IF YOU GO
* What: Steve Vai.
* When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12.
* Where: Track 29, 1400 Market St.
* Admission: $30 in advance, $32 day of, 18 and older only.
* Phone: 521-2929.
It's hard to imagine Steve Vai being nervous about auditioning for a gig, but the person he was trying to impress was Frank Zappa.
Vai was already working for the legendarily demanding composer and band leader as a transcriptionist -- someone who turns songs into musical notes and instructions on sheet music -- so he knew how Zappa could be in the studio.
Vai, 20 at the time, says Zappa had him learn a bunch of new songs for the audition, then he asked Vai to copy a lick, which Vai did easily. Zappa demanded he play it in 7/8 time, then reggae 7/8, then add a new note that Vai says no human could physically play. When he told Zappa he couldn't play it, Zappa told Vai, "I hear Linda Ronstadt is looking for a guitar player" and acted as if the interview was over.
Vai got the job of course, and laughs about the story today. He spent two years on the road with Zappa before embarking on a solo career. Since then, he has also recorded and toured with Public Image Ltd., David Lee Roth, Whitesnake and Alcatrazz.
On Tuesday, he will perform at Track 29 and, like he does on many of his shows, he will host something called the Evo Experience for folks who signed up early and paid an extra couple of hundred dollars. Attendees will watch the sound check, meet Vai during a question-and-answer session and go home with a goody bag.
Vai said he is one of the first -- if not the first -- artists to hold such a session and he said in a telephone interview that, while fans often want to ask about working with Zappa and Roth, they also tend to go a little deeper and "look under the rocks," which he enjoys.
"I started doing these sessions for a couple of reasons," he said. "First, it makes economical sense. I charge a little, but that wasn't the paramount reason. It is a lot of my time, but I know what it would have meant to me to have had the opportunity to sit down with Jimmy Page or someone like that. Not that I'm comparing myself to Jimmy Page, but you know what I mean.
"And I like talking to people because they have interesting questions."
He admits that it is an "ego stroke, but it is an opportunity I find helpful and useful."
Vai's name almost always comes up when fans start listing the greatest guitarists of all time. He's been called the fastest, the slickest, the most technical -- also the most over-rated. Vai said he used to pay attention to such discussions, if for no other reason than it was nice to be talked about, but these days he doesn't give it much thought.
"If you imagine being a kid growing up on Long Island listening to Led Zeppelin and Queen and loving the guitar and suddenly people are starting to talk about you and you're on the cover of this and that, I'd be foolish if I didn't take notice."
Vai said his show Tuesday, which is a seated show, will showcase a wide range of his career, including an acoustic portion.
"We'll do a bit of everything."
Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...