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Mike Keneally was fronting local band Drop Control when the invitation came in 1987 to join Frank Zappa’s touring band as a “stunt guitarist,” replacing Steve Vai.

“The multivolume work I’m doing now, Scambot, shows a lot of Frank’s influence,” says Keneally. “Frank’s presence has been exerting itself in my life a lot lately…I’ve been listening to his music in the car for several months.”

Keneally has released nine albums of original music since 1992 and has shared the stage with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Robert Fripp, Negativland, Wayne Kramer, Solomon Burke, Sting, the Persuasions, and the Loud Family.

“I play so much, I’m always finding stuff I forgot at RadioKeneally.com,” he admits. “Like unreleased songs from my live shows which I’ve only heard once and then forgotten about. Any one of our shows is distinct from any other, so listening reminds me of onstage happenings which otherwise would have slipped my mind, like spontaneous Monkees covers or microtonal broken-string guitar solos and improvisations.”

Keneally’s new rarities album Wine and Pickles is a collection of obscure studio tracks from 1998 to 2006. His newly formed trio Keneally Minnemann Beller is fresh off a January 16 performance at the NAMM show (National Association of Music Merchants), and a songwriting collaboration is in the works with XTC’s Andy Partridge.

“I seem to be getting more fired up and productive as time goes on.”

IS IT DIFFICULT TO DESCRIBE YOUR MUSIC?

“It’s essentially rock, with equal emphasis on improvisation and strictly composed things. There’s a lot of guitar in it. I’m mainly known as a guitarist, although keyboard was my first instrument, and I play a lot of different instruments on my recordings. Dynamically, melodically, rhythmically, and lyrically, it’s real diverse and eclectic. I love a lot of different musical styles, and it all gets mashed in.”

WHAT’S IN YOUR CD PLAYER?

1. Frank Zappa, You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Volume One. “There’s a 20-minute live version of ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow’ on there that is so good, it makes my eyes leak. It’s joyous and stunning.”

2. Wendy Carlos, Switched-On Box Set. “Four discs of Carlos’s Moog synthesizer orchestrations of Bach music. Switched-On Bach had a huge impact on me when I was eight years old. I had never before heard anything that sounded so colorful.”

3. Pavement, Brighten the Corners. “The new two-disc deluxe editions of Pavement’s catalogue are all wicked cool.”

4. Rufus Wainwright, Want One. “It’s his best bunch of songs. I’m glad there are still artists who care about really writing songs and know how to do it.”

5. The Flying Luttenbachers, Systems Emerge from Complete Disorder. “Complex postapocalyptic craziness by a multi-instrumentalist named Weasel Walter. I worked with him and Henry Kaiser on an Albert Ayler tribute album a couple of years ago, and it was exhilarating playing with Weasel on the drums. He’s a total genius-freak.”

MUST-HAVE DVDs?

1. Mr. Show, The Complete Series. “Mid-’90s HBO sketch-comedy series with a lot of collective comic brilliance captured at just the right time. Entertaining commentary tracks, too.”

2. The Mighty Boosh. “Andy Partridge from XTC just introduced me to this peculiar and entertaining British comedy series. Since being poisoned by Monty Python and Firesign Theatre as a teenager, I’ve had a strong love for quality absurdist humor.”

3. A Hard Day’s Night. “I remember reading a Mike Myers interview where he talks about seeing this movie as a kid and crying at the end when the Beatles fly away in the helicopter. I understood perfectly. I’m still in love with the idea of the Beatles as it was presented in this movie and with the fantasy of life-in-a-band that it painted. It’s nostalgia, but at the same time beautiful filmmaking, which is just enchanting to me.”

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey. “It hypnotized me in the movie theater when I was seven years old, and I’m still under the trance.”

5. “The fifth DVD would probably be something from Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, or John Coltrane. I can’t choose between them. But maybe it’s a late-’60s German TV musical called Help, Help, the Globolinks! For real. Look it up.”

YOUR TWO WORST JOBS?

1. “Selling synthesizers at a place on Morena Boulevard called Music Mart in the mid-’80s. I’m just not built for retail.”

2. “Telemarketing, trying to sell Travelodge hotel rooms to businesses over the phone. In any number of ways, it was a heartbreaking portrait of pointlessness.”

TOP FIVE GUILTY PLEASURES?

1. “Listening to my own music online.”

2. “Stupidly addictive computer game called Snap.”

3. “The Game Show Network.”

4. “American Idol, I’m afraid.”

5. “Apple Jacks cereal.”

MOST-VISITED WEBSITES?

1. Radiohead.com “My girlfriend and I are Radiohead freaks, and this is where they post their blog entries.”

2. ProgressiveEars.com “Shamefully enjoyable progressive-rock message board. I was a teenage prog-geek, for sure. Probably still am.”

3. YouTube.com “Too much fun.”

BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

“I was struggling with a crazy-hard guitar part at a Frank Zappa rehearsal — really bugging out over it — and Chad Wackerman, the drummer, walked about 200 yards across the rehearsal studio to stand directly in front of me, put his face about three inches from mine, and loudly said, ‘Relax!’ Great advice anytime.”

SOMETHING ABOUT YOU FEW WOULD KNOW OR GUESS?

“I can’t play chess for shit.”

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Comments

Jay Allen Sanford Feb. 4, 2009 @ 11:48 p.m.

Outtakes:

LENNON OR McCARTNEY?

“I’m so grateful for both of them. I think their solo albums Plastic Ono Band [Lennon] and Ram [McCartney] tell you all you need to know. They couldn’t have been more different from one another, but there’s great beauty in both of them. The Beatles obviously needed both guys in order to be as magical as they were. Ram got a lot of stick in the early ‘70s for being insignificant and fluffy, but it sounds like heaven to me. But, you know, arrggh -- Lennon, dammit, of course. Plastic Ono Band just feels plugged into the essence of everything, somehow.”

CARE TO MAKE A POLITICAL STATEMENT?

“I hope President Obama and his cabinet find ways to live up to the potential of their promise when they're working together, and that their ideological diversity remains a plus, as it should be, and not a minus, as it could be.”

FAVORITE TWILIGHT ZONES?

  1. Freaked-out William Shatner on the plane [Nightmare at 20,000 Feet].”

  2. “Sweaty Telly Savalas battling a doll [Living Doll].”

Keneally appears March 7 at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad. "It'll be me on piano," he emails, "plus Freddie Roulette on steel guitar, Henry Kaiser on guitar, David Kemper (ex-Dylan and Garcia) on drums, and Daniel Schwartz on bass."

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