It’s probably hard for most people to fathom how anyone could describe spuddling guitar excursions as ‘emotional’, but if you’re sufficiently attuned, and actually willing to be exposed to mind-altering Zappa rays, you can be walloped by raw, unadulterated feeling. On numb and dreamy “Sleep Dirt”, an uncharacteristically lo-fi cut from his 1979 album of the same name, Zappa wrings devastation from his six-stringed plank of wood. It’s very sad, and perfect accompaniment to brooding over five years of Tory majority government.
Eventually becoming the ‘The Mammy Nuns’ in Frank Zappa’s ineffably bizarre rock musical Thing-Fish, itself loosely based around his earnest belief that the AIDs virus was manufactured on purpose, ‘The Mammy Anthem’ began life as a guitar-based instrumental used to open shows on his 1982 tour. This version comes from a bootleg recording of what was apparently a particularly stellar gig in Pistoia, Italy. A bunker-busting riff hails the arrival of the usual mangled odyssey of a Zappa guitar solo, his straining, sizzling whammy bar theatrics buoyed by Tommy Mars’s ethereal keyboard vamp.
Here’s a video of the Guitar Trio performing in its McLaughlin/de Lucia/di Meola configuration late on in its lifespan, this time at a benefit concert for War Child organised by superstar Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Musically, they’re not at their best – not at their best is still very, very good for musicians of this standard – but this video nicely shows off their contrasting styles, Paco’s clucking flamenco rhythm, the Mahavishnu’s burblingly fast Indian-influenced jazz-fusion, and di Meola’s melodic Latin-influenced lines. For the Trio at its mesmeric best, see the 1981 live album Friday Night in San Francisco.
The Bemolution is officially very, very sad to hear of the death of the mesmerically talented clump of cells born Francisco Sanchez Gomez, known worldwide as Paco de Lucia, maestro of flamenco guitar. Premature death (de Lucia was 66) is always worse from an atheist perspective. Paco has ceased to be. He’s dead. Forever. Gone, and never coming back. Digits that spent a lifetime flying across fretboards have wiggled their last, and it’s such a shame. Paco won’t mind, because he’s dead and won’t know anything about it. But for his young children, who he’d been playing with on a beach near his home in Cancun, Mexico just before he died of a suspected heart attack, it’s a sudden, shocking loss that they’ll likely be left dealing with for years to come.
A few years ago we wrote this about him and his music. We’d struggle to pinpoint a musician who’s brought us as much enjoyment in recent years as Paco de Lucia, particularly through his collaborations with John McLaughlin, Al di Meola and others. Because it’s about as much as we can do to honour his memory and a lovely musical legacy, we’ll hereby declare 2014 Bemolutionary Year of Paco de Lucia – which in effect will mean little more than us posting lots of his music on here, but it’s the thought that counts.
A diminutive Scottish muso of the classical variety once sat down and watched a bit of the Bemolution’s extensive collection of Frank Zappa videos. Like a lot of classical buffs who stupidly shun anything that isn’t staggeringly, inscrutably complicated, thereby writing-off a mass of the most beautiful and exhilarating music ever created, she did have a somewhat bewildered but very genuine respect for Zappa.
That said, watching him scowl intently into his Les Paul and loudly, furiously, if not dementedly play for several minutes without stopping, she did hypothesise that music was just an excuse for Uncle Frank to angrily vent his dissatisfaction with the world through his guitar. She was half-joking, and there was nothing in life Zappa took more seriously that music, but to some extent she was on to something. Continue reading “Zappa, guitar, and Dangerous Cretins”
In a jarring follow-on from Carole King-brand late-night serenity, melodic prog-shred produced by the nimble fingers of a genial hippy from Chelmsford.
In Britain, ‘Year Zero’ and the advent of punk dealt guitar virtuosity a terminal blow, with fumbling ‘authenticity’ prized over what was seen as the overblown indulgence of the solo-heavy Genesises and Pink Floyds. While the punks may have had a point, they managed to instil a deep suspicion of actually being able to competently play your chosen instrument in British music that’s only just wearing off in the 2010s.
On the one hand, this has unleashed the likes of Matt Bellamy to noodle euphoric nonsense at baying teenagers in stadium arenas, but on the other it’s brought us the critically-lauded superbly-named Guthrie Govan. Not only staggeringly able on his chosen instrument when on guitar-hero default-setting, Govan can effortlessly switch from super-fast squealing to jazz, blues and funk, demonstrating an unbelievable versatility that can only come from 40 years of doing little else other than playing a guitar – trawl YouTube for videos of him expertly, self-effacingly playing in a breath-taking array of styles.
This here live performance of one of his more tempestuous compositions, ‘Waves’, was captured for your enjoyment at a Californian music equipment trade show in 2010.
For some annoying reason, if you want to actually watch the video bit of a WordPress-embedded YouTube video rather just hear the audio, you have to either watch it fullscreen or click to watch it on YouTube itself.
Born as the impeccably Spanish-sounding Francisco Sanchez Gomez in Cadiz, Southern Spain, the youthful Paco de Lucia was a chubby introvert whose desire to be a singer was hampered by shyness. The guitar provided a marginally less nerve-jangling outlet for musical expression. Hammered into virtuoso standard by punishing 12-hour practise sessions enforced by his authoritarian father, also a flamenco guitarist, the young Paco was playing on the radio by the time he was 11. De Lucia has since won renown as the world’s most prominent flamenco practitioner, and is often acknowledged as one of the most skilled acoustic guitarists alive – the speed of his picking fingers is especially celebrated by guitar junkies and flamenco fans.
As much as it looks like Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen clad in his aunties’ curtains playing guitar on a wooden raft adrift at sea, this video does actually document a 1976 TV performance of Paco’s signature tune, Entre Dos Agues.
Zappa wrings something transporting and serene from the sleaziest, unlikeliest of material. Taken from 1979’s three-disc Joe’s Garage, a baffling smut-riddled rock-opera satirising the Iranian Revolution and the music business, Outside Now records the eponymous Joe’s dreams of revenge, guitar hero status, and liberation from the dystopian prison in which he finds himself incarcerated*. Here tranquilly rendered by Zappa’s relatively restrained 1980 touring band, the track features the affecting harmonies of Ray White (pink shirt, sunglasses) and Ike Willis (husky croon, tea-cosy) as well as some of Zappa’s most anguished guitar work and a lovely Hawaiian shirt.
*he was imprisoned after accidentally destroying an alluring vacuum-cleaner-robot called Sy Borg whilst trying to have sex with it, you see.