Remember back in September when I interviewed Steve Vai and he mentioned a new floral-pattern Ibanez Jem on the horizon? Well that Jem wasn’t released at the NAMM Show, so where was it? Well, it may not have been at NAMM but it seems Steve did lug it along for a recording session with Mary J Blige the other day to lay down a cover of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’
Check out the photo below from the LA Times (click the pic for a close-up) – and check out the line-up for the session! Mary J. Blige on vocals, Steve Vai and Orianthi on guitar, Travis Barker on drums and Randy Jackson on bass. The producer is Ron Fair.
In September Steve said There’s always little innovations. We’re working on a new material pattern – remember the floral pattern? Oh my gosh, we’re doing something like that again but ah, the pattern is so gorgeous. When you see it you’re going to die. And also there’s one innovation, I can’t really tell you what it is, but it’s revolutionary. It’s one of those very simple, practical things that no-one ever did, and it’s just like, ‘Well duh!’
So what do you think? Is that the new floral Jem which is expected to make it into production soon (perhaps it’ll be premiered at Musikmesse or Summer NAMM)? Or is it one of Steve’s many one-offs? One hint that it may indeed be the real thing can be found here.
Photo: Andrew McLeod
Now that I’m back home in Australia I’m sorting through my NAMM photos. Here are some more pics and a press release about the UV77REMC, the new 20th anniversary reissue of the UV77MC.
First up are my pics from the display:
New Ibanez Universe 7-String Re-Issue Rockets 20 Years Back to The Future
January 29, 2010
It was 20 years ago when Steve Vai joined forces with Ibanez to produce his ultimate weapon, the 7-string Universe, the first production 7-string solid-body electric guitar. The groundbreaking Universe was quickly recognized as the “Most Innovative Guitar of the Year” by music retailers at the 1990 Music and Sound Awards.
Originally designed as a virtuoso shred machine, the guitar would have a new life later in the ’90s with its extended low-end range making possible the new breed of rhythmic metal of heavy music players such as Korn and Dino Cazares. Ibanez is proud to recognize Steve Vai’s achievement with the release of the new UV77RE Universe 20th Anniversary edition.
Like the original, the solid body UV77RE reissue is seven strings of fire, ready-made for maximum shred and some of the meanest riffing on the planet. The multi-color swirl motif arrives once again from the original Universe artist, Darren Johansen. Because of the swirl paint process each Universe guitar is uniquely individual in appearance. As with Ibanez’s other Limited Edition Reissues such as the famous Bob Weir model, all UV77RE models are crafted in Japan by the same luthiers who created the originals.
1990 not only brought the Ibanez Universe guitar to the world, it also debuted Steve Vai’s groundbreaking, earth shattering album, “Passion and Warfare,” and each U77RE comes with a commemorative poster of this sonic masterpiece.
Only 100 UV77RE reissues will be available worldwide.
One of my favourite stops during NAMM was at the Performance Guitar booth in Hall E. I’ve heard of Performance for many years and I know that both Frank Zappa and Steve Vai were early fans of the company, but apart from playing one for about 30 seconds at a guitar clinic by Aussie shredder Joe Cool when I was about 16, I’d never seen one close up. A recent Premier Guitar feature on the company piqued my interest further, so when I saw them at NAMM I zoomed right over to say hello and check out their gear.
I knew about Performance’s guitars, but let’s face it, their guitars come with a price tag which is as high as their quality level (ie: you get what you pay for, which is a good thing!). But what really surprised me was their pedal mods under their TTL (Top of the Line) brand. At NAMM, Performance had set up a rig where you could A/B the modified and unmodified versions of various pedals. I was particularly taken by their Boss DS-1 mod. Performance’s website says:
What has been Modified and Improved:
The input impedance has been changed to the tube amp standard of 1MΩ. Improvements have been made in the area of picking nuance, quicker response time, and overall sound definition. The even harmonics, especially the second harmonic, have been emphasized to recreate the sound of a fully-driven tube pre-amp. This resulted in the thin sound becoming eliminated completely and the overall sound becoming much richer. The gain factor has been re-evaluated at various frequencies to achieve great distortion, even with a single coil pick up. With respect to the original design principle, no switches were added and overall modifications were kept simple.
The company makes a couple of its own pedals too, including the FZ-85, a filter modulation pedal designed in collaboration with Frank Zappa in the 80s. The site says:
FZ-85( F.Zappa Filter Modulation)
There’s an early ’80, Frank Zappa wanted special his own sound. Frank and we collaborate each other to make special effect for Frank. It control and emphasize the particular frequency. This effects pedal has 3 mode select SW. There are low pass mode, band pass mode, high pass mode.
*Low pass mode position cut the higher frequency above the frequency you set up.
