For more than 20 years, guitarist Steve Vai has been known as one of rock music's top instrumentalists. Playing with several prominent classic rockers in his early years, Steve developed his signature sound as a solo artist. VOA's Bernie Bernard tells us about Steve Vai's latest album, "Real Illusions: Reflections."

New York guitarist Steve Vai got a lucky break as a teenage prodigy. His teacher was another renowned guitar player, Joe Satriani.

Studying at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Steve moved to Los Angeles when he was 19, and auditioned for the late avant garde legend, Frank Zappa. When Zappa heard that Steve knew most of his repertoire and could transcribe orchestral pieces by ear, he asked him to join the band. Combining influences from Zappa and Joe Satriani, Steve played with classic rockers such as Whitesnake and David Lee Roth before Steve became a solo artist.

Steve Vai is about to release his first studio album in four years. Titled Real Illusions: Reflections, it's the follow-up to his million-selling DVD, Live at the Astoria, London.

Steve says his new album is part of a gradually unfolding fable that he's written about a character named Captain Drake Mason and his spiritual awakening.

"The concept is expected to span the course of three single CDs, " he says. "All the songs are presented as vignettes, but not necessarily in the order of the story. The idea is to release a four-CD box set with all the songs in the proper order."

Commenting on his unconventional guitar style, Steve says, "I've always been driven by an addiction to create sounds that are unique not better than what other people do, just different. For me, the real fulfillment is when I hear a strange or beautiful sound in my head, and then make it real in the world using the devices I have as a musician. The things that have never been done before are what interest me most."

Steve also performs as part of the guitar ensemble G3, whose current members include his former teacher, Joe Satriani, and Robert Fripp of King Crimson. Steve was also nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Rock Instrumental performance category for his song with G3, "Whispering a Prayer." And, he has established the Make A Noise Foundation, which provides musical instruments, education and musical culture to needy young players.

Steve Vai will present tunes from Illusions: Reflections during a North American tour in March and April. For an extra fee, fans can see Steve and the band prepare for a show, and ask questions as part of a group discussion.