Steve Vai - Appreciation and Album thread *

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by mark winstanley, Feb 4, 2020.

  1. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    From my perspective Steve Vai seems to be one of the most misunderstood musicians around. Constantly accused of being a soulless masterbater of the fret board, and all sorts of other fairly off target things.
    Sure instrumental guitar music isn't everybody's cup of tea, and sure there certainly are guitarists that seem to have little to no idea about melodic structure, and just songs in general. I think it would be short sighted and misguided to classify Vai in this way though.
    I think part of the problem is that Vai is very much placed in the rock field when folks listen to his music, but that isn't altogether the correct place to put him, because what he is doing and trying to achieve doesn't really line up with Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, The Sex Pistols or any other type of rock band that you could mention .... which isn't to say it is better or worse, it is merely a case of interpretation and difference.

    Few people could say that Vai isn't an amazing guitarist, but a large group of people would say Amazing guitarist but
    - it's just one long lead break
    - plays without feel
    - it all sounds the same
    and all these kind of dismissive statements.
    If one classifies Vai outside "rock music", perhaps in some form of other music, similar to, but not exactly like classical for example, his music makes much more sense, and the fact that a lot of it is clearly written and full of melodic phrasing, based on musical themes rather than just the lengthy ad lib lead breaks some hear it as, it changes the context completely.

    I sincerely hope some folks will have a listen with a different mindset to some of Steve's many different types of tracks as we look at them along the course of this thread.
    This isn't a thread I am going to be posting songs on everyday, not like an album thread as such, although we will certainly go through some of the stuff he has done over the years - solo, and with Zappa, Whitesnake, David Lee Roth and various other folks over the years. The idea behind this thread is to try and appreciate Vai for who and what he is, not who and what he is not, which is generally what most folks seem to base their dismissive opinions on.
    Look, as I say, guitar music isn't for everyone, but if you like guitar music, and not just 25 second musical interludes to rock/pop songs, Vai is very worth having a closer listen to.
  2. Christian Hill

    Christian Hill It's all in the mind

  3. Christian Hill

    Christian Hill It's all in the mind

  4. aalloca

    aalloca Forum Resident

    A few thoughts:
    I was lucky enough to meet him, one of the most humble guys I have ever met, he is huge tom waits and prince fan.
    I think Passion and Warfare is the best instrumental album of all time.
    I have seen him live a few times and his band is always in the spirit of Frank top notch well rehearsed.

    My fav compositions by him are tender surrender, sisters, and fire garden suite.

  5. Christian Hill

    Christian Hill It's all in the mind

  6. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    For The Love Of God

    This is more than likely one of Steve's most famous tracks, and I have particularly chosen the version that is live with the Metropole Orchestra to try and show that this is a written piece of music, not just a wild guitar lead break fest.
    In the studio version the intro lines are played on the guitar, and why not, Steve is a guitarist. Here we have an orchestral variation, where the intro is played by the orchestra. This instantly draws the attention to the beautifully melodic piece of music.
    It changes the context an untold amount hearing it this way.
    When the guitar comes in, it would be very easy again, to suddenly think, here we go, guitar wankery here we go, but listen closely, because this is an orchestra, and they are playing written music, and they come in and out to punctuate sections of music, and so it couldn't possibly be just some random series of notes.
    Now sure, there is some fast playing in here, but listen to it as music, and not just guitar, and it is full of passion and melody.
    We get variations on the theme, just like we would in a piece of music by Beethoven or Mozart.
    One of the the many things Vai incorporates in his playing is musical effects ... similar to the kind of thing the marvelous Eddie Van Halen would do, but Van Halen in the context of a sung song, rather than an instrumental.
    At the end we have the only real improvised section of the song, and it certainly isn't just shredding.

    Anyway, please listen to this, and perhaps take into consideration the things I mention up there, and see if you don't hear an amazingly beautiful piece of music, played with passion, and finesse, and a technical expertise that is of itself quite remarkable.

  7. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    I always find it hard to place something as best, because it really depends where I am at, at any given point, but Passion and Warfare is a magnificent album full of incredible music, humour and beauty.
    I do envy you somewhat there. Steve has always come across as a really genuine guy, who has a goofy sense of humour ... some seem to interpret that goofiness as arrogance unfortunately
  8. GregM

    GregM Ready to cross that fine line

    Daddyland, CA
    Love that clip. That whole band played so well together.
  9. StarThrower62

    StarThrower62 Forum Resident

    Central NY
    I enjoy listening to him talk and expound on music and life. He's a very positive and committed person. But I could never warm up to much of his music. I like some pieces from Flexable including Call It Sleep. And Blue Powder from Passion and Warfare is pretty incredible. That piece was released on a Guitar Player Magazine floppy record a few years before the CD came out. I dubbed in onto a cassette with a bunch of tracks from Zappa's Shut Up... which I listened to a thousand times in the late 80s.
  10. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    That guitar player floppy was the first time I heard his stuff.
    Call It Sleep is amazing
  11. Anthrax

    Anthrax Forum Resident

    I very much appreciate Vai.

