‘Canadians are fantastic’: Guitar virtuoso Steve Vai excited for Calgary stop

Legendary guitar player Steve Vai, known for not only his instrumental guitar work but also for playing with some big-name rockers is coming to Calgary as part of his 2023 Inviolate Tour, and he is excited as Canadian audiences are “fantastic.”

“The venues are great, and I’m especially interested in getting back to Calgary,” Vai told CityNews.

“Some of these places I just haven’t been, then the people … are just great. Canadians … they’re respectful. They enjoy the shows, and they’re just very responsive. So I’m looking forward to it.”

He is on the second leg of his North American tour after the release of his album “Inviolate” in 2022, which is Vai’s 10th studio album.

Vai has visited Calgary in the past, but this is his first time in cow town since 2016 — but other Canadian cities, like Saskatoon, have never had a chance to see the legendary guitarist before.

“I told my booking agent I want every location that will take me,” Vai explained. “When you’re on an American tour, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and I’ve been doing that forever. But I really wanted to go deep this time. So I’m getting to places that I’ve never been, you know, the Maritimes and Saskatoon. I just love being in these places.”

Vai’s tour includes China, South America, Australia, parts of Africa, and Southeast Asia, saying, “It’s time to do that.”

“When a guitarist comes to town, there’s a whole group of people that want to see it,” Vai said.

But what makes the three-time Grammy Award winner so popular?

“I’m fortunate because the guitar is such a popular instrument — the rock guitar. There are people in every corner of the world that love rock guitar,” Vai explained.

“And because I’ve got a cachet in that field, if I come town, they come, and it’s not a pop audience. It’s a good audience, but it is very different around the world.”

Larry DiMarzio

Joe Satriani, Frank Zappa, and David Lee Roth shaped career

Vai, 63, is most known for his solo, instrumental guitar playing, but he also had a couple of stints with some big-name bands.

But he tells CityNews it wasn’t until much later in life that he got started with guitar, rather, he began with a keyboard at the age of 10 in a band called “Ohio Expressway.”

However, it all came down to a neighbourhood friend showing him a bit of guitar and then suggesting he see his teacher, a 16-year-old named Joe Satriani in Long Island, New York who, of course, has gone on to become a guitar legend in his own right.

So, with a $5 guitar in hand at the age of 13, he went and learned from a “great teacher.”

“He was part of the cool older kids, you know, but he could really play, and he was such a great teacher because he shared everything,” Vai recalled.

“He was very strict. I learned so much. And it was just great to have that kind of mentoring at such an early age.”

Satriani has been touted as one of the greatest guitar players to have ever played. He has been nominated for 15 Grammy awards and is the top-selling instrumental guitar player of all time, with over 10 million records sold.

And while he says the “Satch” was strict, Vai’s guitar regime can be excruciating for the faint of heart, as he would practice for 10-15 hours a day, with the habit eventually becoming a large part of his career.

Later, at 17, he enrolled at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, which then led him to Frank Zappa.

Vai says he reached out to Zappa when he was 18, and while he says he was too young to audition, he explains he had “good ears” and transcribed work for him. The transcription culminated with the publication of The Frank Zappa Guitar Book.

After auditioning to play when he was 20, he played with Zappa for five years.

“Can you imagine being that young and working with Zappa? I mean, he was Frank Zappa,” Vai said.

He says the experience gave him the greatest mentorship he could have asked for, whether how to operate a band or how to operate a business even. However, his greatest lesson was learning about Zappa.

“Frank was … he was like an explosion of freedom. He did whatever we wanted creatively, and he didn’t expect anybody to do it for him, and he didn’t make excuses,” Vai recalled.

After leaving the band, Vai released a solo album in two parts, which brought him acclaim as a guitar player. Following that, he learned about the audition of a lifetime.

David Lee Roth, the former frontman for Van Halen, had an audition opportunity for his own band, and Vai says it called to him, adding, “That’s my gig.”

“I remember I was sitting in my apartment, and the announcement came on the radio that Dave Roth was looking for a guitar player — he’s looking to put a band together. And for some reason, a little birdie in my head said, ‘That’s your gig,'” he explained.

“But not in … an egoic way. Like, ‘I got to get that gig. I’m the right guy for that job.’ I didn’t even think I was the right guy. But I just … something in me said, ‘No matter what you do, that’s your gig. You’re getting it.”

Before his highly regarded album Passion & Warfare in 1990, he was heavily involved in Roth’s 1988 album Skyscraper and then moved on to Whitesnake in time for their 1989 album Slip Of The Tongue and even played the devil’s advocate in the 1986 film Crossroads with Ralph Macchio.

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Larry DiMarzio


When asked what his greatest accomplishment was, it wasn’t playing at Madison Square Garden, playing at the Grammy’s, or being the first musician to play in China for multiple shows – it was none of those.

Rather, he explains it came down to a show his mother watched.

“It was on a G3 tour when I was playing in New York City, and we were at … a pretty big venue. And it was packed, and I was doing my solo. And I finished my set, and I was taking a bow, and the audience was going mad. They were fantastic. And my mom … walked down the aisle,” Vai explained.  ” And I just had this vision of my mom walking towards me, and my whole life was flashing … everything that she has done for me, her and my father and all the sacrifices they made and all the support.”

“And she walked up, and … just standing there looking at looking at me, and then she said to me, ‘Very good, Steven.”

Vai frequently appeared with Satriani for his G3 tour, where the latter would invite two other guitar players to join him on the tour. Vai has been invited several times since it started in early 2000.

Vai currently has multiple projects on hand, including collaborating with the Metropole Orchestra in Eindhoven, Holland, and two weeks in Finland to record his time with the orchestra.

Vai calls his orchestral recording a “labour of love,” and adds, he wants to be “happy.”

“Happy. Healthy. Happy. Healthy. Happy. Healthy. Dead,” Vai said with a laugh.

“I use the plot and plan, and I’m going to do this, and then I’m going to do that, and I’m going to do this. And next thing, you know, I have 200 years of projects on a list. And I realized that if you’re enjoying this moment, that’s all that matters.”

He says he still loves touring and is active and ready to keep traveling to perform, but he is leaving the future to the powers that be.

“If you’re enjoying this moment, that’s enough.”

Vai’s show is on Aug. 13 at The Palace Theatre on Stephen Avenue at 7 p.m. More information about getting tickets to the show can be found online.

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