DEATH OF AN AXMAN

SCREED

When Zig Zag Black guitarist Michael Venell died unexpectedly at the age of 23 on April 7, I made a brief mention of it in this column. I didn't know Venell, but many of you did. Going by the phone calls and letters that I've received over the last few weeks, he was loved as a friend and respected as an artist by people all over the Valley.

As far as the artist part of that equation goes, his playing on ZZB's self-titled release from last year on the local Primary Records label shows the man was capable of tight, hard attacks as well as delicate acoustic passages. Venell's guitar is a palpable force in every song, and there's no underestimating the importance of that.

For those of you who wanted more on what actually happened to Venell, here is his friend and bandmate, drummer Matthew Helm:

"Basically, he had a severe heart attack," Helm says from his home in east Mesa. "From what I understand, it's supposed to be the most severe type of heart attack that you can have."
Indeed. According to the Medical Examiner's Office, the cause of death was "probable cardiac arrhythmia--an irregular heartbeat--that is, a natural death."

Helm says that Venell had been aware that there was something wrong, but tests found nothing. "He had been complaining about chest pains for about a year and a half, but they had run tests on him and could find nothing wrong. He had complained on and off, probably on a weekly basis, really, but we in the band thought he was just out of shape or something.

"It all happened within fractions of a second. He was lying in bed with his fianc‚e, and they were just starting to doze off, and then all of a sudden he had a jolt, a convulsion that lasted just a split second.

"It was such an intense convulsion that he flipped off the bed and hit his head on a table, but his fianc‚e thought he was teasing. She was saying, 'Hey, cut it out,' and she turned him over and she tried to give him CPR, and she called 911. But from what the doctors and everyone said, there was nothing that could have been done. It was one of those freak things.

"The one thing that kind of bums me, because of his young age and because the press release about his death and Kurt Cobain's came out on the same day, there have been all kinds of wild stories out there. I had a friend of mine call me and say, 'When did he do this?' And I was like, 'What do you mean? What did you hear?' and the guy said, 'Well, I heard that he killed himself and I heard that he OD'd.' I was like, 'No, no.'

"That upset me; I kind of can't blame people for thinking things like that because he was so young, but he deserves much more respect than that. He didn't do drugs. Nobody's an angel, but he didn't do drugs." Zig Zag Black celebrated its fourth anniversary in April, and the members have decided to continue. "We certainly want to try," Helm says, "only because we really know that's what Mike would want us to do. But it's a tough thing."
@rule:
@body:Things to Do: "We Don't Need No Music" is the theme for the fourth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts and Education Program benefit concert, but perhaps it should be "We Don't Need No Instruments."

Let me explain: The show takes you on a trip through the world of a cappella music, from early Africa up through the present day. Performers include Azumah from South Africa, Imani from Philadelphia (not the lady who's married to David Bowie), Women of the Calabash from New York City, Screaming Scott of Sha Na Na (hey--the group was at Woodstock, remember), and a few locals, too: Brenda Williams, Renee Morgan Brooks, and Four Deep, among others.

The program provides funds and mentoring for underprivileged high school and junior high Phoenicians. That's Sunday, May 22, at Symphony Hall at 5 p.m. Call 261-8245 for more info.

Clock People wind it up on Wednesday, May 18, at Edsels Attic and again on Sunday, May 22, at Grind. Call 968-4549 for info on both shows.

Jah Break: Well, all right. The kind folks at KZON-FM have returned reggae to the Phoenix airwaves in the form of a weekly show called Reggae Sunset that airs on Sundays from 6 to 8 p.m. Something New: Don't think I get paid to just sit on my ass and listen to CDs all day; I've got to be an idea man, too, for God's sake. And that's a full-time job. Whenever my brain is functioning--and that's, like, pretty much a lot--I'm trying to come up with revolutionary new ways to make this music section into a Godlike force of extraordinary magnitude. Sure, from the outside it might look like I'm merely hunched over a desk, tying knots in paper clips, sweating and copping jokes out of old issues of Creem, but it's simply untrue.

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