Steve Vai is a virtuoso guitarist, visionary composer, and consummate producer who sculpts musical sound with infinite creativity and technical mastery.
At age 12, he started taking guitar lessons from Joe Satriani. At 18, he began his professional musical career transcribing for, and then playing with, the legendary Frank Zappa. More than three decades, 15 million album sales and three GRAMMY Awards later, Vai continues to use unbridled guitar virtuosity and soulful artistry to explore the spectrum of human emotion. He has proven himself, in his own right, to be one of music’s true originals.
“I make music to push my own buttons,” explains Vai. “I’ve always been driven by an addiction to create sounds that are unique — not better than what other people do, just different.”
That obsession remains the guiding force behind Vai’s ongoing musical evolution and what he loves most about being a musician.
“For me, the real gravy is when I hear a strange or beautiful sound in my head and then make it real in the world using the devices I have as a musician,” says Vai. “The things that have never been done before are what interest me most.”
Vai’s work has been recognized with a long list of awards, including an even dozen from Guitar Player. The TEC Foundation honored him with the prestigious Les Paul Award, created in 1991 to salute those who have set the highest standard of excellence in the creative application of technology (past winners include Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan, and Bob Clearmountain). In bestowing it on Vai, TEC noted, “Steve Vai’s sheer breathtaking facility on the guitar is acclaimed in the rock world and beyond…Vai has dedicated his talents to creatively advance the language of music. While many artists fit easily into a single category, Steve Vai remains unclassifiable. He is a musical alchemist of the highest order.”
In April and May of 2016, Vai joined Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Tosin Abasi for a tour of the U.S. & Canada — Generation Axe – A Night of Guitars. The tour, which featured all five guitarists performing together as one supergroup, as well as individual sets and various configurations, earned widespread acclaim. A short while thereafter, Vai launched a 50-date tour of Europe and beyond to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his landmark album, Passion and Warfare — highly regarded as one of the greatest instrumental rock guitar recordings of all time. In celebration of this groundbreaking recording, for the very first time live, Vai’s set list includes the entire Passion and Warfare record from top to bottom, with some very special surprises.
A performance at the World Guitar Festival in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec in late May 2016 marked the first date of the Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour. Following that festival play, an extensive run in Europe includes stops in Scotland, England, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Poland, France, and Switzerland, as well as playing a festival in Russia. Vai also played several G3 shows with Joe Satriani and The Aristocrats (Guthrie Govan, Marco Minnemann & Bryan Beller) in Italy and Germany. The Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour will arrive in the United States and Canada in October 2016 and will continue into December.
“The enjoyment that the band is having and the audience response to the shows we are playing in Europe has taken us a bit by surprise,” Vai said. “The collective support for the PAW 25th, Modern Primitive and this show is humbling. There is deep appreciation from us in having the opportunity to honor this record with this tour and we are smiling every moment of it.”
Sony Music Entertainment and Legacy Recordings released Vai’s Modern Primitive/Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Edition on June 24, 2016. Modern Primitive includes previously unreleased material that was either recorded or written after Vai’s first solo record Flex-Able and prior to the writing and recording of the music on Passion and Warfare. Fans will enjoy four bonus tracks on the 25th Anniversary version of Passion and Warfare, which was newly remastered from the original analog tapes.
“The music on Modern Primitive was written and recorded with virtually no expectations for its future,” Vai said. “As a result, there was an opening up to a powerful and personal creativity that allowed me to find the most stimulating music I could conjure.”
Corresponding with the album release and tour, TrueFire presents Steve Vai’s Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare interactive video masterclass is now available at www.truefire.com. During this insightful masterclass, Vai shares ingenious methods to help guitarists unlock their own personal musical identities throughout as well as revealing overviews with select playing examples for each of the songs on his acclaimed Passion and Warfare album.
In 2014, Vai started hosting Vai Academy, an annual guitar camp featuring insightful classes, clinics, and once-in-a-lifetime jams incorporating a different theme for each event. The inaugural Vai Academy, subtitled Song Evolution Camp, was held in Saratoga Springs, New York at the Gideon Putnam Resort with special guests Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Guthrie Govan, and Vernon Reid. The second annual Vai Academy — All About The Guitar — was hosted by Vai in Vail, Colorado at The Arrabelle at Vail Square in 2015 with special guest instructors Eric Johnson and Sonny Landreth. Vai will host his third Vai Academy guitar camp — Vai Academy 3.0 Passion and Technique — at the Asilomar Center (www.visitasilomar.com) in Carmel, California, Jan. 2-6, 2017 with special guests Al DiMeola, Zakk Wylde, Carlos Alomar and more.
