1971—Chronology Sources, Notes & Comments

February 8, 1971—Royal Albert Hall

Melody Maker, February 1971 (quoted by Andy Murkin, "1971, Frank's Worst Year?," 1997)
FRANK ZAPPA is to present live excerpts from his film 200 Motels during a concert at London Royal Albert Hall on Monday, February 8. The Mothers of Invention and a 90-piece orchestra join him for the event, which is in the nature of a specially-staged preview of the movie. Revealing plans for the concert, Zappa said: "We shall be performing the soundtrack music and re-enacting parts of the film."

Zappa added that the seats on the ground floor of the Albert Hall will be removed to accommodate the orchestra. The audience will occupy the upper floors, terraces and boxes only.

The movie is already in rehearsal and shooting commences the day after the concert. A soundtrack album of the film will, according to Zappa, be released by United Artists who are financing the movie—and not by his regular label, Reprise.

Melody Maker, February 6, 1971

Melody Maker




Chris Charlesworth, "They Seem To Think Frank's Obscene," Melody Maker, February 13, 1971

AMIDST total confusion Frank Zappa's concert at Royal Albert Hall on Monday was called off at the last minute. [...] Despite rumours over the weekend that the concert might be cancelled, Zappa, the Mothers, ninety members of the Royal Philharmonic and assorted members of the choir arrived at the Albert Hall on Monday afternoon for a practice.

On the hall windows were notices to the effect that the concert had been cancelled, but apparently there was no official approach to Zappa's manager, Herb Cohen, who was also in the melee. [...] Cohen pointed out that the script had been delivered to the Albert Hall and the group had offered to make any alterations if necessary.

[...] While the other Mothers waited around having their photographs taken, Zappa produced a movie camera and filmed the entire episode.

The Albert Hall switchboard was jammed with calls throughout Monday, but eventually a spokesman there told the MM: "The concert is definitely off. We have been demanding certain assurances and copies of the content of the programme. We did not receive the assurances. We heard rumours about the programme content and this was not agreeable to us."

The Albert Hall was also worried about possible audience participation.

Cohen was amazed at the thought of the audience not behaving well. [...] "It would have been 75 percent orchestral plus six or seven individual songs with lyrics. I gave the Albert Hall a copy and they said they were too obscene. I offered to delete anything they felt gave offence. Revised lyrics were written and sent but it seems they are against the whole concert and concept."

Aunt Jemima's Freak Family Album, p. 5

Aunt Jemima's Freak Family Album
[George Duke, Martin Lickert, Howard Kaylan, FZ, Mark Volman, Ian Underwood]

Sanchez Manning, The Independent, August 11, 2013

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was enlisted to play a concert of the film's music at the Albert Hall. But things turned sour when the orchestra's lead trumpet player, John Wilbraham, pulled out, objecting to being asked to speak four-letter words included in the lyrics. In newspaper reports at the time Mr. Wilbraham commented: "The whole thing revolted me."

Then, three days before the concert was due to be performed in February 1971 to a sell-out audience of almost 5,000 fans, the Royal Albert Hall cancelled it. The concert hall spokesman commented at the time, saying: "The programme content was not agreeable to us." Its then general manager, Frank Mundy, went one step further, describing 200 Motels' songs as "filth for filth's sake."

[...] Tony Palmer, Zappa's co-director, said the musician was furious at the decision to cancel. "The Albert Hall management, which at that point was very stuffy and very conservative, hadn't been told exactly what it was that was going to be performed. I think someone tipped them off that there were various songs like 'Penis Dimension' and they thought that was just totally pornographic and unacceptable, so they cancelled it. Frank's response was fury."

[...] When Zappa and his manager sued, Mr. Palmer agreed to appear as a witness in the hearing at the High Court in London in 1975. "The judge questioned me and said we're not having homosexuality in the Albert Hall. So I said to the judge that, in the Prom season just gone Death in Venice had been performed, which was clearly about the homosexual attraction between a man and a young boy. The judge looked at me and said 'Who is that by?' And I said Benjamin Britten, and he said, 'Could you spell it?' At that point we knew the game was up and the judge didn't have the slightest idea what we were talking about."

The judge, Mr. Justice Mocatta, was none too impressed when Zappa's song "Penis Dimension" was played in court, asking: "Have I got to listen to this?" Zappa lost his claim for £8,000 damages.

FZ, interviewed by Pete Frame, February 1991, Mojo, November 2018

Well, what happened was this: we made a film called 200 Motels at Pinewood Studios, and one of the technicalities of shooting this musical film involved the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Musicians' Union. In order to have the rehearsals necessary for the orchestra to learn the music for the film, it was required by the Musicians' Union that an actual concert take place—because under the rules you're not allowed to rehearse for a movie, and you can't rehearse for a recording session, but you can rehearse for a concert. So we were obliged to give a live concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and members of my band, which was scheduled for the Royal Albert Hall. Somehow, the people who controlled the Royal Albert Hall decided that what we were going to do at this concert was going to be obscene—and they locked us out. We had a sold-out concert but on the night of the concert, we were locked out—so I sued the Royal Albert Hall for breach of contract. The Crown, in order to defend itself, tried to make an obscenity trial out of it and, in the end, the final verdict from the judge was that the material was not obscene and yes, they had violated the contract but basically it's the Royal Albert Hall, so go fuck yourself.

