Friday, September 28, 2012

Steve Vai - On Success

Being a beautiful sunny Friday and all, I thought it would be a good time to post one of my favourite all-time videos. I first discovered this gem a while back and stumbled across it this morning.

The advice contained within, is spot on and VERY inspirational to me. Whether you dig Steve's music or not, nobody can deny the talent he possesses. Unique and one of the few originals in the genre of shred guitar.

It must be remembered, that over the years many players have borrowed large elements from his very recognizable style... In fact his approach almost became a caricature of "the shredder" during the "anti-talent"* grunge-heavy 90's.  If you came online during this era, don't let this mindset damage your thoughts on Steve. He is an innovator. A ton of less talented rock players of that day, were "borrowing" pretty heavily from Steve. Many players "borrow" ... but few go on to carry those ideas further.

Steve has remained faithful to his creative vision over the years, taking his music to very experimental places. Something I admire him for greatly. I suspect an attitude that rubbed off from his time with the late great Mr Frank Zappa. Having the courage to try is the thing. Any band or player who does this, hit or miss, I am a fan.

Have a great weekend all!

*"Anti-talent" meaning: During the 90's the grunge era came to the forefront with many of the youth. Virtuosity and "guitar Gods" became "cheesy" to many fans of this era. They wanted anything that was NOT obvious "ROCK" talent. No more guitar solos, or drum solos, or light shows, More DIY, Garage band sound, simple chords and progressions with LOTS of attitude was that thing. Similar to the punk movement of the decade previous.


  1. Jeremy! Thanks... totally inspiring post. Look man, I hope this doesn't offend you... and please remember this is just my own random opinion... but saying "out loud" and "in public" things like "aped his style"... "the anti-talent 90's"... many "borrow" but few carry those ideas further...

    Well, I just believe that's a bit negative. I have several friends that were garnering Grammy, Oscar, and Emmy nominations during the "anti-talent 90's" for work that you probably still enjoy today in music and film. I mention all this for the sake of the youngsters... the "new" fellas. Regardless of what the "truth" is in each of our perspectives, I just believe the old adage of, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it" would probably be a good rule of thumb for someone with your credentials and accomplishments who's making an effort to influence guitartists (intentional spelling) in a positive way. I was in a writing session with a prominent writer many years ago (I'm 56) and I made some offhand remark about another artist and he said to me... very gently... "Always remember, artists create... not critique."

    Okay... thanks for listening. Stumbled across your blog this morning and checked a few things out... pretty neat stuff. Good luck... God bless.

  2. Crap! Is that how it reads! Gonna make some edits because that is certainly not my intention. First up "the anti-talent 90's" That comment was directed at the grunge movement. Basically all the kids thought anything that resembled virtuosity was lame. This was the time when guitar solos pretty much died in pop music. There was a TON of GREAT music of that era - but the prevailing attitude among much of the youth was more driven towards DIY feeling material... Which isn't bad per se .... but it is when you are a virtuoso guitar player!!

    As far as people "borrowing" I am not sure that is a negative comment as much as an observation. There were MANY guitar solos in that day where the guitarist dead on STOLE a LOT of Steve's lines... not the notes, but more his delivery (cheeky octave slides, wah usage, whammy bar scoops and gurgles, the way he ascended into notes rather than dive). LOTS of these solos weren't "inspired by" they were pretty much a rip off. I have no issue with people loving a player, and their lines work their way into your style via osmosis.. But it is entirely different than "aping". Many of these players were likely goaded into it by business minded producers or industry guys... which I understand - but dislike.

    Anyway, thank you. I appreciate your comment and will definitely make some edits. Stay well and hopefully talk soon!

    1. Jeremy... very gracious of you to be open-minded. One of the things I see in the most successful musicians is "graciousness", and you (besides here) really seem to exude that.

      I do have to agree with you about the 90's and "virtuosity". I spent countless, endless hours developing various "virtuoso" techniques (two-handed tapping, over-neck tapping, double-stop tapping, trem bar work, etc)... then I was totally disheartened when that kind of hard work fell out of favor. I would read whatever the current "greatest guitar player" list was and I would feel a bit shortchanged because even though I am absolutely sure those guitar players also put in long hours, "intricate" guitar playing was snubbed. It would be nice to have a mix of "greatest guitar player" musicians.

      I also agree with you on plagiarizing. I started out a blues player (I was already in my late 20's when "tapping" came along) and we would show each other riffs. Then that night at whatever little blues dive I was performing at, I would use those riffs. I would keep playing them until they somehow morphed into something that was my own expression. Over years that's part of how we develop our riff vocabularies. Buddy Guy will tell you that's how it's done. :-)

      But to literally work an identical riff into a piece... especially a "signature" riff... yeah, that was a little hard to take. That may have been an element in the Grunge led "backlash" against virtuoso players. There were definitely some "virtuoso" guitar players that seemed like they were simply practicing rather than performing... that's not always entertaining. But I have to tip my hat, because a difficult riff is a difficult riff. The upside is that today most of those virtuoso players have become seasoned and have beautiful personal expressions.

      Speaking of expressions... some of my fave players today are G.E. Stinson, Ron Thal, and a player you don't hear to much about, Todd Sharp... erm... and to be honest... I really enjoy my own playing. :-)

      Okay bud... type to you later...

  3. Thanks for the kind words brother. Appreciated. I pretty much hear ya and agree 100% with your comments. Anyone who was actively playing during that time - who borders on virtuosity, or a decent facsimile of - will likely have had similar experiences. It was a crappy time for guitar IMO. ... A lot of the fun stuff really was not cool during that time. Again - a LOT of really great things came out of that time... But for guitar it was mostly about making noises and effects, much less about lots of notes and phrasing. Cheers and thanks for reading!