The forthcoming chapters of Vai’s recorded artistry will be released on Sony Music Entertainment and Legacy Recordings. In February 2015, Vai signed a new multi-album agreement with SONY/Legacy, which was marked by the April 2015 release of Stillness In Motion – Live In L.A., a spectacular performance recorded October 12, 2012 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles. Available in 2-CD and 2-DVD configurations, Stillness In Motion revisits the 49th concert from Vai’s monumental The Story of Light World Tour. Running from 2012 through 2014, the tour totaled out at 253 engagements (including shows, master classes and concerts with various orchestras) spanning 52 countries. In addition to the full Club Nokia performance, the 2-DVD configuration of Stillness In Motion includes a bonus disc premiering “The Space Between The Notes (Tour Mischief ),” a revelatory video diary edited by Vai himself, comprised of more than three and a half hours of footage, lensed around the world on-stage, off-stage and behind the scenes. “To say this tour was a powerful life experience would be like saying the sun is hot,” writes Vai in his personal liner notes penned for Stillness In Motion.
The new multi-album deal marks an SME homecoming for Vai, who set the gold and platinum standard for rock instrumental music across a series of albums released through Relativity and Epic Records from 1990’s game-changing Passion and Warfare (his 2nd album and 1st major label release) through 2007’s orchestral Sound Theories, Vol. I & II.
2012’s The Story of Light, Vai’s 16th solo album released on his own label, Favored Nations Entertainment, followed up the 2009 live tour de force Where the Wild Things Are. Favored Nations was founded by Vai in 1999 to present works by musicians who have “attained the highest performance level on their chosen instruments.” The label’s roster features artists including Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Lukather, Eric Johnson, Billy Sheehan, and Larry Carlton, and more than 70 releases.
The Story of Light follows the cosmic journey of a man driven mad by grief, intertwining tragedy, revelation, enlightenment, and redemption. It continues a narrative arc begun on Vai’s 2005 album Real Illusions: Reflections (his last solo studio release). Largely instrumental, The Story of Light spotlights guest vocalists including singer-songwriter Aimee Mann—dueting with Vai on “No More Amsterdam,” which she also co-wrote—and Beverly McClellan, a season one finalist on The Voice, appearing on “John the Revelator.” The track was inspired by a vintage recording of blues singer Blind Willie Johnson, whose acid-soaked vocals are sampled in the mix as well.
Throughout, Vai’s lead guitar lines bend sounds and listeners’ minds in equal measure. Looking ahead, he envisions a third set of songs that will unravel the mysteries and reveal truths woven through The Story of Light and its predecessor. The completed trilogy, envisioned as cinematic—even operatic—in scope, will include lyrics, narration, and visuals.
Vai’s full discography encompasses more than 60 albums, including many with Frank Zappa, others from his stints with David Lee Roth (just after he left Van Halen) and Whitesnake—at the peak of its popularity—live releases, collaborations, compilations, and orchestral works. Highlights include 1990’s groundbreaking Passion and Warfare, and 2007’s Sound Theories Vol. 1 & 2, performed with the Netherlands’ Metropole Orkest. Vai’s other orchestral compositions include “The Middle of Everywhere,” which had its world premiere in 2011 with the Noord Nederlands Orkest, whose director Marcel Mandos said, “Steve Vai’s music can easily compete with that of famous contemporary composers.”
Vai’s signature instruments include the Ibanez JEM guitar, which he designed in 1985 with firstof-its-kind features including the floating tremolo and the monkey grip. The JEM is now one of the longest running, most successful signature series guitars in history, and for over a decade its sister model—the RG—is second in worldwide sales only to the Fender Stratocaster. Also for Ibanez, Vai designed “The Universe,” the first commercial 7-string electric guitar. This instrument inspired a revolutionary metal subculture that started in the mid ’90s. Among his many other innovative collaborations with equipment manufacturers, he designed the Steve Vai Legacy V3 series of all-tube amplifiers with Carvin Corporation.
In the film realm, Vai has credits including Executive Producer for the acclaimed 2008 Hank Garland biopic Crazy, in which he also appears as Hank Williams. In the 1986 feature Crossroads, inspired by the legend of blues icon Robert Johnson, he appears as Jack Butler, “the devil’s guitarist”—and collaborated with Ry Cooder on the music scenes.
In 1998, Vai established (with Ruta Sepetys) the Make a Noise Foundation to provide instruments and music education to young musicians without means. “Music educates the whole person as an integrated individual. It educates the mind, the senses, and the emotions,” says Vai. “Those interested in music should not have to sacrifice their ability to develop important skills and express emotions due to limited financial resources.”