If Frank Zappa could boast one masterpiece in his vast collection of albums, Joe’s Garage would be the one. Telling the tale of a man who starts a garage band with a cheesy little amp with a sign on the front that said Fender Champ,” the work follows the narrator as his life unfolds into a series of darkly comic vignettes, each more cutting than the last.
Zappa’s boldest and most audacious work, the album is also notable for holding many of his more intricate guitar parts. Between the silhouettes and show spectacles comes ‘Watermelon in Easter Hay’, a thunderous ten-minute rocker that showcases Zappa’s guitar playing at his most furious. Zappa pours his heart and soul into the guitar solo, and it comes alive through a variety of different cadences, chords and pivots of rhythm. It is an incredible performance and one that excells outside of the narrative, as well as in it.
Indeed, this solo sounds pleasantly reminiscent of Jeff Beck‘s tenure with The Yardbirds: pleasingly hypnotic, but bouyed by a clear sense of direction and purpose. Best of all, the solo (performed below in 1988) is infused with melody, making it that bit easier to listen to. You might even find yourself humming along to it, which is fitting for a piece furnished and fitted for a concept album. The tune holds narrative, as well as emotional, resonances.
“It’s from the statement that playing a solo with this band is like trying to grow a watermelon in Easter hay,” Zappa reflected. “And most of the bands that I’ve had, it was like that. It’s been just recently where I’ve had rhythm sections that don’t get in my way and let me do what I am going to do.”
This brings us to this clip, as the guitarist drills his audience with a series of shrill notes. It’s the kind of flourishing style and beguiling tone that made hi one of the most fervently adored artists of his generation.
As we can see, his attention is on the instrument at hand, and Zappa seems oblivious to both the audience and the bandmates that support him. But while he’s in this trance he delivers a solo his son Dweezil has deemed the best of his career. It’s not our place to disprove him -they are blood – but it’s certainly a damn good one.
Let’s hear it for the (subversive) king!