*Band pass mode position cut the frequency without the frequency you set up.
*High pass mode position cut the lower frequency below the frequency you set up.
And then you can set up the frequency that you want to make it peak point with “F” control knob. And also you can set up the resonant peak with “Q” control knob. For example, you can have the sound like an eccentric “Wah Wah” with moving the “F” control knob. This effects pedal is different from other effects pedals. Because this effects pedal boosts up the inner voltage. That’s why this effects pedal can get wider dynamic range and works more extremely. You can’t find any other effects pedal like this. You can get this sound only from this one. Frank couldn’t make his sound without this effects pedal. Now this effects is used by Dweezil Zappa, Steve-Vai, Warren-Cuccurullo and many more musicians and they Loved it!!
I was also blown away by the Snake Skin guitar (autographed by Warren DeMartini of RATT) which I used when testing out the pedals. It was very responsive to pick attack and despite the hard rock vibe of the snake skin finish I found it great for bluesier, Hendrixy riffing.
Here are my photos from the Performance booth. Check out that Vai-style flame guitar!
Here’s something super-cool for Ibanez geeks such as myself. Ibanez has announced it will run a contest to allow (what I assume will be) one lucky fan to design an Ibanez Jem model of their very own. RAD! More details will be announced soon. The contest will mark the 77,777th Jem guitar sold. This is in addition to the 20th anniversary Universe reissue, officially dubbed the UV77RE. Isn’t it pretty?
Just a heads-up, the Ibanez Jem7EAFX – the fixed-bridge Jem that everyone liked the idea of but weren’t so thrilled about the big Vai/Earth decal behind the bridge – is being discontinued in 2010, according to the venerable Rich Harris of Ibanez Rules in a post on Jemsite. So if you want one you’d better snap it up now.
I’m sure we’ve all seen the awesome work of photographer Neil Zlozower peering out from our favourite magazine covers and CD booklets over the years. Zloz seems to have an innate ability to capture the energy, the excitement and the awesomeness of the electric guitar. He has a new book called ‘Six-String Heroes’ which recognises this particular quality, and he’ll be appearing at Mr Musichead Gallery to sign copies on December 5. Here are the details:
Rock and Roll Photography Legend Neil Zlozower
A Book Signing for his latest book ‘Six-String Heroes”
WHERE: Mr Musichead Gallery
7511 W. Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90046
WHEN: Saturday, December 5, 2 – 6 pm
With a forty-year career as a top rock and roll photographer, Neil Zlozower has seen and done it all, and then some. Simply stated, if you know anything about music, then you have most certainly heard of “Zloz”. Known around the world for hundreds of magazine and album covers, his images have often solidified the iconic visual images of many music idols and lent the man himself to reach his own legendary rock and roll status.
The most recognized rock photographer from the 70’s and 80’s, Zlozower toured extensively with Van Halen and Motley Crue and in their heyday. These raucous experiences lent to Zlozower’s two previously released books, both aptly titled A Visual History, and published by Chronicle Books in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Zlozower’s Fuck You: Rock and Roll Portraits was also released by Chronicle Books in 2008 and features a veritable rock and roll hall of fame of musicians such as Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Poison, and Zackk Wylde flipping Zlozower the bird as a playful celebration of rock and roll attitude. With a studio located in the heart of Hollywood since the 70’s, Zloz is a guy that remains true to his L.A. roots.
His newest release, Six-String Heroes (Chronicle Books), is a stripped down collection of live, candid and studio shots of 150 of the greatest guitar players to ever live. The book is a must have for every guitar enthusiast and anyone who knows one! The dynamic assortment of players includes Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, John Frusciante, Les Paul, Slash, Joe Satriani, Dimebag Darrell, Chuck Berry, Zackk Wylde, Tom Waits, Ratt, and countless others. Six-String Heroes features a foreword by Steve Vai and includes text from countless unpublished interviews throughout the book by music journalist Steven Rosen. The December book event co-sponsored by Guitar Center will feature all of Zlozower’s books. Fine art photographs of famous Zlozower images will be on display.
Zloz has invited many special guests to the event, and with him it’s clear that this could mean anyone and everyone.
Neil Zlozower is a featured artist at Mr Musichead Gallery. Opened in 1998, Mr Musichead Gallery is LA’s first gallery devoted to featuring a vast collection of album cover art, poster art, fine art and photography that chronicles rock and roll’s rich heritage. Past exhibits have included the Art of Jerry Garcia, fine art exhibits with Incubus front man Brandon Boyd and British illustration legend Alan Aldridge, and a Hendrix album cover photography show with Karl Ferris. Owner and founder Sam Milgrom established himself in Detroit as a cutting edge, influential music retailer and live concert venue owner who has now set his sights specifically on the LA music/art scene. Mr Musichead Gallery has recently been mentioned in The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Blackbook, Juxtapoz and Flavorpill.
