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Steve Vai Talks ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile,’ Van Halen Reunion, and More

Steve Vai
Robert Cianflone, Getty Images

It’s hard to believe, but David Lee Roth‘s ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ is more than 25 years old — and although Diamond Dave is back with Van Halen promoting the band’s latest album, ‘A Different Kind of Truth,’ plenty of fans still have fond memories of Roth’s full-length solo debut. One such fan is guitarist Steve Vai, who played on the record, and shared some stories about the ‘Smile’ era during a recent interview.

Sitting down for a chat with, Vai talked about how he came to Roth from Frank Zappa’s band — and told the story of the once-in-a-lifetime (and sadly unrecorded) jam session that ended up taking place between Vai, Zappa, and Edward Van Halen.

Of course, talk soon turned to Vai’s talking guitar solo on ‘Yankee Rose,’ which he explained by saying, “I thought, What can I do here that’s completely preposterous that’s very me but still has rock and roll integrity and people will get a kick out of it?”

On the debate regarding whether the ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ band was better than the original Van Halen lineup, Vai played the diplomat. “Edward Van Halen is a guitar god of the highest order. I have immense respect and love for Edward, you know? I would probably be playing the guitar very differently if he never came along. He’s a totally inspired person,” argued Vai. “If you like Van Halen better than the Eat ’Em and Smile band, then you’re right. And if I like Eat ’Em and Smile better than Van Halen, then I’m right. But I don’t like one better than the other. The Eat ’Em and Smile band was fierce. And that’s it.”

And as for Roth getting back together with Van Halen? Vai couldn’t be happier. “I was really happy to hear how great Edward was playing. I mean, I was afraid he was losing it; we were all concerned. But I think that he’s in really great form,” reflected Vai. “I’m hearing Dave hit notes that he couldn’t hit when I was recording him. And I think the record is really powerful. I can’t listen to the whole thing at one time because it’s almost too powerful, in a way.”

That’s just a small bit of Vai’s wide-ranging discussion — you can read the rest of it, which includes stories about Vai’s experiences producing Roth’s ‘Skyscraper’ album, at this link.

Next: 'Eat 'Em and Smile' Turns 25

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