[...] The Albert Hall maintained that my use of the word "brassiere" was obscene. One of the pieces that was going to be performed at the concert had the line in it, "What sort of girl wears a brassiere to a pop festival?", and they complained about this, thought it was obscene. I told the court that if they were going to be that squeamish about what I was going to do, I could change the words to all my songs right there on the spot—and they said, "Oh really? Prove it!" whereupon they handed me some of my lyrics and had me adjust them. I thought I did a pretty good job right there on the stand. I can't remember the complete context, but one of the rhyming words that I'd used in something was the name of the town Pudsey—and this created a big question mark over the entire court. They acted like they had never heard of Pudsey before and I had to explain that it was something I had seen on the front of a bus.

Jimmy Carl Black, For Mother's Sake, 2013, p. 149

We wer finished by February 6th. [...] During the rehearsals, we were told there was a concert planned for the Royal Albert Hall where we would play all the music from the film. [...] The day after the end of shooting, we were told that the concert had been cancelled by the Albert Hall's committee. It was something to do with censorship so we were all sent home. Frank was very pissed off because the whole thing had been a very stressful time for him.

Tony Palmer, "Necessity And Invention," The Spectator, February 13, 1971

It was thought that after the hard slog of rehearsal and filming, a public performance of some of the music might arouse some interest. The Albert Hall accepted the booking and then asked to see the script. As the script was in the usual constant state of flux during filming, its delivery to the Albert Hall was delayed. When it was finally received, the management's reply was swift. The concert was cancelled.

The Mothers' boss, Herb Cohen, assured the Albert Hall management that he would remove any words objected to, but after some initial discussion, Mr [Frank] Mundy admitted that although various lines did give offence, it was the nature and attitude of the whole piece that had determined him against it. (The last time, incidentally, an opera or an opera-oratorio was barred and censored in this way was in the thirties when Bartok's The Miraculous Mandarin bit the dust.) No doubt he feels that he is protecting the regular patrons from the dangerous and sinister (probably Communist-inspired) elements which lurk within the Royal Philharmonic. Curiously, the public seemed unconcerned. But who is Mr Mundy to use his authority in this way to prevent the Royal Philharmonic, the Mothers of Invention, not to mention 5,000 members of the public from hearing music from a film that is to go on general release anyway. United Artists hope that the film will get an R rating in the States, the equivalent of a U Certificate here. Meanwhile, his high-minded, high-handed action deprived London audiences of what would have been one of the more interesting concert events of the year.


New Mothers

George Duke

George Duke, interviewed by Jerry Kovarsky, Keyboard Magazine, August 7, 2013

With [Cannonball Adderley] it was different because he came from the jazz world and I couldn't turn down being a part of that. I said, "Frank, I love what you're doin'. I'll still make records with you, but I got to do this thing with Cannonball." And he understood. I continued to record with Zappa during the time I was with Cannonball, which was a couple of years, 1971 and 1972.

Jim Pons

Jim Pons, interviewed by Steve Moore, April 24, 2000

I had known Frank previous to my joining his band, so there was no formal audition. I was almost kind of like a friend of the family by then. (I had known Gail Zappa before they were married.) He called me from London when his bass player, Jeff Simmons, quit during the filming of "200 Motels." He never discussed with me his ideas about his "new" group or what he was trying to do. He just offered me a job. I had plenty of reservations. I enjoyed and had always appreciated his music before, but it was extremely difficult and complicated stuff compared to what I was used to . . . . a lot to ask of someone who had taught himself to play just a few years before. It was very intimidating. And more so because my parts were always written out for me and I couldn't read music. I had to take it to Ian Underwood who would play it for me on the piano until I learned it. I never knew for sure whether or not Frank knew that's how I was learning my parts. I think he probably did. I was able to do it though, so it never seemed to be a problem. I was happy to be working again and proud that I was considered accomplished enough to play with Zappa, but it wasn't the kind of music I enjoyed playing. It was more like a job than either of the first two bands, but it was a very good one.

[...] I did the voice of the bad conscience during post production. The movie was made in England, and Frank's bass player quit before filming, but he didn't replace him with me until he got back to the States.

Bill Payne

Lowell George, interviewed by Andy Childs, ZigZag #50, March 1975

Bill [Payne] came to Los Angeles and I took him up to Zappa's house to audition for The Mothers, but Frank was editing a trailer for 200 Motels and didn't have enough time to talk to Bill. So we drove back to my house where he was staying, and I said, "Why don't you join a band?" He said, "OK, what the heck!" And that was five years ago. And we've been doing it ever since.


The Grandmothers

JCB, interviewed by Axel Wunsch and Aad Hoogesteger, T'Mershi Duween #24, March 1992

JCB: We did one recording session in 1970, right after the Mothers broke up. Herb Cohen got us together and said "How would you guys like to do an album as the Grandmothers?" And we said "Fine." Tom Wilson was the producer. After we did that first recording session, Herb said "The title of the album is going to be Frank Zappa Presents The Grandmothers," and that's when everybody said, "No, it isn't gonna be like that." Because we didn't want anything to do with Frank Zappa. Zappa's name will not be on it! And then the deal fell through. But that was the beginning of the Grandmothers.

Q: Why didn't you continue on your own?

JCB: It all came down to money. They were putting up the money, The original Grandmothers was myself, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Art Tripp, Roy Estrada, Lowell George, Elliot Ingber and Motorhead.

"18 Sides Of Mothers," Circular, August 23, 1971

Tom Wilson, the Mothers' first producer back in their Verve days, [...] is working on an album project titled Grandmothers. It will feature the complete former Mothers of Invention, some 18 souls, with Zappa guesting on a track or two, though it is not strictly a Zappa enterprise. This project, also destined for Bizarre/Reprise, is a few months away because many ex-Mothers are scattered across the country.


