Steve Vai remembered being left feeling sick and scared after his first tour with Frank Zappa.

And after completing three gruelling road trips with the notoriously demanding bandleader, the young guitarist thought he’d had enough – until his experience with David Lee Roth’s solo band changed his mind.

Vai played with Zappa from 1980 to 1983, then joined Alcatrazz for a year before joining Roth for 1986 album Eat ’Em and Smile. “I started touring when I was 20 with Zappa,” he said in a recent episode of Paltrocast (video below). “And those tours were pretty brutal.

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“Because we flew every day – there was no tour bus. So you're waking up at 9, you go right from the airport to the gig, and Frank would do soundchecks as soon as you got there until the doors were open.”

Those soundchecks weren’t straightforward either. “That's anywhere between two and four hours of Frank writing, teaching you, recording – we recorded everything he recorded,” Vai continued.

“Plus, we had a repertoire of 80 songs, 60 percent of which were completely death-defying on the guitar… They should never be played on the guitar! And then you get a 45-minute break and then you go out and do a show. And then you take a 45-minute break and usually do a second show.

“Frank would write the setlist literally five minutes before we went on stage. And in all the three years of touring I did with him, the set was never the same twice.”

The day wasn’t finished yet: “You’re not going out sightseeing or anything. You don’t see anything, except what you see on the ride from the airport. And I’d have to go home and practice because I didn’t know what songs he was going to call for the next night, [but] I had to make sure that I had them.”

Steve Vai Struggled to Eat and Sleep on Tour with Frank Zappa

Vai reflected: “After those tours I just thought, ‘I’m done; I don’t like touring. I’m not doing that.’ I turned yellow and got jaundice on my first tour! I didn't know how to eat or sleep. I was just completely disheartened by touring. It was frightening to me.”

As might be imagined, things were very different on the road with Roth. “Now you got a tour bus, there’s no soundchecks, there’s one show, and you just go crazy playing simple rock ’n’ roll,” the guitarist said. “And that’s when I really started to appreciate touring.”

That kind of life on the road offered him many more rewards. “I’d always bring a bicycle with me, or I’d go jogging,” he said. “And I just loved touring. I loved seeing the world – I still do. And every day, I would go out… take in the city and take in the people and the culture and the food and everything.”

Watch Steve Vai on ‘Paltrocast’

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