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Steve Vai

 

No one will ever accuse Steve Vai of being a copycat.  With a music career and fan base that span over twenty years, Vai will truly be remembered as making an impact with his guitar playing.  On his website, Vai gives some insight into what really inspires him.  “I make music to push my own buttons.  I've always been driven by an addiction to create sounds that are unique – not better than what other people do, just different.”  Vai's commitment to originality has certainly paid off well for him and has found him playing alongside the likes of Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth, and Whitesnake.  He has composed music for movie soundtracks and owns a recording label called Favored Nations.  Steve Vai's original style and unapologetic creativity have kept fans highly satisfied over his long and successful career.
 
Steve Vai was born in Carle Place, New York in 1960.  His love of music and playing the guitar began at an early age, and was strongly supported by his family.  The now-famous Joe Satriani gave Vai guitar lessons in 1974 and he played in several local bands while he was growing up.  After high school, Vai was accepted into the Berklee College of Music and his father sold his life insurance policy to help Vai pay his tuition.  Vai will always remember the love and support of his family through this time, and maintains several different charity organizations to give back to other kids with high musical aspirations and low monetary means to make it happen.  He graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1979 and went on to pave the way for his music career.
 
Vai made a gutsy move in 1979 when he created a transcription of Frank Zappa's “The Black Page” and sent it to Zappa with a tape of his own guitar playing.  Zappa was blown away by Vai's initiative and musical skill, so he hired Vai to do more music transcribing.  Vai continued to work with Zappa and played overdubs for the You Are What You Is album.  In very little time, Vai became a regular member of the band and set out on tour in 1980.  Vai consistently impressed audiences with his guitar skills and encouraged fan participation by challenging audience members to bring him a musical score to sight read on stage.  Zappa fondly nicknamed Vai his “little Italian virtuoso” for the great musical contribution that he made to the group.
 
In 1982 Vai left Frank Zappa's group to pursue his solo career.  He moved to California to find greater opportunity for his music.  The change of scenery paid off for him and he released his first solo album Flex-Able in 1984.  During the 80's Vai jumped around a bit and contributed his guitar shredding skills to different bands including Alcatraz, Alice Cooper and Whitesnake.  He also teamed up with David Lee Roth and gained more mainstream recognition by the comparisons between him and Roth's former band mate Eddie Van Halen.  His guitar playing helped to make the big bands of the 80's all that they were musically in their glory days.
 
The 1990's started out smashingly for Vai as he released his most famous solo album Passion and Warfare.  The album was a big hit with the critics and Guitar World magazine heralded the track “For the Love of God” as containing one of the top 100 guitar solos of all time.  Vai demonstrated his commitment to originality and playing his own music when he created this album.  On his website, Vai had this to say about Passion and Warfare:
 
“I didn't know what people were going to think of that record, I just knew that I had to make it.  I locked myself in the studio, and the music that had been building up in my imagination for years all came rushing out.  Honestly, I thought the record was going to sell about 10 copies.  Instead it went gold in a week.”
 
It was Vai's greatest accomplishment to date to realize that he could put his full creativity into his music without holding anything back, and he would receive great acceptance and approval from fans and critics.  Many potentially great artists fail to reach their true potential because they are afraid to let loose like Steve Vai did for his great album.  This trait is one of the many characteristics that make Vai a guitar legend.
 
The mid-1990's were a little tougher for Vai as the music scene reacted to the screaming big hair bands of the 1980's and turned toward the grunge sound.  Vai's style was simply not appreciated as much during these years as it had been during the earlier era, but Vai continued to make the music that he wanted to create.  Despite the prevalence of the grunge sound, Vai began working with Ozzy Osborne in 1994 and helped put the track “My Little Man” together for Ozzy's Ozzmosis album.  In the same year, Vai received his first Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance on a track he recorded for a Frank Zappa tribute album entitled “Sofa”.  After the grunge phased passed, guitarists for bands like Incubus, Korn, and Audioslave publicly counted Steve Vai as a strong influence to their playing style.
 
Vai once again showcased his unabashedly unique side when he released The Seventh Song: Enchanting Guitar Melodies in 2000.  The album is a compilation of the 7th song off of each of the albums that he had released in his 20-year career.  On his albums, track number seven had always been the one that seemed just a little out of place with the rest of the record.  Each of the seventh songs are extreme guitar ballads that seemed like orphans in their original record, but have an amazing style cohesion when they are played together as one album.  In 2001, Vai put out The Secret Jewel Box, which totally thrilled die hard fans.  It is a 10 compact disc set that includes all of his most obscure performances through his various projects and styles.  The Secret Jewel Box contains music from Vai's Frank Zappa era, soundtracks that he has worked on, live recordings, and music that was released exclusively in Japan.  There is also an ultra-artsy track recorded with music interlaced with dialogue.
 
The equipment that Vai uses is another testament to his originality. He helped to design the Ibanez JEM line that features a handgrip, which is molded into the top of the guitar. He was the first rocker to use a seven-string guitar and contributed to the design of the first electric one. He has often used instruments with two or even three necks to produce his screaming live solos. Because of his desire to create an amp that had great versatility and a unique sound, Steve worked with manufacturers to create the Carvin Legacy line of amplifiers. He uses a wide array of effect pedals and is working on a new signature line with Ibanez to be released in 2008.
 
Another key to Steve Vai’s success as a rocker is that he does not limit himself to one art form of expressing and creating his music.  Later in his career Vai took a multi-media approach to bring his music to a wider audience.  Vai appeared in a movie entitled Crossroads in 1986 where he performed a screaming guitar duel at the climax of the movie.  This duel reappeared in later albums that he released and excited fans anew every time.  During the 90's Vai worked to compose music for two hit movies: Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey and Encino Man.  In 2004 he put together several rockin' guitar tracks for Xbox's Halo 2 video game soundtrack.  Then, in 2006 he appeared live in concert at the Video Games Live Concert with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra to perform his Halo theme song and release the new song for Halo 3.  Being open to try new venues to build a bigger fan base is another reason that Steve Vai has enjoyed his level of success.
 
In conclusion, Steve Vai has been acclaimed as one of the most accomplished guitarists of all time.  He is famous for his technical mastery of the guitar as well as stylish performance techniques that set him apart from the rest of the pack of aspiring guitar greats.  Through his music and success, Vai remains true to his roots and strives to contribute to the world with his music.  He founded the Make A Noise Foundation in 1986 to help provide young, talented musicians with instruments and options for developing their talents.  By staying true to his own style and beliefs, working to better the world through his music, and putting in the time and effort to become a technical master, Steve Vai is known as one of the world's greatest guitar virtuosos.
 

     

Eddie Van Halen
Joe Satriani
Eric Johnson
Steve Vai
Paul Gilbert
Jimmy Page
Randy Rhoads
Kurt Cobain
Kirk Hammett
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Yngwie Malmsteen
Slash
Robert Johnson
Pete Townsend
Jerry Garcia
Bo Diddley
Jeff Beck
Duane Allman
Jimmy Hendrix
BB King
John Frusciante
Joe Perry
George Harrison
Santana
Chuck Berry
Eric Clapton
Dimebag Darrell
 
 
 
 
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