Steve Vai 'spiralled into a black hole' filming Crossroads with Ry Cooder and Arlen Roth


Vai made his big-screen debut playing the devil’s guitarist, Jack Butler, in the cult movie. Iconic scenes show Vai flourishing his legendary guitar skills, trading Known as one of the nicest guys in rock music, the musician opened up about the dark place he went to for the role. He admitted: “You become what you create, and in those early days I was creating a lot of dark stuff.”

Vai had begun to make a name from himself when he joined Frank Zappa band in 1980, aged just 20, before launching his solo career in 1983.

In a never-before-seen interview with Guitar World he spoke of the dangers of those early years: “There was a time in my life when I was very willing and able to project a very dark aura. I discovered that it was having a detrimental effect on my mental and physical health and I actually spiraled into a black hole. Fortunately for me, I was able to claw my way out after several years.”

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Vai was originally approached only to play the guitar solos for the film’s climactic duel but revealed how he needed up on screen.

He said: “I got a call from Ry Cooder and he asked me if I’d like to play on the soundtrack because they needed a hot rod guitar player for this guitar-duel scene. I read the script, built a duel concept and we recorded it. 

“After the director [Walter Hill] had met me and heard the recording, he asked me if I’d be interested in being in the film. I told him no at first, but then I read the script again and felt that a certain side of my personality could relate to the character of Jack Butler. Celluloid history.”

The climax of the film shows a dramatic guitar battle between Vai’s character and aspiring young star Eugene Martone, played by Karate Kid legend Ralph Macchio. Guitar teacher Arlen Roth had coached Macchio during filming, but the actor’s guitar pieces on screen were all performed by Ry Cooder.

Vai said: “I believe the music in Crossroads and the whole idea of the duel was energetic and well laid out, and kids respond to that…

“It was an honor to have worked with Ry Cooder. He is truly brilliant and talented in a very earthy way. Being a part of a movie was a hoot. I had a lot of fun with Arlen Roth. The movie is like a snapshot for me of a particular time in my life. I was growing at a fast rate and was luckily surrounded by great people.”



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