Steve Vai Discusses Joe Satriani, Frank Zappa and Ry Cooder in 1987 Guitar World Interview
Steve Vai discusses his influences, Joe Satriani, Frank Zappa and Ry Cooder and more in this 1987 Guitar World interview.
On Epidemics, Vai is joined by former Brand X bassist Percy Jones. His playing on this album is fairly pedestrian, but his presence there creates an edge on an otherwise tame pop project. There are the patented Vai sound effects throughout. On "No Cure" he recreates the sick sound of a "vomiting" guitar that Jeff Beck so successfully pioneered on Truth. There are wicked intros and brief interludes, but no extended soloing per se, with the exception of "Full Moon," in which he scratches, scrapes and howls with his ax.
On Album, the infamous generic PIL project, Vai 's playing is much more aggressive, possibly to complement the fierceness and nastiness of Lydon's snarling vocals. All the patented wang-bar tactics are very much in evidence and his playing in general is more dissonant, more "out" than he had previously exhibited on record. Of particular note is his manic solo on "Fishing," with its flurry of 32nd notes at the tag (in harmony, yeti), his screaming digital-repeat wail on "Home" and his awesome display on "Ease," possibly his greatest solo on record.
The tune proceeds without much fanfare when suddenly Vai explodes for two-and-a-half minutes of unabashed madness-hammer-ons, nasty wang-bar stuff, flurries of 32nd notes, taking it out on the tag in a blaze of sonic insanity.
One other project came Vai's way before hooking up with Roth. A film project. Namely, his contribution to the film Crossroads, the story of a young white blues enthusiast (portrayed by Ralph Macchio) who seeks the truth from a wizened old bluesman of the South. Vai not only contributes guitar parts to the soundtrack, he also appears on screen as Jack Butler, the satanic figure playing a wicked six-string.
Being in the film was a kick, says Vai , but working side-by-side on the soundtrack with Ry Cooder was something of a revelation for Steve.
"Ry Cooder is one of the best groove players I've ever witnessed in my life," he says with enthusiasm. " I've never seen anybody so strong in the groove. I practiced on time a lot. For a long period, from 1980 to 198I, I concentrated totally on my sense of timing. It's something you really gotta keep in touch with. That's one of the first things that goes when you don't concentrate on it; for me, that is. So I practiced a lot and got it together, then left it for a while and was slapped in the face when I played with Ry Cooder. He is truly a living, breathing master."
Vai and Cooder collaborated closely on the film's finale, the showdown sequence in which the devilish Jack Butler challenges the young blues apprentice to a Six-string duel. "I'm playing all my parts," says Steve, "and when the other guy goes into his classic al fast thing, that's me, too. I think Ry did a lot of the other stuff with Arlen Roth, who for some reason didn't get proper credit in the film. Arlen worked very hard on the project. He taught Ralph Macchio how to hold and finger the guitar to make it look realistic. And he recorded a lot of the slide guitar parts throughout the film, along with Ry."
Credit where credit is due.
Which brings us to Eat 'Em And Smile. Vai struts his virtuoso stuff throughout this killer album. It's the most diverse package of sounds that Steve has ever been associated with. From the talking wah-wah intro on "Yankee Rose" to the synchronized hyperdrive of "Elephant Gun" and "Big Trouble" to his Hendrix-cum-Wes octave playing on "Ladies Nite In Buffalo," it's easily Vai's most versatile performance to date.
And dig his B.B. King-styled solo on "Shy Boy" or his mellow jazzbo comping on the big-band chart to "That's Life," the Sinatra anthem. Or his cool finger-picked chording (courtesy of Cooder) on "Goin' Crazy." Yngwie couldn't do all this.
Vai's talent goes well beyond the obvious wang-bar theatrics and two-handed pyrotechnics. Yes, he has evolved a whole lexicon of expression for each of those modern-day flash techniques. Yes, he flies around the stage in tight pants, enticing the girlies. But he's not your average lunkhead. The guy's a musician, an artist. We're going to be hearing from him well into the 21st century.
I can just picture Vai in the year 2035, a lively, young-at-heart septuagenarian hunched over some exotic, laser-driven multi-stringed instrument, performing classical works at a music symposium convening on the moon. But I digress.
Coming back down to earth, Vai puts his career into perspective. "Of course, there are certain things I can't do on a David Lee Roth album that I can do on a solo album or some other outside project. But right now, we're in this for a while. We're hoping that this is going to stick together so we can do a few more albums and tours. I mean, I love playing with Dave. He's got a great sense of humor, which is something I need, especially on the road. And he gives me all the rope I need. I get to express myself the way I like in this band, which is great."
He pauses and adds with a chuckle, "And if I were to do a solo album, it would be strictly for guitar players. You know. 'Check this out, you guys. 'Just to express myself in another area and to give other guitarists a kick." I can't wait for that one.
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