When Ralph Macchio defeated Steve Vai in the Crossroads Guitar Battle
As we celebrate actor Ralph Macchio’s 60th birthday (November 4), most will remember his leg swept in the Karate kid franchise. But Macchio had a long film career, one in which he also swept in a guitar battle for his soul in the 1986 film. crossroads.
At this point in his career, just two years from The Karate Kid‘s Daniel LaRusso and three years later The foreigners‘Johnny Cade, Macchio was definitely on the rise in Hollywood when he took on the role of Eugene Martone, a 17-year-old Juilliard guitar prodigy obsessed with blues.
Screenwriter John Fusco revealed to American Blues Scene that Macchio was chosen over Sean Penn and Tom Cruise, who had both expressed interest and the actor is deceased Back to the future play the role of young Eugene, who searches for Willie Brown, an elderly musician (Joe Seneca) who is said to have performed with legendary bluesman Robert Johnson in a minimum security hospital.
Negotiating a deal for a lost Robert Johnson song in exchange for breaking it up and helping him sort out business in Mississippi, Eugene and Willie hit the road. And while their journey takes them through juke joints and involves a few scuffs along the way, it ends up landing the duo right at the legendary crossroads where Johnson sold his soul to the devil, and apparently Willie had a debt to pay as well. .
Eventually accepting a guitar battle with the Devil’s guitarist, Eugene is ready to put his lessons learned to the test, fighting not only for Willie’s soul, but his own as well. But it wouldn’t be an easy chore, especially when you discover that the devil’s ax man is none other than Jack Butler, played by the very promising guitarist of the time, Steve Vai. Until then, Vai was best known for his work at Alcatrazz, but eventually won over music fans playing more alongside David Lee Roth in the solo group of the former singer Van Halen.
So how did Vai end up in the movie? Why, it almost didn’t happen. The film’s music composer, Ry Cooder, was the one who first contacted him, but as Vai recalls, he shot him down first. âThey needed a hot rod guitarist for this guitar duel scene. I read the script, built a duel concept and we recorded it,â he explains. “After the director [Walter Hill] had met me and heard the recording, he asked me if I would be interested in participating in the film. I said no to him first, then reread the script and felt that a certain side of my personality could relate to the character of Jack Butler. History of celluloid.
Fusco recalls, âI ran into Jimmy Page at a Caribbean bar years later. True story. He told me how much he wanted this role. We hung out for days and he played his acoustic guitar in my wife and I’s cabin while he wrote new songs. became clear very quickly that Ry knew what he was doing and that it was the best choice of all, âthe screenwriter said.
What ensues on screen starts off as a slide guitar battle, but emerged as something of a mix of blues and metal guitar styles, eventually ending with Macchio’s Eugene returning to his classical training and his quick hands as lightning to defeat the dazzling and engaging riffs of the audience of Vai Butler.
But did Vai really lose to an actor who was just learning to play the guitar? Not really. In the name of the magic of the cinema, it is in fact Vai who doubled the composition of Macchio while the actor mimes the parts on his guitar. The guitar battle scene also includes contributions from Cooder, Jorge Calderon, harmonica player Sonny Terry and legendary drummer Jim Keltner.
Vai also added another element to the film: his guitar. Guitar World has revealed that the Red Superstrate is a custom Charvel, and the original instrument from the film has now been signed by Vai and is part of the Hard Rock Cafe Company’s collection.
Speaking to Guitar World, Vai said, âI think people responded to Jack Butler because I was projecting so much intensity into the character. Kids react to that sort of thing. video games, blockbuster movies, contemporary rock releases, rock videos, etc. The majority of them focus on sex and violence. These elements light up the senses. “
âIt’s a frightening proposition to look ahead and imagine the kind of stimulating, psyche-manipulating sensory output we’re going to eat. But I also think that there are also a lot of socially redeeming and uplifting things there, âhe adds. âBut back to Earth. I believe in music crossroads and the whole idea of ââthe duel was energetic and well presented, and the kids are responding to it too. “
As for Macchio, yes, the actor did play guitar in the movie although some of his parts were dubbed. Director Walter Hill hired guitarist Arlen Roth to teach the actor how to play, showing him a variety of techniques and essentially getting him to the point where he could mimic the majority of what was being played. Fusco makes sure to qualify, “I want to point out that Ralph played a lot of his own game and it was awesome. He’s a smart and diligent kid. Wait, he’s not a kid anymore, but it still looks the same. “
Revisit this epic onscreen guitar battle from crossroads below.