannot agree with absolutely everything any one person ever subjected innocent air-molecules to…)

I suppose the good thing is that I did not end up sounding like Vai. At least not all the time anyway. There are definite nuances and articulation of his that I shamelessly stole. There are certain quirks that I always add to my playing, but NEVER did I blatantly rip him off. And I guess that’s the biggest lesson I ever learned from Steve… To be original and to be oneself. Not to just copy what came before but at the very least try and assimilate your influences and fuse them into something that is YOU! That to me was his greatest lesson and his greatest gift to me.

…And here is the dubious picture I had above my bed –  although it was black and white to ensure even more drama…

Steve Vai