Monday, December 4, 2017

Great Guitar Solos, #11: Frank Zappa's "Zoot Allures"

Frank Zappa died 24 years ago today. It was a big loss for the music world, but Zappa has lived on through an unusually large body of work. From his debut "Freak Out" in 1966 until his final release, "The Yellow Shark," in 1993, Zappa put out around 50 albums that covered a staggering amount of territory—satirical and novelty songs, dinosaur riff rock, soundtrack music, jazz fusion, off-blues and reggae, doo-wop, guitar solo-driven instrumentals, avant-garde classical, and plenty of idiosyncratic music that is unclassifiable.

As a fan of almost four decades, and a lead guitarist of three, not seeing Zappa live is one of my biggest musical regrets. Fortunately for me and other Zappatistas, Frank's concerts are amply represented on YouTube. Among the many gems to be found is the live recording of "Zoot Allures" embedded below, which offers a prime exhibit of Zappa's undersung guitar prowess.

Ever experimental, Zappa had a Floyd Rose tremolo system which kept his guitar in tune through frequent and extreme whammy bar manipulations and variable resonant frequency wiring which allowed him to marshal (and control) as much feedback as the venue could handle, making for a big, bold tone. The three-minute solo that begins at 2:31 is angular and unpredictable, coming in stops and starts and quick bursts of notes. The phrasing is well outside the Pentatonic box of most rock and blues guitarists, often moving horizontally along the neck, full of hammer-on pull-offs and isolated bends, moving in free-form cycles rather than building to a formula crescendo. Like much of Zappa's music, it may not sound pretty on the first listen, but repeated viewings reveal a sublime beauty. As Zappa famously said, "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."

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         Click here for "The Second Coming:  Stevie Ray Vaughan," 
a first-hand account of Vaughan's final concert

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here for "Great Guitar Solos, #8: Freddie King's 'San-Ho-Zay'"
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here for "Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock" 

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 here for "Great Guitar Solos, #6: Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My'"