Interviews

Steve Vai on Becoming a Guitar Virtuoso

Few people on this planet know their way around a guitar like Steve Vai. He's recorded with Frank Zappa, Whitesnake, David Lee Roth, and even Mary J. Blige, but it is his solo career where he's been able to write musical compositions that allow him to noodle around the guitar like no one else. Vai is coming to Parker Playhouse November 26 to perform his most famous record, Passion and Warfare, from front to back. To promote the concert, Vai took the time to speak with New Times about how be became a guitar virtuoso.

New Times: When did you first fall in love with music?
Steve Vai: At 4 years old, I walked up to my aunt's piano and hit a note. I figured out left was lower and right was higher. Music became very clear to me. I could all of a sudden imagine what music was. My parents had a record collection, and the Westside Story soundtrack had a big impact on me. I listened to it and I could see the music. It made me want to compose even before I played the guitar. When I was 8, I saw a boy playing guitar at grade school. Joe Satriani lived in my town and was four years older than me. He was one of my guitar teachers and a mentor.

Besides Joe Satriani, you worked for Frank Zappa. What did you learn from these big names?
I learned bigger lessons from the smaller names than the big names. My high school music teacher taught me everything about musical theory. At Berklee College of Music I learned how to be independent. From Joe Satriani I was two feet from genius. Same with Frank Zappa, he also taught me to be very present and always in the moment. He'd get an idea and execute. From David Lee Roth I learned to take my focus from the neck of the guitar to the audience.

What advice do you give to aspiring musicians?
 Find the thing in music you most resonate with and throw yourself in it. Some people pick up a guitar and realize producing, engineering or booking is something they enjoy more. Be open to what feels good to you instead of getting stuck on the ego fantasy of being rich and famous.


What most resonates with you? Composing or playing guitar?
Good question. Composing can be time intensive and takes great focus. It takes months of undisturbed work. Guitar is a great payoff. Discovering a new riff is money for me.

How do you approach your concerts?
I imagine I'm sitting in the audience and think about what I want to see. I want showmanship, musicianship, and production value with no slow spots.

Steve Vai: Passion and Warfare
8 p.m. Saturday, November 26, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale; parkerplayhouse.org. Tickets are $37.50 to $72.50 via ticketmaster.com.
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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland