Steve Vai’s Passion & Warfare turned 25 years old this past July, and the guitar has never been the same. Part hard rock, part psychedelia filtered through 80s neon, part Looney Toons soundtrack, part Zappa, Passion & Warfare found Vai breaking out on his own with an incredible level of focus and determination.

No matter whether Vai is blasting through a rack full of effects or plugging straight into the mixing desk for the purest clean tone imaginable, one quality is clear above all others: pure sonic self-fulfilment. There’s not a single note of Passion & Warfare that exists for anybody else other than Vai himself. And it paid off: a huge commercial success (selling more than a million copies within a year of its release), the album allowed Vai to finally shake off the perennial sideman title he’d been wearing.

And he did so at the absolutely perfect time, leveraging his appearance on Whitesnake’s Slip Of The Tongue and associated tour to springboard his solo career.

All the pieces fell into place…

Steve VaiAs Vai told I Heart Guitar, “I just feel very blessed and fortunate that I had an opportunity to do that record, because it was a long time coming. Because when I was with Alcatrazz… no actually, from as long back as I could remember, when I was a little boy and I discovered music, I knew that I had my own musical voice, so to speak. And it wasn’t a unique kind of thing, it was just something that I think songwriters and composers have. And through the years, one thing led to another led to another, and when I did Flex-Able it was just a time when I was very free, I had no expectations, I didn’t expect to become famous or rich or even that the record would be released. It was really just an opportunity for me to have fun with my friends and do stuff that made us laugh. I had tonnes of stuff recorded – tonnes and tonnes. Flex-Able represents probably five percent of what I recorded in that period. And when it came out, when I actually figured out how to put it out there and it started to sell, I realised it was really a conduit to people: making music and releasing it. Then when I joined all these big rock bands in the 80s, that stimulated a particular desire for me, when it comes to satiating a rock and roll sensibility and being a rock star and all that, that was fun. But through all of it I knew there was this music in my head that really needed to be expressed. I started working on Passion & Warfare right after Flex-Able, but because when I joined Dave Roth I couldn’t release it, when I joined Whitesnake I couldn’t release it. Then finally after I left the Roth band and I quit Whitesnake I just knew that this brand of music had to be created, y’know? I locked myself in the studio and I just felt a lot of liberation and freedom. Because like I said, I didn’t have any expectations, and that’s really one of the best ways – for me at least – to create music, because you’re really free to do what you’re hearing in your head. When I released that record I really didn’t expect it to sell at all. I thought ‘Who’s gonna want it? There’s nothing like it.’ I thought it was good, I enjoyed it, but that didn’t mean anything. How do I know what other people would think? So I was somewhat detached, y’know? And the first person I played it for was David Coverdale. I told him, ‘It’s probably not going to sell anything.’ And he said [adopts David Coverdale voice] ‘Steven darling, I think you’re wrong. This is a tremendously beautiful record. You’re going to be very surprised.’ And he was right, because it was gold in one week. But I get that a lot, that a lot of young people discovered it when they were going to school and it was the soundtrack for their year or something.”

Dude Used A Lot Of Amps 

Vai’s amplifier rig included a whole bunch of stuff. The main amps were seven different Marshall 100 watt heads modified by Jose Arrendondo, used in various combinations. Sometimes they were mic’d up (through Marshall cabs with Celestion 30 watt speakers), sometimes they were fed via a line out into Vai’s Bob Bradshaw-designed rack, and on “Liberty” the Marshall signal was fed into a specially constructed direct box. Other gear included preamps by Carvin, Marshall, Rockman and ADA, a Marshall and Mesa Boogie power amps, a Fender Deluxe Reverb and a Roland Jazz Chorus. Some sounds were direct into a mic preamp: either a Massenberg mic pre, an API pr or a Neve AD 80.

And A Lot Of Effects

When you listen to Passion & Warfare you’re hearing a lot of different guitar tones – often at the same time. The stombox crate included a Cry Baby Wah Wah, MXR Distortion, Phase 90, Phase 100 and Flanger, Maestro Phase Shifter, Mutron Bi Phase, a BOSS Super Overdrive, plus “some others I can’t remember,” according to the Passion & Warfare tablature book. Rack gear included two Eventide H-3000 Ultra-Harmonizers, two Yamaha D1500 digital delays, a TC Electronic 2290 and Stereo Chorus, a pair of Yamaha SPX90 multi-effect processors, a pair of Roland SDE-3000 Digital Delays and two Eventide H969 Harmonizers. And yet if you pop on a pair of headphones and listen close, you’ll hear that a lot of the harmonies on the album are performed manually, and it’s usually pretty obvious when they’re digitally generated.

There are three Ibanez Universe guitars on the album.

Steve debuted his Ibanez Universe 7-string on the Whitesnake album Slip Of The Tongue, but it was on Passion & Warfare that he really started to explore what the instrument could do, especially on tracks like “The Audience Is Listening” and “I Would Love To.” He used three Universes: a multicolour swirl painted by Darren Johansen, a black one, and a white model which you can hear on “For The Love Of God.”

See Ibanez Jems and Universes on eBay

‘Blue Powder’ was recorded in 1986…

Steve recorded the track ‘Blue Powder’ as a product demo for the Carvin X100B Amplifier. He’d been using these amps since his Frank Zappa days, and of course Steve’s relationship with Carvin continues today with his Legacy series of amplifiers. The original version of “Blue Powder” was released as a Flexi-Disc with Guitar Player magazine, and the version on Passion & Warfare is the same performance but with a different mix. Here’s the original.

That’s David Coverdale on vocals…

That’s the mellifluous tones of the ever-eloquent Mr. Coverdale speaking the lines “Walking the fine line …between Pagan …and Christian” and “We may be human… but we’re still animals.”

And Steve’s school teachers too.

The teacher’s voice on “The Audience Is Listening?” That’s one of Steve’s actual teachers, Nancy Fagan (although that’s not her in the video for the song).

‘Ballerina 12/24’ Is Some Crazy Next-Level Effects Tweakage

Ever wanted to nail that “Ballerina 12/24” sound? The key is to dial in a pair of harmonized delays: one is 180ms (a 16th-note repeat) a Major 6th higher than the original note. The other is a 360ms repeat which sounds a Perfect 4th higher. These are panned off to the left and right, with the original note sitting in the middle of the mix. And the studio-quality reverb really helps to bring this sound to life, so if you’re attempting your own version, don’t be shy to experiment with some nice ‘verbs.

‘Liberty’ Has Lyrics
Yeah, they’re in the booklet. See, that’s why you should always read the booklet, you young whippersnappers.

Truth is the one creation
Faith is the flame of nations
All for the life and love of liberty

Peace is the path of ancients
Time is the fruit of patience
All for the life and love of liberty

Endlessly, under God

This we pledge
With our very breath
to the Universe, under God

Love is the one creation
Faith is the flame of nations
All for the love of God
All for the love of God
All for the love of God


Whitesnake Fans Were Treated To P&W Tracks Live

Passion & Warfare was recorded right after Vai laid down his tracks for Whitesnake’s Slip Of The Tongue album, and it was wrapped up in time for him to head out on tour with the ‘snake. So Vai’s Whitesnake solo spot – because everybody had a solo spot in the late 80s and early 90s, right? – incorporated “For The Love Of God” and “The Audience Is Listening” along with plenty of wild shreddage. By the time the solo was over each night, Vai had surely picked up a bunch of new fans who went out and picked up the album at the merch table on their way out of the arena. Dude is very smart.