Fishman’s Zappa Picks
People interested in Frank Zappa often get lost in his massive musical catalog. Considered to be one of the finest modern day composers, Zappa has inspired countless artists with his outside humor and progressive composing. That being said, his music is certainly not for everyone. True music aficionados will appreciate his complex avant-garde arrangements, and his unique guitar playing. His compositions are incredibly intense, and offer a look at the genius that was Frank Zappa.
In 2002, Jon Fishman released a selection of Zappa picks to help listeners become familiar with his music. Jon has chosen a wide range of songs that clearly show the influence Zappa had on him as a musician, and on Phish as a band. Fish’s picks give the listener a proper look at the multiple sides to Zappa’s music, offering a look at both the weird and the jammy side to his music. The liner notes feature Jon’s account on the influence Zappa’s music had on him:
“It is safe to say that the work of Frank Zappa, his music primarily, but also his humor, politics, social commentary…all of it…has not just been a fundamental influence on me, but is actually more like part of my metabolism.”
Fishman’s picks are, not surprisingly, focused on songs with complex rhythmic patterns and time changes. Jon has cited all of Zappa’s drummers as influences, and their styles are noticeably present in his own. The drum pattern in “Excentrifugal Force”, which features an odd-timed rhythm, has a beat that sounds very similar to a pattern Jon would play. Avoiding complex fills most of the time, Jon plays with a jazzier style, which is mostly focused on odd-time signatures and unique rhythms.
Zappa’s music has been a major influence on Phish, and the band has acknowledged that in numerous interviews. Especially in their earlier years, their songwriting was very reminiscent of his style. Often mixing masterful compositions with playful lyrics, Phish followed the same footsteps in songs like “Dinner and a Movie” and “Foam”. Trey has said that it was Zappa who first inspired him to write charted music for multiple instruments. A few years back, Trey summed up Zappa’s influence on himself and the band quite well in an article from Rolling Stone. Here’s an excerpt:
“I think he was the best electric-guitar player, other than Jimi Hendrix. Zappa conceptualized the instrument in a completely different way, rhythmically and sonically. Every boundary that was possible on the guitar was examined by him.
Zappa was a huge influence on how I wrote music for Phish. Songs like “You Enjoy Myself” and “Split Open and Melt” were completely charted out — drums, bass lines, everything — because he had shown me it was possible. And when I went to Bonnaroo two years ago with my ten-piece band, we did two covers, Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Sultans of Swing,” by Dire Straits. In both songs, I had the horn section play the guitar solos, note for note. I never would have thought of doing that if I hadn’t seen Zappa do “Stairway to Heaven” in Burlington, with the horns playing Jimmy Page’s entire guitar solo, in harmony.
That’s not what people are doing these days. I’m making a new album, and the producer I’m working with told me that there is a whole generation of musicians coming up who can’t play their instruments. Because of stuff like Pro Tools, they figure they can fix it all in the studio. Whereas with Frank, his musicians were pushed to the absolute brink of possibility on their instruments, at all times. Phish tried hard to do that too: to take our four little instruments and do as much as we could with them. I would not have envisioned those possibilities without him. Zappa gave me the faith that anything in music was possible. He demystified the whole thing for musicians in my generation: “Look, these are just instruments. Find out what the range is, and start writing”.”
In Phish’s early years, they covered Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” regularly, as well as “Big Leg Emma” several times. However, after ’89 the song was dropped until 12.28.93 (478 shows). The song was then played sporadically from ’93-’99 and has not been played by the band since (Trey has covered it in his band). Zappa’s influence is still noticeably present in the band’s music, especially in Trey’s guitar playing and Jon’s drumming. Zappa created some of the most unique music ever, and his work continues to be adored by musicians from all genres. Those of you who are unfamiliar with his music, look to Jon’s picks to try and help you dive into his catalog. There will never be another like him, he was truly one of a kind.
Listen to a clip from Zappa’s “Apostrophe”.
Listen to Phish playing Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” from 1988.9.8 at The Front, Burlington, VT.
Here is the tracklisting for Zappa Picks – By Jon Fishman of Phish.
1. Excentrifugal Forz – from Apostrophe (‘) 2. Apostrophe (‘) – from Apostrophe (‘) 3. Magdalena – from Just Another Band From L.A. 4. Dog Breath – from Just Another Band From L.A. 5. Cheepnis – from Roxy & Elsewhere 6. Son Of Orange County – from Roxy & Elsewhere 7. More Trouble Every Day – from Roxy & Elsewhere 8. It Can’t Happen Here – from Freak Out! 9. Keep It Greasey – from Joe’s Garage 10. For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) – from The Grand Wazoo 11. What Ever Happened To All The Fun In The World – from Sheik Yerbouti 12. Rat Tomago – from Sheik Yerbouti 13. Wait A Minute – from Sheik Yerbouti 14. It Just Might Be A One-Shot Deal – from Waka/Jawaka 15. I’m The Slime – from Over-nite Sensation 16. Sofa No. 2 – from One Size Fits All
Here’s a video of one of my favorite Zappa songs, “Watermelon in Easter Hay” from 5.17.88.