L.A. Philharmonic Two-Piano Concerto

FZ, interviewed by Matt Resnicoff, Musician, November 1991

About a year after I did that concert with the L.A. Philharmonic in 1970, they said they would like to have me write a two-piano concerto and they would give it the world premiere. I said, "Oh, that's really very nice of you." They said, "Yeah, but we want you to buy us two grand pianos." And that was the last I had to do with the L.A. Phil, okay? Why pick on me? 'Cause I'm in rock 'n' roll? What, you think I should go out and spend $100,000 to get you a pair of Bösendorfers, so that you'll do two rehearsals and play my two-piano concerto? Go fuck yourself.


June 3, 1971—State Farm Show Arena, Harrisburg, PA

Ray Eicher, "Record's Review," The York Daily Record, June 12-18, 1971

Last Thursday night about one thousand people were privileged enough to see "The Mothers" in concert. It was one of the most incredible musical events of my life. Zappa's men assault your mind and entertain you in every way possible.

At 7:30 we had to sit through a terrible band called "Head Over Heels". They were incredibly loud and did little or nothing to get the evening off right. Their music was a loud blend of rock and blues made especially weak by their guitarist. He just didn' make it. Mark Farner of "Grand Funk's" got it over him any day and that isn't saying much. Lucky they didn't play too long and the big moment was near.

The sound men wheeled all the equipment out on stage which included two electric pianos, and organ, bass, guitar, vocalists and other assorted sundries. The last thing they brough out was a larger than life styrofoam dummy that had flashing lights all over and earphones on it. A minute later they came on.

The Mothers as usual were newly reformed to do the tour and some of the new people included both of the old Turtles' lead singers (Happy Together). The fatter one of the two was at first a bit obnoxious until you shook that Turtle image out of your mind and thought of him as a Mother. Also on hand were Ansley Dunbar from Retaliation and old Mothers fame, with, I believe, Ian Underwood on piano and organ, plus more people I couldn't recognize.

Zappa gave a brief introduction and jumped into the air. By the time he landed they jumped into "Peaches en Regalia" from his "Hot Rats" album. He started every song that way, a quick leap and a fast change. They went thru assorted songs until out of nowhere came the Zambini brothers. All the front men had shed their instruments and come out front to give us a circus show. They had a stuffed penguin that they threw through a flaming hoop of fire accompanied by carnival organ music. The audience lost it. From there they went into some 1950 numbers like "My Boy Friend's Back".

Both of the two new singers are really good and extremely versatile. They quite often use their voices as lead instruments instead of just accompanying sounds. And Frank is better than ever on guitar. In the few short licks he played he probably had the first guitar player from "Head Over Heels" shaking in his boots.

The best part of the evening was the endless overture entitled "Billy the Mountain". It was described as a story of a mountain who crossed the nation from Los Angeles to New York destroying everything in its path. Billy also brought his wife, Ethel, along who in real life was a tree growing off Billy's shoulder. The hero of the story was the all American boy named Studebaker Hawk. We never really found out who conquered whom.

Although the acoustics were poor as usual in the Farm Show, Zappa and his Mothers were a knockout. Everyone called them right back for an encore of "King Kong", another one of Zappa's classical pieces. Come to think of it all of his music is classical, but in a different sense. It all runs from movements instead of verses. It's structured almost exactly like classical works. Roll over Beethoven!

I wouldn't miss the Mothers again for the world.


June 5-6, 1971—Fillmore East, NYC, NY

Don Preston

Don Preston, interviewed by Andrew Greenaway, The Idiot Bastard, February 18, 2001

I was living in NY and working with Gil Evans. I got a call from Zappa saying the band would be in NY and would I like to come down and sit in. I did, and after the concert Mark and Howard told me that they were having trouble with the keyboard player and would I consider joining the group. I had a tour in Europe with Gil, but after that I was free. My feeling was that I knew band this would never replace the original band. To me I was just joining a different band with no comparison. The fact that the band had the same name and same leader didn't occur to me.

Don Preston, interviewed by Phil McMullen, Ptolemaic Terrascope, Summer 1993

I was asked by Zappa to be in the band after Live At The Fillmore East, because some of the guys in the band didn't like the then current piano player [Bob Harris].

So I joined the band and we did a lot of touring and everything for about a year, then at Montreux there was a fire and all our equipment got burned and a week later [December 1971] Zappa got thrown into the orchestra pit at the London Rainbow and that was the end of that band. But for some reason, and I'm not sure what it was, Zappa never contacted anyone. He never really said "you're fired" or anything, he just never got in touch.


Tuesday, June 1971—Watres Armory, Scranton, PA

Unidentified & undated press clip

'Rock' Fans Defy Police

Four Arrested In Armory Melee

A chanting, rock-throwing crowd of 200 to 300 youths confronted police in front of Watres Armory during a rock concert Tuesday night, defying orders to clear the streets. Four youths were arrested.

The disturbance, the second at the armory in as many concerts, occurred around 9:30 p.m. during a performance by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Several thousand rock fans jammed the armory to hear the famous group.

Sgt. Clem Ross, in charge of a 22-man police detail hired by the promoters of the concert to maintain order, reported the troub le originated with a large crowd of youths outside "who could not or would not pay the admission price."

Ross said the crowd estimated at 200 to 300 gathered at Jefferson Avenue and Myrtle Street and when ordered to disperse, began throwing rocks and chanting obscene slogans.

The sergeant called for assistance from regular police patrols and when they arrived, the crowd began to move away from the armory.

Four juveniles, however, remained fast in their defiance of orders to move and were arrested, police reported.

[...] Police said two of the boys were from Wilkes-Barre and the other two from Scranton, including one who was arrested in a similar confrontation at a rock concert at the armory May 12.