Steve Vai doesn’t do things by halves. When he sinks his teeth into a creative concept, he doesn’t let it go until it’s completely and thoroughly tamed. Take, for example, his new live DVD, Where The Wild Things Are (CLICK HERE to buy it from Riot Entertainment). It’s as intense and colourful as it is virtuosic and funny – the perfect filmic compliment to the technicolour frenzy that is his musical output or the multicolour splatter of his famed swirly Ibanez Universe 7-strings.
Vai’s always been a huge inspiration to me so I jumped at the chance to interview him about Where The Wild Things Are, the art of improvisation, and just what’s next for the Ibanez Jem line…
I Heart Guitar: Let’s talk about the new DVD. That tour obviously didn’t come to Australia, so the DVD was the first thing I’ve seen of that line-up.
Steve Vai: First of all, I’m sorry I didn’t make it to Australia. It was a relatively short tour because I had just finished a project that had me working in the studio for over a year, which was the orchestra project I did with the Metropole Orchestra in Holland. So at the end of that I wanted to put a band together. Something different, something unique, hopefully something that no-one has ever done, and go out and do a short tour. I wanted to put the kind of band together that would give the music a different kind of dimension. So I had a couple of different ideas. One of them was to have a rock band core with two additional percussionists. Another was to have a rock band core with a twelve-piece horn section, and another was to have two violins. So I chose the two violins this time because it made the most sense coming out of the orchestra project. The problem was finding the right players because my music, although it can be very compositional in nature, it’s fused with rock and roll sensibility, y’know, because I’m primarily a rock artist. So because the music can be very challenging and demanding I needed musicians that could read music. All the violin players I was auditioning were these metal violin shredders. They sounded terrible. They couldn’t really play well and they didn’t understand the dynamics and the nuance of the music. And all the classical players I auditioned who could read the music didn’t have any rock and roll sensibility, so when I turned my amps up their violin bows melted and they ran for the hills. So I was lucky than Ann Marie Calhoun and Alex DePue fell into my life because they are real stunners. They are unbelieveably talented, elite players with great discipline and respect, and wonderful people.
I Heart Guitar: And great stage presence too.
Vai: Yeah! It’s like the devil and the angel!
I Heart Guitar: When you go to a Steve Vai show you don’t want to see someone standing in the corner playing. You want someone to perform!
Vai: Yep! Well they perform! And when it came time to put the show together, there are certain elements I try to stick to to create an interesting show because just a guy standing up there playing electric guitar all night, even though it’s great it could get kinda boring, and I like to do long shows. And especially DVDs – I like to do DVDs that have entertainment value. So I created this whole visual of the show with all these dynamics, broken down in to different sections, and then we filmed it. I waited until we got to America. We did 30 days of 12 to 15 hour a day rehearsals, and then we did a 30 day tour of Europe, a month in the States and then we did South America. And by the time we got to the States the band was ripe. They were smokin’, and they were ready to be filmed. I chose the State Theatre in Minneapolis because it’s such a gorgeous venue. It’s really big and it’s historical. It’s got this large wooden stage which sounds so much better than rubber, tile, concrete, carpet. It’s the best sounding surface. So it made the recording very warm. And there it is!
I Heart Guitar: It’s a beautiful looking concert film too. The Live At The Astoria DVD, I believe you’ve said in the past that there were scenes where they just weren’t filming your guitar and stuff like that. But Where The Wild Things Are looks as gorgeous as the music feels.
Vai: Oh thanks. You learn as you go, and when I got into the edit bay to edit the Astoria DVD I was trying to squeeze blood out of a rock, y’know. ‘There’s Steve sitting on a fence, trying to make a dollar out of 99 cents.’ So when it came time to shoot the Minneapolis show I made sure I had very thorough production meetings, and I made it very clear on more than five occasions what each camera was supposed to be doing – and still they screwed up a lot of stuff. But for the most part there was enough there to make the kind of edits that made sense to me.
I Heart Guitar: [Bass player] Bryan Beller is kicking ass on this thing!
Vai: Yeah! Doesn’t he sound great! I had to mix his bass really loud because it sounded so good.
I Heart Guitar: So the 25th anniversary release of Flex-Able is coming out soon – when is that coming out?
Vai: Well I’m working on it right now! As I’m sitting here talking to you I’m looking at the machine. It’ll probably come out next year some time. I’ve got a lot of things coming out right now, and you’ve got to be careful how you position things so you’re not killing everybody.
I Heart Guitar: And of course the anniversary of Passion & Warfare is coming up soon too. Do you have any plans to do something for that?
