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Musical Interlude #2 - Rock Guitar Virtuoso

Think Jimi Hendrix was the best on the electric guitar ever? Or perhaps SRV? Eric Clapton? Think again...

One of the all-time greats, who really brought guitar-playing and - through his compositional genius - rock music to an entirely new level was Frank Zappa. I will be linking a few of his pieces sometime soon. Suffice it to say that not only did he play his guitar so that Hendrix got jealous, but the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic complexity of both his playing and his compositions are truly magnificent.

Now, sometimes Zappa wrote pieces that were too hard to play for most people, so he couldn't find musicians that could play them. And even he couldn't play some of the stuff for guitar that he wrote. But then he met this young guitarist, who had learned to play under the still amazing Joe Satriani... his name was (and is)
Steve Vai.

Zappa taught Vai to appreciate (and be able to play) intricate rhythms (such as THIS monster... better yet, read the entire page here)... he also had Vai transcribe complex arrangements for many instruments. (That is, he had him write down the notes for each instrument just from hearing the piece).

Vai got so good that he became Zappa's "Little Italian Stunt Guitarist"... the man for the impossible-to-play stuff.

Soon, Vai got somewhat famous among friends of virtuosity on the electric guitar. He briefly played with Whitesnake, and briefly as the successor to Yngwie Malmsteen... and soon he released his own records.

These have so many incredibly good songs that I will present you a few of them in due time...

I had played the guitar for about 5-6 years when I first heard Steve Vai (and the likes of Dream Theater)... I had been fond of amazing guitar-solos and amazing guitar-playing in general... but when first I listened to Steve Vai, I couldn't believe my ears! Surely it was impossible to play such complex stuff, so fluently with such expressive force on a guitar! Every single aspect of the tone of his instrument, every tiny phrasing and change in tone is intended and executed.

Here is a man whose musical imagination is very vivid, and whose expressive power (what range of sounds he can actually make come out of his instrument) has almost no limits. (Actually, I think only a few are better than him, including Robert Fripp and Alan Holdsworth... but more on them at another time).

Now, here's a very catchy and fun little tune of his... a live version. At the end of the album-version, you can hear a voice saying "Shut up! We know you can play! ... jesus!". - Indeed :)

Have fun:

Steve Vai - Juice (live)

Now here's the best part: For my birthday in 2001, a good friend of mine not only went with me to a Steve Vai concert... he got us backstage with a friend of his who worked at a local radio station. I got to meet Steve Vai - shake his hand, ask him a couple of questions, get his autograph, my picture taken with him... and then watched the concert from the first row. All I can say is - that was the best birthday-present ever :)

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Tommy Immanuel
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