Nigey Lennon

 

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Ask guitarist/keyboardist/composer/producer Nigey Lennon what genre of music she performs, and you’re likely to get a fist in your eye. If you’re foolhardy enough to request a description of the musical landscape on her solo CD, Reinventing the Wheel Reinvented – well, don’t say you weren’t warned. Phrases such as “tubular ersatz Impressionism”, “transient pseudo-academic flatulence”, “faux Middle Eastern chromaticism (with quasi-melismatic glottals)”, “banda inautentica”, and “prefab house music” are all likely to be bandied about by the redheaded firebrand who was described by a formerly prominent music journalist as “the illegitimate offspring of Igor Stravinsky and Emma Goldman.

Classification has always been anathema to Lennon. Equally at home writing a risqué blues tune, a string quartet, a big band free-for-all, a sea shanty, a hauntingly melodic Lieder-like song — or more likely a combination of all of them — Lennon’s self-confessed musical purpose is to express what she feels at the moment. “Sometimes the moments all collide like a train wreck,” she admits, “but that’s the way it goes.” Born in Los Angeles to a philologist mother and “a house painter-drifter-philosopher” father, who died in an accident shortly before she was born, Lennon suffered from a hip defect at birth and as a result of limited mobility spent her early childhood in her bedroom, listening to 78 RPM records and reading. She began playing guitar when she was ten and moved on to electric guitar at 11. An early influence on her music was her great-uncle, old-time fiddler James B. Gordon, whom she often accompanied on guitar when he played dances and rodeos in the Southwest. At age 12 she accidentally got hold of a copy of “Freak Out!”, the first album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Heavily influenced by the recording, Lennon decided she wanted to be a professional musician. Three years later she recorded a demo tape of songs she had written and sent it to Frank Zappa’s record company, Bizarre Records. This led to a meeting with Zappa which didn’t result in a record deal, but he did tell her he thought she might be a good guitarist someday if she kept practicing.

After being kicked out of high school for refusing to participate in physical education, Lennon ran into Zappa again at a concert in Los Angeles. A few weeks later she joined him on tour as a pinch-hitting guitarist and occasional vocalist. In late 1972 Lennon began working on a debut album, Nigey Lennon’s Greatest Hits (the original title was Statement of Earnings, after “an inane little piece” she had composed earlier that year at Zappa’s suggestion, and which had received its only performance by members of the Grand Wazoo, his “electric chamber orchestra”). Zappa was slated to produce the album, but touring and other commitments pushed the start date forward repeatedly. During this period Lennon used “a purloined Akai stereo tape deck with the heads held in place by duct tape” to record multitrack demos of the songs she wanted to include on the album. Ultimately the album was never completed, but Lennon’s crude Akai demos eventually bore fruit in the form of some of the songs on Reinventing the Wheel Reinvented. Following a year-long sojourn in Europe (“I was too broke to live in the U.S., so I sold my 78 collection and went looking for culture in foreign flops and picturesque alleys”), Lennon returned to Los Angeles where for the next few years she focused on writing, primarily literary biographies and books about Western history, including the critically acclaimed The Sagebrush Bohemian: Mark Twain’s Wild Years (Paragon House/AirStream Books e-book) and Alfred Jarry: The Man with the Axe, illustrated by underground comics legend Bill Griffith (AirStream Books e-book). She also spent this period working with various local bands and musicians as well as composing prolifically for herself and, occasionally, other performers. Her song “Stolen Cadillac”, recently recorded and released onReinventing the Wheel Reinvented with a stellar duet vocal by the late Jimmy Carl Black and Candy Zappa, was written during this time. It was the last song recorded by Black before his untimely death in 2010.

In late 1993 Frank Zappa died of cancer, and Lennon was devastated. She wound up writing a memoir, Being Frank: My Time with Frank Zappa (now anAirStream Books e-book), in marathon 12- and fourteen-hour sessions, finishing it in less than a month. It was well received both by reviewers and readers. Ben Watson, author of Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play, described it in a review: “…irreplaceable is the word to describe Being Frank…Lennon’s memoir is both spiky and musically literate.” Its publication led to a number of important coincidences in her life, the main one being when she received a package from a musician in Stony Brook, New York, with the surreal name of John Tabacco. Tabacco had read Being Frank, and intrigued by the cosmic coincidence that both he and Lennon had used Akai tape recorders at critical junctures in their musical development, he sent her some of his music on the off chance she might like it.

