MG: How did your guitar audition come about?
RE: I don't know how it came about. It was just one of those things . . .
MG: How did he find out that you played guitar?
RE: I guess the first day I met him I probably told him, and I'd gone over there once with my guitar, and he was messing around with a synthesizer, and we played some stuff. Anyway, I guess he just mentioned to me one day that he was thinking about putting together a different sort of band, and he had asked David Ocker to play clarinet. Ed Mann was there, Vinnie, and Tommy Mars . . . but some of the guys started asking too much money . . .
MG: Was this with Vinnie and Jeff Berlin? [...]
RE: I couldn't tell you if Jeff Berlin was a part of it, but it was right around that time. I believe it was three times that I was supposed to go over to Europe with Frank and help in the set up of these orchestral performances, and they kept falling through until it actually happened and David went over there and played clarinet [for the London Symphony Orchestra recordings].
MG: When you say he was talking about a different sort of band, a classically orientated band, did this mean a rock rhythm section with an orchestra, or just a rock ensemble playing instrumental stuff?
RE: I'm not sure what the difference was in what he wanted us to do, but he gave us a piece of music to practice, and it was a rhythmically interesting piece. It wasn't what you'd call classical, exactly, but similar in some ways to other works such as The Black Page.
MG: Do you remember the title of the piece?
RE: I don't recall.
MG: A friend of mine, Kerry McCoy, auditioned for Frank on a piece called C Instruments, and it's really crazy. Non diatonic, constant meter changes, and irrational rhythms all over.
RE: You don't have it here do you?
MG: Yeah, here it is.
RE: Yeah, this the one. [...] I remember practicing this with Steve Vai, because he was learning this, too. He played it a lot better than I did . . .
MG: So you actually were working with other people on this piece?
RE: I worked with David Ocker a little bit. I worked mainly by my self, but I got together once or twice with Steve.
According to an interview with Richard Emmet, that band seemed to include these musicians:
. . . But in The Real FZ Book, Frank wrote that "it was to be a nine-piece group." [...] Were there two other musicians?
Your listing, and anecdotal info ("2 members") are accurate—and as much as I know about it. We rehearsed for about 1 month, then FZ halted the proceedings, said he changed his mind and was going to modulate the group into a regular touring band—that led to the auditioning and inclusion of Chad and Scott, and Bobby Martin—and the '81-82 tours. That is as much as I know.
That too never materialized fully. Steve G is a friend of mine, I recommended him and brought him into the group, Frank worked with him for several weeks, but in the end FZ decided he was not the right guy, Berlin also was let go—I think that FZ just realized that he was too much of a star/soloist to fit into the regular FZ band outfit
All About Jazz: Charlie Banacos [...] mentioned you studied with him in preparation for a tour with Zappa. [...] When was that tour?
Jeff Berlin: [...] I don't recall if he helped me with a particular gig I was involved with. I played with Frank for a couple of months until I asked for more money to play in his band. Then he fired me.
All About Jazz: (laughs) Come to think of it, I think Charlie mentioned that, too.
J: Frank was an interesting guy, man! He's a guy that I think would have benefited from spiritual pursuit. He had a lot of angst.
A: You played with him for a while.
J: I did and I got myself thrown out of a band through bad behavior. You know. And rude attitude. I'm telling you, man, I left bodies in the wake. It was a lot of humble pie. A lot of humble pie that I have to eat in order to own my thing and grow from there, so I've come to develop a rather appreciative taste for humble pie.
We never made it on tour with Jeff Berlin, but Jeff Berlin was in there playing with Vinnie Colaiuta. Both of them decided they wanted an enormous amount of money, and special treatment, and all this kind of stuff, which didn't kind of fit in to the book. And I think Vinnie, to Vinnie's defense, he also got a lot of contracts in town, playing on television shows, and film soundtracks, and that kind of thing. He was pretty much a hired gun around L.A. so he had some very good paying jobs with lots of royalties and stuff.
He's a mutant. I'm sure that somewhere on the planet there's another guy who can do what Vinnie does—I think nature works that way. I don't think that it produces single organisms like that. But at the time that he was in the band, I couldn't imagine a drummer that could think and perform a rhythm the same way that he did. He had an uncanny knack for playing things that other people, if they saw them on paper, would think impossible. And he would play it spot on, if not the first time, certainly by the third try. It was utterly ridiculous. And do it with a smile. And after he had it learned, he could style it for you. It's not like he even had to think about playing 13 against 5, or something like that. He'd just figure it out and do it—it'd be part of his body language. But his personality changed after he was out of the band. He was doing a lot of studio stuff, which requires a different mind-set. I'm sure he's still an excellent drummer, but I don't know if he's ever going to do the stuff that he was playing in the band again.
RF: Why did you leave Frank?
VC: I was going through stuff like, "Wow, I'm on the road all the time and when I get off the road I can't work." I wanted to get into the studio.
VC: Because I like recording a lot. I love playing in the studio; I love the way it sounds and feels in the studio. When I was back east, there were three studios in town and it was something that always fascinated me and something I wanted to do as a musician. Even though I enjoy going out on the road, after a while I said, "I want to be at home and I'll never work in the studios if I'm not around long enough for people to call me." Just because I can go out live and play my ass off, doesn't mean I'm going to be able to go into the studio and play well, unless I go in there and do it and work for different people and be able to please all kinds of different people.
Vinnie was sacked for basically demanding that he be paid more money than the other band-members on a particular tour [...]. Vinnie more or less threatened Frank with "more money or I won't play". Frank selected the latter option.
