Frank Zappa Talks Music, Money and Steve Vai in His First Guitar World Interview From 1982, Part 2
In part two of Guitar World's first interview with Frank Zappa, he discusses Steve Vai, the high cost of being a band leader and the state of music in 1982.
All of them?
All of them.
More than your mouth can hold. The Berlin Festival this August wants to do an evening of music with this orchestra in Czechoslovakia. The Buffalo Symphony wants to do a bunch of stuff in the springtime. All of these are offers that are in and nobody has signed a contract and nobody has finalized it. But that's ... every year there are offers. People call up and say, "Let's do it, let's do it, let's do it." But nobody ever signs on the line. And I'm sitting there holding the fucking bag. I still write the stuff.
You are still writing?
Sure. I wrote three pieces this year. In fact, I am almost finished with a piece that I was writing for Boulez's group because he wanted me to write something for his Ensemble Intercontemporaine in Paris. But that's a small orchestra.
Were you happy with the way the Varese concerts went?
I think that most of the pieces were well played. I think that the way the concert came off was good and it should happen again.
Do you mean, it ought to happen again?
It should, it ought to, yes. Because they didn't play all of his pieces. They didn't play all of the large orchestral works.
It was fairly well attended. Must have done reasonably well.
It did not make a profit. It lost about six or seven thousand dollars. It costs a lot of money to hire all of those musicians, and rehearse them and rent the stuff to do it and payoff the union and all that crap.
I actually thought that you were going to perform at that.
No. I am not qualified to do that. I could have conducted "Ionizations" because I did at rehearsal for awhile. But, it just wasn't . . shouldn't have been a thing for me to perform. I was there to be a host and to help draw people to the concert and I think I did my job.
I was pretty impressed at how the audience, which obviously was largely made up of people that had no clue as to what that sounded like that just came because of you.
And they liked it.
Right. They responded. They were delighted.
Totally quiet while the music was being played. And they liked it.
That was pretty amazing actually. Because they don't get to hear that on the radio.
That's right. And they may never get to hear it again. But, they heard it that time and I think the kids who attended that concert will get their money's worth.
I include myself in that. I got my money's worth, I got the ticket for free. But not that I wouldn't have paid for it.
Who are the best guitarists who you've hired throughout the years.
Who I've hired? I'd say Steve is the best. Period.
In all aspects?
Well, he doesn't play slides. Denny Walley is the only slide guy that I've had. And he was real good. But, he can't do what Steve does.
You never really liked any of your guitar players that much.
Not as soloists. I mean, a lot of times a guitar player will be hired because he can sing. Ii's not that I'm looking to hire vast quantities of decent guitar players. I've never really picked guys as guitar player members of the group. They have always been singers.
How about rhythm players?
Well, the best rhythm player, I think, is Ray. He understands rhythm. And that's one thing that you can't find today is a good rhythm player, because guitar players don't bother to learn any chords. They don't. Everybody wants to go wee, wee, wee all the way home, whammy bar and go ape shit and play all the high screaming notes. Because nobody gets laid from being a rhythm guitar player, you know what I mean?
So nobody learns how to do that. I started off as a rhythm guitar player. I always liked strumming. I learned I a bunch of chords so I had an appreciation for the people who can do that. And there is an art to it. And most people don't think in those terms anymore, everybody wants to be a lead guitar player.
What about your own playing? How do you feel about that now as opposed to what you've done in the past?
I'm playing my ass off. It has definitely improved.
Does it all sort of blend together or is there a level where you are jumping beyond stuff that you ever were capable of.
Well, the funny thing about the way I play is that I never practice. And every time a tour ends and I put my guitar away I usually don't touch it until the next season's rehearsals. And every time I pick it up it's like learning to play all over again, I don't have any callouses, it hurts, I can't bend the string, you know, the guitar feels too heavy when I put it on, I feel awkward holding it. It's like somebody hands you a piece of lumber. And now you are supposed to perform again and I was off-the-road for nine months before this tour. And I didn't hardly play at all, I mean, a couple of times in the studio and that was it. I lost all of my technique, and didn't have any callouses. It was really hard to play.
And so, this tour started and it was with a brand new drummer which usually takes some amount of time adjusting to. And I suddenly found that I didn't have any problem playing, I just went out there on the stage and started blasting away. I have been playing good since the beginning of the tour, and a few nights I've played things that I think are really remarkable even by my own standards, or by my own aesthetic, of what I am trying to do when I play, I think I've exceeded my goals on a couple of nights. I really do.
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