Steve Vai Says He Inadvertently Helped Create Grunge

By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta

July 12, 2019

Generation Axe At The Hard Rock Joint

If the electric guitar entirely disappeared from pop music after the '80s, Steve Vai would have felt pretty guilty.

Vai says his show-off style and over-the-top stage antics in the '80s embodied everything that bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains tried to kill the following decade.

With the benefit of hindsight, Vai tells Australia's Heavy magazine that he totally understands their point of view.

"With David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, my job was be the guy that fit the mold of the '80s," Vai explained. "The '80s was a great time for rock guitar. We were all influenced by those incredible musicians of the '70s like [Jimmy] Page and Brian May and Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore."

Vai continued, noting that the electric guitar was up front in much of the pop music of the decade. But when the grunge phenomenon took hold, "the whole face of guitar-playing in popular music just changed overnight."

Guitarists who took lengthy solos or showed off too much were shown the door, seen as relics of a superficial, gilded era.

"There was a period there in the '90s for a guy like me — I was, like the poster boy for everything that was wrong about playing the guitar," Vai added. "In one decade, I couldn't [not] open up a magazine and find extraordinarily wonderful things written about me, and in the next, I could not [not] open up a magazine and see the worst things being said. But things change again, and I just kept sticking to what I enjoyed doing. History doesn't remember those times in between trends."

He concluded, saying his instincts, musically, have generally served him well.

Lately, Vai is touting the newly released live album, Generation Axe — The Guitars That Destroyed The World: Live in China.

Photo: Getty Images

Steve Vai

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