[...] The bulk of the police remained on duty inside the armory, where the concert was concluded without further incident. No injuries were reported in the confrontation outside.


August 7, 1971—Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA

Pauley Pavilion, 1971

Pauley Pavilion, 1971

Jimmy Carl Black, For Mother's Sake, 2013, p. 150-151

After the [February 1971] earthquake and the fires, we had to leave that house because it was being condemned. I was earning some money, but not enough to be able to afford to move houses. I went up to Frank's house and asked him if I could borrow 500 dollars to help pay for it. That's the only time I ever went to him to ask to borrow money. I'm glad to say that he understood my position and gave it to me. I had agreed to pay it back in a few months time. [...]

In August, Frank and the new band were touring the West Coast and they had a big show in Pauley Pavilion at UCLA. As part of the show, they were going to premiere some sections of the 200 Motels music and he asked me if I'd be interested in going and singing "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" with them. After the show, he came over and said; "OK! That pays me back for the 500 you owed me!"

That was the best money I ever earned from anything I ever did with Frank.


Nigey Lennon

Andrew Greenaway, "Don Interrupts"—Interview With Don Preston, The Idiot Bastard, February 18, 2001

IB: Do you remember Nigey Lennon? In Being Frank she says you played an improvised synthesizer section on a song of hers called 'Moto Guzzi'; do you recall this, or her presence on the tour?

DP: I don't remember.

IB: You mean you don't remember recording or touring with Nigey? I thought she was yours and Tina's rent paying roommate in Echo Park for several months in 1972—and remained friends with you right up until she left for Europe.

DP: Of course I remember Nigey very well. And I respect her very much.


Top Secret Sound Project

FZ, interviewed by Beetle, September 1971

In the near future?

We are touring the Northwest States including Seattle and Spokane.

And after that?

The next thing after the tour is kind of a sound project.

Oh, what's it all about?

Well, it's top secret man, but it involves about 8 months rehearsal, that I will tell you.


September 1971—Noel Redding visit

Unidentified press clip, c. October 1971

Reading Sues Frank Zappa

LOS ANGELES—Noel Redding, former Jimi Hendrix bassist, has filed suit against Frank Zappa for $25,000 and medical expenses in Superior Court here. The suit stems from a fall Redding took on an exterior staircase at Zappa's home while a guest there in Sept. 1971.

Redding's claim alleges that Zappa and his household negligently maintained a hazardous condition on an improperly lit staircase with an insufficient handrail. The suit states that Redding has been unable to work since the injuries from his fall.


October 1971—North America

Dick Barber

John Carman, "On Tour With The Mothers Of Invention," Milwaukee Journal, December 5, 1971

Dick Barber, a 28-year-old former grade school teacher who has been the Mothers' road manager for four years had arranged for two rented station wagons to be ready for them at the St. Louis airport.

Barber counted the Mothers with his index finger as they piled into the station wagons. He's sort of a mother hen. His other duties include answering their questions about where they are, where they will be tomorrow and what month it is.

October 4, 1971—Virginia Beach, VA

FZ, interviewed by Go-Set, Australia, July 14, 1973

We've only had one incident of a live performance where we've had any trouble and that was at Virginia Beach, Virginia which is a southern state. We were playing two shows on the one night and we were performing "Billy The Mountain" and somebody complained at the end of the first show to one of the policemen who was there, and they came back and lodged a complaint with our road manager which was then relayed to Mark and Howard who were doing the lead singing at that time. They said we shouldn't say a certain word that they were saying at the end of the number, and they were offended that somebody should ask them to change what they were doing, so they went ahead and said it anyway. We just went off stage and the whole dressing room was full of policemen who wanted to detain the whole band. They finally said that they were going to arrest the two lead singers. So they went over to the little jail and put them under arrest and were released under $1000 bail and were supposed to come back and go to court. Well, we finished our tour and arrangements were made for legal counsel and all the rest of that stuff and then two weeks before the thing was supposed to come to trial we received a notice in the mail saying that they had already been tried and convicted and that bail was forfeit.

Mark Volman, zappa.com, May 31, 2005

I remember a time in Virginia Beach when we were performing Billy The Mountain and we sang the part in the song where we sang over and over "A Mountain is something you don't want to F*$@ with, don't want to F*$@ with, don't f*$@ around." I think we said the dreaded F-word at least 20 some odd times. As we sang the song we noticed that the police were all getting together and moving towards the stage. When the show ended they came backstage to deal with the problem. They were pissed off. The decision was made by management to keep Frank out of jail and so it was decided to give them Flo & Eddie. Management decided that we should go to jail because we were the ones actually singing the words.

We did sing the words and we did go to jail.

We were booked for disturbing the peace because they had no law on the books for obscenity. We were in jail about 4 hours and at about 2 AM they let us go home, back to our dingy hotel. Eventually it came up in court while we were in Europe and we were found guilty. Imagine being found guilty without defending yourself.. Oh well it did keep Frank's name out of court and out of the papers

They management paid a $3,000 fine for each of us and that was that.

The point was that Frank never had his name associated with the arrest and we had trouble coming back to play in Virginia Beach during our Pop Star Massage Unit Flo & Eddie days. Nothing too dramatic happened, just a bit of pressure about what we would sing in our show.

Howard Kaylan with Jeff Tamarkin, Shell Shocked, 2013, p. 153-154

We were in Virginia Beach to do a show at the Dome. The sound check was fine; the show was great, as usual, although certainly not a standout. So it was with wide-eyed innocence that Mark and I followed Frank off the stage after our traditional instrumental encore, only for both of us to get handcuffed and led away by the city's finest. We were under arrest for obscenity. They threw to two of us into the back of a waiting cherry-top and carted us off to the hoosegow. They booked us, took mug shots of us, fingerprinted us, and locked us up as the band looked on.