Vai: Well… Flex-Able is hitting 25, and I’m doing a complete remastering which is sounding unbelieveable. And also adding bonus footage and doing all that stuff… making a package for the fans that really like that stuff. And if I was to do something for the 20th anniversary of Passion & Warfare it’d be like next week or something. So I figured I’d wait for the 25th and then do things. I like 25.
I Heart Guitar: How do you feel about Passion & Warfare now? It was a huge one for me – it coincided with the end of grade school and the start of high school for me, and it was like this world of musical colour right when I was really falling in love with the electric guitar.
Vai: I just feel very blessed and fortunate that I had an opportunity to do that record, because it was a long time coming. Because when I was with Alcatrazz… no actually, from as long back as I could remember, when I was a little boy and I discovered music, I knew that I had my own musical voice, so to speak. And it wasn’t a unique kind of thing, it was just something that I think songwriters and composers have. And through the years, one thing led to another led to another, and when I did Flex-Able it was just a time when I was very free, I had no expectations, I didn’t expect to become famous or rich or even that the record would be released. It was really just an opportunity for me to have fun with my friends and do stuff that made us laugh. I had tonnes of stuff recorded – tonnes and tonnes. Flex-Able represents probably five percent of what I recorded in that period. And when it came out, when I actually figured out how to put it out there and it started to sell, I realised it was really a conduit to people: making music and releasing it. Then when I joined all these big rock bands in the 80s, that stimulated a particular desire for me, when it comes to satiating a rock and roll sensibility and being a rock star and all that, that was fun. But through all of it I knew there was this music in my head that really needed to be expressed. I started working on Passion & Warfare right after Flex-Able, but because when I joined Dave Roth I couldn’t release it, when I joined Whitesnake I couldn’t release it. Then finally after I left the Roth band and I quit Whitesnake I just knew that this brand of music had to be created, y’know? I locked myself in the studio and I just felt a lot of liberation and freedom. Because like I said, I didn’t have any expectations, and that’s really one of the best ways – for me at least – to create music, because you’re really free to do what you’re hearing in your head. When I released that record I really didn’t expect it to sell at all. I thought ‘Who’s gonna want it? There’s nothing like it.’ I thought it was good, I enjoyed it, but that didn’t mean anything. How do I know what other people would think? So I was somewhat detached, y’know? And the first person I played it for was David Coverdale. I told him, ‘It’s probably not going to sell anything.’ And he said [adopts David Coverdale voice] ‘Steven darling, I think you’re wrong. This is a tremendously beautiful record. You’re going to be very surprised.’ And he was right, because it was gold in one week. But I get that a lot, that a lot of young people discovered it when they were going to school and it was the soundtrack for their year or something.
I Heart Guitar: I used to sit around and harmonize to ‘The Riddle.’ I didn’t have a 7-string so I thought ‘how can I play along if I can’t do those low notes? I’ll just play a harmony.’
Vai: Well there ya go!
I Heart Guitar: Let’s talk about the Ibanez Jem and Universe for a while. I’ve got one of each, and even though they’re your guitars I kinda feel like they were designed for me. They just fit my body and way of playing so well.
Vai: You must have a body like an upside-down question mark also!
I Heart Guitar: Haha. Do you have any new developments coming?
Vai: Yeah there’s always new developments! That’s one of the fun things about being Steve Vai! They’re willing to build anything you want. In the beginning, back with even Alcatrazz, my style was developing and there were certain things I wanted to do, and certain things I wanted in a guitar, that no conventional guitar really had. So I went to this little guitar shop around the corner and I got a piece of wood, told them how to carve the body… because I liked the way Strats looked, and I couldn’t seem to sit with a Les Paul, but there was something about Strats… they were beautiful, but they weren’t sexy enough. So I thought, how do I make them look a little cooler? It was just my taste – to me it didn’t mean anything to anybody except me. I thought, ‘This is just me, I can do anything I want because I’m buying the piece of wood,’ y’know? So I had the body shaped a particular way and it sits really well for me. Nobody was making 24 fret necks for guitars with whammy bars – it was really unheard-of – so I said ‘Make me a 24-fret with this scale length so it works with this kind of guitar…’ And then I had the cutaway cut really deep because it’s just practical. I can’t reach the notes on another guitar. When I go to play a Strat and I go to play high, the body gets in the way, so it’s like, ‘Just cut it out!’ And I did that and it looked good and it worked great. And then the pickup configuration at the time was completely unique. There was nothing like it. Nobody had three pickups, two of them being humbuckers, on a guitar with a whammy bar. And the thing is, the way that it was wired with the 5-way switch was unique too. When you’re in the neck position you get a humbucker, but between the middle pickup and the neck position you’ve got them both on and it splits the coil in that position, so you get two single coils, which gives you that cool Stratty kinda sound, which I love. And no noise too, because the hum is getting bucked! And then there’s the whammy bar. I wanted to pull up on the whammy bar, and no guitar let you really pull up on it. I just looked at it and I thought, ‘Well, the only thing stopping it is this piece of wood here…’ So I took a screwdriver and a hammer and I just banged out the wood, and that was the first real floating tremolo system. And then there were the practical things – like, I don’t need two tone controls, the volume knob should be here because it gets in the way when it’s there. And just simple things like the input jack. Guitars had input jacks pointing down, so you’re always stepping on them and pulling the cable out.
