|David Lee Roth - Just like Paradise|
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Oh yeah - now where to start. Two main people to talk about (Let us ignore the drummer with his haircut that makes poodle perms look good and the rather good bass player as he is a Scientologist) - David Lee Roth and Steve Vai.
David Lee Roth was the original singer with Van Halen, and whatever you think about him, and indeed them, you have to admit they were enormously inspirational. Not necessarily in a good way, but inspirational. Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing was like no other before him and unfortunately like almost every other after him. Finger tapping and whammy bar histrionics became the mainstay of popular rock until grunge came along. Everybody copied the style and sound leading to everybody sounding the same. David Lee Roth was the great front man. Obviously an arsehole and suffering from a brain deficiency that prevents his brain and mouth communicating he was none the less the consummate showman, as can be seen from this video.
Steve Vai - ah now what to say. My prejudices will come into play. You see Steve Vai is a guitar geek. I will wax lyrical about him at a more appropriate time, but he is to guitar playing what Steve Wozniak is to computers.
Aged 18 after playing for just 5 years he mailed to Frank Zappa some transcriptions of Zappa's more difficult works - The Black Page amongst them. Seeing as the piece is near impossible to play - Zappa had to check him out. After waiting to finish schooling Vai joined the Zappa band.
Let's just leave his work there with Zappa, but remember his job was described on album notes as "Stunt Guitar" and "Impossible Guitar Parts". Eddie Van Halen had changed the expectations of speed and virtuosity on the instrument and Vai turned it into music. For the stunt guitar playing go to 3:19 - otherwise you have to learn all about the horrors of perverted groupies through the medium of song.
After quitting the band he needed a new gig. He tried out for various outfits including recording with John Lydon's P.I.L. on the "Album" album and appearing as the Devils guitarist in "Crossroads". Roth had quit / was thrown out of Van Halen and needed a band. Luckily for both of them, they found each other.
Vai needed a band - Roth needed a really good guitarist who was road ready. What came of it was two platinum rock albums full of loud, new and (to be honest) cheesy tracks. All girls, cars and the usual. That's not why it's on my playlists.
I was about 16 with my first guitar, buying all the magazines and this chap Vai was who everyone was going wow about. He was in all the guitar magazines either selling guitars or giving guitar lessons.
So we bought the magazines, sent off for the books and tried to learn the tunes. I wanted his Ibanez flower print guitar more than anything.
I wonder how many kids my age gave up quickly as this stuff is just too difficult. Me, I tried harder, and learnt all about 'guitar tab', practicing away. That's what that weird code at the top is. The first few bars from this track. And usually that is about as far as I got.
Why? Because it never sounded the same.
Why not? Because I am not a virtuoso and 16yr old me didn't have thousands of pounds of equipment and years of practice behind it. And neither does this kid on YouTube. But this is really what I spent hours doing as well. Am I glad the internet didn't exist then or what?
What I did get out of it was the time to read the rest of the guitar magazine. So I learnt about Vai and his previous work. He always talked about Frank Zappa and what a great mentor he was. So I went down to my library and took out some Frank Zappa tapes (yes, tapes). I'd like to say I was hooked from the word 'go', but that would be a lie. The first Zappa album I heard was 'Jazz from Hell' - an album of purely electronic avant-guard weirdness. It took 2 more years before I found the version of Zappa the magazines always talked about.
I listen to this track and always remember the wonder I felt at wondering how it could be played, trying, failing and trying again - dreaming that I, one day would be up on stage twirling a guitar round my neck.