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.
& THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION
WITH THE ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
& THE KINGS SINGERS
SELECTIONS FROM THE MUSIC TO:
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."
[George Duke, Martin Lickert, Howard Kaylan, FZ, Mark Volman, Ian Underwood]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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] 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $1000 bail and were supposed to come back and go to court. Well, we finished our tour and arrangements were made for legal counsel and all the rest of that stuff and then two weeks before the thing was supposed to come to trial we received a notice in the mail saying that they had already been tried and convicted and that bail was forfeit.
I remember a time in Virginia Beach when we were performing Billy The Mountain and we sang the part in the song where we sang over and over "A Mountain is something you don't want to F*$@ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos