In light of the recent passing of virtuoso bassist Randy Coven, Guitar HD decided to reach out to Steve Vai for a few words, and perhaps learn more of their early music collaboration and friendship. Mr. Vai graciously shared some very fond memories of their Berklee days, the magic of Morning Thunder and all the wonderful, crazy notes flying around at the time. The result was a very moving and thought provoking tribute to the genius of Randy Coven.
I first met Randy when I was going to Berklee College of Music.
When you’re young, at least for me, it was a little bit frightening entering Berklee (laughs) because when I got there I just felt that more than likely everyone was going to be a better guitar player than myself.
I remember thinking, how was I going to fit in? There were obviously some wildly talented people there. There were some guitar players that I came to know there that could play intelligently and SO WELL? I couldn’t even believe it!
So people would segregate into groups of musicians that would gravitate to one another’s skill level so to speak. And Randy was part of that group that was just notches above my level. He really had such an incredible way of playing…and at that time Jaco (Pastorius) was very popular so Randy was also playing a fretless bass and he could just play!…his tone, his fingers, his chops! It was just amazing!
So I was drawn to him and not only by the way he played but, personally, we had a lot of things in common. To a large degree we looked the same, we had the same hair and we would often be mistaken for each other if we were walking down the hall. We both wore similar clothes and had the same gig bags, etc.
So he was in a few different bands. The name of one of the bands was called Winter, and the other was called Battle Axe and the guitarist in Battle Axe was this guy named Lorn Lieber and he was the shredder of all shredders! (laughs) …You’re probably not going to use a lot of this but it gives me an opportunity to give myself a little nostalgic hernia (laughs).
So anyway, Randy and I just kind of resonated together. We had a similar sense of humor, we really kind of GOT each other. We developed a very close friendship and we just started hanging
out a lot. And really, I just thought he was too good to play with, you know? I never thought that I was at his level really. So anyway, various things began to happen. I started a band with
a friend of mine, Dave Rosenthal. We had various drummers in the band and we eventually had Eddie Rogers on drums and Stu Ham on bass. Stu was in the band for quite a while and, it’s funny,
I can’t remember if Stu was before or after Randy…
but the name of the band was called Morning Thunder.
Morning Thunder (L-R) David Rosenthal, Randy Coven, Eddie Rogers, Steve Vai
College is such an important part of your life. It’s an important time in your life because you’re meeting new people, you’re young, you’ve got the whole world ahead of you and your whole life ahead of you, you have dreams and hopes…so you can create a bond with people that’s very special. It’s like looking back at high school friends or something.
So Randy and I did a lot of things together. It’s just funny how we just communicated and then when he started playing with the band I thought, MAN, this is too good to be true! And he was just so amicable and ready for any challenge whatsoever. We used to just try to play the hardest, weirdest, funnest music we could.
I remember we would wait on line in the morning, because you had to wait on line to get rehearsal rooms. We would get blocks of rooms for like hours at a time. We’d all have to get up at 6 in the morning to wait on line to sign up! So that was our routine and we’d rehearse for hours and hours and hours. We’d all bring in music that was just impossible to play (laughs) and we’d work on it until we could play it and Randy could play anything and when he would go to solo…it just sounded like he had this sweetness in his fingers. It was just so beautiful, you know?
It was such a special time and great period in my life and we really had a bond. So after Berklee I had moved onto working with Frank and then I was doing solo work. So, oddly enough, when I look back at it, there was never really an opportunity for us to play together again.
I remember I was always just scratching my head thinking, I have to call Randy. We should at least get together and play. But he was always busy or I was always doing something or we were always in different parts of the world. But we kept in touch and we got together a bunch of times through the years.
Randy was always just a really warm kind of an energy, you know? So funny, he had a really great sense of humor. He could be humorously sarcastic and very witty, but very considerate of other feelings too.
Randy was into his instrument on a deeply musical level. He was unequivocally dedicated to his instrument from head to toe through his whole career.
I was always kind of watching on my radar for when he might be scooped up by a big metal or rock band, yet with Randy’s style, being a exquisite blend of rock, jazz, fusion and his own uniquely gifted touch on the instrument, his playing transcended merely being good. His heart was really into being a great player. And in a lot of bands…he was just a notch above the average kind of a good player for a rock band… maybe several notches really. Because he was musical and his bass had a voice to it…you know, not his bass but his inner bass. So it was good to see that he was doing solo records because that was appropriate for him.
(L-R) Randy Coven, David Rosenthal, Eddie Rogers, Steve Vai