Our bail was paid, fortunately, by our tour manager, Dick Barber, at Herb's request. I had only been singing and speaking the scripted words that were put before me. Both Mark and I were employees, for God's sake. We were contracted to perform those supposed pieces of art and, whether or not they were to be judged as filth in the future, on this particular evening, we were free to go. They weren't our words, after all: They had been Frank's. A few hours in the Graybar Hotel and then back to the actual hotel, where Zappa took us into his room to put a positive spin on the night. No press was bad press and this was going to be huge! Herb and our publicist, Barbara DeWitt, would have a field day with this story. Frank's legend would only grow.

October 20, 1971—Milwaukee Arena, Milwaukee, WI

Rich Zimmermann, "Blog #336—Frank Zappa—1971 and 1973, Rich Zimmermann Photography, December 16, 2019

Milwaukee, 1971 Milwaukee, 1971

October 23, 1971—Cowtown Ballroom, Kansas City, MO


John Carman, "On Tour With The Mothers Of Invention," Milwaukee Journal, December 5, 1971

Saturday afternoon, en route to Kansas City.

The Mothers have a friend in Hutchinson, Kan., and that's what they call him, Kansas. He's their former equipment manager, and now he is working the Midwest on the Santa Fe Railroad.

Kansas is a railroad fanatic and, having joined the group in St. Louis for a few days of reunion, he persuaded them to ride the rails to Kansas City.


November-December 1971—Europe

Dick Barber, interviewed by Andrew Greenaway, The Idiot Bastard Son, April 24, 2023

That tour was disastrous from the get-go. We hired a big truck out of England for all of our equipment. Our first show was in Stockholm, and then the next show was gonna be in Odense, Denmark—which is an island near Copenhagen. And it was late Fall—November, maybe?—and that big truck with all our equipment got down to Malmö, Sweden, which was the jumping off place to get on a ferry to get back to Copenhagen. And before it got there, they got the blizzard and the brakes froze up because they hadn't taken the moisture out of the braking system.

So that was the beginning, and that truck then blew up on the freeway. That whole tour was jinxed. All of the previous ones had been relatively event free, but that tour was awful.


December 4, 1971—Montreux, Switzerland

FZ with Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989, p. 112-113

The 1971 European winter tour gets the award for being hte most disasterous. On December 4, we were working at the Casino de Montreux in Geneva, Switzerland, right on the edge of the lake- just in front of Igor Stravinsky Street—a venue noted for its jazz festivals.

In the middle of Don Preson's synthesizer solo on "King Kong," the place suddenly caught fire. Somebody in the audience had a bottle rocket or a Roman candle and had fired it into the ceiling, at which point the rattan covering started to burn (other versions of the story claim the blaze was the result of faulty wiring). There were between twenty-five hundred and three thousand kids packed into the room—well over capacity. Since more kids were outside, trying to get in, the organizers had cleverly chained the doors shut. When the fire began, the audience was left with two ways out: through the front door, which was pretty small, or through a plate-glass window off to the side of the stage.

I made an announcement—something like: "Please be calm. We have to leave here. There is a fire and why don't we get out?" You'd be surprised how well people who speak only French can understand you when its a matter of life and death. They began filing out through the front door.

As the room was filling with smoke, one of our roadies took an equipment case and smashed the big window. The crew then began helping people to escape through it into some kind of garden place below. The band escaped through an underground tunnel that led from behind the stage through the parking garage.

A few minutes later the heating system in the building exploded, and some people were blown through the window. Fortunately, nobody was killed and there were only a few minor injuries—however, the entire building, about thirteen million dollars' worth, burned to the ground, and we lost all our equipment.

FrankZappy, alt.fan.frank-zappa, February 18, 1999

In the April 1999 issue of Guitar magazine there is an interview with former Deep Purple guitarist (and my idol for many years) Ritchie Blackmore. In the article Ritchie mentions Zappa two separate times. In the first instance while discussing the abuse Blackmore had to handle from the record company he says: "As Frank Zappa would say, 'I smell a rat'"

The next quote follows:

Q: Can you elaborate on the story told in "Smoke on the Water"?

A. We were sitting there watching Frank Zappa play and suddenly someone had one of those flare guns and decided to let it off. It set the roof on fire. Frank turned around and said, "Now everybody clam down." He then threw down his guitar and jumped out the window. It was quite funny. He wanted to be the first one out. We then had about 15 minutes before the place was gutted, which was frightening.

If memory serves when Frank told the story he was more like a traffic cop and made sure all the kids got out first. Ritchie never took drugs, but did tend to drink so maybe his recollection of Zappa leaping out a window is blurred, so the question is: what really happened? Did Zappa throw down his guitar (SG?) and leap out the window while Blackmore sat calmly and observed as the place burned down or is this like the Kurosawa film Rashamon, where everyone remembers things somewhat differently?

