Continuing our celebration of Zappadan and all (or most) things Frank Zappa-related, here’s “Stevie’s Spanking,” an epic guitar duel from the 1982 tour, with Steve Vai and Zappa throwing everything they’ve got at each other. If Stratocasters are built for speed, these guys are racing Lamborghinis. Though no slouch himself as a fretman, Zappa was unstinting in his praise for Vai’s technique, and in his albums from the early 1980s Zappa credits Vai with “Impossible Guitar” and “Strat Abuse.” Vai’s matching of guitar overdubs to Zappa’s vocal lines on some key songs are pretty much all that rescue The Man From Utopia from complete uselessness.
Here’s Vai talking about his audition with Zappa:
Zappa could be an exploitative prick in his business dealings with his players — he insisted on months of rehearsals not simply out of perfectionism, but also because he could pay his bands lower rates — but top-flight musicians still clamored to work with him because his work stretched them in all sorts of ways. For an aspiring flashmeister like Steve Vai, there was no higher-profile gig than a stretch with Frank Zappa. He went on to lead David Lee Roth’s first solo band (when it seemed like Roth could actually have a solo career) and has recorded several of his own albums that are beloved by guitar geeks like me.