Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante shared the negative experience of his only guitar lesson when he was misdirected into following in Steve Vai’s footsteps. He also shared what Vai said about it years later. At 16 years old, Frusciante had already started recording music, inspired by a textural approach. When he played the tapes for a tutor his mom had arranged for him, he was dealt a heavy blow.

“This guy, he said, ‘Let me see you play a blues scale as fast as you can,’” Frusciante told bandmate Flea in a new episode of the bassist’s This Little Light podcast. “And I played a blues scale as fast as I could, and he’s like, ‘That's not fast. You’re not a good guitarist.’”

Up until that point, Frusciante noted, he was certain he was “playing in the way that I should have been.” But the tutor told him, “That noise you’re making on your recording is OK, but if you can’t play a fast blues scale, you can’t go around telling people you’re a good guitarist. … [It] was about the worst feeling I could imagine.”

You can hear the interview below.

On telling the tutor that he couldn’t decide between exploring textural or flashy playing, Frusciante was advised: “Of course flashy guitar player, because flashy guitar players can do whatever they want, but the textural guitar player can’t do what a flashy guitar player does.”

He accepted the point to an extent, and so when he was advised to emulate Vai, Frusciante began exploring the shred icon’s catalog and learning to play like him, even though he couldn’t escape the notion that it was the wrong move for him. “I knew that what mattered was that you were feeling something and saying something,” Frusciante said.

He never sat through another guitar lesson again and eventually rediscovered his sense of artistic direction. “I actually told Steve Vai that story about five years or so ago, and he made me feel so good about it,” he recalled. “He told me a story about a music teacher that he had, who fucked up his brain for a while. Oh, man, I can’t tell you how good it was to have Steve Vai sympathize with my position in that.”

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