    Yes, he's accused of many things, which he himself acknowledges and has fun with - he doesn't take himself as seriously as people like to think. But his guitar dexterity and acrobatics, as impressive and fun as they can look sometimes, and even being the thing that most people know him for, are just not what we should focus on. He sure puts on a show and he's got his 80s guitar hero theatrics down pat, but this guy is 100% about the music.

    And it's his music that I find compelling. I've heard enough of his albums to hear plenty of that heart and soul others claim he lacks, and I can say that some of the most emotional and moving music I've heard came from Vai. He's certainly given me a few big favourites for all time.

    His musical brain astounds me, and his writing has more in common with a 'no-boundaries' explorer/experimenter like Frank Zappa than with other guitar heroes like Eddie Van Halen or Joe Satriani.

    Those who can't listen past the guitar wankery can do themselves a favour and discover his wonderful music by way of Sound Theories, vol II. It has no guitar whatsoever, and it was all written and orchestrated by Vai. Frankly, I wish he'd record and release more albums like that.
  12. BluesOvertookMe

    BluesOvertookMe Forum Resident

    Houston, TX, USA
    Yes, it's a common mistake to equate lots of notes and technical ability as lacking in soul or feeling. In that respect, shouldn't just a handful of notes and a low technical ability level equate to soul and feel? No, of course not! So why is the opposite considered to be true?
  13. StarThrower62

    StarThrower62 Forum Resident

    Central NY
    Call It Sleep has some obvious Zappa influence. Blue Powder is a great example of Steve Vai creating his own unique guitar universe. The whammy techniques taken to the extreme combined with superior guitar chops and exciting shifts of mood and dynamics. Probably my favorite Vai track. But I haven't heard most of his stuff.
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  14. Wild Frank

    Wild Frank Forum Resident

    Shrewsbury, UK
    Passion and Warfare is great but haven't really explored his world yet.

    However, my favourite Vai related clip is on one of those G3 shows. Its him and Joe Satriani at the front of the stage pulling shapes and wailing away.....whilst the third guitarist, one Robert Fripp, is sitting on a stool in the background casually, with out expression, playing equally beautiful music. I think the clip was a rendition of King Crimson's 'Red' and it cracks me up. I love Bob Fripp and I believe Vai is a huge admirer of his.
    mark winstanley likes this.
  15. adam_777

    adam_777 Forum Resident

    Duncan BC, Canada
    Of all the guys often considered shredders, I always felt Vai had the most soul and feeling in his playing which is quite expressive in addition to its technical prowess. As a teenager I was huge into Vai, even tried to get a fake ID to attend his concert because they were all 19+ venues but it never worked out. Saw him live in 2010. Enjoyed the show for sure, but my interest in him has waned a bit since my teens. I owned some DVDs by him too, always liked Where the Wild Things Are. Ultimately with his music, I really need to be in the mood for it, and I find as I've gotten older I am less and less in that mood, but I agree that he does get a bit miscast.
  16. StarThrower62

    StarThrower62 Forum Resident

    Central NY
    I became a huge Mike Keneally fan as soon as I heard his debut Hat in 1992. After that I didn't follow Vai or Satriani. Mike has incredible skills on guitar and keyboards but he doesn't make guitar albums. He's a songwriter whose albums are chock full of incredible playing and catchy melodies. And Vai is a huge fan. Mike recorded a piano album of Vai's compositions.
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  17. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    Steve Vai - the guy with the light blue hair. A rough history
    Born in New York June 6 1960.
    Vai just naturally gravitated toward music. In his words ...
    "at the age of five I walked up to a piano, hit a note, and noticed that to the right the notes go higher and to the left the notes go lower. In that very moment, I had a full-on epiphany. I was flooded with the instinctual realization of how music was created and how it worked from a theoretical standpoint—the whole language of music was very obvious. I also understood immediately, instinctually, and unequivocally something that has only deepened through the years that the creation of music is an infinite personal expression. I realized that I could do this, I could make music, and it could be whatever I want."
    At the age of 6 "I saw this nine-year-old boy playing the guitar in my grade school auditorium, and that was another epiphany that I had. It was my first recognition of the instrument. When I saw that guitar and I saw this kid playing it, I knew instinctually that I was going to play the guitar someday, and that it would be my instrument. Don't ask me how I knew, I just knew. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen."