Lennon did like it, and she kept in touch with Tabacco, finally meeting him a few years later when she visited New York. Both realized they were natural musical collaborators, and they planned to work together when the opportunity presented itself. That time arrived in 1997, when both Lennon and Tabacco signed contracts with Muffin Records in Austin, Texas, to release solo CD’s. However, fate intervened — in 1998, before she could begin working on her first recording, Lennon was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and spent most of the year in treatment. Fortunately the treatment was effective, and the cancer went into remission, but in the meanwhile Muffin Records suspended its business operations. Nigey Lennon and John Tabacco completed the recording of Reinventing the Wheel in late 2000, and the CD was released on an independent label, Dinghy Records, in 2001. Guest artists included Frank Zappa band member Mike Keneally and Candy Zappa, and the material was described by Tabacco at the time as “a movie for your ears, a real soundscape”. Although well received (Lennon and the album were the subject of a full-page feature in the New York Times), its distribution was limited, and Lennon turned to other projects. She, John Tabacco, and Candy Zappa, (a vocalist who happened to be Frank’s baby sister) formed the Lennon/Tabacco/Zappa band featuring New York City-based big band leader and sax player Ed Palermo and members of his band. They went on to headline at the thirteenth annual Zappanale festival in Bad Doberan, Germany, and John and Candy continued to perform with Palermo’s band at the Bottom Line in New York. Lennon and Tabacco also opened a digital recording facility in Centerport, New York, President Street Studios, tracking, mixing, and/or mastering projects for Ed Palermo, Cathy Kreger, and many others — not to mention themselves. Lennon managed to find time to contribute tracks to two compilations of Frank Zappa-related music on Cordelia Records, 21 Burnt Weeny Sandwiches and The Idiot Bastard: 21 Extraordinary Renditions as well as to the Sonic Arts Network’s ‘Pataphysics release, focusing on the life and work of Alfred Jarry.

With the reorganization of Muffin Records in 2013, Reinventing the Wheel has received new life. As Reinventing the Wheel Reinvented, the CD is available from Muffin Records. The new release features four previously unreleased tracks, including three of the original demos Lennon recorded for Muffin Records prior to signing with the label. Another standout is Lennon’s solo piano piece “Opus One”, which was recorded in 1971 and features Lennon performing in the 20th-century classical style. The composition was originally slated for inclusion on the Frank Zappa-produced solo album, and, according to Lennon, is “actually an FZ-approved master.” Lennon is currently beginning work on her next release, Ship in a Bottle, a semi-acoustic venture focusing on songs of the sea, ranging from sea shanties to original tunes to contemporary material. A radical departure from the intricate studio production of Reinventing the Wheel Reinvented, Ship in a Bottle will feature contributions from a wide range of internationally known musicians including classical violinist Judith Aller, who was Jascha Heifetz’ pre-eminent student. John Tabacco will be on board once again as lead vocalist, and other musicians slated to appear include noted contemporary tuba player and Lennon/Tabacco/Zappa band member Jay Rozen as well as guitarist Jim Dexter, who also appears on Reinventing the Wheel Reinvented. Lennon will be contributing piano, guitar, harp guitar, mandolin, and vocals, as well as producing and arranging the material. Nigey and some of the musicians may also be touring later this year and early in 2014; stay tuned for developments. Wherever her musical road leads, it’s a safe bet that with Nigey Lennon behind the wheel, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

 

THE INTERVIEWS:

 

 

 

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Nigey Lennon "Reinventing The Wheel Reinvented"
Nigey Lennon “Reinventing The Wheel Reinvented”

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All tracks remastered by John Tabacco, July 2013 at Suburban Hermit Studios, Stony Brook, NY

“Opus One” recorded 1971 in Los Angeles, CA. Performed and engineered by Nigey Lennon for Frank Zappa.

