The first band I heard that hooked me was KISS. I was 4 and my brother was a big fan. He used to try to scare me with KISS album covers. In particular, the first one (which has a very striking cover). Instead of really scaring me, I got hooked. I heard the first album and that was it! A few months later, I heard “Got To Get You Into My Life” by The Beatles and my life changed again. From there, it was all music all the time!
How old were you when you started playing a musical instrument and what instrument did you start out playing?
I finally got to play a real musical instrument when I was 9. My Mother bought me a cheap acoustic guitar and provided me with guitar lessons. The lessons didn’t take -after the first one, my teacher decided that he couldn’t teach me because I was left-handed, playing upside down!
Why did you choose that particular instrument?
I warmed to it naturally (although Paul McCartney made me want to play the bass). By the time I started playing in 1981, I wanted to be Pete Townshend. That first acoustic actually got smashed!
I’ve made no secret of the fact that your ZappaCast podcast, which is dedicated to the life and legacy of Frank Zappa, my favorite artist/composer of all time, is my favorite podcast (natch). When and why did you decide to enter the podcast realm?
Well thank you, sir! I appreciate that. I had originally wanted to include a bonus “non-radio show” disc with copies of my first Frank Zappa book but I couldn’t do it owing to copyright considerations. Later, I got the idea to do a free podcast after I’d started making connections. Seemed like a good way to give back to the Zappa community. And it is!
How did you meet your ZappaCast co-hosts and fellow Zappa fetishists Andrew Greenaway and Mick Ekers?
Andrew has been a friend and supporter of my work since my first book, and I thought that his assistance would be invaluable. He is very well connected – we’ve only started tapping into his connections!
Discuss the process by which you, Andrew and Mick go about coordinating the content for each ZappaCast episode.
Usually I will suggest a theme and they run with it. One of the cool things has been the discussion panel, which is becoming a big part of the show. I like that interactive element a lot – I’d love to have more fans on the show. The more, the better!
There have been quite a few special guests on the ZappaCast. Has it been a challenge for you to get people to appear on the podcast? Why or why not?
Not really, because some of these people are actually friends. Dweezil Zappa was just on the show because he’s a friend and this is a good opportunity for him to talk to the fans directly! We’d love to have more alumni, etc. on the show and I’m sure we will!
I know that Gail Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust literally and figuratively lord over Frank’s legacy with an iron hand (for lack of better words). How much of a challenge has that posed for you?
None yet, but give her time! I’ve communicated with Gail on several occasions and would love to have her on the show. She blows hot and cold on my projects, but being mentioned on the cover of the Greasy Love Songs album is one of my proudest moments!
Discuss the numerous books that you’ve written on Zappa as well as your other books (in particular, the KISS book), all of which are available for purchase here – https://spbpublishing.webs.com/
I’ve also written the first volume of KISS Documented, which takes a similar tack to the Zappa books. I’ve always thought that there was a gap in the market of KISS books – collectors are served very well as far as books about KISS collectibles but not audio/video documents so much. So it is very important to put these excellent documents in the public eye as much as possible! Another book I’ve written is Woodstock Documented, which examines the audio and video documents of the 1969 Woodstock Festival – another one of my obsessions. 🙂
Are you strictly a 1970s KISS fan or are you a fan of any of their post 1970s work as well? And why?
Well, I am actually a fan of all of the KISS eras. Originally, I was one of those fans who was turned off by (Music From) The Elder but later, I came back to it and it is now one of my favorite albums. I can find something good to say about any of the albums or eras. I’m a diehard fan! Once you’re in the KISS Army, you’re in it for life!
What are some of your favorite Zappa & KISS albums and/or songs and why?
Wow… Zappa is a tough one, so I’ll pick representative albums. My gun-to-my-head favorite albums would be We’re Only In It For The Money (’60s satire at it’s finest), Lumpy Gravy (FZ’s compositional insignia fully formed even in 1967), Uncle Meat (dizzying variety of styles, “King Kong”), Hot Rats (fusion a-go-go!), Waka/Jawaka (Phase 1 of Frank’s “jazz orchestra era” – brilliant, just brilliant), The Grand Wazoo (Phase 2 of the “jazz orchestra era”), Joe’s Garage (the levels of genius on offer here are unfathomable), You Are What You Is (Frank’s finest album in the Ray White era, has Ray’s finest vocal performances in the title track and “Doreen”) and Civilization Phaze III (a sequel to Lumpy Gravy and FZ’s last major work. 35 years of composing “serious music” boiled down into two discs and linked thematically. A masterpiece).
KISS is also difficult but as there are less albums it’s a bit easier! The first three albums, KISS/Hotter Than Hell/Dressed To Kill, are New York, in-your-face, simple hard rock at its finest. Much the same can be said about Rock And Roll Over and Love Gun. Many of the songs on these albums remain my favorites in the catalog, notably “Deuce”, which is my favorite KISS song, no doubt. I also love (Music From) The Elder. Yes, some of the songs are cheesy and the concept doesn’t work as it’s presented, but when it works (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes”), it’s as good as anything else in the catalog. Creatures Of The Night re-established KISS as a driving force in hard rock. Gene’s songs on Revenge are nothing but killer. I’m also a fan of Psycho Circus – a special album from a special time, even if the album is not as cohesive as it could have been. Sonic Boom brought the band back to the simpler hard rock of the ’70s &am
p; ’80s and rocks pretty hard for a bunch of veterans. Also, I love the four 1978 solo albums and Gene’s 2004 album Asshole – the band members step out of their usual roles and Gene, in particular, gets to strut his “many moods”.
What would be your advice to your daughter if she decides to pursue a music career in some capacity?
Pick good people to play with! I would say that the key is to just believe in what you are doing. I played in a band for years and while we weren’t that good early on, we were very committed to the concept even if it was wildly out of sync with the times. For me, it’s not about technical skill as much – it’s more about belief. Trust and believe in yourself and you will please yourself. That’s the goal.
Feel free to mention anything here that was not discussed already above.
I’m really happy to participate in this! It’s an honor!