Jim Pons, interviewed by Steve Moore, April 24, 2000

The fire broke out in the last few minutes of a 90 minute show . . . during the encore we never should've given. We were playing "King Kong" and I looked up to see flames in the second or third row of the balcony. They were small enough that I remember thinking someone could put them out in a matter of seconds by beating them with their coats. We continued playing, but it seemed like everyone else was over reacting. People in the front came up on stage and ran through us and past us to get to who knows where. Immediately our stage managers told us to put our guitars down and get to the side of the stage. I saw the fire fall down from the balcony to the seats below and then I realized that it was becoming a serious emergency. People were screaming and scrambling in all directions to find doors which, in an old theatre like that, were few and far between. Our bus driver ushered us downstairs through some kind of kitchen area where we were safe from the crowd for a minute but there were no doors and no where else for us to go. Unbelievably smoke was already coming down there with us. It was an old building, burning fast, and it sounded like it was about to collapse on top of us. The bus driver used his fist to break a glass wall that led to the outside through which we escaped. It had been less than two minutes since we were playing. An unreal episode, but one that we still thought was going to come under control until we got out onto the street and watched the building burn to the ground. It turns out that members of Deep Purple were also watching from their hotel across the water. The next day after suveying the damage and walking through the rubble of what used to be the stage, Frank uncharacteristically allowed us to vote on whether or not to continue the European tour. It would take at least two weeks to get reorganized, but we still had several weeks of sold out concerts remaining. It also meant having to replace everything destroyed in the fire . . . instruments, lights, sound system, all of Frank's guitars. We voted to continue.

Don Preston, interviewed by Andrew Greenaway, The Idiot Bastard, February 18, 2001

That incident was very strange to me. First of all the tour schedule was printed on a box of matches. Second, on the day before the fire, in the middle of my solo on 'King Kong', someone ran out on the stage and issued a fire warning. On the next night, in the middle of my solo on 'King Kong', some one threw a firecracker up to the ceiling, which was covered with dry palm leaves, and started the fire. While that was happening Zappa's sewer backed up in his LA home and the entire basement studio was flooded with piss and shit.

Karen Sperling, interviewed by Andrew Greenaway, February 10, 2021

The London Film Festival had invited me to speak three times at the director's forums. So we were kind of packed up and going at the same time. And we got a suite together in London. [...] Okay, so somehow Frank and I ended up in London together, because I guess he wanted to be with me in London, and I wanted to be with him. He was there for about four or five days with me, and then he had to go on tour. So I was staying behind to do some publicity. And then all I remember is I ended up on a plane to Switzerland, because I was invited!

Alain Rieder, "Frank Zappa—Montreux 1971," Time Manipulation Drum Blog, December 4, 2021

On December 4, 1971, I went to Montreux with my friends, to attend the Frank Zappa concert that was going to take place in the afternoon.

[...] At that time, there were no chairs, it was not yet the fashion of the standing concerts, and the public sat on the floor, sometimes on a cushion or on a jacket rolled in a ball, which was my case.

That day, there was an unusual decoration on the ceiling. It was probably planned for the end of the year celebrations, and it seems to me that it was a tropical decoration, with or interlacing reeds or lianas, with paper or polystyrene flowers perhaps. What is certain is that all this material was dangerously flammable, as the future has proven!

[...] So here we are, after about an hour and 20 minutes, the band has just played the melody from King Kong, and leaves the stage to Don Preston for a synthesizer solo. Don fiddles with the oscillators of his Mini-Moog, it is a coincidence, but he produces sounds that may sound a bit like an alarm.

I'm sitting in the center, about 2/3 of the way across the room. The sound of the synth suddenly stops, and I see flames in the ceiling 10 or 15 meters away from me on the right. Mark Vollman says "Fire! Arthur Brown in person!" Then Zappa says "Calmly go towards the exits, ladies & gentlemen".

I didn't see, but a guy fired a flare gun towards the ceiling. At the beginning, the fire is very small, I think that it will be put out quickly and that the concert will continue. I drag a little to go out, I hesitate to leave my jacket rolled up on the floor keep my space on the floor, well in front of the stage!

People go out quickly and very calmly, and the firemen and guards on duty get a little upset to get us out faster.

The fire grows quite quickly, and people open the curtains that hide the windows on either side of the stage. I see some people grab chairs to break the glass.

I see a little blood, someone has been injured, but it seems to be minor.

Once the windows are broken, we feel a big draught rushing in the room, which drives away the smoke, but also fuels the fire.

I decide to go out that way, the ground must be about three meters down, there is a ledge I hang from and I drop into the grass without any problem.

A friend of mine, whom I didn't know at the time, told me this:

"Alain, I was there too! It is with a WEM speaker cabinet sound system that was on stage that I grabbed with other people to break the windows, which enabled us to escape by jumping in the grass below...

I remember very well Zappa very calmly telling the audience to get out without panicking. I think that his calmness allowed a quick and safe evacuation.

In the rush, I had left a small Moroccan bag in which I had put my things and an Afghan coat (made of sheepskin, very trendy at that time) and especially my documents. Before jumping, I went back on my steps to take back my things which were exactly where I had put them.

Coming out of the smoke, a fireman, visibly surprised to find me there in front of him kindly asked me to leave... "quickly because it's very dangerous to stay there!"

I had the impression that Don Preston's "moog" was still making weird sounds on the deserted stage... So I grabbed my stuff and quickly walked out through the broken windows. It seemed to me that a few moments later, the ceiling collapsed."

[...] The stage was very low, at most three feet, and that's what made it easy for another friend of mine to climb it and end up walking down a backstage staircase with Zappa.

Another guy managed to reach out and grab Frank's wah-wah pedal. Being a guitarist, he still uses it today. Appart from a cowbell mentioned by FZ in an interview, it may be the only instrument to have survived the fire.

After jumping from the window, I go around the building to find my friends, and I see people coming out of the main door with Zappa posters in their hands.

I can't imagine that the whole building is going to burn down in a very short time, so I go back in through the main door and come out with some posters.

[...] Then, the building is totally on fire, the night falls and it is really impressive.

I particularly remember the moment when the roof collapsed to the first floor with a loud noise.

