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Steve Vai: His First 30 Years documentary released online for free

Steve Vai
(Image credit: Mariano Regidor/Redferns via Getty)

A new 75-minute documentary charting the first three decades of Steve Vai’s life has been released in its entirety online by The Tapes Archive.

Titled Steve Vai: His First 30 years, the extended film explores just about every influential life event the electric guitar legend experienced between 1960 and 1990, and traces his rise from falling in love with the instrument to creating the Ibanez JEM and releasing his second studio album, Passion and Warfare.

It also features direct quotes from the man himself, which provide his personal perspective on particularly pertinent milestones in Vai's early career, including recording his landmark 1990 instrumental track, For the Love of God.

A full transcript of Steve Vai: His First 30 Years has been released alongside the film, which compiles archive footage and audio material to tell Vai’s story.

The Vai-authorized film spends the first 10 minutes charting the shred legend’s musical origins: starting with the onset of his guitar-playing journey at the age of seven and secretly buying his first guitar at the age of 12, the film races through Vai’s early years, which involved a brief stint playing keyboard, meeting Joe Satriani and Bill Westcott, and playing in numerous high school bands.

Other key milestones that follow include attending Berklee College of Music in the fall of 1978, connecting with Frank Zappa after he spotted his number in a stolen Rolodex and joining Zappa’s band by the age of 20.

Fast-forward a few years and Vai had recorded his Zappa-inspired debut album, Flex-Able, established his own record label – Akashic Records – and cemented himself as one of the most talented guitarists of his generation.

A particular highlight from Steve Vai: His First 30 Years occurs when it discusses the making of Passion and Warfare – in particular For the Love of God, which was composed as Vai was in the midst of a 10-day fast. At the time, it had also been two weeks since he had touched a guitar.

“I was trying to push myself to the limit,” Vai reflected. “When it came time to record For the Love of God, my fingers were totally gone. I needed to be in that state of mind to record this song, and I was in absolute pain because of my fingers.

“When I was done, I said, ‘That’s it,” he added. “‘That’s the best I can do.’”

Concluding with the release of Passion and Warfare, the documentary explains that Vai decided against touring his sophomore record – which he dubs “Jimi Hendrix meets Jesus Christ at a party that Ben Hur threw for Mel Blanc” – owing to the fact “he wasn’t comfortable as a frontman at the time”. 

As you might have gathered, the documentary is filled with facts and anecdotes, and promises to surprise even the most ardent Vai fans with stories and tidbits they might not have known.

You can watch the full documentary for free on YouTube (opens in new tab), or visit The Tape Archives (opens in new tab) for the transcript.

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Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.