When the late great Frank Zappa died in 1993, he left behind a massive body of work that's not easy to play for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, his quirky compositions use complex melodies and time signatures, drawing on his love for avant-garde composers, jazz and good ol' rock 'n' roll to create a signature style that's simply unique - Zappaesque, if you will.
The other thing that makes it hard to play is the fact that Gail Zappa, Frank's widow, guards his legacy jealously and zealously and is known to be litigious, having lawyers send cease and desist letters to tribute bands and fan sites threatening action for the "unauthorized use of works, trademarks and images owned by the Zappa Family Trust." Dedicated FZ devotees are put off, but most ultimately submit to the iron will of Gail Z, grousing unhappily.
The "Zappa Plays Zappa" show coming to the Van Duzer has no such worry of being zapped. The Zappa Family Trust itself presents the evening of music by Frank, with his son Dweezil Zappa fronting the officially sanctioned cover band.
Unlike the Marley kids covering their dad's tunes (ad infinitum) Dweezil's versions tend to be "note for note," as the guitarist noted regarding his Grammy-winning take on Frank's "Peaches En Regalia."
"I actually played along with Frank's guitar solo from the original Hot Rats master tapes," he explained at zappaplayszappa.com. "He had dedicated that album to me since he was working on that around the time I was born. It's cool to hear us playing together note for note in a stereo time machine."
Ready for the Zappa time machine? It lands at the Van Duzer Tuesday, Dec. 1, a busy night music-wise.
Fans of Fishtank Ensemble know that their omnivorous sense of music is global in scope drawing on Balkan music, flamenco, opera, etc. etc. French-born fiddler/bandleader Fabrice Martinez is also an importer of musicians: last time I heard him play he was with Opa Cupa, a band drawing from Italy, Serbia and NYC. Tuesday Fabrice returns to Muddy's Hot Cup with another international combo, this one fronted by Italian singer/accodionist Gerardo Balestrieri. I've been listening to Gerardo's disc, I Nasi Buffi E La Scrictura Musicale, an enchanting blend of French chanson, Greek rembetika (currently all the rage) and Italian songs, delivered in a rich baritone reminiscent of Paolo Conte. Great stuff. The backing band includes Fabrice, his brother Roland, over from France to play bass and clarinet, Sean Tergis on percussion and Fishtank flamenco guitarist Doug Smolens (originally from Mexico) who notes, "The songs are mix of originals, Turkish, Greek, gypsy and Mediterranean music." I'm there.
Also on Tuesday, a visit by those purveyors of psychedelic cowboy music and odes to marijuana pirates, New Riders of the Purple Sage, with David Nelson and friends back in the saddle again. They're playing way out Hwy. 299 at Simon Legree's, a bar (and restaurant) in Hawkins Bar. Too far to drive? Not to worry, they're also playing at Humboldt Brews Wednesday, Dec. 2.
The wild East Humboldt hill country is also the current home Corby Yates, the former blues guitar prodigy (now grown up) who learned his chops by practicing to slowed down versions of songs by Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He'll be part of the celebration of Jimi's birthday on Friday, Nov. 27, at the Arcata Theatre Lounge, sitting in with Jimi Jeff and the Gypsy Band, led by one of the more convincing Jimies you'll ever see.
Over at Humboldt Brews Friday night, Jeff DeMark tells tales of Wax Johnson and others with music by The Human Cannonballs. Who's Wax? "Wax Johnson is my Racine alter-ego," said DeMark, referring to his Wisconsin hometown. "I've used it as a pen name for years because Johnson Wax is based in Racine. Other stories I'll be doing are about my mother [and her red dress], one about a trip to Guatemala... another about Fred Flintstone. They all have music under them - it's a chance to take the stories and give them an underpinning, a soundtrack." Storytime is early, 8-ish, then The Cannonballs - guitarist Damon Brooks from Donna Landry's band, Rick DeVol on bass and Jeff's bro, Paul DeMark, on drums - go electric playing roots music from all over the map.
If you were a rough and tough dancehall singer from Kingston born with the wimpy moniker, Rodney Basil Price, you'd probably think about changing your name. Thus we have Bounty Killer, a badass dude with a rep. For what? Well, he's known as a killer deejay (as in rapper) and for his collab with No Doubt in 2001. He's also known for his arrest record: a domestic violence beef in 2006, two arrests at JA's Reggae Sumfest, one over a fight and in 2008 for slackness: excess profanity on stage. He's also been the victim (if that's the right word) of the anti-gay-bashing blacklist. Outrage!, the British org, tried (and failed) to convince Scotland Yard to arrest him for inciting violence and harassment against the gay community through his lyrics. No arrest, but two of his shows over there were cancelled. Bounty Killer will be here Saturday night for a show at the Arcata Theatre Lounge with Lucazade (from JA), Beatnok (a selecta from the Bay Area), and Humboldt's own Akaboom.
A pair of Humboldt alumni, Melissa Ruth and Johnny Leal are back in Arcata for a show Saturday at Mosgo's, offering what Melissa calls, "homegrown folk-sass." She was part of the local coffeehouse folk scene while working on the music degree at HSU; Johnny was a founding member of blues crew Big Earl and the Cryin' Shame. They're taking a break from jobs as music teachers up in Eugene to bring some bluesy folk songs back home for y'all.
And speaking of homecomings, poet Nicholas Karavatos, an HSU alum, left town in 1993 after (among other things) serving as host of KHSU's poetry show, Mad River Anthology. He moved overseas in 2000 and is currently teaching creative writing on the Persian Gulf at University of Sharjah in United Arab Emirates. He'll be here Wednesday, Dec. 2, to celebrate the release of his brand new collection of poems, No Asylum, with an Intermedia Spoken Word Performance at the Arcata Theatre Lounge. He explains the intermedia part as a "spontaneous collaboration" with a group of musicians including guitarists Jeff Kelley and Art Brown, drummer Mark Weston, and bassist extraordinaire Shao Way Wu.
"I've performed with all of the guys over the years in different ways, different configurations," said Karavatos, calling from Sharjah. "I played in bands with Jeff Kelley. Back in the early '90s we had this band called Primordial Stew. We didn't play out that much, but we jammed a lot. And in the '80s we were both in the Dreadful Grapes." A Dead tribute band? "Not exactly, we used Dead and Dylan songs in the way that a jazz band would use a fake book, improvising off well-known tunes to do our own crazy mayhem music."
He's sent the musicians his poems touching on life over there, life over here and life in general, but they won't get together until next week when he flies in. He's not worried. "These guys are great musicians and even if I suck, they'll be great. So I'm comforted knowing it can't possibly suck. It could be great - and I hope it is - but at least I know it won't be bad, which is saying a lot." And that's at least one thing to be thankful for.
Personally, I'm thankful for the life I live and for you, the readers, who've helped me make it this far. Thanks for sticking with me.