I Heart Guitar: And cracking the little plastic bit around it if it has that kind of design. I’ve replaced so many of those damn things!
Vai: Yeah! And I just thought, well why not recess it and put it on an angle? It’s such a stupid, simple idea that no-one ever did, that works perfectly. So I had this guitar that was really exactly what I want. All these guitar companies were approaching me to play their instruments and I just couldn’t understand why they would want me to play their instrument when I had one that was so perfect for me. So I said ‘If you want to make this instrument for me, I’ll play it, if it’s good.’ Because it was a pain in the ass having this guitar – I had four of them made, and it would be great to have a real company making them. So they all approached me, and I said whoever makes me the best guitar based on my specifications is the one I will use. And so many guitars just gave me back crap. They would take a guitar that was in their line, alter it a bit and say ‘Here ya go, Steve.’ And it was nothing to do with what I wanted. So Ibanez, within two weeks, created an instrument that was absolutely flawless and perfect. It was exactly what I wanted. So that was the Jem, and that’s what it’s been for 22 years now.
I Heart Guitar: So where to from here for the ‘ol girl?
Vai: There’s always little innovations. We’re working on a new material pattern – remember the floral pattern? Oh my gosh, we’re doing something like that again but ah, the pattern is so gorgeous. When you see it you’re going to die. And also there’s one innovation, I can’t really tell you what it is, but it’s revolutionary. It’s one of those very simple, practical things that no-one ever did, and it’s just like, ‘Well duh!’
I Heart Guitar: Is this going to be at NAMM in January?
Vai: Yeah, we’re going to have a couple of things there. NAMM show’s amazing. Just tonnes and tonnes of cool stuff!
I Heart Guitar: I notice you’ve been pictured a lot with the ‘For The Love Of God’ Universe lately. Are you using that much?
Vai: Yeah! I’m thinking of using it for my next record.
I Heart Guitar: Cool! What are the plans for the next one? How far off?
Vai: I’ve got a couple of projects I’m working on. One of them, I have to finish up this DVD (Where the Wild Things Are) which at this point means press. Then I’ve got the 25th anniversary of Flex-Able I need to complete. Then I’m getting together a big handful of songs that I’m going to be spoonfeeding digitally once a month. Because I’ve got a vault just filled with stuff in various forms of completion that never quite fit for a particular project, but now if I release them all as singles it doesn’t matter. Then I’m hoping to go into the studio and create a studio record, and I’d like to use the band that I had on the DVD.
I Heart Guitar: One of my readers wanted to know if there were still any plans to do another Alien Love Secrets kind of thing like you mentioned a few years ago.
Vai: Yeah, y’know, it’s one of those things I’d like to do. It’s just that I’ve got so many ideas for various projects and each one can take a year, y’know? So I’ve gotta be really careful with my time. I know that that particular type of record would be something a lot of my fans would really like to hear, but if it’s up to me – which it is [laughs] – to go and do a stripped-down trio record right now or take this band with string players and create a whole record with a concept and all that, it’s a hard choice. Frankly putting a show on is much more entertaining when you have a bigger band, so I have to keep that component in mind. So I don’t know. Right now I’m leaning towards doing something with the band.
I Heart Guitar: Another reader question was whether you’d be interested in doing something like Joe Satriani has done with Chickenfoot – although you’ve already had a band with a Van Halen singer!
Vai: Yeah, I’ve been there, done that, I guess! You know it’s interesting, I get asked that question a lot. I went to see Chickenfoot and it was a lot of fun. A great party band. I saw Joe and it looked like he was having a great time. In my mind I put myself in that position and thought it sure would be nice to take a break from all the hard solo work and being the guy that has to make all the decisions, and just put a bunch of guys together and go out there to play simple rock music to people who want to just party and have a good time. But then I thought ‘…Nah.’ There’s just way too much I want to do that’s really very compositional and theatrical and rich. And you know what? The great thing is, for me, I did have that opportunity in the 80s. And I really embraced it and I loved it. I played every arena in the country five times. And it was really fun, and part of me pines for those days. But really, when I think about the here and now, it’s all really about exercising my potential as a guitar player and a composer to the best of my ability, and I just don’t think I could do that in a band situation.
