As previouslyreported, guitar greats Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde and John 5, along with drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan and keyboardist Derek Sherinian, are joining forces to play a benefit concert for guitar and keyboard virtuoso Tony MacAlpine, who was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year.
James Wood of Guitar World spoke with guitarist Steve Vai about the show and other topics. Excerpts of of the interview appear below.
Guitar World: Tell me about your relationship with Tony MacAlpine and how you guys met.
Steve Vai: Back in the Eighties when there was this emergence of virtuoso-style guitar players, there was this handful of guys that had extraordinary chops and were always raising the bar. Tony was a part of that movement in a big way. He made some excellent records that really showcased his tremendous guitar finesse and virtuosity.
So I had always known of him, but it wasn’t until years later that we actually met. I was putting a band together and needed a guitar player who could also play keyboards, and I had heard that Tony could play some keyboards. I also knew having someone like Tony in the band would bring everything to a whole different level. It worked out great and we had so much fun. Tony’s a lovely guy and it was such a pleasure to tour with him. Some people are just naturally gifted, and Tony’s one of them.
So when Mike Mesker [Tony’s manager] called me about the benefit, I was completely on board. It’s since snowballed into what’s going to be an absolutely incredible event to raise money to help Tony. There’s a tragedy in it, but there’s also the divine shining through from all the love and support he’s getting from everyone he’s worked with and who’s supported him.
Guitar World: Thirty years ago, you, Billy Sheehan and Gregg Bissonette got together to form the nucleus of David Lee Roth’s band after he acrimoniously left Van Halen. How did that come about?
Steve Vai: As a teenager, I was really into Frank Zappa and composition, but I had also always fantasized about being on the big rock stage and jumping around like crazy and playing to thousands of people. At the time, that was the most coveted gig for a guitar player. I had opportunities to audition for other big rock bands but none of them really felt right. But then I got call from Billy Sheehan, who said, “Dave Roth is looking for a guitar player and I hipped him to you.” I don’t know what it was but as soon as Billy said those words I was like, “Yep. That’s going to be my gig!” I can’t explain it. There was just never any doubt. As soon as Billy said it, that was the pull and it took me about one second to think about it and say yes.
Guitar World: What was it that attracted you to the gig?
Steve Vai: The reason it was alluring was because I loved Van Halen. Dave was the quintessential rock star and I loved the idea of being on the side. It was an amazing situation to be in at the time, and we played our asses off. Everything was about playing as good, hard and crazy as you possibly could while still being a showman. Looking back at the Eighties, I was so lucky to be a part of that.
Guitar World: In terms of the concert for Tony, what are you most looking forward to?
Steve Vai: On one level, it’s an opportunity to get together with a bunch of friends and great players—for another friend. But the thing I’m looking forward to goes well beyond that. Whenever you’re with a group of people doing something like this for someone you care for, there’s this purveying atmosphere of charity, and everybody acts differently. It’s a whole different atmosphere than a regular concert or a jam in a club. The audience, the venue, the musicians, the way the music performs and the way that it comes off your fingers; everything is affected by this beautiful, collective consciousness of charity. That’s what I’m really looking forward to because that’s about as delicious as it gets.
Read more at Guitar World.
The Benefit for Tony MacAlpine will take place at the Wiltern Theater on December 12th, 2015, at 7:00pm and will be hosted by our own Eddie Trunk. For more information about this event and how to purchase tickets, please click here.