The Job Steve Vai Wanted If He Never Became a Famous Guitar Player
Guitar virtuoso Steve Vai was the latest guest of Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, chatting about being reunited with his long lost "Swiss cheese" guitar that was stolen over 30 years ago and even says the job he wanted if he never got famous was to be a high school music teacher.
All this comes on the back of Vai/Gash, his latest record — another Vai commodity nearly lost to time, originally recorded in 1991 to satisfy his desire to personally soundtrack his Harley-Davidson motorcycle joy rides.
In the interview below, Vai recalls how he reclaimed that iconic guitar from a person who found it in their grandparents' attic in Tijuana, Mexico. He also discusses the musical impact of late legend Jeff Beck and offers his thoughts on teaching guitar, revealing not only did he enjoy that aspect of guitar from a young age, but that he also would've been perfectly content living life as a high school music teacher, inspired by his own high school teacher.
Read the full discussion below.
Let's talk about your "Swiss cheese" guitar that you recently reclaimed that was stolen from you over 30 years ago. What familiarity is recognized instantly when you reconnect with a long lost instrument?
It's kind of like Christmas morning. It was 36-and-a-half years ago that it was stolen from a rehearsal when I was with David Lee Roth at Perkins Palace. It was one of four guitars that was stolen. That was so long ago and after a while, you just you let it go.
But in this weird twist of fate, this young kid found it in his grandparents' attic in Tijuana, Mexico. I guess it had been there since before they moved in and no, I don't know how it got there, but there it was. He discovered it, started to do some research and found out it was one of my long lost stolen guitars. As soon as we saw that, we contacted him and he drove up from Tijuana and gave me the guitar.
It's one of those fairytale stories.
The passing of Jeff Beck saddened musicians and music fans alike. How would you be a different guitarist without the influence of his playing?
It's impossible to quantify because when I was young, Jeff Beck was like the chosen one — he still was through my whole life.
I can go on and on about his touch on the instrument, his sensibilities, his musicality, the innovative quality, the fact that he's one of the only guitarists I know that continued to improve through his whole career to bless us mere mortal guitar players with his brilliance.
When I first heard [the news of his passing], I was, like everybody, just stunned and saddened. A few days after, he was on my mind constantly and I just started feeling so much appreciation for the fact that he was there, contributed so much and that he lived to be 78.
That's an incredible run. I'm so grateful for that guy. I have no idea what my playing would be like without him.
Beginner musicians tend to be enthralled by flamboyance eventually learning nuance as they mature. How do opposing facets of playing guitar actually inform each other?
It's all based on the interest level of the individual. Some people are more interested, as young guitar players, to dissect the academics of the instrument — music theory, the sound... they get very forensic about tones and stuff like that. And some people want to be performers — they want to be on a stage moving a particular way with a commanding presence.
I always wanted it all.
Famously Joe Satriani taught Kirk Hammett and Alex Skolnick, among others. Did teaching guitar ever appeal to you?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I loved that process. As soon as I started learning how to play, I started giving guitar lessons and that was how I was able to survive through certain periods in the early days.
When I was in high school, I knew that I loved music and I loved the guitar. In my fantasies, I had dreams of being onstage playing and [doing] pretty much everything I'm doing today. But when you are 16 or 17 and you're trying to plan your career... I didn't really know what the future was going to hold.
One thing that I was attracted to was the idea of being a high school music teacher. That's because my high school music teacher had such a profound impact on my musical life. I thought that would be a nice thing and I'd be very happy to do that, but I guess the universe had other plans.
Not only did you write liner notes for a new Frank Zappa archived live album, you also inducted Twisted Sister into the Metal Hall of Fame. Being a listener and a player, what's important to you about the commonality in vastly different types of music?
We pick up powerful influences in various ways through our life. When I was a teenager on Long Island, Twisted Sister was just this powerful entity — they represented authentic, committed rock 'n' roll. We would go see them because they just sounded good. They were so confident and when you see a band you know, that's what we respond to when we're watching performers and feeling the music — the confidence of the performers.
We would go see them every opportunity we got because they made no excuses — they were rock 'n' roll... the end, that's it. They were completely committed and that had an impact on me. Obviously I go in all sorts of different directions on types of music, but I could never deny that that band inspired me because I thought they were so committed to what they're doing. That's a mental atmosphere and that's what I want. Not necessarily for what they were doing, but for the things that were important to me.
You're always working on 200 things at once. Outside of this record, can you talk about what we can expect from you in 2023?
A lot of tour prepping right now to continue the Inviolate tour because I had a solo record that came out a year ago. I've been touring my butt off on that. We did a wonderful run of Europe, a really great run in America and in March I go back out to Europe and Eastern Europe for a couple of months. Then I come back and I'm doing another American leg for about two-and-a half months. Then in August it's South America and Mexico and right after that, it's Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Asia... all those wonderful places.
I think we're going to end it with Africa and India and by that time it'll be next Christmas.
Thanks to Steve Vai for the interview. Get your copy of his latest record, 'Vai/Gash' here and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.