Guitar Hero

Did I ever tell you about the time I competed head to head on the same stage with guitar legend Steve Vai? Well, gather around the blog and hear this TRUE STORY.

When I was in 11th grade at Carle Place High School, the student association put on a big talent show. This was 1978, so naturally, it was done in the style of the Gong Show. I don’t remember too many of the acts, but my personal favorite was the group who dressed up as punks and lip synced God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. They had fake safety pins in their lips and noses and spit raisins into the crowd to simulate big nasty loogies. It was tremendous.

Then it was my turn. Though I could barely play the guitar — and not play the harmonica at all — I went out as some sort of Bob Dylanesque troubadour and croaked out a folk song that I made up on the spot. They mercifully interrupted my strange and terrible tune in short order and gonged me out.

Near the end of the show, out walked senior Steve Vai, who plugged in his guitar and brought the house down with the Star Spangled Banner. I remember arguing once with Mr. Vai in the weight room that Todd Rundgren was more talented than Jimmy Hendrix, but that night Steve Vai would have smoked them both.

A few years later, Mr. Vai was touring with Farnk Zappa and I was preparing for my illustrious career in television. If I’d only known better, maybe I too could have taken guitar lessons from Joe Satriani and ended up a rock star. Satriani also went to Carle Place High. Something in the water, maybe?

7 thoughts on “Guitar Hero

  1. Funny . . . my first onstage band experience was right around that same time in a Gong Show-styled talent show at Uniondale High School (I was still at Turtle Hook JHS at the time, though). Our band had a drummer, a conga player, two sax players, a female piano player and me on guitar. I was the only white person in the group. We played a funky vamp vaguely inspired by some favorite Earth Wind and Fire jams . . . the early going was rough, and the crowd got restless, until our conga player took a mad solo which staved off the gongs and earned big audience response, allowing us to make it through to the end of our number, earning marginal-to-good scores. I figured we were on our way to greatness . . . but they threw me out a few days later for being stiff and hampering the groove. I took up punk rock and industrial noise as my live idioms soon thereafter.

  2. Funny how one’s musical tastes can change. After the Blue Oyster Cult show at Nassau Coliseum in 1978 (during the ice storm), I tried to convince anyone who would listen that BOC would reign supreme over Van Halen. And we pretty much heckled Rush off the stage that night.

    More Cowbell!

  3. That’s a cool story Rob! I had no idea who Steve Vai was when I found myself watching a show at Rockafeller’s in Tucson back in 1984. The band was Alcatrazz and I knew the lead singer (Graham Bonnet) from his time with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. The guitarist blew me away and it wasn’t until I saw him with Whitesnake years later that was him.

    1. It’s a pure example of someone making a career of doing what he loves; that’s always sort of inspiring.

  4. I was in the same “Gong Show” back in ’78, and I recall going on (with Gary Onderdonk and Pete Barbieri) as the last act.

    So you could say that Steve Vai did “warmup” for us.

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