“Sonically cleansed” and mastered, 2010 by Dave McMann.

“Any Way the Wind Blows”, “Messin’ in the Kitchen”, and “Jihad!” demos recorded 1997 in Los Angeles, CA. Produced by Nigey Lennon.

Nigey Lennon: Keyboards, programming, samples, percussion.

Candy Zappa: Vocals on “Any Way the Wind Blows” and “Messin’ in the Kitchen”.

Victoria Berding: Vocals on “Jihad!”.

Monty Muns: Spoken outro on “Jihad!”.

STOLEN CADILLAC is Jimmy Carl Black’s last recording before he passed away and is written, produced, and arranged by Nigey Lennon (Nylon Engine Music, ASCAP).

Basic tracks recorded in New York by Nigey Lennon with assistance from John Tabacco.

Jimmy Carl Black’s vocal recorded in Italy, Candy Zappa’s vocal, fiddle, and guitar parts recorded at Catasonic Studios, Los Angeles (Engineer: Mark Wheaton). Personnel:Jimmy Carl Black: Vocal Candy Zappa: Vocal Laura Kass: Fiddle Paul Lacques: Guitar Jay Rozen: TubaRhythm.

Tracks/programming/mixing: Nigey Lennon

Thanks to Mark Wheaton at Catasonic Studios for his production and mixing assistance.

Cover art: Nigey Lennon, Reinhard Preuss and Stephen Mitchell (special thanks to Stephen).

Drawing by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) for Nigey Lennon.

Special thanks to Andrew Greenaway, Eric Weaver, and Scott Pettis

Dedicated to Monty Muns (1934-1997) and Jimmy Carl Black (1938-2008)

Tracklist:

01 Please Help Me Get To the Bottom Of It All (A Capella)

02 Messin’ In The Kitchen

03 Calle Sin Nombre

04 Can Ya Do It

05 Mesmerized Cowboy

06 Stolen Cadillac

07 Just Another Third Rate Clown

08 Yer Wife Don’t Like Me

09 Brain Tap Shuffle

10 It Must Be a Cigar

11 Jihad! (demo)

12 Please Help Me Get To the Bottom Of It All (Full Blown)

13 The Akai Connection

14 Any Way the Wind Blows (demo)

15 The Pirates of Old Northport

16 Messin’ In The Kitchen (demo)

17 Tit Elation

18 Jihad

19 It’s Just a Black Guitar

20 Any Way the Wind Blows

21 Opus 1 (Little Garage I Used To Live In)

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Photo from the "Reinventing the Wheel" sessions in L.A. in 1999 -- John Tabacco, Nigey Lennon, Victoria Berding and Candy Zappa.
Photo from the “Reinventing the Wheel” sessions in L.A. in 1999 — John Tabacco, Nigey Lennon, Victoria Berding and Candy Zappa.

Nigey Lennon

Nigey Lennon "Being Frank: My Time with Frank Zappa"

Since his untimely death from prostate cancer in 1993, the legend of iconoclastic musician Frank Zappa has continued to grow. The years following his passing have seen the publication of numerous books, both sacred and profane, which examine his life and work, but the best, and only, up-close-and-personal account of the man and his music remains the original: Nigey Lennon’s Being Frank: My Time with Frank Zappa. Musician/author Lennon maintained a personal and professional relationship with Zappa during the period which is generally agreed to have been the composer’s most creative, and she invests her recollections with considerable musical and emotional insight. “Irreplaceable…is the word to describe Being Frank…[Lennon's] memoir is both spiky and musically literate…Lennon’s previous books were on Mark Twain and Alfred Jarry, which indicates the kind of cultural perspective required to get a grip on Zappa: something brighter than rock-journo pedantry.”–Ben Watson, author of Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play With new material by the author, a Preface by the late David Walley (author of No Commercial Potential: The Saga of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention), a Foreword by Greg Russo (author of Cosmik Debris: The Collected History and Improvisations of Frank Zappa), and an Introduction by Frank Zappa’s sister Candy Zappa. NIGEY LENNON is a composer, performer, and producer and the author of seven published books. She lives in New York.

 

 

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