    At the age of eleven Vai became familiar with the rock scene and Progressive rock etc, and upon hearing Jimmy Page playing on the song Heartbreaker, decided to start playing guitar.

    In 1973 Vai quite famously started taking guitar lessons with fellow New Yorker Joe Satriani. Legend has it that although these "lessons" started out typically, they ended up just having fun jamming and such.... and from my experience that is the best way to learn anyway.
    Also around this time he was playing in High School bands ... The Ohio Express, Circus, and Rayge ...

    Vai says his major influences were
    Jimmy Page
    Brian May
    Ritchie Blackmore
    Jeff Beck
    Jimi Hendrix
    Allan Holdsworth
    Al Di Meola

    In 1978 to further his musical aspirations, musical composition and theory, Vai attended Berklee College Of Music in Boston.
    Also in 1978 (at eighteen mind you) Vai sent Frank Zappa a transcription of The Black Page, and a demo tape of his band Morning Thunder. Impressed by this Zappa put Vai on salary as a transcriptionist.
    After Leaving Berklee and Moving to California Vai auditioned to become a full time member of Zappa's band. He went on his first tour with Zappa late in 1980, at the tender young age of twenty.

    He moved on from Zappa's band in 1983 and bought a house in which he installed his first professional studio. He had two bands during this time and also recorded the now (in)famous tracks that would make up the later released albums Flex-able and Flex-able leftovers.

    In 1985 Vai joined David Lee Roth's band, which was a wonderful pairing of Vai and Billy Sheehan, with Gregg Bissonnette on the drums. They recorded the wonderful Eat 'em And Smile album. Later in '88 they recorded (for me at least) the even better Skyscraper.
    Also during the 84-86 period Vai replaced neo-classical guitar monster Yngwie Malmsteen in the Graham Bonnet led Alcatrazz, recording the album Disturbing The Peace and also a really cool concert filmed in Japan that I have.... or used to have.

    In the late eighties and early nineties he was with Whitesnake, recording the Slip Of The Tongue album with them.

    Also Vai was cast as the Devil's guitarist in the hit movie Crossroads, ironically defeating himself in the guitar challenge at the end, playing the piece of music Ralph M's character was miming. I think this was one of the things that irritated some people a it was a blues guitar shoot out and Ralph M's character essentially won playing a somewhat classical piece .... hey folks, It's a movie! lol

    Vai has been all over the place and I was lucky enough to see him in concert in the nineties, and he was obviously a brilliant guitarist, but he was also a lot of fun, and obviously didn't take much too seriously.

    His Main Studio albums are
    and all definitely worth a listen. My personal favourites are Flexable + Leftovers, Passion and Warfare, Sex And Religion, and the wonderful The Story Of Light.

    For the record - Also while at Berklee, Vai met his future spouse Pia Maiocco, with whom he has been together since; they have two children.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2020
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  18. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    All the flex-able stuff is indelibly stamped with Zappa influence ... I think he manages to place some of his own personality in there, but yea, his later work, really gave him his own full identity.
  19. StarThrower62

    StarThrower62 Forum Resident

    Central NY
    It's interesting how both Vai and Satriani who knew each other on Long Island both became famous guitar virtuosos. I miss that time in music when accomplished instrumentalists could become household names and enjoy their hard earned success. That was a great time for guitar with those guys, Eric Johnson, Yngwie, and others. I hope it comes back because I'm a musical maximalist and I enjoy people who can really play.

    As far as Vai's influences I don't detect too much after the Zappa influence. He doesn't sound anything like those listed influences. But guys like Blackmore and Holdsworth were masters of the whammy bar, Vai has his own unique style with it. It's very elastic sounding. Maybe Jeff Beck is the closest to this?

    He has said in interviews that the intellectual and conceptual aspect of music came to him easier than the guitar. He had to really work at the guitar which everybody does because it's a difficult instrument to master. But he looks like someone who was born to play the instrument with those long spidery fingers.
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  20. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    Salamanders In The Sun
    This is a great little piece of music from Steve's Flex-able album.
    It would be hard to miss the Zappa influence, in the style of the track, but I think Steve manages to insert enough of his own personality to give this track its own twist.

    Last edited: Feb 4, 2020
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  21. StarThrower62

    StarThrower62 Forum Resident

    Central NY
    Just by coincidence I played Flexable last week for the first time in years. Salamanders has a nice melody and as you mentioned some Zappa touches. The Attitude Song always cracks me up because it's so ridiculously over the top but in a fun, ego-less way. I think that's the one that made some folks take notice when he was being considered for the movie roll in Crossroads. It was like Holy Sh#t, this guy is a monster!
    mark winstanley likes this.
  22. coffeetime

    coffeetime Senior Member

    Lancs, UK
    Like many, I got into Vai by way of the two David Lee Roth albums in the late 80s and worked my way back. I adored both DLR albums, especially Skyscraper (still my favourite of the two) as much for their production and songwriting as for Steve's guitar acrobatics and DLR being, well, DLR.

