The record that revolutionised the guitar and made him
As a good Frank Zappa student, Steven Siro (June 6, 1960, Carle Place, New York), known in rock history as Steve Vai, collates the two conditions needed to be a genius: he’s a master player, and he’s completely mad, but not in the sick sense, rather in one of an immensely creative mind with hands of gold. The first note he ever played was on the piano, at 5. At 16 he was learning guitar with Joe Satriani; today he’s a walking legend that revolutionised the electric guitar.
Plunging into the Vai universe requires little more than a doctoral thesis. Each one of his over 200 guitars - he doesn’t even know the amount - is a work of art and engineering, no matter if they have 2 or 3 necks, 6 or 7 strings, or pickups in unlikely places. Always, of course, on the frame of his Ibanez Jem Signature. On this point, it’s best to refer to the experts.
Satriani taught him the technique, Zappa taught him to be a musician, and Alcatrazz and Whitesnake convinced him that his destiny was to go it alone. In the 90s, his talent and personality ate up the stage. It was the moment to take that leap and restart his own career behind a discreet debut years before with Flex-Able and Flex-Able Leftovers, both released in 1984.
Passion & Warfare would arrive on its own. It’s obvious that this album, from top to bottom, is without the slightest chink. Each note in its place with the perfection demanded by Zappa (he was the transcriber of his guitars) but, overall, seem to come from that inner-strength that he has always attributed his brilliance to. He simply lets himself get swept away, and the music flows from his fingers, that is the inevitable answer given in interview after interview.
A quarter of a century later, that magical record still holds the spell of a masterpiece. Vai hit his target at the right moment to solidify his fame as a guitarist, and since then, he’s done whatever he wants. Today we listen to these delights in awe, but in 1990 those guitar solos sounded more spacey than psychedelic with his surrealistic touch and spiritual heft.
Accompanied by Chris Frazier on drums, Stuart Hamm on bass, and Dave Rosenthal on keyboards, Vai used his passion for the guitar to declare war on the world, which he tricked with the exasperating sharps from For the love of God, a remarkable song that should have been called For the love of...Guitar. It was a smash hit in the form of a master class.
But to lessen Vai as a simple virtuoso would be unjust and imprecise. For this New Yorker, technique is not an end but the means necessary to be fluent in connecting and conveying - whether through words or chords - to his fellow men. Even when he is dominated by that internal force that only the marvellous mad men enjoy.
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