Steven Vai was born on June 6, 1960 in Carle Place, New York. Steve’s interest in guitar came after hearing popular acts of the day such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Alice Cooper. When he started high school, Vai began taking guitar lessons from andolder student at the school, Joe Satriani. Steve Vai picked up quickly on the lessons and began honing his craft playing in several local bands. At the age of 18, Vai began attending the Berklee School of Music to further develop his skill. Vai earned himself a spot in Frank Zappa’s band after he transcribed some of Zappa’s most complex songs and sent them to him. Frank was impressed enough to hire the young guitarist.
Vai’s engagement with Zappa started with the role of transcriber. Frank hired Steve to transcribe his guitar solos for publishing in a sheet music collection, the collection was published in the 1982 sheet music book, “The Frank Zappa Guitar Book”. When his work as a transcriber was done, Frank had Steve perform overdubs on several tracks, and eventually invited him on as a full band member. Steve stayed with Zappa’s band until 1982. During his stay with the band, Frank referred to him as a “stunt guitarist”.
After leaving Zappa in 1982, Vai moved to California to record his first and second albums, “Flex-Able”, and “Flex-Able Leftovers”. The albums showed a heavy Zappa influence. In 1985, Vai replaced another guitar virtuoso, Yngwie Malmsteen, in the band Alcatrazz. He recorded the album “Disturbing the Peace” with Alcatrazz before leaving. The next year, Vai made a cameo appearance in the movie “Crossroads” starring Ralph Macchio. In the movie, Vai plays the devil’s guitarist and engages in a shred guitar duel with Macchios’s character. Vai, along with, Ry Cooder, also recorded the overdubs for Macchio’s character.
Next, Vai got the break that would bring him deeper into the mainstream consciousness. David Lee Roth, who had just had a very public split with Van Halen, hired Vai as the lead guitarist in his new band. Vai, had been invited by his friend, bass player, Billy Sheehan, to try out for the position. As a result of joining Roth’s band, comparisons were drawn between Vai and Van Halen, comparisons which Vai stood up to well.
After two albums with the band, Vai’s friend Sheehan, left the group. Vai had co-producer credits with Roth on that second album, but he, too, left the the band after the ensuing tour in 1988. The same year, Vai teamed with Ibanez to release his own signature line of guitars, the Jem 777 series. In 1989, Vai joined Whitesnake to record one album, and also performed guitar on the Alice Cooper track “Frankenstein” from the “Hey Stoopid” album. That year also saw another solo album by Vai, “Passion and Warfare”. The album, which was mostly instrumental, went gold and helped to further establish Steve as a top guitarist.
Steve teamed with Ibanez again to create the seven-string guitar, which would catch on big with nu-metal groups in the mid-90s. For a while after, Steve went on a hiatus, but formed his first conventional rock band, Vai, in 1993. The band, featuring Devin Townsend on vocals, T.M. Stevens on bass, and Terry Bozzio on drums, released only one album. The album, “Sex and Religion”, didn’t fair well with critics or with consumers and the guitarist once again focused on instrumental work.
In 1995, Vai released an EP called “Alien Love Secrets”, and continued to release records for the rest of the decade. 1996 saw another full album release by Vai, “Fire Garden”. That same year, Vai teamed with his ex-teacher, Joe Satriani for the G3 tour. Satriani put together the tour to feature a power trio of virtuosic guitar players. The first year featured Satriani and Vai playing with Eric Johnson. The tour continued almost every year, and Vai would make frequent returns to the lineup. In 1998, Vai re-released his second album, “Flex-Able Leftovers”, with added tracks. The next year, he released his final album of the decade, “The Ultra Zone”.
In early 2000, Vai released his first full length live album, “Alive in an Ultra World”. He also contributed guitar tracks to the John Carpenter composed soundtrack of Carpenter’s movie, “Ghosts of Mars”. The next year, Vai released a collection of all the contributions he had made to films as the album, “The Elusive Light and Sound”.