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Steve Vai creates Generation Axe for guitar fans
Steve Vai is no stranger to guitar "events."
He was schooled with Frank Zappa and has been the featured player in the first David Lee Roth Band, Whitesnake and Zappa Play Zappa. He also teamed with fellow six-stringer Joe Satriani on the G3 summit tours with other guests. But his latest endeavor turns things up to 11.
This year Vai has introduced Generation Axe, a package that teams him with fellow guitar heroes Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme/Rihanna) and Animals As Leaders' Tobin Abasi. It's an idea that "sat on the shelf for decades" but that was always something he hoped to realize.
"It was sort of a fantasy I'd kicked around since I was a teenager," Vai, 55, explains by phone from Los Angeles, where he resides. "I was a huge fan of Brian May from Queen; he was the master of layering guitars into these beautiful harmonies that are just do die for. So I always thought how cool it would be to have a stage with five guitar players playing on harmony on these beautiful classic rock songs.
"When you get an idea and it feels like a compelling one, it has a tendency to haunt you. You get to a point where push comes to shove and you jsut find yourself with cooperative components of the universe on the radar, so you go with it."
The impetus was a call from former Police manager Miles Copeland III, asking Vai to curate a guitar festival that turned into the Generation Axe touring concept. All five guitarists play their own sets, then combine for covers of favorites such as Deep Purple's "Highway Star" and the Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" arranged by Vai.
"When we got into rehearsals everybody had a big question mark over their heads; 'How's this gonna work?'" Vai acknowledges. "Once we started that question mark turned into a light bulb. It was like, "Whoa! We get it!'
"It's turning out just fantastic. It's so cool to hear all these harmonies and people coming in and out, supporting each other, and there's plenty of solo space. The ham is cookin', brotha..."
Vai hopes this is the first of many Generation Axe tours in the future. He's not making concrete plans yet, but he certainly has ideas about what it may look like down the road.
"The feeling is obviously if it goes well we'd love to do more, and we will," says Vai, who's also planning a 25th anniversary edition of his "Passion & Warfare" album as well as a new project and a possible 30th anniversary reunion of the Roth band. "If Generation Axe continues in the future, maybe it will be a different genre or categories. I can get guys like Eric Johnson, Steve Lukather, Robben Ford, Al Di Meola -- different guys, very different brain muscles, all applicable. There's a lot of possibilities.
"So we'll see. Right now I'm just so digging this. We have very high standards, and we're hitting them.
Generation Axe featuring Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Tobin Abasi
Monday, May 2. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St.
Tickets are $39.50-$75 in advance, $45-$75 day of show.
Call 248-399-2980 or visit royaloakmusictheatre.com
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