“There was a certain negativity and cynicism to it”: Session guitarist says Frank Zappa’s artistic philosophy took a toll

“There was an ‘us against the world’ mindset that had a strong hold in that band as we travelled across the world.”

[L-R] Mike Keneally and Frank Zappa

Credit: Getty Images

When you purchase through affiliate links on Guitar.com, you may contribute to our site through commissions. Learn more

Session guitarist Mike Keneally has opened up about his experience working with Frank Zappa and the toll the music legend’s artistic philosophy eventually took on him.

In a new interview with Devin Townsend, Keneally, who’s earned his stripes as Zappa’s guitarist/keyboardist during his 1988 tour, says of the late musician [via Killer Guitar Rigs]: “He had such an impact on my life, even before I ever met him or played with him.”

“I was fascinated by his humour, I was fascinated by his attitude, his bloody-mindedness, his individualism and individuality, and the fact that there was nothing else like him.”

“I loved the fact that he seemed to be unimpressed by everything,” Keneally explains. “That manifested in a lyrical attitude that was frequently very funny, and, for me, very entertaining.”

“He tied things together conceptually from album to album with little snatches of music or little snatches of lyric or lyrical concepts that would be repeated from album to album. You could plot what he called ‘conceptual continuity’ over the course of years, and that was like being a part of a secret club where you would find these little references and be able to piece all of these works together.”

That said, as much as Keneally “loved trying to figure it out and trying to learn how to play” Zappa’s music, the artist’s cynical worldview soon started to take a toll.

“As time goes on, I realised there were aspects of it that had such a strong hold on me,” he recounts. “There was a certain negativity to a lot of it, and there was a certain cynicism to it, and he was proudly cynical. He thought that it was insane to not be cynical.”

Citing Zappa’s 1984 album Them or Us, for instance, Keneally says: “That was an ‘us against the world’ mindset that had a strong hold in that band as we travelled across the world. It did feel like we wanted to entertain audiences, but it also felt like we were almost in an ongoing argument with the world.”

“And I think that the older I get, the less useful that has become for me. Even though there are all sorts of reasons to be cynical, it didn’t feel like that was a useful energy for me to be propagating anymore.”

“I didn’t feel that I needed to be a part of that energy, whereas in the ’90s, I loved the anti-entertainment aspect of that.”

Related Artists

Related Tags


The world’s leading authority and resource for all things guitar.

© 2024 Guitar.com is part of NME Networks.