We at The Acoustic Version are on a perpetual mission to unearth interesting, innovative, and just plain awesome acoustic versions of songs. We’ve featured some no-brainers – like Dave Grohl’s My Hero – and some less likely acoustic adaptations – like Led Zeppelin’s (disputed) Black Dog. But there are a few Holy Grails which we hold out hope – however meager – will be tackled by some brave, talented, souls with nimble fingers, an excess of free time, and a masochistic streak. Examples include Yes’ I’ve Seen All Good People, Phish’s Foam, and the 2nd Movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. (Are any of these a part of your acoustic repertoire? How long you gonna hold out on us?) Right at the top of the list is Frank Zappa’s brilliant, groovin’ piece, Peaches en Regalia.
Peaches is instrumental, but Zappa had plenty to say. Check out his memoir, The Real Frank Zappa Book, for a window into the workings of a strange and creative mind. Vanity Fair called it “an autobiography of mostly hilarious stories…fireside war tales from the big bad days of the rockin’ sixties…”. This is not to be confused with The Real Book, which, though it can refer to any number of compilations of jazz lead sheets, most commonly refers to a specific underground book self-published by students at Berklee during the 1970s (and which included some original compositions by the authors and their friends). It’s the latter, referenced below, which provides rare notation for this song.
Anyhow, I went looking for an acoustic version of Peaches en Regalia without seriously entertaining the notion that I’d find anything half decent. Two guitars holding down the chord structure and basic melody line, maybe. Perhaps even a facile interpretation of the whole piece, something akin to a nasal rendition of Giant Steps attempted on a recorder.
Lo, and what did I find? A complete, faithful, and impressively well-oiled fingerstyle performance by mein Freund aus Berlin, Robin Rudolph. I just had to know why Robin committed to learning this, and how he pulled it off. He was kind enough to indulge me.
The AV: Frank Zappa’s music is very technically demanding and full of unusual instruments – not the most popular choice for solo acoustic guitar. What draws you to Zappa, and to this song in particular?
RR: I have been a Zappa fan for a long time. When playing jazz and rock guitar I found most of Zappa’s melodies hardly playable, even though my technique on electric guitar is not bad. When I became interested in acoustic guitar again, I found that some of Zappa’s music is easier to play with the fingerstyle technique used on classical guitars. Bigger intervals and arpeggios, for example, are easier to handle that way. So, looking for challenge, I started to transcribe some Zappa songs for acoustic guitar. “Peaches en Regalia,” of course, was the biggest challenge. But its tonality, the melodic-style, and the fact that it’s not too long gave me the feeling that I could manage to play it. (Actually, The Black Page would be the biggest challenge of all – I made some attempts, but I don’t think I have the time, nerve or talent to pull it off…) [Ed. note: The Black Page is a Zappa piece famous for its extraordinary rhythmic complexity.]
The AV: How did you go about arranging the song for guitar?
RR: Most songs I have arranged for guitar I picked up from the recordings, but in this particular case there is a good transcription in the “real book” I bought in the 80s when I was quite young. I didn’t have to change very much – only few octaves – adding bass lines or some fills. So I was able to do that by playing it again and again from the lead sheet, of course taking special care to practice the melodies in 16th notes, which come in two variations – first in C, then in A.