I Heart Guitar: As a fan I’ve loved that over the last decade or so you’ve seemed a bit reflective about the back catalogue, with orchestral reinterpretations, various live versions and stuff, but now I’m like, ‘Man, I want to hear some new music.’
Vai: Yeah, me too! I’m starting to feel like, ‘Gee Steve, remember you used to write music, Vai?’ But I’ve got some fun stuff up my sleeve. It gets better, stick with me!
I Heart Guitar: Another reader wanted to know about your approach to improvising – what you think about when you’re improvising. What goes through your mind?
Vai: Well, a part of me thinks about real practical stuff – ‘We go to this piece of gear here, we shift into this mode here, we try this harmonic atmosphere.’ But that’s a very small part. The thing that I try to capture is, it’s a particular frame of mind. It can be elusive, but there’s this focus that you go to, this little place that exists between your brain and the tip of your fingers and your ears. It’s this process of listening to your environment, processing it with your creative element, then letting that creative element take control of your fingers and just trying to step back from it. But it’s easy to lose that focus, because when you’re doing that, usually for me, you’re in the moment. Improvising, most of it is listening – responding to what’s coming into your ears and letting your fingers move in an unobstructed way. And there are all these little flashes that are just comfortable visuals, like you’re hearing something and you know that there’s a particular scale or note or atmosphere or chord that’s going to work. And that’s just like a ghost to letting your fingers speak. And here’s the trick with being in the moment: you almost have to be a little bit ahead of the moment. You have to think about where you’re going, and then once you’re exploring where you’re going, your fingers and everything are performing where you were thinking about going. So you’re almost not even a part of the playing – your whole consciousness is in that elusive space of just a little bit ahead of what you’re about to play.
I Heart Guitar: I know for me something happened about five years ago with improvising. It was almost like time was slowing down and I was getting in between the notes and hearing things before I play them.
Vai: That’s the thing. It’s like becoming one with the note.
I Heart Guitar: Yeah. I felt I was in a rut before this, and one day I just stopped thinking so hard and started listening, and I felt like my whole playing opened up.
Vai: And you’ll notice that there are plateaus to each zone. And as you go through life and you keep doing it, it becomes a cathartic process of self-discovery. You just have to keep doing it. It’s about letting go of your hang-ups, about being afraid of what’s going to happen, about letting go of the big fear of being accepted, or that what you’re playing isn’t good enough. So many people get hung up on that shit. ‘I don’t have the cool gear,’ or whatever that is, you know? And you’ve really gotta let go of all of that shit and be in the moment of the note. And being in the moment is that frame of mind where you’re not thinking about these other things. Because the moment you’re thinking about these other things, you’re creating the future and the past. But you’re right on when you say that time starts to stand still and slow down. Because what happens is the mind is constantly creating the future and the past because of the way we think. We’re always thinking about what we’re gonna do, or what we did, or what happened yesterday, or what’s going to happen tomorrow. But when you bring your focus of attention to what you’re doing at hand, you’re not thinking about the future and the past, so time is actually slowing down. It’s just a perception, really.
I Heart Guitar: It’s really deep to discover this side of myself personally and musically. It just seemed to open up so much more!
Vai: Yeah, and that’ll continue to open up, the more you let go.
I Heart Guitar: Man I love music!
Vai: Yeah. It’s a good life!
Most bands don’t even have 15 albums during their entire career. But for Frank Zappa, that’s pretty much the number of records he would release before his first coffee in the morning. With that in mind, I find it impossible to pick just one favourite Frank Zappa album, so here’s my top 15. Click on any of the titles to buy the album from Amazon.com
1. Over-Nite Sensation
Home to a whole barge full of particularly well-known FZ songs: the track listing is ‘Camarillo Brillo,’ ‘I’m The Slime,’ ‘Dirty Love,’ ‘Fifty-Fifty,’ ‘Zomby Woof,’ ‘Dinah-Moe Humm’ and ‘Montana.’ Out of all of those, only ‘Fifty-Fifty’ is unlikely to show up on a list of the ‘big ones.’ I’d love to hear this one on vinyl some day. It has that dry, clear sound that is a bit sterile on a CD or MP3 but really comes alive when it’s streaming off a big slab of shellac.
2. We’re Only in It for the Money
Wow. I only heard this one for the first time about, what, a year or so ago? Maybe two years? I dunno. I’m a busy dude and I’ve kinda lost track of my own temporal orientation. What I do know is that pretty much everything I want to hear in music is here: virtuoso performances, unique rhythms, amazing tones, powerful concepts, lyrical diversity, funny stuff, dense arrangements as well as simple clobber-you-over-the-head arrangements… I thought I was getting far too cynical and grouchy to have my life changed by an album these days but We’re Only In It For The Money totally did that for me. If you’re skipping through the CD for the first time looking for good bits, don’t pass over ‘What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body.’ What may sound initially like a straightforward doo-wop tune has the coolest from-out-of-nowhere middle section (the ‘All your children are poor unfortunate victims’ bit) which moves me in ways I can’t describe.
