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.”
Asked to describe his music, Keneally says “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.”
Keneally has released around a dozen 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. He has also played keys in Joe Satriani’s band.
“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.”
In early 2007, Keneally was named the national music director of the Paul Green School of Rock Music, which opened a San Diego branch in 2007. "I've come to know a lot of brilliant musicians in San Diego through the years," he says, "and I'm looking to see who among them's got the teaching bug."
Keneally has another secret identity: he sometimes becomes a heavy metal cartoon character, in order to tour with Dethklok, based on the Cartoon Network TV show Metalocalypse.
“We don’t dress to resemble the cartoon,” he says, “because we’ve got three projection screens with animation going during the show, similar to the band Gorillaz, showing the cartoon band ‘performing’ the music we’re playing onstage.… The drummer wears headphones so that the live band stays synched to the visuals. The band dresses all in black and stays mostly in the shadows until the last song, when the cartoon band goes away and the live band is flooded with white light.”
Keneally landed the ’toon gig by contacting Metalocalypse creator/songwriter Brendon Small via MySpace.
“[I told] him that my girlfriend and I were big fans of his first show, Home Movies. He wrote back to say he was a huge fan of mine too, having seen me play live in 1996 when he was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston...When the Dethklok album of music from the TV show came out and proved to be such a surprising success, there was a need for a live show and a live band to play it, so he asked me and my bass player, Bryan Beller, if we would join forces with him and legendary metal drummer Gene Hoglan.”
Keneally’s 2009 album Wine and Pickles is a collection of obscure studio tracks from 1998 to 2006. His trio Keneally Minnemann Beller made a splash at their January 16, 2009, performance at the NAMM show (National Association of Music Merchants), and a songwriting collaboration is in the works between Keneally and XTC’s Andy Partridge.
In September 2010, at the Adams Avenue Street Fair, he covered for absent ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland when the band OHM appeared on the Lestat’s Stage. Poland had to bow out due to medical issues. The band also includes drummer Kofi Baker (son of Cream drummer Ginger Baker) and bassist Robert Pagliari.
He and cartoon band Dethklok played their only 2011 date at the Mayhem Festival in San Bernadino on July 9. A full year passed before their next performance, in July 2012 on the deck of the USS Midway, during San Diego's Comic-Con International. His 2011 album Bakin’ at the Potato is a 16-song concert collaboration with bassist Bryan Beller. A 20-song DVD version was also released.
He spent October 2011 on a west coast tour, with opening act the Beller Band, which includes Keneally’s own backup players: bassist Bryan Beller (Steve Vai, Dethklok), drummer Joe Travers (Zappa Plays Zappa), and guitarists Rick Musallam (Ben Taylor, Byrd York) and Griff Peters (Billie Myers, Anika Paris).
The current Keneally band includes Beller, guitarist Rick Musallam, drummer Joe Travers, and sometimes guitarist Griff Peters.
A new pop-centered full-length co-written with XTC frontman Andy Partridge, Wing Beat Fantastic, dropped July 24, 2012. Of its twelve songs, eight were co-written by Keneally and Partridge during two writing sessions in 2006 and 2008. "The chance to work with Andy was absolutely a mind-blower," says Keneally, who quoted XTC's "The Mayor of Simpleton" in the song "Day of the Cow 2" from his 1992 debut. "He's a true songwriting hero of mine and, during the 1980s, he demonstrated that there was still a place for truly high-quality writing in pop music. His songwriting gift is still as strong as ever, and I'm fiercely grateful to be able to help bring new Andy Partridge music into the world."
Partridge said of the collaboration, "I didn't know how any of the tunes we'd agreed to write together were going to come out, but I know one thing; so musical is this man that him just sitting with a guitar across his lap or perched at a keyboard pulled things from me that I can honestly say 'I don't know where they came from.'"
In Autumn 2012, he toured with cartoon metal band Dethklok, alongside All That Remains, Machine Head, and the Black Dahlia Murder, with the road trip wrapping up December 8 in Atlanta, GA. In early 2013, his guitar was heard on the soundtrack to the ten-episode web series Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, a prequel to the TV show set in the tenth year of the First Cylon War.
He also played on the 2013 Joe Satriani full-length Unstoppable Momentum, touring with Satriani’s band (including Keneally’s Dethklok bandmate Bryan Beller) and the Steve Morse Band, beginning August 29 at the Balboa Theatre downtown and wrapping up October 26 at the Fox Theater in Oakland.
His summer 2013 album You Must Be This Tall (Exowax Recordings) features members of Keneally's touring band: Bryan Beller (Dethklok, the Aristocrats) on bass, Joe Travers (Zappa Plays Zappa, Duran Duran) on drums, and Rick Musallam (Ben Taylor, the Roots) on guitar. The album features “Indicator,” an unreleased track from the Wing Beat Fantastic album he recorded with XTC's Andy Partridge.
Around the same time You Must Be This Tall was released, Keneally also offered two live EPs online free of charge, explaining “That helps me build my audience, which in turn helps me to make more music and tour.”
He announced that he'd take part in the G4 Experience California music camp with Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, and Andy Timmons, happening August 11 through 15, 2014, at Cambria Pines Lodge. Only 175 tickets were sold, with the first 100 registrants receiving an Ibanez RG electric guitar signed by Satriani, Gilbert, Timmons, and Keneally.
In early 2014, his 1997 album Sluggo was made available via Exowax in a Deluxe Edition, featuring a new stereo mix CD (remix engineer Mike Harris), two bonus tracks, plus a DVD with over two hours of late-1990s performances, vintage recording studio footage, and “secret music” hiding in the DVD menus.
2018 saw the announcement that Keneally would take part in a tour with other former Zappa bandmembers, to be fronted by a holographic projection of Zappa created by Eyellusion, who previously crafted a Ronnie James Dio hologram. “The image of Frank won’t be onstage the entire time,” Keneally told the Reader at the time. “The concept as Ahmet [Zappa, Frank’s son] has described it seems to involve Frank’s appearances throughout the night being used more judiciously than that, interspersed with holographic extensions of characters and situations from the song texts, and album artwork coming to life.”
Keneally debuted new duo with Scott Schorr (Marco Minnemann) in early 2020, with a debut album -- MFTJ -- full of instrumental prog flavored with art-rock, hip-hop, hard rock, and psychedelia with guest player Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel). A sophomore album was released in January 2021, My Mom's Getting A Horse.
The guitarist spent part of 2021 on tour with The Zappa Band (including other FZ alumni), opening 17 shows on King Crimson’s final U.S. tour. He also joined the band ProgJect. “So many things fell into place for this to feel like a perfect step for me to take right now. I grew up loving these songs and bands so much, and taught myself to play the songs, but have only rarely had the chance to play this material professionally. I’ve flirted with prog my whole career without ever really falling face first into it. Now with ProgJect, I’m having an incredible amount of fun playing music which comes naturally to me, with these brilliantly talented players who not only sound fantastic but whose company I enjoy a hell of a lot. The set lists and medleys that Jonathan [Mover] constructed are hugely creative and fun to play, and I think people - or prog fans, at least - will lose their minds with happiness at the gigs.”
The Zappa Band's first headline tour in 2022 included a June 5 date at the Ritz Theater in Escondido.