In 2016, Steve Vai conceived Generation Axe – a supergroup to end all supergroups, for which he tapped some of the decade’s most proficient electric guitar heroes to join him on a North American tour that promised a “unique performance of five fiercely talented guitar players”.
“Unique” and “fiercely talented” turned out to be gross understatements, with Vai lining up alongside Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, Tosin Abasi and Zakk Wylde for the first two-month tour.
The experience turned out to be the start of a strong musical relationship between Vai and his fellow Generation Axe bandmates – not least with Wylde, whom Vai was calling upon again just 12 months later when he invited him to his third annual Vai Academy tuition camp as a guest tutor.
Now, attendance to the Vai Academy is a treat in itself, but those lucky enough to go also get to witness some of the greatest informal jam sessions that have ever graced a stage.
Case in point is when Vai and Wylde showed off their newfound on-stage six-string chemistry for a heavy reimagining of Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child.
With their own signature guitars in hand – Vai with a white Ibanez JEM, Wylde with a Wylde Audio Warhammer – the pair unleashed fretboard fury, turning Hendrix’s original into an explosive, all-out shred fest.
Though there are some unfortunate issues with Wylde’s mic and signal level, his six-string assault can still be made out, complete with its bruising pentatonic licks and wah-laden runs.
Vai’s majestic migration around the fretboard, meanwhile, also sees him on top form, harnessing just about every trick up his sleeve, from the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them shreds to the more nuanced whammy bar licks.
Vai has been vocal about his admiration for the Black Label Society axeman in the past, and recently spoke about Wylde in depth during an appearance on The Cassius Morris Show early last year.
He reflected (via Blabbermouth), “People struggle to find their authentic personality, because most of the time they're not themselves because they're placating somebody else, or they're acting differently around different people. Zakk doesn't even know that. He's like Zakk no matter where he is with anybody, and it is so funny, because he wears who he is on his sleeve.”
Vai also waxed lyrical about Wylde’s playing style, paying particular attention to his superior “stamina” – an element of guitar playing that Vai says he doesn’t possess himself.
“He's so suited for what he does," Vai observed. “I mean, I've never in my life seen a musician with that kind of stamina. I'd watch that guy, I'd watch him, like, just playing, and he just rips [constantly] – he's just ripping, ripping, ripping – and I'm, like, ‘This motherfucker just doesn't let up.’
“And I'm, like, ‘Okay, all right. That's cool. I've gotta do it,’” he continued. “Because that's how you get inspired – you see somebody doing things that inspire you, and I'm, like, ‘All right. I've gotta do that.’ Not the way he does it – in my own way. And I can't. I can do it in chunks, but to be that intense for a 12-minute guitar solo and not let up, that's a big-boy game, man.”
A month prior to his Cassius Morris guest appearance, Vai spoke equally highly of his Generation Axe bandmate in a lengthy statement (via Brave Words) posted on Wylde’s birthday, in which he once again lauded his six-string stamina.
In fact, he said Wylde had more “intensity on stage than any person I have ever been on a stage with”.
“Sometimes when we are backstage I just quietly watch Zakk because it seems that everything he does is entertaining and outstanding,” he said. “He is passionate about his craft and supportive to young musicians. He’s contributed to the guitar community in powerful and historical way.”
Though Wylde hasn't been back to the Vai Academy since, he has linked up with Vai for a number of Generation Axe tours over the past six years, with the most recent taking place in November 2019.