In the world of guitar playing there are some artists who define
a certain genre of music. A sound, a style, and an approach help to
define such a musician and make them synonymous with the
instrument. I can think of a few examples like Joe Pass in the
world of jazz guitar, Eddie Van Halen in the world of heavy metal
guitar, Jerry Douglas playing his dobro resonator guitar, and of
course Jimi Hendrix in the realm of psychedelic electric guitar
playing, naming just a few. But, there is one man whose style,
technique, and approach made him the most unique and identifiable
guitar player in the last 50 years, and his name was Frank
Zappa started playing guitar in the late 50s, playing mostly old
school blues and R&B, but it was his love for two guitar
players that particularly influenced Frank's playing then and
throughout his career. Those two guitarists were Johnny "Guitar"
Watson and "Guitar" Slim. Watson because of his prolific
songwriting, unmistakable vocal sound, and his jazzy chord
voicings, and Slim because of the uniquelly distorted and toned
guitar sound on songs such as "Story of My Life" and "I've Got
Something For Ya," both shaped Frank Zappa's guitar sound
throughout his career.
Zappa was the greatest composer of the rock era evidenced by his
compositions being covered by dozens of the top orchestras
throughout the world since the late 1960s.
Without a benefit of a formal musical education Zappa composed
in almost a mathematical way, writing complex scores many times
without the benefit of being able to hear them until he gave the
arrangements to his band. In lieu of this, Zappa had to have
members of his band who could read his arrangements on the spot as
well as be able to improvise solos with great expertise.
When you speak of guitar players whose solos defy description
you are likely speaking of Mr. Zappa, his solos were so noteworthy
(sorry for the cheap pun) that in his later years he released
several records that were just guitar solos excerpted from his live
shows. These records are called "Shut up and Play Your Guitar."
Some other must-listens for those who want to hear Frank Zappa's
best solos include: "Orange County Lumber Truck," "Inca Roads,"
"Revised Music for Guitar and Low Budget Symphony Orchestra,"
"PoJama People," and the "Muffin Man."
Zappa also employed and featured some of the greatest musicians
of the time, diverse players such as Lowell George, Captain
Beefheart, Jean Luc Ponty, George Duke, Adrian Belew, Steve Vai,
Terry Bozzio, Vince Caliuta, and Ian Underwood. Just like many
bandleaders before and after him, a spot in Frank Zappa's band gave
you immediate credibility and the opportunity to work with many
other great musicians. Zappa payed his musicians well but demanded
a very big commitment and total sobriety during their employment -
the very reason many Zappa alumni didn't stay in the band very
Another Zappa trademark was his "comedy music" a moniker he
gravely disliked. He felt humor belonged in music, and his often
blue tinged humor was the reason that Zappa records like "Just
Another Band From LA" became the "Redd Foxx Party" albums of a
whole new generation. Some of the humor is pretty raw and a bit
nitchy but still downright hilarious.
In closing, as I like to do here in the Legends column, I will
give you a suggested playlist: "Over Nite Sensation," "Apostrophe,"
"Live in New York" and "Zoot Allures" should wet your whistle for
some of Franks most accessible albums. For the more esoteric you
might want to check out "Roxy and Elsewhere" (personal favorite),
"Studio Tan," "Sleep Dirt" and "Weasels Ripped My Flesh." Franks
early triumphs include "Uncle Meat," "Freak Out" and "We're Only in
it for the Money."
Okay friends, please send me comments and/or suggestions for
topics. I can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy the summer. Peace,