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John Guerin

John Guerin was a part of the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra around 1967 when Frank Zappa recorded the orchestral parts for "Lumpy Gravy".
Later, John Guerin also took part in Zappa's "Hot Rats" sessions, and in the recording of Jean-Luc Ponty's "King Kong" album.
John Guerin sadly passed away on January 5, 2004.
random notes / biography
(by geoff wills, 2002)
John Payne Guerin was born on October 31st 1939 . He is one of the great jazz-rock drummers, and has a style that is as distinctive in its own way as that of his peers such as Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd and Harvey Mason. Emerging in the late 1960s and flourishing from the 1970s onwards, the Guerin style of that era featured tasty fills around his single-head concert tom toms, displaced accents, and the frequent playing of three-four over four-four time. A perfect example of the coming-together of all these features is on the Frank Zappa Hot Rats cut It Must Be a Camel.

Guerin's association with Zappa

Guerin worked with Frank Zappa on two main occasions: firstly on the Lumpy Gravy album, sharing drumming duties with Shelly Manne and Frank Capp, and secondly on sessions in the latter part of 1969. The second sessions included (a) the Hot Rats sessions, comprising Willie The Pimp, Little Umbrellas, It Must Be A Camel, Twenty Small Cigars (appearing on Chunga's Revenge), and Lil' Clanton Shuffle (appearing on The Lost Episodes), and (b) the Jean-Luc Ponty King Kong sessions, comprising Idiot Bastard Son, Twenty Small Cigars, America Drinks And Goes Home and How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That? On the Hot Rats sessions, Guerin was partnered with his frequent musical colleague, bassist Max Bennett. There was one other 1969 recording, to which I will refer later.
There is an interesting interview with Guerin in the January 1999 edition of Modern Drummer magazine. He shows the interviewer an artefact hanging on his office wall which turns out to be a framed piece of music from Lumpy Gravy. He says, "He (Zappa) laid this on me in the studio ... he loved to do this kind of thing to me. What I would do was interpret as much as I could, which is really what he wanted me to do ... He was always very serious and intense. He had a sense of humour, but in the studio it was another thing. But he was very easy to work with." Interviewer: "Did you have to do things a hundred times?" Guerin: "No. Actually, Frank was a genius in the editing room. For instance, on the Hot Rats album, we let the tape run most of the time. There was no music, he just directed different feelings, or we'd establish a groove and he'd cut it off. Then, a few months later, an album with actual songs would come out. That was the beauty of his editing."

Guerin's appearance on Apostrophe'. A mystery revealed.

In the Modern Drummer interview, Guerin says, "He (Zappa) once sent me an album and I said, `Wait a minute, Frank. My name is on here, but I don't remember playing this.' He said, `That's because I took your drum track alone and wrote another song to it.'" Guerin is obviously referring to Apostrophe', the only other Zappa album on which he has a credit. So which song does he play on? Side one of the original LP is obviously a continuation of the Overnite Sensation sessions with Ralph Humphrey. On side two, Jim Gordon plays on the cut Apostrophe'. Alex Dmochowski told me that Aynsley Dunbar plays on Uncle Remus, and the Zappa Recording Facts service states that Dunbar is also on Stink-Foot. So the Guerin track has got to be Excentrifugal Forz. Zappa probably extracted the drum track from something left over from Hot Rats and then recorded himself on vocals, guitars and bass, with George Duke on keyboards, probably in February 1974, when the finishing touches were put to the Apostrophe' album, according to Neil Slaven in Electric Don Quixote. The drumming on Forz is typically tricky jazz-funk Guerin. It compares seamlessly to, for instance, his work on the cut LA Expression on the album Tom Scott and the LA Express (1974).

A Guerin biography

Guerin was born in Hawaii , but was raised in San Diego . Self-taught on drums, he worked with Buddy DeFranco from 1959 to 1960 and moved to LA in 1963. He was with George Shearing from 1965 to 1966, and worked in the late 1960s with other jazz artists such as Thelonious Monk and Donald Byrd. After working with bassist Larry Knechtel, he started to become interested in rock, and toured with The Byrds. From 1968 he was active in TV, film and recording studios, and in 1973 founded LA Express with Tom Scott, touring and recording with Joni Mitchell. Throughout the 1980s he was active as a producer and arranger, but returned to active jazz performance in 1989 with a new version of LA Express. In 1988 he played on the soundtrack of Clint Eastwoos Charlie Parker biography Bird. By the late 1990s the work slowed down for Guerin, but he was in a position to choose his own projects, for instance with artists like Dianne Schuur. His list of studio credits is amazing and undoubtedly his session career outlasted others' because he was so musically open-minded.

A Guerin oddity

The Peggy Lee album Close Enough For Love (1979) is odd, but only in the sense that it features Ian Underwood, Max Bennett and John Guerin, and so should, perhaps, be subtitled Hot Rats Meet Peggy Lee. It's an attempt by Lee to create a more contemporary, smooth jazz-type feel, and highlights some neat jazz piano solos by Ian Underwood.

-- notes by Geoff Wills 2002

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