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Vai joined Zappa’s touring band between 1980 and 1983, and is also credited on seven of his albums.
Appearing on the Cassius Morris Show, Vai said: “Things came to a head for me when I was touring with Frank Zappa and I was in Montreal in 1980, and I just had a complete, sort of, breakdown, anxiety attack, that lasted a year and a half.”
“It was panic, it was all fear, there’s a fear that was in the background that just overcame me. And I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t doing drugs, nothing. I harboured a fear of going insane when I was younger.”
Later in the interview Vai discussed his difficulties reconciling his fame as a guitarist with his mental health: “I love music, I love the idea of playing music and all, but I was under the impression that if you become famous you would go insane,” he said.
“It was something my aunt had said when I was a little boy. And when you’re young and you hear stuff like that, you go, ‘Oh, okay, now I get it, I don’t ever wanna be famous.'”
Vai went on to explain that his difficulties with mental health “drove me into finding the answers for myself,” which he found through spirituality.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, Vai remembered the late Eddie Van Halen in a new interview. “Every groundbreaking technique he developed was masterfully executed because that’s the way he heard it in his mind, and he loved chasing it,” he said of his fellow guitarist.
“The process of discovery and the accomplishment of the goal was his bliss. All the elements of his vision took shape majestically.