3. Broadway the Hard Way
Most of these songs are about social issues that are uniquely relevant to 1988 America (lyrics about Ronald Regan, Oliver North, Surgeon General C Everett Coop and the Iran Contra scandal are far too overt to be taken as allegory), but while the issues and topics may be dated, there’s something that feels eerily current about this one. It’s almost like listening to a musical production of The Daily Show if it was around in the late 80s. Yet for all its humour, cynicism, criticism and occasional downright meanness (Tammy Faye Baker is described as “an ugly little weasel bout three-foot-nine” in ‘Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk’), Broadway The Hard Way includes a couple of my all-time favourite Frank Zappa guitar solos, in ‘Any Kind Of Pain’ and ‘Outside Now.’
4. Zappa in New York
This one would be worth it even if it was only a single with ‘I’m The Slime’ on one side and ‘Titties and Beer’ on the other. But the performances by drummer Terry Bozzio and the inclusion of tracks like ‘The Illinois Enema Bandit,’ a killer ‘Pound For A Brown,’ a crazy ‘Punky’s Whips’ (one of my all-time favourite Zappa tracks) and two totally different and equally headspinning ‘The Black Page’ renditions elevate Zappa In New York from mere cool album to the status of Monolithic Achievement Worthy Of Being Blasted Into Space To Remind Our Future Alien Overloads Who They Were Messing With And What Mankind Was Capable Of Achieving When They Weren’t Being Absorbed For Their Lifeforce By Gelatinous Space Monsters.
5. Uncle Meat
This one is very compositional and eclectic. It may be too trippy for some. For others it’s musical and emotional nourishment of the highest order. It’s all here – the pretty little bits, weird flourishes, songs changing direction almost arbitrarily in ways that don’t make sense in the moment but which reveal themselves as perfect in the wider scheme of things. And ‘Louie Louie’ played on the organ at the Albert Hall. If you’re new to Zappa this is probably either the worst or the best introduction possible, depending on your perspective.
6. Jazz from Hell
FZ, meet computer. Computer, meet FZ. One of the most daring musical extrapolations ever to issue forth from the hard drive of the now archaic Synclavier music system, Jazz From Hell was one groundbreaking mother of an album. Back when you actually had to have a pretty thorough knowledge of musical notation in order to make electronic music in a computer, Frank and his assistants tirelessly fed musical scores into the Synclavier to recreate the music Frank heard in his head but was unable to get live musicians to perform to his satisfaction.
7. The Yellow Shark
If Jazz From Hell is the sound of computers doing the musically impossible, Yellow Shark is the sound of musicians doing the computationally impossible. Recorded with the Ensemble Modern and worth buying just for the liner notes even if they forget to put the CDs in at the store, this set is the last thing Frank released during his lifetime and in many ways it sums up everything about him, from heartfelt sentimentality to artsy extrapolations like ‘Welcoome to The United States’ to downright musical obscenity. There’s an amazing, unmissable rendition of ‘G-Spot Tornado’ from Jazz From Hell to cap off the album.
8. You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore – Vol. 6
So there were two Frank Zappas, right? There was the stunningly virtuosic genius musician/composer, and there was the hilarious guy who wrote filthy, filthy songs. Often the two would mix – Frank wasn’t a fan of strict definitions and segregations within his music or life – and so we have You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 6. This live album features performances culled from many different line-ups and eras, and it’s full of tawdriness, lewdness, sexual innuendo, sexual outuendo, sexual inandoutuendo, naughty words, provocative squats, fetishes and kinks. Real ‘listen to it with headphones on so you don’t get it confiscated by your parents’ kind of stuff.
9. 200 Motels: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack
Disclaimer: I saw the film 200 Motels again recently and found it a bit too, uh, esoteric to really dig the way I used to. However, in the context of happy memories and impact on personal development this was a pretty big one for me. For some bizarre reason nobody will ever be able to explain to me, my local video store in small town Australia had a VHS copy of this for hire when I was in my teens. I used to take it out every couple of months, wait til nobody was home or at least had all gone to bed, then have my little 14-year-old mind exploded by the psychedelic perversity therein. Don’t go looking for any real sense of plot in the movie. Don’t go looking for much pretty in the music. Just enjoy the ride, and the awesomeness of a track like ‘Magic Fingers.’