Dick Barber, interviewed by Andrew Greenaway, The Idiot Bastard Son, April 24, 2023

The [Deep Purple] lyric says [it was started] by some crazy with a flare gun. I would argue that, because I thought I saw a chunk of the ceiling fall out near the sound desk and it was on fire. But I never remembered seeing a flare gun go off, which I think you wouldn't miss. We started to get everybody out of the building and Frank, in his coolness, his on stage persona: wonderfully cool—he called the audience boys and girls a lot of the time—said, "Boys and girls, let's all relax. I want everybody to be calm. We'll leave the building and when the smoke clears, we'll come back and finish the show. Everybody gonna do that?" And everybody got up walked out like it was the end of the show, and there were people passing out flyers for the next week's show at the exits, people were taking flyers and just walking out like it was real normal. Otherwise it could have been disastrous.

But by the time I got to the stage, yelled at the sound guys, "Leave it, get out of here, let's go," and then we had to go downstairs and out through a tunnel to the parking lot which was where our two trucks and the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio were, the roof was going off of that four storey building. So I'm thinking that fire started way up inside the building.

[...] Everything [was gone]. All of his guitars . . . Ian grabbed one or two of his cases with his woodwinds in, and I think that's the only thing that survived. We went back that evening when the fire had gone out—and by the way, I still have that image in my mind of going back to the hotel, which was walking distance, and looking back and seeing the smoke coming out of the building and going up maybe a thousand feet, and then the wind caught it and took it out, and thinking how fitting Deep Purple's lyrics for "Smoke On The Water" were.

I often wonder, maybe you've heard, whether they wrote that as kind of a novelty song—as kind of a story—but did they ever realise it that would become so popular?


Now you see, we were scheduled to go to Paris.

The first phone call I made was to Herb Cohen—in the middle of the night. Herb was as much as a colourful personality as Frank was—even more so in some ways. He had a New York accent, and he was saying "So what are you calling me for? What's up?" I said, "Well, we just went through a fire here in Montreux." "Well what about the fucking equipment, man?" I said, "It's all gone." "What the fuck? What do you mean?" He couldn't believe it. And so he said, "Can you guys get to France?" I said, "I doubt it—seriously, man. Because we've got no equipment. Where are we gonna get the equipment?" That was the major consideration. And he said, "Well, you're over there: you call the fucking promoters and tell them you can't come!" I was left to do the dirty work! So the second I call I made was to this guy in Paris who was putting on all of the shows in France.

Now it's my recollection, but I could be wrong . . . Frank actually said, "Put me on the first plane home," and the members of the band—particularly the two Turtles—were saying 'the show must go on' and talked him into it. Now I don't think we went to Paris: I think we went directly to London. But I could be wrong.

Roger Glover, "Where Was The Fire?," The Highway Star, retr. c. 2006

There have been some comments about what it was like when the fire started. From my point of view in the middle of the crowd, there was no sense of panic whatsoever. I didn't see any flare gun, only some sparks coming from the ceiling around a corner of the room. IG says he saw it but probably because he was sitting in a different place to me. The music coming to an end was the sudden, startling and disappointing thing. Everyone made their way out of the building in a fairly orderly fashion, albeit grumbling at the inconvenience. Some got lost in the basement, we heard afterwards, but put in the right direction by Claude.

During the exodus I was parted from my fellow band members and when I arrived at one of two cars we had parked in the alley outside, there was no sign of them. Thinking that they were still inside, I went back in to see. I remember walking around the empty place, pausing in front of the deserted bandstand and checking out Zappa's band's equipment. There was no one there however and so I went back out. At no time during all this did I sense anything of a fire; it just seemed as if a false alarm had gone off and everyone had had to leave the building.

Back outside again, I found the rest of the band waiting for me (I had the key) and some of them, including Paicey, were chatting with Aynsley Dunbar, Frank's drummer, and an old friend (he used to be married to Wendy. She was at the time, or at least recently had been, Paicey's girlfriend—this being years before she moved to LA and eventually hooked up with Ronnie James Dio). It was then that we had to get out of the way sharpish as the fire engines started arriving.

That was when things started happening fast. The fire broke out and spread very quickly. It must have been raging in the ductwork and crawlspaces in the ceiling all this time, out of sight. That is why there was a sense of calm about the proceedings. We drove back to our hotel, a little way along the coast, and watched from the bar in disbelief as the place burned away and into my dreams. The photograph of Claude on MH was taken in that bar and you can see the shock on his face.


December 1971—UK Tour

1971 UK Tour Ad


Friday, 10th December—Rainbow Theatre, London
Saturday, 11th December—Rainbow Theatre, London (2 shows)
Monday, 13th December—University of Bristol (2 shows)
Wednesday, 15th December—Town Hall, Birmingham
Thursday, 16th December—City Hall, Newcastle
Friday, 17th December—Playhouse Theatre, Glasgow
Monday, 20th December—Free Trade Hall, Manchester
Tuesday, 21st December—City Hall, Sheffield

Please note postal applications for tickts will be accepted subject to availability only


December 10, 1971—Rainbow Theatre, London, UK

Rainbow Theatre

FZ, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, April 23, 1975

I was under the impression that you had your leg broken by an irate fan once, is that true?

Well, It was an irate person, I don't know whether he qualifies as a fan. He was a crazy person who was in the audience at a concert in a place called the Rainbow Theatre, in England, 1970 or 71, can't remember, and we just finished playing our encore, half the band was already off the stage, and the next thing I knew I wake up at the bottom of an orchestra pit, with a concrete floor, a broken leg, a broken rib, a hole in my chin, a hole in the back of my head, my head all the way over on this shoulder. They thought I had a broken neck. About 3 or 4,000 people sitting around going, "Huh? What? What happened?"