    Flex-able at first struck me a little too strange for its own good. Little Green Men was some way off of late 80s shredding and for every instrumental guitar workout, there was an odd number with vocals that got stuck in my head regardless. There was no way any other 80s guitar shredder would have come up with The Boy Girl Song or Junk. My next step was Zappa's Ship Arriving Too Late album. Whereupon all the 'oddness' of Flex-able came into focus and made sense (I wasn't previously familiar with any of Zappa's music).

    The next step was Alcatrazz's Disturbing The Peace. Here in the UK, outside of MTV, the only place one could find hard rock and metal on TV was The Power Hour, an hour long show broadcast at 2am or so on a Saturday morning so video recording was essential. On one show, up pops God Blessed Video, an absolute earworm of a song with a video that might be charitably called bonkers. Everything about the song appealed to me. So off I went to track down the album. Of course I'd no idea Alcatrazz had long since disbanded, sold badly when they were a going concern so tracking down a copy of Disturbing The Peace would take months of going through the LP bins in every record shop in every town I visited in North West England. Eventually though, i got it. And like Skyscraper & Flex-able, I adored every last note and track. When I eventually got heavily into CD collecting, DTP remains the most I have ever paid for a single CD. Had to have the Japanese import as, as far as I'm aware, it hadn't been issued on CD anywhere else, this being before Steve's box set.

    After this came Whitesnake's Slip Of The Tongue. On paper, this should have been great. Instead Vai's guitar work sat like a layer of oil atop the water of Whitesnake's Zepp inspired hard rock. Beyond the title track and Now You're Gone, I never got to grips with the album at the time. Not worry, Passion & Warfare was released (The guy who ran the local indie record shop, long since closed, sensing an easy sale sold me P&W 2 days before release. Cheers Neil!) and that more than made up for my disappointment with SotT. I did get to go to Donington Monsters of Rock in 1990 though, with Whitesnake headlining. Got to see Whitesnake, Vai playing with them and his solo spot playing For The Love of God & Audience Is Listening - just wonderful.

    Since returning to rock & metal in the early 2000s, Skyscraper & Disturbing The Peace have been in constant rotation (the only other' shredding' albums I can do are Alcatrazz+Malmsteen's No Parole & Malmsteen's Odyssey). I have tried some of Steve's post P&W albums but I've alwas struggled with them. This year's anniversary release of Slip Of The Tongue has had me revist the album again and so help me if it isn't way better than I remember it being! I've really rather enjoyed listening to it again and have grown quite fond of it now.

    Not sure if I prefer the idea of Steve's playing and production talents serving more conventional rock bands (Alcatrazz, DLR) or whether I was then of an age to being more open and receptive to Flex-able & P&W as to why I've not gelled with Fire Garden etc. Either way, I really ought to try some of the post-P&W albums again - happy to hear any suggestions.
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  23. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    The Attitude Song was a favourite when I was a young fella.
    I discovered Vai via this magazine in 86
    The one you mentioned earlier. I actually got into Zappa via a mate of mine in 1987. He was the bass player in our band, and probably 15+ years older than me. He played me all this (what at the time was) crazy music, like Crimson, Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jaco, Return To Forever ....
    I became a huge Zappa fan, and only discovered the Vai connection when I got the Man from Utopia and Them Or Us.

    As a budding guitarist I was buying and reading Guitar Player, Guitar for the practicing musician, Guitar World ... fun times.

    But yea The Attitude song was obviously fun, and especially seeing them play it live, it really showed what a fun, tongue in cheek track it was.

    The Attitude Song
    Again from Flex-able. It was also actually the first Guitar Player Soundpage in 1984.
    Nice rhythmic structure. Some cool melodies and harmonies, and then the over the top break down ... man this is bringing back some memories ...

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  24. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road Thread Starter

    If you like more song oriented music, and you like a bit of Rock and Metal, the ideal album would be Sex and Religion. It is actually an awesome album.
    It was also the album that introduced Devin Townsend to the wider world, and the vocals are quite astounding.

    Thanks for the post
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  25. StarThrower62

    StarThrower62 Forum Resident

    Central NY
    I have that 1986 Vai GP issue. The Spotlight column in that issue features a guy I studied with by the name of Chaz Hamilton. He was into Vai, Satriani, and Holdsworth so we always had great conversations before and after my lessons. He was a stickler for theory and being a literate musician and he taught me a lot about modes and scales. How to hear the flavor of each mode and how to write all of them out on paper.
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