Steve Vai has always paid attention to the sounds in his head.
Though the guitar virtuoso from Carle Place found international stardom 30 years ago when he joined David Lee Roth’s band to help create the once-and-future Van Halen frontman’s solo debut, Vai quickly decided that he needed to build his career around his own desires.
“A compelling idea that sounds exciting in my head always trumps any superficial desires — and I’ve had plenty of superficial desires,” Vai says, laughing. “They just get dwarfed when I hear something in my head like ‘The Riddle’ or ‘Pink and Blows Over.’ I wouldn’t trade one single song for anything that’s not entirely, authentically my own inner creative expressions. You’re cheating yourself if you do.”
Those creative expressions have always served Vai well. Currently touring to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his landmark solo album “Passion and Warfare,” recently reissued by Legacy Recordings with a previously unreleased album, “Modern Primitive,” Vai will be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on Nov. 3 at The Space at Westbury, just blocks from where he grew up. (His tour will return to play The Space on Nov. 12.)
“I’ve been so fortunate to be the recipient of so many honorable awards, but this one hits home harder, more strongly than any other,” Vai says. “These things sneak up on you. For many years, when I was winning awards — from the guitar magazines, winning Grammys — I just didn’t take them seriously. It was kind of like I was waiting for the man behind the curtain to come out and say, ‘Just kidding.’ . . . When we got the call for this, I stopped and said, ‘Wow, this is really nice. It’s really quite an honor.’ You wonder if you’re really worthy of it.”
It’s a rare full-circle moment for the 56-year-old Vai, who still uses tape of Carle Place High School teacher Nancy Fagan’s voice saying things she used to tell him in class for his song “The Audience Is Listening” each night on the current tour.
“I used to bring my guitar to school and I would get in trouble for it, but she encouraged me,” says Vai, explaining why he asked her to be on the song. “The things in the song happened, though I didn’t turn the class upside down and start dancing on the tables.”
Vai says he never talked about becoming a star the way he did in the song, either.
“When I was a kid, I was so embarrassed at the idea of telling anybody I was going to be a star because I never expected it and it sounds pretentious and fantasy-world-ish,” he says. “It was never my intention but it’s funny that it happened so I thought I’d add it to the song as a joke.”
Vai laughs when asked whether he could explain how he and another guitar virtuoso, Joe Satriani, both managed to come from the same high school at nearly the same time.
“That’s a mystery to me — I think it started with Joe,” says Vai, adding that Bill Wescott, the music theory teacher at Carle Place High School, inspired them both. “He was just naturally gifted, tremendously gifted, and he was my teacher, my mentor, and from the ages of 12 to 15, Joe was my everything. He was very generous with his lessons and musical wisdom. To this day, we’re kind of joined at the hip. It’s been an amazing life journey that we’ve had together. We look at each other and wonder the same thing, ‘How did this all happen?’ ”
Of course, Vai says he doesn’t dwell on that too much. On this current tour especially, he is trying to simply live in the moment.
“Every show, I feel like there’s this little voice in me saying, ‘OK, Vai, make the most of this and savor every single note and just remember how fortunate you are that you can do all this and that it’s so fulfilling to play the music.’ ”
WHAT Long Island Music Hall of Fame Induction Gala
WHEN|WHERE 8:30 p.m. Nov. 3, The Space at Westbury, 250 Post Ave.
INFO $95-$250; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
MORE STEVE VAI
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Nov. 9, Town Hall, 123 W. 43rd St., Manhattan; and 8 p.m. Nov. 12, The Space at Westbury, 250 Post Ave.
INFO $39.50-$95; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
The inductees are . . .
This year’s Long Island Music Hall of Fame induction class is the organization’s most eclectic, showing how the area has inspired all sorts of musical excellence, in addition to rock guitar virtuoso Steve Vai. Here’s a look at this year’s other inductees:
BIG DADDY KANE
HAILS FROM Brooklyn
BEST KNOWNFOR Pioneering the hip-hop live show, developing his “Smooth Operator” persona both on record and in his concerts. Hits like “Ain’t No Half Steppin’ ” showed off both his flow as well as his storytelling lyrics.
INDUCTED BY Chuck D
HAILS FROM Amagansett
BEST KNOWN AS The legendary composer who has scored more than 90 films, starting with the Coen Brothers’ debut “Blood Simple” and including memorable scores for an eclectic mix of films from “Twilight” to “Fargo.” Burwell received an Oscar nomination this year for his score for “Carol.”
INDUCTED BY G.E. Smith
HAILS FROM Brooklyn, raised in Smithtown
BEST KNOWN AS The Grammy-winning bandleader of Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks, the jazz and big-band outfit that has recorded music for everything from Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club” to the HBO drama “Boardwalk Empire,” where he also appeared on screen as the bandleader.
INDUCTED BY Phil Schaap
HAILS FROM Brooklyn
BEST KNOWN FOR His raucous rock hit “Wild in the Streets,” with its Springsteen-ish swagger that holds up so well it was recently included on the soundtrack to “The Get Down,” and the well-crafted “Matador,” which turned him into a star all across Europe in the late ’70s.
INDUCTED BY David Johansen
HAILS FROM Brooklyn, longtime Roslyn Harbor resident
BEST KNOWN AS The legendary music executive who ran EMI, SBK and CBS Records, signing everyone from the Lovin’ Spoonful to Tracy Chapman and finding songs for everyone from Barbra Streisand to Eddie Murphy to record. A branding expert, Koppelman currently heads C.A.K. Entertainment, which represents Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony and Nicki Minaj in their corporate deals.
INDUCTED BY His son, music exec and “Billions” creator Brian Koppelman
HAILS FROM Rockaway, Queens and Stony Brook
BEST KNOWN AS Manager and producer-lyricist for Blue Öyster Cult, as well as producer of one of punk’s first albums, The Dictators’ “The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!” and The Clash’s second album “Give ’Em Enough Rope.” Pearlman died in July from complications following a cerebral hemorrhage in December.
INDUCTED BY Lenny Kaye
SANTO & JOHNNY
HAIL FROM Brooklyn
BEST KNOWN FOR The classic rock instrumental “Sleep Walk,” with the distinctive guitar sound that virtuosos have been trying to duplicate for decades. Brothers Santo & Johnny Farina turned that song into an international recording career that included a version of the theme from “The Godfather” that broke records when it hit No. 1 in Italy.
INDUCTED BY The Rascals’ Eddie Brigati
HAILS FROM Brooklyn, raised in Hewlett
BEST KNOWN AS The songwriter-producer behind Meat Loaf’s breakthrough “Bat Out of Hell” album, as well as dramatic hits for Celine Dion, Bonnie Tyler, and Air Supply. Steinman, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, also had hits of his own, including “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through.”
INDUCTED BY TBA
WESTBURY MUSIC FAIR
HAILS FROM Westbury
BEST KNOWN FOR Its unique stage in the round, which has been graced by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to B.B. King and James Brown in the 60-year history of the venue — now known as NYCB Theatre at Westbury.
INDUCTED BY Norm Prusslin
E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt will also be honored at the event, receiving the Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award for his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and his dedication to music education. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer will receive the award from music executive and Long Island Music Hall of Famer Ron Alexenburg.
— GLENN GAMBOA