It’s hard to believe that master Steve Vai was a rookie guitarist one day. But he was, and for another master: Frank Zappa. He talked to Full Metal Jacket about his early days and how he got into with Zappa and The Mothers of Invention:
“A day doesn’t pass where I don’t marvel that it all happened. Because I was a huge fan.
“When I was 18, I actually spoke to him on the phone and he hired me to do transcribing, which was amazing. I was too young to join the band – he wanted me to try out for the band but when I told him I was 18 he said, ‘Forget it.’
“So when I was 20, I moved out to California – the day after my 20th birthday [June 7, 1980] – and got an apartment right down the street from his house, which was a great advantage, because I was going up there every day, virtually.
“And then, when auditions came for the band, for a tour, he invited me to the auditions, gave me a bunch of music to learn.”
“He didn’t call on any of those songs [he gave me to learn] during the audition – he called on all other songs – and I thought I completely bombed the audition…
He was hard on me – he was really hard. Even some of the people that were there were coming up to me, going, ‘He’s putting the clamps on you’ – that’s what we used to say. So I figured, ‘I ain’t got this gig.’
“I went to him after and I said, ‘I’m so sorry I wasted your time coming down here.’ And he said, ‘What are you talking about? You’re in the band.’
“And that was the first time I hugged him… Working for Frank was… As you can imagine, being that young, I was completely innocent as far as the ways of touring and being a professional and dealing with the road.
“I could deal with the music – I was very good at that – and that’s what Frank needed. So that worked really well.”