Nigey Lennon is what she is
By Naughty Mickie
The first thing that appealed to me was Nigey Lennon's honestly. She's a straight-from-the-hip pull-no-punches type of gal and a darn good musician too. She's also what one may call a "tech-head", which I find slightly intimidating, but her friendly laugh put me at ease immediately.
I asked her about the variations in genre heard on her recent release, "Reinventing the Wheel."
Lennon explained that she selected the cuts based on the fact that "I wanted to clear my desk." She plays a variety of instruments and is into all kinds of styles of music. Her only self-proclaimed weakness is her voice, so she has gathered John Tabacco, Victoria Berding and Candy Zappa to take on most of the singing.
Knowing Lennon's background, I had to play the "good journalist" and seek a comparison between RTW and Frank Zappa's work.
"I don't have his real real cutting edge," replied Lennon.
She says that she was not trying to do as much social commentary and the music is "not as broad, cartoonish" as Zappa's, although he has been a big influence on her.
Lennon takes pride in the fact that, on the release, all of the instruments, including the drums, are live.
"I didn't want a sterile digital sound," she says.
As for her part, Lennon not only composed the selections, she also played guitar, slide guitar, keyboards and percussions on the CD.
She tells me how in "Messin' in the Kitchen" she tried to make it sound like a recording from the 1940s. The idea didn't pan out, leaving the listener to enjoy the cut, only sans the scratchy old record-feel.
Lennon has a good grasp on the technology it takes to achieve the sounds she wants. Her father was engrossed in stereo and audio equipment and Lennon began her own adventure into the field by playing around with a tape recorder at age 10. She found it easy to absorb the way things worked and fell into music with the same passion.
Lennon remarks that she collected lots of 78s (vinyl records) and still feels attached to the old way of listening to music.
"Getting sentimental about (format) is silly, but I miss it," she sighs.
Back to business, Lennon states that the process of cutting masters for vinyl
is more involved than for CDs, but it gives a
more "compressed sound." For example, she says that most of Zappa's recordings sound better on vinyl than on CD.
Lennon got her first guitar, an acoustic, for Christmas when she was 10.
"I realized I was a lead player by instinct, even before I had lessons," says Lennon.
She already played a little piano, but her mother didn't want her involved in music.
mother wanted me to grow up and marry a rich guy." Lennon continues, "Parents
want their kids to have better lives.
My mother spoke many languages and was very intelligent and music was a threat, as everything else, in the '60s."
At age 14, she played the xylophone and timpani in the Beach Cities Youth Symphony in Manhattan Beach, but this stint was to be short.
During one performance, Lennon got bored and found something else to do-- play a jazz shuffle on a nearby drum. Unfortunately this was during a very quiet section of the piece and she was kicked out of the orchestra.
She also played glockenspiel for her high school marching band.
Her school days were numbered too. After refusing to participate in physical education, Lennon was expelled. Shortly after, she ran into Zappa at a concert in Los Angeles and landed a spot on his tour as a backup guitarist and occasional vocalist.
In 1972, Lennon started working on her own record, "Nigey Lennon's Greatest Hits," which Zappa planned to produce. Due to an assortment of setbacks, the album was never completed, but Lennon used some of the material on "RTW."
Her gig with Zappa ended in 1975. Lennon retreated from the music scene, giving up on forming her own band ("I couldn't get the right musicians") and focused on writing and composing.
"It was a bleak period from the '70s into the '80s to play original music," Lennon says.
She states that the advent of pay-to-play didn't help either, hurting both musicians and club owners alike.
"Pay-to-play was one of the dumbest things to come down the pike," she says sharply.
Lennon tried her hand at writing for other artists as well.
"I began to realize I didn't want to write songs for hire," explains Lennon.
So, in the '80s, Lennon returned to the band scene, playing in several
different groups, including one with Phil Merrick in
San Diego. Often she could be found playing slide guitar.
"I enjoy playing blues a lot," she smiles.
In 1994, Lennon penned "Being Frank", a book about her life with Zappa.
"(The book) changed a lot of things. My music career morphed into this writing thing,'' she says and then comments that the two paths are similar.
Lennon has written eight books, primarily on Western history and Mark Twain. (Editor's note: Some of her works, including "Being Frank: My Time with Frank Zappa", were published through California Classics Books with DaBelly's resident Bohemian, Lionel Rolfe). Currently she is taking a break from her literary pursuits to concentrate once again on her music.
Now at home in Northshore, Long Island, she has just launched Dinghy Records, her own record company, and is planning to release efforts for John Tabacco, Candy Zappa and other artists. It's a big step up from her past situations.
"I didn't know if I would eat that day,'' says Lennon as she explains the trials of trying to find work and surviving off of freelance writing and music.
Her free time is spent with her Amazon parrot, Green, and enjoying the great outdoors.
"I'm a birdwatcher", Lennon laughs. "I like bird hikes."
She's busy with a side project too. Joining forces with John Tabacco and Ed
Palermo, the trio are putting together a "Big
band musical extravaganza." They plan to test the project in New York City before taking it out on the road.
"The East Coast audiences are critical listeners, they're very sharp", she comments.
Lennon won't be hitting the road with her material from "RTW" though, she explains that it can't be performed live without the use of computerized tracks or a passel of musicians. Then she would still be faced with trying to achieve her desired sound outside the studio.
This may sound slightly pompous, but it's actually a matter of taste. When it comes to her album, Lennon is honest and humble.
"It is what it is."
You can find "Reinventing the Wheel" at www.nigeylennon.com, www.amazon.com
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