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Mike Keneally’s Potato Is Baked

A phoner with Mike Keneally is a bit like calling on the wacky professor. His normal 9-to-5 is a brainy whirlwind of creativity with no apparent scope or limit, and, he’s funnier than you’d think. Time Out New York called him a “peculiar genius.” They meant that in a nice way. But Keneally’s referred to himself in conversations past as this: a stunt guitarist.

Mike Keneally, 40, earned the right to call himself that after Frank Zappa hired him out of San Diego rock guitar obscurity for what would be the ailing master’s final tour. Since, he’s toured and recorded with a multitude including Steve Vai, Robert Fripp, Joe Satriani, Dethklok, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Yes, that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

“You’d just be sort of entertained nonstop,” Keneally says of the Screamin’ Jay experience. “You’d be ready to start a take, but maybe Jay had something he’d like to talk about for, oh, 90 minutes or so, and you’d just have to sit there and be grandly entertained.” The album in reference is Black Music for White People, produced by the late former Beat Farmer Buddy Blue. “There are snippets of Jay’s ongoing monologues that ran between the sessions between the songs.” About? “How Elvis Presley had government secrets and kept them all stored on a microdot. Your mind would spin.”

That Keneally can back artists as diverse as Zappa, Hawkins, even Andy Partridge makes the good argument that he can play just about anything. “That may be to my detriment commercially, because it’s made it a little more difficult for people to get what I’m about. But to me, it’s just about music in its totality. I’m always seeking after the best way to make whatever the music might be. There’s very few things I’ll turn my nose up at. I want to experience all of it.”

Beer for Dolphins is a classic example of Keneally’s musical appetite. Dancing With Myself…and Others, released in 2000 contains in a fashion not unlike Beatles milestone album Sgt. Pepper’s, a song for everybody, from the rampant head banger to your sister. “I like all that stuff. And in today’s ‘shuffle’ kind of lifestyle, your mood changes from moment to moment. So why not have a soundtrack for that?”

As it goes, Keneally doesn’t spend a lot of time at home in San Diego. He’s recently been on the road as a keyboardist behind Joe Satriani, and as a guitarist with Dethklok, the real-life human counterpart to the cartoon Deathklok on Adult Swim. When idle, he carves out as much studio time as possible, which explains his wildly diverse catalog of 20 albums that defy classification. Keneally could possibly be his own genre.

Now readying his five-piece for their first West Coast tour in years in support of his live release Bakin’ at the Potato, Keneally will be at Winston’s on October 21. “We’ll be doing some older stuff that’s not on the CD too,” he says. “We’ll try to mix things up.”

Indeed. Whenever I’ve heard any of Keneally’s own bands I’ve been reminded of the old Warner Brother’s pit orchestra, and I tell Keneally this. Carl Stalling wrote scores for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons dating back to the 1930’s. Stalling’s orchestra, a musical high-wire act, really, could turn on a dime, as can Keneally’s bands.

“Those sound tracks, it’s amazing when you listen to those old cartoon soundtracks without the visuals. It sounds like the most psychotic music you’ve ever heard in your life.” He tries to laugh, which turns into a cough because he’s recovering from a cold. “I grew up watching that stuff,” he says. “I’m sure that had an impact.”

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“Maybe if you keep your hands straight ahead and your head down, you won’t look like a sheep giving birth.”

A phoner with Mike Keneally is a bit like calling on the wacky professor. His normal 9-to-5 is a brainy whirlwind of creativity with no apparent scope or limit, and, he’s funnier than you’d think. Time Out New York called him a “peculiar genius.” They meant that in a nice way. But Keneally’s referred to himself in conversations past as this: a stunt guitarist.

Mike Keneally, 40, earned the right to call himself that after Frank Zappa hired him out of San Diego rock guitar obscurity for what would be the ailing master’s final tour. Since, he’s toured and recorded with a multitude including Steve Vai, Robert Fripp, Joe Satriani, Dethklok, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Yes, that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

“You’d just be sort of entertained nonstop,” Keneally says of the Screamin’ Jay experience. “You’d be ready to start a take, but maybe Jay had something he’d like to talk about for, oh, 90 minutes or so, and you’d just have to sit there and be grandly entertained.” The album in reference is Black Music for White People, produced by the late former Beat Farmer Buddy Blue. “There are snippets of Jay’s ongoing monologues that ran between the sessions between the songs.” About? “How Elvis Presley had government secrets and kept them all stored on a microdot. Your mind would spin.”

That Keneally can back artists as diverse as Zappa, Hawkins, even Andy Partridge makes the good argument that he can play just about anything. “That may be to my detriment commercially, because it’s made it a little more difficult for people to get what I’m about. But to me, it’s just about music in its totality. I’m always seeking after the best way to make whatever the music might be. There’s very few things I’ll turn my nose up at. I want to experience all of it.”

Beer for Dolphins is a classic example of Keneally’s musical appetite. Dancing With Myself…and Others, released in 2000 contains in a fashion not unlike Beatles milestone album Sgt. Pepper’s, a song for everybody, from the rampant head banger to your sister. “I like all that stuff. And in today’s ‘shuffle’ kind of lifestyle, your mood changes from moment to moment. So why not have a soundtrack for that?”

As it goes, Keneally doesn’t spend a lot of time at home in San Diego. He’s recently been on the road as a keyboardist behind Joe Satriani, and as a guitarist with Dethklok, the real-life human counterpart to the cartoon Deathklok on Adult Swim. When idle, he carves out as much studio time as possible, which explains his wildly diverse catalog of 20 albums that defy classification. Keneally could possibly be his own genre.

Now readying his five-piece for their first West Coast tour in years in support of his live release Bakin’ at the Potato, Keneally will be at Winston’s on October 21. “We’ll be doing some older stuff that’s not on the CD too,” he says. “We’ll try to mix things up.”

Indeed. Whenever I’ve heard any of Keneally’s own bands I’ve been reminded of the old Warner Brother’s pit orchestra, and I tell Keneally this. Carl Stalling wrote scores for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons dating back to the 1930’s. Stalling’s orchestra, a musical high-wire act, really, could turn on a dime, as can Keneally’s bands.

“Those sound tracks, it’s amazing when you listen to those old cartoon soundtracks without the visuals. It sounds like the most psychotic music you’ve ever heard in your life.” He tries to laugh, which turns into a cough because he’s recovering from a cold. “I grew up watching that stuff,” he says. “I’m sure that had an impact.”

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