When I started this website in 2017, I ran a small series of posts dedicated to musicians I revered above others. Mike Keneally was declared one of my first Personal Icons. Five years later, my position has not changed. Mike remains one of my all-time favorite musicians. That won’t change anytime soon.
The first time I saw Mike’s name was as part of Frank Zappa’s 1988 band on the Broadway the Hard Way album. But it’s not like I could pick him out. He was just part of an incredibly talented ensemble. That same band gave us The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life and Make a Jazz Noise Here. All are essential records in my collection. But that was about Frank.
I picked up the guitar around 1996. Naturally, I had to look into every guitar player out there for inspiration. This led me to Steve Vai. I got one of his concert videos, and it fascinated me to no end. Naturally, I knew Vai on sight. But there was this other guy in a suit and a Dr. Seuss hat playing guitar with him. No … he wasn’t just playing with Vai. He was playing NOTE FOR NOTE with Steve like he wrote the songs himself. That’s impossible! Who is this guy?
It was Mike Keneally. And since he and Vai are both Zappa alums, it made perfect sense.
The internet was still in its relative youth, but I was able to find out that Mike had released music of his own. The first CD I bought was hat. It was quite good. But the first album that really hit home was Dancing, recorded with his band Beer for Dolphins. I bought Mike’s records to hear him play guitar. Dancing taught me that he was much, much more than a guitarist. The first time I saw him live was in support of this album. My fandom was solidified.
Mike has a knack for writing what I like to call “intelli-pop” songs. It’s Pop music, but it’s waaaaay too smart for the radio. In a just world, Mike’s music would burn up every chart. A prime example is an amazing tune he co-wrote with XTC’s Andy Partridge called “I’m Raining Here, Inside.”
In 2014, I wrote a chapter on intelligent pop music for my book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This. There were two people I needed to talk to. One was singer/songwriter Deborah Holland. The other was Mike. Within five minutes, I knew I had made a great choice toward my research. We spoke the same language. As an added bonus, Mike was kind enough to write my book’s foreword.
Mike and I have spoken informally a few times since that first interview. He’s been very busy indeed since then. Along with his solo work, he has spent time sharing the studio and stage with the likes of Joe Satriani and Devin Townsend, and as one of the members of the Zappa Band, the group sanctioned by the Zappa Family Trust to carry on the legacy of Frank Zappa’s music onstage. Currently, Mike is involved with another top-flight group, Progject, who are currently on the road. This group performs songs from legendary progressive rock bands like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Genesis.
This seemed like a good time to go back on the (very informal) record. Mike was, as always, kind and accommodating. This makes him a joy to talk to. I’d like to thank Mike for taking the time to participate in this CirdecSongs interview.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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