Steve Vai Reflects On David Lee Roth And How To Be A Rockstar

In a recent interview with Ernie Ball Podcast, Steve Vai recalled his childhood dream and the times while he was playing the guitars of former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth. He also talked about  Roth’s advice and contributions to his career as a rock star.

David Lee Roth founded a supergroup after he had left Van Halen in 1985. The band consisted of Roth himself as the frontman, Steve Vai who was the former guitarist of Frank Zappa, Talas’ Billy Sheehan as the bassist, and Gregg Bissonette as the drummer. The band began touring to promote Roth’s debut solo album ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile.’

In a recent interview, Steve Vai stated he always wanted to be a rockstar when he was a little kid but he realized that being a rockstar is a long and hard process. Vai remembered how he achieved his childhood dream thanks to Roth’s contributions. He emphasized the importance of David’s advice and being a role model to him especially while Vai was the guitarist of his supergroup for years.

During the conversation, Vai mentioned that he couldn’t forget the contributions of David Lee Roth to him becoming a rock star while he was his guitarist. Apparently, Roth always made him focus on his moves and how to project during the performances. Steve added that once Daivd took him to the gym to get him into shape because Roth thought that an appearance of a rockstar as important as his performance.

Remembering his playing with David Lee Roth he said:

Well, what happened was, I tried to act this rockstar persona when I started playing out with my friends in high school, but it was hard because you got to play, and I’m like, ‘Well, I can’t let the performance get in the way of playing, or else I’m just gonna be an idiot…’

But then that other side of me that was really to composition and nuance kicked in with Frank [Zappa] because with Frank, there was no performing – there was playing the parts, so I wasn’t concerned about performing at all.

I mean, a couple of things here and there, but then with Dave Roth when I first joined the band, that was the period where I learned how to perform organically as opposed to trying to be a rockstar.

I liked the big stage, I liked being animated, because when you’re on a big stage like that, you have to project, or at least I felt I did, and working with Dave was fantastic because he was one of the greatest projectors – I mean, David Lee Roth, over the top, back in the ’80s…

And he taught me so much. I mean, I was very gawky in the beginning and not very charismatic, my movements were not very elegant at all, and I was very thin, and I think he knew that I could play, but he spent time working with me as a performer.”

He went on:

“He demonstrated, there were periods of time where we’d go down to the rehearsal place, and he would say, ‘ok, this song goes like this, and there are these people out here, and I’m going to be doing this,’ all of a sudden he’d burst into David Lee Roth, and he’d say, ‘How are you going to project? How are you gonna move?’

And I’d do my thing, and he would just immediately point out the flaws.

This was a fantastic education, but then after a while, and then he would take me to the gym and kick my ass, my skinny white ass, I mean, he got me into working out, it was important to him. It was so much fun.

And then I got it, I just kind of got into what it’s like to emanate and that dormant rockstar kid that was playing in the mirror came to life, but then after Dave Roth and after Whitesnake, when I became Steve Vai – when I became a solo artist, I actually didn’t tour on ‘Passion and Warfare’ because I couldn’t see myself fronting a band, because I was so used to having these enigmatic lead singers, and I wasn’t quite sure how I would negotiate the whole thing.

So then when I did the next record, ‘Sex & Religion,’ and I got a singer, and I tried all that, I got Devin Townsend, and I was very comfortable kind of being on the side. I wasn’t interested in being out front.”

You can listen to the interview below.