Known for his virtuosity and style, Steve Vai has had a long and enviable career as a guitarist, singer, composer, and producer. The 1979 Berklee College of Music graduate, who began playing with the legendary Frank Zappa and his band in 1980, has also found time through the years to educate and assist other musicians. In addition to teaching a Berklee Online class on technique, he established Make a Noise Foundation in the late ’80s to help aspiring musicians. He credits Berklee with opening the world of music to him, saying, “The best music education I got was at the school’s listening library, where they had every kind of music available. Being exposed to different kinds of music was a big contributor to my musical awakening.”
Born in 1960 to Italian immigrants in Carle Place, New York, Vai began playing guitar after hearing Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” at age 11. His parents supported his musical ambition, and his father even sold his life insurance policy so that Vai could enroll at Berklee.
After transcribing for Zappa at age 18 and then playing with his band for several years in the early '80s, Vai set out as a solo performer. His first album, Flex-Able (1983), was a success, and over the ensuing decades he sold more than 15 million albums and won three Grammys. Vai has stretched himself throughout his career, whether he was playing challenging atonal music with the 100-piece Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony or creating original compositions for 32 countries during an ambitious and exhausting world tour.
Vai hopes to make the quintessential solo guitar album while he has the dexterity to pull it off. “I’m fighting time on this project because I’m getting older and at some point I’m going to hit a wall physically,” he says on his website. “While I still have the chops to do it, I want to make my definitive guitar statement.”