JAM: It’s been more than 30 years since you burst onto the scene as a member of FRANK ZAPPA's band.
Vai: "I have boots older than some of my fans. I started working for Frank more than 34 years ago. I was just 18 when I started transcribing music for him. I joined his band when I was 20 and toured with him for three years, which was quite an experience."
JAM: Is the legend true that you were originally a fan who sent Zappa musical transcriptions?
Vai: "I had his phone number. I got it from a friend who stole a rolodex from a New York City studio. He was giving me all of these names. 'I got Mick Jagger. I got this one and I got that one.' None of them were really interesting to me until he got to the letter Z, and there was Frank’s name. I couldn’t believe it. The first time I dialed the number, Frank wasn’t there. His wife was kind enough to tell me I could call back. Every six months, I call that number back. When I was 18, Frank actually picked up the phone. I was lucky he was in a very good mood. I told him I was a fan who was going to school at Berklee and I had some scores of Edgar Varese, a composer Frank was fond of. I asked him if I could send the scores along with a cassette of my band. Now I never expected he’d consider me for his band. He gave me his home address and I sent him everything. A few months later, I was reading an interview he did with a San Francisco newspaper and he mentioned my name. It was the first time I ever saw my name in print. Frank was actually saying very nice things about me. It was a real stunner."
JAM: After the brazen way you connected with Frank Zappa, you followed YNGWIE MALMSTEEN in ALCATRAZZ for the recording of the band's second album, Disturbing the Peace. You essentially followed the footsteps of EDDIE VAN HALEN when you joined DAVID LEE ROTH for the recording of his full-length solo debut, Eat 'Em and Smile. You then followed a small army of renowned guitarists when you accepted DAVID COVERDALE's offer to join WHITESNAKE in 1989. My point is this. A guitarist could be the greatest talent ever, but without supreme confidence in one's ability, you fail. Did you every have second thoughts about joining any of these bands?
Vai: "Here’s the thing. You have to be in the moment. For me, the number one thing was my love and passion for the guitar. I never felt desperate or panicked. I never thought I’d be famous. I never felt like I needed to be famous. That alleviated a lot of mental noise. Those gigs just fell into my lap. When I got the gig with Frank, I walked around muttering, 'How the heck did this happen?' He was very good at identifying with a person’s musical potential, and I fit in relatively well with what he was doing at the time. I felt the Alcatrazz gig would be cool because Yngwie was obviously high profile. But when you go into a band like that, or a band like Roth’s, you can’t go in there trying to emulate what the previous guy did. That would be death. Bands don’t want that. I have my own musical voice. I respected Yngwie Malmsteen and I loved Eddie Van Halen, but I never felt threatened or any pressure. The key to dealing with the long shadows they cast was the simple fact I was fiercely confident in my abilities. Without my instrument I was kind of shy - even when I was in Frank’s presence I was nervous, because it was 'him'. However, once I started playing, I was fiercely confident I was doing exactly what those guys needed who hired me. That’s what made those situations work."
Click here for the complete interview.
Check out the behind-the-scenes video of Vai's photoshoot with Carvin for the Legacy 3 below The track playing in the background is 'Gravity Storm' from Vai’s forthcoming new album The Story Of Light.
Vai is currently on the road with guitar legends Joe Satriani (CHICKENFOOT) and Steve Morse (DEEP PURPLE) for the European edition of the G3 tour. Remaining dates are as follows:
24 - Stadtpark - Hamburg, Germany
28 - Guitare en Scene - Genevois, France
31 - Tesla Arena - Prague, Ctech Republic
1 - Budapest Sportarena - Budapest, Hungary
3 - Ukraine Hall - Kiev, Ukraine
5 - Crocus City Hall - Moscow, Russia
G3 is a concert tour organized by Satriani, featuring him alongside two other guitarists. Since its inception in 1996, G3 has toured most years and has featured many guitarists, including Vai (Satriani's former student), ERIC JOHNSON, KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD, YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, JOHN PETRUCCI, ROBERT FRIPP, PAUL GILBERT, ULI JON ROTH, MICHAEL SCHENKER, ADRIAN LEGG AND MANY OTHER SPECIAL GUESTS, INCLUDING TONY MACALPINE, JOHNNY HILAND, STEVE LUKATHER, STEVE MORSE, KEITH MORE, CHRIS DUARTE, ANDY TIMMONS, NEAL SCHON, GARY HOEY, BRIAN MAY, BILLY GIBBONS, JOHNNY A, GEORGE LYNCH, PATRICK RONDAT, HERMAN LI, ALEJANDRO SILVA and ERIC SARDINAS.