Jon Kanis once asked me, “Are you a Plimsouls fan?” Like any right-thinking music writer I said, “Of course” — which is how I found out Kanis was Peter Case’s newsletter publisher and road manager in the early ’90s. This impresses me, and I was already impressed with Kanis. I have been since his 1997 folksy/psychedelic EP A Pair of Opposites, the first of his many collaborations with überguitarist Mike Keneally (Zappa’s one-time touring axeman).
“I didn’t learn how to play the guitar,” he says, “until I moved to the West Coast and, six months later, having just turned 19, I bought a fairly cheap Martin copy, a Montaya, for around $150 at the now-defunct Dave’s House of Guitars on El Cajon Boulevard.”
Before becoming a full-time musician, Kanis spent six working for David Peck’s local company Reelin’ in the Years Productions, an historical music film and video archive. Kanis has always had an ear for good music and good musicians; witness how his early ’90s backing group the Wondermints became Brian Wilson’s touring Smile band.
In addition, he began running his Spin Wizard mobile DJ business in 2000, accumulating over 120,000 tracks in his playlist by 2012.
Regarding his equipment, he uses the aforementioned Montaya, with a handful of modifications from the guys at Top Gear, a black Epiphone that stays tuned to open C, a black Telecaster copy, and a Bedrock amp, a couple of powered Mackie speakers, and a cheap, functional Behringer four-
channel mixer that allows him to entertain as a disc jockey in addition to playing solo or with a group.
As of 2012, Kanis was also playing with the Assumptions (bass), Listening to Rock (vocals, bass), and Got It Covered aka ADD/C (vocals, bass). “I’m currently working on 23 Skidoo!, the first of five books that I want to publish,” Kanis told the Reader at the time. 23 Skidoo! is a collection of 45 songs composed over 25 years, and the books will feature a complete recording sessionography tracing Kanis’ activities as a musician, producer, and archivist, including all 240 episodes of his State Controlled Radio programs.
In summer 2012, Kanis taught a nine-week class on Astrologyat Kwan Yin Holistic Center on Grape Street Square (30th and Grape Street), where they also offered astrological natal chart readings and tarot readings.
The soundtrack for the documentary A Box Full Of Rocks: The El Cajon Years of Lester Bangs includes several tracks by Kanis, as well as songs by 1960s/70s rockers Thee Dark Ages (who would frequently jam with rock critic Bangs), as well contributions by Robert Williams (Captain Beefheart), Jack Gimble, and the Flying Sandolini.
June 2014 saw the release of a Kanis anthology, All-American Mongrel Boy (1989-2014), featuring eighteen songs including six previously unreleased tracks, as well as selections from the Walk Without Me EP (never before available on compact disc), the A Pair Of Opposites EP, and the 2005 double LP Cabalistic Dispatch (recorded with Mike Keneally). That summer, Kanis also formed a Hollies tribute group with Liz Abbott and David Fleminger, with gigs being planned for later that year.
His 2016 album Fundamentalism Is the Only Way, co-produced by Kanis with Christopher Hoffee (Atom Orr, Truckee Brothers, the White Buffalo), is the fourth in a series of projects that Kanis has collaborated on with executive producer Ed Turner of Road Ahead Productions.
“There’s a lot of symbolism on this record, both in the music and the lyrics, as well as in the artwork,” says Kanis. “There is a lot of doubling. I see ‘Devil in My Head’ as the flipside to the same coin that is coupled with the track ‘Lahiri’ on side two. Divinations systems like Tarot, astrology, and I Ching are something that I’ve explored for over 25 years. The duality between our demons within and the better angels of our nature is something that we all have find a way to keep in balance, no?”
One track, “Devil in My Head,” was recorded in rooms 236 and 237 at the Holiday Music Motel, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. “‘Devil in My Head’ is a just a playful playlet that spontaneously erupted between myself and a Wisconsin musician named Tomcat Joe,” he says.
Other songs are more whimsical. “There’s a lot of macabre humor in ‘Dark Songs’: psychopathic clowns, dancing to a polka beat, enacting murderous mayhem. I wanted the song to a snapshot of someone’s psyche going from absolute bottom to a transformation where the shackles of the demons are left behind and broken free of and a new world of possibilities opens up. All because you had the courage and the strength to transcend your self-imposed limitations.”
Tracks like “Where Is Joe Strummer When You Need Him?” have strong political content. “This song was written when 43 was in office [George W. Bush], but even ten years later the sentiments hold true of speaking out against the Empire and such dystopian, unconstitutional moves as passing something as odious as the Patriot Act in the dead of night behind closed doors. Ironically, Obama has been responsible for more deaths than W. So much for change you can believe in. The psychopathic pawns that are our so-called ‘representatives’ are shills for the oligarchy. If it didn’t begin that way, it certainly has been during the 20th century onwards.”
The album is his first to appear on 180-grain vinyl. “I do think that the current trend of younger people embracing the vinyl format, and older fans re-investigating vinyl after a long couple of decades in the digital domain is a fantastic shift in the culture. It represents so many things…I love that format. It’s timeless, and it’s a great format for telling a story, setting a mood, having an arc and a rise and a fall to how all of the songs build upon one another.”