Ex-Whitesnake Guitarist Reveals What Steve Vai Was Really Like to Work With: ’Our Styles Are so Different’

While recently appearing in an interview with Eon Music, guitar legend Adrian Vandenberg looked back on his time in Whitesnake and working with Steve Vai for the “Slip of the Tongue” album and the coming tour.

There was the previous lineup with Vivian Campbell on guitar as well but, in the end, it was just David Coverdale with Vandenberg. The two co-wrote the music for the album, however, the band Coverdale brought in Steve Vai to record all the guitar parts. When asked about Vai doing all the guitar work on the “Slip of the Tongue” album, Adrian replied:

“Well for me it didn’t matter. Steve and I became really good friends pretty much instantly. Our styles are so different.”

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And, as Adrian further recalls, at one point, Vai felt like he needed to apologize for his ego:

“Steve later on said, ‘Man, I have to say, you know, at the time, my ego was a little inflated”, and he kind of apologized for it. He said ‘You know, I was just getting carried away by that period of time where everybody was going  ‘Oh! Steve Vai!””

Of course, this was also around the time when Steve Vai’s solo album “Passion and Warfare” was slowly starting to get more attention and he was suddenly a new guitar shred sensation. But as Vandenberg adds, there weren’t any negative feelings on his end for someone else getting the spotlight:

“I don’t care. You know, I play however I feel, and if somebody wants to step more into the limelight, it’s fine with me. I don’t care because I’m just happy to play great music and to play in a great band.”

Adrian Vandenberg on Steve Vai's Playing on Whitesnake's 1989 Album, "He went berzerk," Hand Injury

In fact, as he also adds, the two eventually worked really well together, especially because of their different styles:

“Later on actually, I think it worked really well between Steve and I, because I thought it sounded so different.”

When reminded of these obvious differences between the two of them, Vandenberg then explained how he always felt that the melody was above the flashy playing. He offered:

I’m a very melodic player. That’s always been my passion. I’m a huge fan of people like Brian May, Leslie West, Michael Schenker, of Eddie Van Halen, who is more melodic than people think because he’s so flashy as well.”

STEVE VAI & ADRIAN VANDENBERG (WhiteSnake) - The Deeper The Love / Cheap and Nasty

And the difference in styles is what made the Vai and Vandenberg duo kind of work well at that point. He continued:

“I’ve always been very melodic and Steve, especially in that period, was very flashy, because he felt he had to prove himself more. That’s what he told me later, and so yeah, I’m the kind of guy… I take a step back.”

Despite not getting the chance to play on the songs he wrote, Vandenberg eventually accepted this and even felt that Vai’s input did this material proper justice:

“And for me, as frustrating as it was that I wasn’t able to play on my own songs because of this wrist injury, at the same time, I thought ‘Well, in a way, it’s kind of cool that a player of Steve’s caliber plays on the songs.'”

Whitesnake - Adrian Vandenberg Guitar Solo (live in Russia 1994) HD

In another recent interview, Adrian Vandenberg also discussed Steve Vai recording the songs for the 1989 album “Slip of the Tongue.” Since he was the co-writer, Vandenberg initially felt that, despite Steve’s greatness, these sounds should have been done with different arrangements. He explained:

“It took me a while to come to terms with it. I was a big admirer of Steve, but I had a vision of how I wanted those songs to sound: I wanted big rhythm guitars, melodic, and bluesy licks.”

Eventually, he accepted the songs although admitting that he did feel frustrated about it. But that’s how he ended up bonding with Vai:

“It was one of the most challenging things I’d ever done, and it took me a few weeks to start appreciating Steve’s work. I had to overcome my frustration about not being able to play the songs as I’d hoped, but once I overcame my frustration and became close with Steve, I came to love how they turned out.”

whitesnake - sailing ships

The band went on tour but, unfortunately, the lineup broke up not long after it. Dave Coverdale was going through some of his personal issues so Whitesnake was kind of put on hold for a while. To Vandenberg, it’s still a bummer that these musicians had to split:

“I definitely regret that the lineup with Steve and I didn’t get to continue. But grunge came up, and I’ve always been the kind of guy who sticks to his guns and does what he does best. So, if I could go back, I would have chosen to stay together and make at least one more album. I wish we had stuck to our guns, stayed together, and gotten back in the saddle like good cowboys [laughs].”

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Nonetheless, Adrian Vandenberg collaborated with David Coverdale in Whitesnake again. The two are still in good relations and together, they’ve also made one of the most interesting live albums ever, “Starkers in Tokyo.”

Photos: Wojciech Pędzich (Steve Vai, 3-Majówka 2023 69)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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