During a recent interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Steve Vai looked back on when he worked with former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth. Since the guitarist had to play Eddie Van Halen’s parts while working with Roth, he was asked to name the most challenging aspect of this task.
In 1985, Steve Vai joined David Lee Roth’s post-Van Halen band as lead guitarist, and the band released its debut studio album entitled ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ on July 7, 1986. The record was both a critical and commercial success, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in addition to selling over two million copies.
Following the release of the successful album, the band’s Eat ‘Em and Smile Tour began in August 1986 and continued through February 1987, which was Roth’s first tour since leaving Van Halen in 1985. Since the setlist was almost evenly split between Van Halen classics and Roth solo hits, Vai performed Eddie Van Halen’s parts during the concerts.
Roth’s second full-length studio album ‘Skyscraper’ was released in 1988. It was produced by both Roth and Vai, and like its predecessor, the album was a commercial success, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart. Following another successful tour in 1989, Vai decided to leave the band and was replaced by Jason Becker.
Steve Vai was recently asked about the most challenging aspect of playing Eddie Van Halen’s parts while touring with Diamond Dave. Apparently, playing those songs required an educational process since Eddie synced his parts to his brother and drummer Alex Van Halen, whereas Vai had Gregg Bissonette.
Due to the difference in Gregg Bissonette’s drumming compared to Alex Van Halen, Steve Vai had to adapt Eddie Van Halen’s parts to Bissonette. Therefore, he had to change the essence of Eddie’s guitar playing, which was the most difficult aspect of playing the Van Halen guitarist’s parts.
When asked about the biggest challenge, Vai said:
“The challenging aspect for me in playing those tracks was also the educational aspect, and that was how Edward quantified his parts. They had no sharp edges, this is hard to explain, but they’re well-rounded edges. His ability to sync to his brother was magical. Finding that groove was interesting because his brother didn’t play straight like a drum machine, but the way that they locked was remarkable.
That’s something that you can’t really learn by learning where to put your fingers. That’s an internal thing. You’d have to be playing with Alex to understand how you would navigate those parts the way Edward did. I played them with Gregg Bissonette, who is a fabulous drummer. He’s a little more straight-ahead in the groove. It’s like, Alex flows more; Gregg is locked. So I was playing to Gregg, so that was a bit different.”
Although Steve Vai struggled to change Eddie Van Halen’s songs while touring with David Lee Roth, the difference in his guitar playing also allowed him to play those parts in his own way. On the bright side, there wasn’t any music critic who slammed Vai at that time for trying to sound like a copy of Eddie Van Halen.