Musical Connections

Thursday , 6, August 2009

I was wondering, are all the musicians I like connected? With ‘connected’ I mean one musician having played with the other musician. So, for example, how many steps does it take to get from Frank Zappa to Shpongle? Because Shpongle is such a specific type of music – e.g. Psybient – I thought this would be hard. I figured Shpongle would only reside in their own musical universe. Well they do mostly, but on Wikipedia I found one big exception.

I’ll start with Frank Zappa. I really love his music for almost 10 years now. For me it all started with the albums Apostrophe (‘) and Over-Nite Sensation, both a mix of jazz, rock and a lot of Zappa humor. On these albums Tina Turner and The Ikettes sang the backing vocals. Zappa renewed his band a couple of times so during his musical career he had a lot of musicians playing for him. Notable musicians were George Duke, Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio.

George Duke and Terry Bozzio I’m not too familiar with. I know Duke played with bass player Stanley Clarke and on Duke’s Wikipedia I read he produced and composed two tracks for Miles Davis. One of the interesting things about Terry Bozzio I could find was that he helped out Korn for the album Untitled but they didn’t tour together.

Steve Vai on the other hand I know better. I especially like his album The Ultra Zone. Through Vai I got to know the music of Joe Satriani. Back in the old days Satriani had given guitar lessons to Vai. Later they played side by side as part of G3, a guitar tour started by Satriani and Vai. The G3 tour consists of three guitarists who give a live show playing their own music plus some songs together. Satriani played on all the tours but the other two guitarists changed names a lot, next to Steve Vai for example Eric Johnson and Paul Gilbert, among others.

Satriani made mostly solo instrumental albums but he also collaborated now and then. Just a couple of months ago he started a band called Chickenfoot (whats in a name…) with singer Sammy Hagar, bassist Michael Anthony – both formerly from Van Halen – and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. Satriani is also one of the ex-guitarists of Deep Purple (1993-1994). One particular album of him which I really like Engines of Creation. It is rather different from his other instrumental work being a mix of electronic music (with drum ‘n bass and other rhythms) and guitar. For this album he was influenced by the electronic band The Crystal Method.

On to Shpongle. On Wikipedia I found mostly links to other psytrance bands although there was one exception: Shpongle collaborated with Alan Parsons for his album A Valid Path. Together with David Gilmour – the gitarist of Pink Floyd – they made the opening track Return to Tunguska. This I find really symbolic because in my view Shpongle is the current number one in psychedelic music as Pink Floyd were back in the 70’s.

On Alan Parsons’ Wikipedia page I found he had also worked with The Crystal Method, which I mentioned before. But this doesn’t connect Zappa to Shpongle because Satriani hasn’t played with the Crystal Method… As far as I know anyway. The latest album of the Crystal Method is called Divided by Night featuring the Jewish rapper Matisyahu on one of the tracks. And Matisyahu has worked a lot with the producer Bill Laswell.

Bill Laswell is someone I’ve become more and more interested in. He is the main man behind a group of musicians I recently come to enjoy. The core of this group is a band called Praxis on which he plays the bass. Some of the musicians who have played and/or collaborated with Bill Laswell I knew already. The fact is, they are individual artists but have worked in projects together. These include John Zorn, Buckethead (Praxis lead guitarist), Serj Tankian (lead singer of System of a Down) and Mike Patton. As far as I know they all live in California.

John Zorn I know for some time now, I think I discovered him when I was searching online for ‘jazzmetal’. I found the album Naked City by his ‘punk jazz’ band with the same name. Mike Patton has lended his voice to Naked City at live shows so it truly looks they are a group of musical friends playing together. I know Patton best from his bands Mr. Bungle and Tomahawk.

Buckethead is a guitarist I heard about just recently. It was while reading about his collaborations that I found out about the Bill Laswell connection to other artists I already knew, such as John Zorn. Buckethead and Laswell are the only two regular band members of Praxis (next to keyboardist Bernie Worrell and drummer Brain) but Zorn, Tankian and Patton all have collaborated with the band. And Tankian also sings on the Buckethead album Enter the Chicken.

To come back to my quest: I didn’t find any connections so far. Perhaps someone associated with Bill Laswell played with someone associated with Frank Zappa? Could that be Mike Patton? Well, with his band Mr. Bungle they had some problems with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. On Wikipedia I read that Anthony Kiedis, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lead singer thought that Mike Patton had copied his style. Whether or not this is the case, thing is, this is a dead end, because of this allegation I strongly doubt Mr. Bungle members ever played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Well, what about David Gilmour? This Pink Floyd guitarists also played in some other projects, like the Alan Parsons album. I really hoped I had found a solid connection when I read on Gilmour’s Wikipedia that he had played with Bob Dylan. And Bob Dylan had Mark Knopfler playing on his album Slow Train Coming back in 1979 (when Dire Straits was just becoming famous). And Mark Knopfler wrote the song Private Dancer for Tina Turner. And Tina Turner of course… But to come back to the Gilmour-Dylan connection, I think Gilmour only produced an album for Dylan, although I couldn’t find any reference… So a no-go again. One strange last thing however, the guitar part of the Private Dancer recording was played by Jeff Beck.

Sigh… So concluding this search, I’m sorry to say I haven’t found a good connection between Zappa and Shpongle, yet… Perhaps in the future things will be made easy for me and guitarists like Zappa’s son Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai or Joe Satriani will collaborate with Shpongle. Especially Satriani I would love to hear together with Shpongle. What would that sound like?

Please give us your valuable comment