When I woke up, I didn't even know that I was on the road, you know, I just woke up and wondered where I was. And then I saw the guy, I wouldn't recognize him if he walked in this room right now, and I spent a month in the hospital in England, 9 months in a wheelchair, and a few more months with an orthopaedic brace on my leg. I was off the road for the better part of the year, during that period of time while I was in the wheelchair I produced 4 albums, the albums were Just Another Band From LA, Grand Wazoo, Waka/Jawaka, and Ruben And The Jets For Real. I wrote a Broadway musical, I wrote about 6 orchestra pieces, and when my cast came off I scratched my leg until all of the werewolf hair disappeared.

Richard Abowitz, "The Universe Of Frank Zappa," Gadfly, May 1999

Don Preston still remembers the night vividly. "We played the concert, and at the end of the concert the lights all go down and the people are applauding. I was facing the back of the stage and didn't see anything at all until I heard this big noise from the audience. I turned around, and Zappa wasn't there." Zappa had been knocked into the orchestra pit. The injuries he suffered kept him laid up for the next year, and, as a result of his larynx being crushed in the fall, Zappa returned with a changed voice: his distinctive baritone. In his autobiography, Zappa dryly notes that his assailant received only a short jail sentence. Perhaps Zappa was unconscious when Don Preston saw another punishment being meted out: "The audience grabbed him [Zappa's attacker] and brought him back, and Herb [Zappa's manager] beat the shit out of him behind the curtain." Frank Zappa never made the same mistake twice, and for the rest of his life he employed a bodyguard. As for the Mothers, Preston says, "He never did call anybody to tell them that there was no band anymore. He just got a new band. I wasn't surprised by it. I just accepted it, because that was the way Zappa was."

Jim Pons, interviewed by Steve Moore, April 24, 2000

Frank got pushed into the orchestra pit of the theatre we were playing in London. My recollection of that event is hazy probably because I still hadn't gotten over what had happened in Switzerland. It was so unreal. Like in a dream. I remember images of Frank lying there, our road managers holding onto, and screaming at the assailant, the feeling of stunned disbelief that everybody felt. I think I myself must have blacked out by then. I don't recall much of anything after that except visiting Frank in the hospital before we left to come home. Everyone was sad and quiet.

Karen Sperling, interviewed by Andrew Greenaway, February 10, 2021

We went into Paris. He wanted to go to try find some equipment. But they had had the May Day riots and there was some concern about them starting again, and they didn't want to have him do a concert. So that concert got cancelled. [...] So that was in Paris, and we were going from Paris to London. [...] Anyway, we had a half a day, and I decided to have the car—we had a chauffeur car—because it was going to be his birthday coming up. I thought I'd try and go find him some original music, by Stravinsky or somebody. So we were going to this music store to get him a present, and then I told the driver to turn around and go back. I went back to the dressing room to be with him, because this foreboding started again.

I think there were 3,000 people in the theatre. And there were 3,000 people waiting for the second show. So he goes up on stage and I was meeting some friends there. I was holding his coat. And I decided we should go up to the dressing room, and we were walking along the stairs and I literally dropped the coat and ran on stage. I didn't see the guy come up and knock him off, but I went to the front of the stage and looked down and he looked like a broken puppet. His leg was twisted—he was down, he was done. They called an ambulance, and I got in it with him—and there was like 6,000 people—you know: three in, three out—and everybody upset. We were in the ambulance, and he said to me, "Don't leave me." I said I wouldn't, and we went to a hospital.

Unidentified press clip, c. December 12, 1971

Zappa Thrown From Stage

LONDON (UPI)—American pop singer Frank Zappa suffered a broken ankle and concussion when a man grabbed him on the stage of a London theater Friday night and threw him 10 feet into the orchestra pit.

Police said the attacker told them he was upset because his girl friend had a "crush" on the singer.

Onlookers said the man leaped onto the stage of the Rainbow Theater and attacked the 31-year-old singer as Zappa and his group, the Mothers of Invention, were finishing the first of two shows.

Theater officials grabbed the man as Zappa lay unconscious with a broken ankle and concussion. Zappa was rushed to the hospital.

An estimated 3,000 fans saw the incident.

Later, Trevor Howell, 24, appeared at a London Court and was charged with causing grievous harm to Zappa.

The court released Howell on $500 bail until a further court appearance on the charge Dec. 20.

Howard Kaylan & Mark Volman, interviewed by Chris Van Ness, Los Angeles Free Press, August 18, 1972, p. 14

MARK: See, when we saw Frank laying in this pit and bleeding out of his head, and all of a sudden ten years of work kinda looked in one second to be over—I mean, he looked dead—

HOWARD: What does it mean? What are you going for? Is that what you want to be?

MARK: Do you want to be that big so somebody's chick loves you and he gets so crazy that he pushes you into a pit? Something that simple made me just—I drank for two months trying to appraise myself, 'cause all my life I had thought that that was a real good place to be—be a big pop phenomenon. And I don't believe it anymore.

HOWARD: Most people don't know, though, that the guy was going for you and Frank got in the way. We have bumper stickers available through our office that say simply in phlorescent green: "FRANK JUMPED" for anyone who is interested in them.


c. December 1971—Bizarre Staff

FZ, interviewed by Rob Partridge & Paul Philips, Cream, January 1972

HOW many people are involved in Bizarre?

A book-keeper, a couple of secretaries, one other guy called Zack [Glickman] who assists with promotion—live concerts and so forth—and Cal Schenkel who works with me on advertisements. He actually executes the advertisements and I write the copy for them.


Special thanks to Javier Marcote

Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
This page updated: 2024-06-22