A live album recorded here in Australia in the 70s. FZ pulls some very cool guitar tones on this one, and there’s a great spontaneous vibe. Dig FZ’s delay and wah-drenched solo on ‘Carolina Hard Core Ecstasy,’ not to mention a melancholic and restrained ‘Zoot Allures,’ which beat Steve Vai’s ballads to the punch by a decade and a half. Also includes the hilariously filthy ‘Poodle Lecture’ and some great versions of ‘Dirty Love,’ ‘Black Napkins’ and ‘Camarillo Brillo.’
Frank’s Shut Up And Play Your Guitar series of albums and the album simply titled Guitar are pretty well known. They’re all constructed pretty much entirely of FZ guitar solos and nothing else. Which is cool. But for those who may have drifted away from Zappadom over the years and not paid any attention to his posthumous releases, there are some great moments on this one. Check it out. Although some of the posthumous Zappa releases are compiled by the Zappa Family Trust, this one was completed by Frank and he always intended for it to be released in this form. Dig the subtle Simpsons reference in the title ‘Good Lobna.’
12. Make a Jazz Noise Here
Mainly instrumental, this one has rearrangements of many a classic Zappa tune, with the focus squarely on the 5 piece horn section. Personal highlights are the ‘Let’s Make The Water Turn Black/Harry You’re A Beast/Orange County Lumber Truck’ medley, a great clean-toned guitar solo on ‘Stinkfoot,’ and Mike Keneally’s tapping extravaganza on ‘Stevie’s Spanking.’ There are also some pretty outstanding pieces that are unique to this set including ‘When Yuppies Go To Hell’ and ‘Fire And Chains.’
13. Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch
This one can be pretty difficult to digest – the majority of the songs are too wacky for most people, but it’s worth pushing through the parody disco beats of ‘I Come From Nowhere’ and ‘No Not Now’ to enjoy what’s below the surface. And if you are able to digest the fiendishly intricate ‘Drowning Witch’ and ‘Envelopes’ (not easy for first timers, such as me when I happened to choose this as my first Zappa album), you’ll find some amazing playing by a very young Steve Vai. Challenging but brilliant.
14. You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore – Vol. 2
This one features probably my favourite Zappa line-up – Frank Zappa, Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler and Chester Thompson – performing tracks like ‘Inca Roads,’ ‘Stinkfoot,’ ‘Village Of The Sun,’ ‘Pygmy Twylyle,’ ‘RDNZL,’ ‘Uncle Meat,’ ‘The Dog Breath Variations’ and ‘Montana (Whipping Floss).’ The band are at the top of their game and their relaxed interplay kinda makes you feel like you were there. I guess the fact that it’s the only one of the six You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore releases to have its own subtitle is evidence that Frank recognized its uniqueness.
15. Apostrophe (‘)
A few indisputable rock classics are on this album. ‘Cosmik Debris.’ ‘Stinkfoot.’ ‘Uncle Remus.’ All that stuff about yellow snow, including the incredible ‘St Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast’ (and did you see Dweezil play the marimba bit on guitar with Zappa Plays Zappa?). By the way, check out the title track for some mournfully teeth-grinding fuzz bass tone courtesy of one Mr Jack Bruce of Cream. I really enjoy this one but it’s probably my least favourite of my 15 favourites.
Saw this on Blabbermouth. Remember a few weeks ago when it emerged Ozzy was looking around for another guitarist? Well Zakk says that while that may be so, he’s still in Osbourne employ for the foreseeable future, including touring commitments in 2010. Good to know everything’s cool and that Ozzy’s not messing with the awesome vibe Zakk brings to Ozzy gigs, even though he might try a few other guitarists in the studio.
By the way, remember years ago when Steve Vai did some stuff with Ozzy in the studio? It never surfaced (except for the song ‘My Little Man’ on Ozzmosis, but Zakk played the guitar instead of Steve). I wonder if that stuff will ever see the light of day.
David “Gus” Griesinger of BackstageAxxess.com recently conducted an interview with Zakk Wylde (BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, OZZY OSBOURNE). Watch the chat in three parts below.
When asked about the recent reports that Ozzy was auditioning other guitarists for his solo band, Zakk said, “Everything’s cool, man. I mean, Ozzy’s always jammed with other people — since we did ‘Down To Earth’ and all that other stuff. So it’s no big deal. If Ozzy’s gonna play with someone else, what am I gonna do anyways? At the end of the day, when we did the ‘Down To Earth’ record, Oz had other people coming in and writing with him. [I was like], ‘Boss, knock yourself out,’ you know what I mean?! What we’re supposed to do is there’s this date in August — August 20, I guess, down in Anaheim [at the BlizzCon convention] — and then after that, we’re supposed to finish the [new Ozzy] record up in September or something like that. We did 16 or 18 songs or something like that, so we’ll write some more, finish the record, and then we’re supposed to do like a year[-long] world tour.”