He is a virtuoso guitarist, singer-songwriter and
producer born Steven Siro Vai
in Carle Place, New York
who started concentrating on the guitar in 1974 when he was given lessons
by the well known musician Joe Satriani.
He performed with several bands in his local area and
formed his own called The Steve Vais and followed
by going to Boston, Massachusetts,
to attend the Berklee College of Music.
In the late 1970s he transcribed the drum instrumental
“The Black Page” by Frank Zappa for the guitar and then, along
with some of his own guitar performance, sent it to Frank Zappa. This was a good move because his
transcription made such an impression that he was taken on by Frank Zappa to
transcribe more guitar solos for him and these ended up on his 1979 Joe’s Garage, his 1981 Shut Up ‘n’ Play Yer Guitar and appeared in print in The Frank Zappa Guitar Book in 1982.
Not only was he a transcriber,
he was an overdubber on the 1981 You Are What You Is and a member of
the band who made his first tour with them in 1980. He was such a well thought of part
of the band that Zappa named him his “little Italian virtuoso”
and was described as performing “impossible guitar parts” or
“stunt guitar” and later as a “featured guitarist”
on Zappa’s Universe in 1993
which resulted him winning a Grammy Award for “Sofa”. He was also a special guest on the Zappa plays Zappa tour staged by Dweezil Zappa in 2006.
In 1982 he decided to move on and went to California
to record his debut solo album Flex-Able. The following year he performed with
various bands and then in 1985 became the lead guitarist in Alcatrazz as a replacement for Yngwie
Malmsteen and appeared on their Disturbing the Peace. Later that same year he began
working as a guitarist with David Lee Roth’s group and recorded the
1986 Eat ‘Em
and Smile and the 1988 Skyscraper. He was also called upon to work with
Public Image Ltd to record their Album in 1986.
In 1989 he became a member of the successful rock
group Whitesnake as the replacement for Vivian
Campbell and performed every guitar part on their 1989 Slip of the Tongue.
That same year he joined his old teacher Joe Santriani
as a guest artist on “Feed My Frankenstein” on Alice
Cooper’s Hey Stoopid.
The 1990s came along and he began them by releasing
his second solo album Passion and
Warfare which gained platinum status and had the song “For the
Love of God” voted as No. 29 in Guitar
World Magazine’s reader’s poll of 100 greatest guitar solos. Three years later he released his
1993 Sex & Religion and
although there wasn’t an official tour afterwards, he did tour with
Devin Townsend, who worked on the album, and various session musicians.
In 1994 he recorded and wrote with Ozzy
Osborne for his Ozzmosis,
but he did not perform on the album itself for some reason. A year later he decided that it was
going to be too long before his album Fire Garden
would be released in 1996, so brought out the 6-track EP Alien Love Secrets which contained
one of his most popular songs “Tender Surrender”.
He then went on to perform as one of the three
outstanding guitarists in the first ever G3 project series of
concerts. The two other
guitarists that he performed with were Eric Santriani
and Joe Santriani and the ensuing live album and
DVD G3: Live in Concert was
issued in 1997.
In 1999 he brought out his The Ultra Zone with guest artists that include Stevie Ray Vaughan and Frank Zappa and he was no less
busy in the new millennium when he released the 2000 Seventh Song and there was a DVD released in 2001 of him in a
live performance at London’s
Astoria. Also in 2001 he won the Grammy Award
for Best Pop Instrumental as the engineer and producer on No Substitutions by Larry Carlton
and Steve Lukather.
He went away from his usual style of concert in 2002
when he joined the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra in Japan
to perform the world premiere of Ichiro Nodaira’s
concerto for electric guitar and 100-piece orchestra known as Fire Strings.
Carrying on his links with the orchestra in 2004, the
concert series The Aching Hunger,
which featured several of his orchestral arrangements and some of his
compositions, was performed by The Netherlands’ Metropole
Orchestra. The next year, in
2005, he premiered his The Blossom
Suite for electric and classical guitar at Paris’s
Chatelet Theatre with the classical guitarist
Although touring in 2006 in Zappa on Zappa, he found time to appear as a special guest with
the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra at the Video Games Live concert. Here he performed Halo Theme and the world premiere of
a trailer for Halo 3.
2007 saw the release of his album and Sound Theories, followed later by
the DVD, and he appeared at the
London Guitar Show. That same
year he was a guest musician on Systematic
Chaos by Dream Theater and in 2009 he
appeared on stage with them in their final show at the Greek Theater.
Another Grammy Award came his way also in 2009 when he received one
for “Peaches and Regalia” from Zappa Plays Zappa.
He and/or his work has featured in countless video
games, television shows and movies that include him making an appearance in
the 1986 Crossroads as Jack
Butler where he embarks on a guitar duel with Ralph Macchio. The piece they played was one of
Steve’s compositions entitled “Eugene’s
Trick Bag” which was influenced by “Capriccio No. 5” by Paganini.
Other films include him performing on the 1991 Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the composition of the
soundtrack of the 1994 PCU and
contributions to the score of the Encino
Man in 1992 and the 2001 John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars. His
contribution to music for movies and television resulted in him releasing
the album The Elusive Light and
Sound, Vol. 1 in 2002.
His recording output is immense and aside from
performing and writing for his own albums, some of the others he has
appeared on as a writer, producer and/or musician, not mentioned above,
include Stronger With Each Tear
by Mary J. Blige, Funk Me Tender by Randy Coven, Frozen Thought by Michael Lee Hill, Blue Planet by Robert DiMaggio, Loudspeaker by Marty Friedman, Present Company by Janis Ian, Jackson: Symphony 1 by Joe Jackson, Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster is Loose by Meat Loaf, Infinite Desire by Al Di Meola, Inferno by Motorhead,
Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the
Right: 1970-1982 by Gerry Rafferty, Back
From the Dead by Spinal Tap, Synchestra by Devon Townsend and Birdland by The Yardbirds.
As a producer he runs his own studios called The
Harmony Hut and The Mothership and from these he
produced his own recordings. He
has also assisted in the design of his signature guitar series by Ibanez
JEM and is the owner of the publishing and recording company Favored Nations.
Very involved in musical education and charity work he
was a co-founder of the Make A Noise Foundation in 1988 for those who
can’t afford to fund musical programs and education for themself. To give additional financial
assistance to the foundation he uses his pastime of beekeeping to help
provide funds from the sale of the honey his bees produce. He has given master classes at the Fermatta Music
Academy among other educational
venues and he is an official supporter of Little Kids Rock which provided
music and instruments to public school children in the United
States. He is also a trustee on the board of
He continues to record and perform as a multi-award
winning outstanding guitarist, with him most recently being given a
Romanian Golden Stag Award.