Steve Vai Compares David Lee Roth To Frank Zappa

During a recent conversation with HardRockCore Podcast, Steve Vai looked back on the time he worked with Frank Zappa and former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth. The guitarist compared what he learned from both tenures and stated that Zappa taught him to be authentic while Roth allowed him to be a rock star.

Steve Vai first started his music career at the of 18 in 1978 as a transcriptionist for Frank Zappa. His job was to transcribe some of Zappa’s most rhythmically complex music. Later, the guitarist played and toured in his band from 1980 to 1983, which kickstarted his music career from a young age.

After focusing on his solo career, Vai made another clever move by joining former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth‘s band in 1985. The band released its debut album named ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ in the next year, which was a success as it reached number four on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Vai hit the road with the band in support of the album.

Vai released another record entitled ‘Skyscraper’ in 1988 with the band. Like its predecessor, this album was also a commercial success after reaching number six on the Billboard 200 Chart. The guitarist toured with the band to support the 1988 album and left Diamond Dave’s band, later replaced by another successful guitarist, Jason Becker.

During a recent interview, Steve Vai reflected on his tenures with David Lee Roth and Frank Zappa. The guitarist stated that Zappa’s impact on his musical style is so profound that every day goes with countless nuances to the musician. In addition to this, Vai revealed that Zappa allowed him to be himself, which was an excellent quality when he first started his career as a solo musician.

As for Roth, Vai’s time with the former Van Halen frontman was utterly different than his time with  Zappa’s. While he learned how to be more grounded and creative with Zappa’s band, the guitarist learned how to be a rock star with Roth, which was another aspect he had to learn as a musician.

Vai’s statements about Zappa and Roth follow:

“And then with Frank… A day doesn’t pass that I don’t reflect on something that was deeply embedded in me through working with him. Things like being a free thinker, things like honesty, fairness… The one thing was moving ahead with your creative intentions, with no excuses, because you want to. That’s big. Because it eliminates all of these mental barriers that we put up based on a desire to be accepted for something that we’re not. Which never works, by the way.

With Frank, I just said, ‘You be yourself. That’s okay.’ It’s okay to do what you want. I know, that sounds easy. But psychologically, you really have to step back and get some kind of a perspective on the quality of your intentions. Because a lot of times, they’re based on egoic fantasies of a future that you believe you have to meet in order to be happy. And this never works either. With Frank, I got a great footing on how to proceed with my solo career.”

He added:

“And then, all of a sudden, I’m on stage with Dave Roth and I’m learning how to be a rock star, so to speak. How to emanate to a large group of people and keep them engaged. Very different than Frank. But vital. And it was part of the learning that I was seeking. And I got it in the biggest of ways. Because it was the ’80s and we were rock stars, it was fantastic.”

You can listen to the interview below.