Vinnie has since repeatedly and publicly apologised for this burst of egotism, and describes it as the worst mistake he ever made. Vinnie and Frank were on good terms when Frank died, and Vinnie dedicated his 1994 solo album to Frank, describing him as a 'genius and mentor'.
Turning down a chance to go back on tour with Frank Zappa in 1981, Warren chose to dedicate himself to Missing Persons, and with $3,000 from Warren's father, Missing Persons released the 4 song, 7 inch Missing Persons EP on their producers' label, KoMoS.
The phone rang again on Monday, January 5th, 1981. It was from the office of Bennett Glotzer, Frank's manager, announcing the rehearsals were to begin again at 6 p.m. on the 7th at the Zappa warehouse in the valley. [...] I called Frank and told him I wanted to come up to his house and talk. [...] I went up to his house that Tuesday evening and told him that as much as I loved his music, I knew it was time for me to leave the band. [...] He mentioned that Vinnie was not going to be in the band. Maybe he somehow thought I wanted to quit because of Vinnie, but that was not the case. Frank was understanding, said he was sorry to see me go, and we parted on good terms.
CBS as a record company didn't want to sign us directly as an artist because we weren't fashionable enough. We worked out a deal with them where I supply the music and all they do is press it and ship it. And it's a one album deal. I don't think they're going to be interested in anything else after the results of this thing.
Distribution of Zappa's records continued to be problematic, but having paid all of the recording costs up front, he was in a position to demand exceptionally profitable royalty rates. "He would give the record company 15 percent," recalls Pinske. "So Frank ended up making, in those days, like $2.25 off each record sold. And that was unheard of compared to somebody like Dylan, who would make 18 cents a copy. By having that kind of control, he was able to take more money in and not have to have all Platinum albums. Because he knew his music was off-the-wall enough and wouldn't be played on the radio—that he couldn't get that kind of volume—he set up his business accordingly. The bulk of his money still came from live performances—he got paid well for performing—and also, he sold a heck of a lot of memorabilia, whatever you could put in the mail: T-shirts, you name it."
The Zappas are considered to be the leaders in independent music distribution.
We were doing it ourselves before anybody else was doing it. It's interesting how that happened because, of course, I was very naive about how it is normally done. But because of that I could ask for things that I didn't know you weren't supposed to get.
Well, Frank wanted to be independent. He started a mail order operation for certain recordings with CBS or one of their off-shoots. Of course, they were collecting for the recordings, but they weren't shipping any records. So that was a disaster. We ended up in a lawsuit with them. Then we had no distribution for anything. Frank's manager at the time, Bennet Glotzer, was busy making an artist deal just for Europe with EMI. So at that time, I was thinking, "What are we doing here? This doesn't bode well for our future."
So what did you do?
I had this lawyer who worked in this major law firm—I prefer not to mention names—but I said, "I need to get an independent distribution. I hear great things about CEMA (the record label distribution branch of Capitol-EMI). Let's talk with them. This is what I would like." He said, "You are crazy. You can't do that. Who do you think that you are?" I said, "It's not who I think I am. It's who do you think that you are that you are telling me that I can't have what I'm asking about?" Then I called up the guy who was the head of the firm in the entertainment division and said, "I hired you, and I'm being shoved off with this guy over here, and I don't like that. Either you do the business for me or I'm going to move to another law firm where I can get the guy I want to work with." That turned out to be the fabulous Owen Sloane (Attorney; Chair, Entertainment & Media Group, Gladstone Michel Weisberg Willner & Sloane) who, to this day, is a real close friend.
Owen is a leading authority on contract, copyright, and other kinds of law involving the entertainment world.
I would have to say that without him there are a lot of things that Frank is known for that he wouldn't have been able to accomplish without help. Because no matter what, you don't live in a vacuum in this business. You have to work with certain people to accomplish certain things. We were very fortunate to have Owen Sloane, who is quite brilliant.
What Zappa catalog was available for the deal with CEMA?
That was when I started the mail order company. We controlled the catalog at that time. The label that we had started in 1981 approximately was Barking Pumpkin. That label we intended to put out various masters that would be under an artist deal. It would be, maybe, three masters in 7 years. Whatever the contract was in those days with EMI for Europe. Then there would be whatever we wanted to do independently. As a result of, I thought, "Well, let's do a mail order company. We'll sell T-shirts." We had all of this fan mail. I got boxes and boxes, and I started opening it all. I made a list of potential customers, and I wrote them letters, and asked if they would be interested in a T-shirt. I put a little form letter in there. We got more than a 25% return which was unheard of.
This was before the internet.
Yeah. Exactly. So I said. "Let's make T-shirts." Then Frank said, "Well, I don't want to be in the dry goods business."
Unlike the Grateful Dead who dived into the merchandising business with both feet.
Exactly. They are a little bit smoke and mirrors as well, and a different kind of smoke, I might say. So I put that (mail order business) together when Frank was out touring. He did a lot of touring then. At the same time, I got a local distribution deal. The deal with CEMA was divided into two parts. On one hand, I had a manufacturing deal, and the on the other hand, I had a distribution deal. They were not tied together where everything had to go under one roof. So I could manufacture independently with them. I could say, "I want you to manufacture this record, but I'm only going to put it out mail order. You are not going to distribute it." Or I could get them to put up the money, and advance for whatever (album) they were going to distribute. It was a really nice way to balance the best of our assets. It was very successful for us for a number of years, and helped pay for the law suit against Warner Brothers.
Did the CEMA distribution deal include foreign distribution?
How did you cover that?
Well, those were days when you weren't supposed to be selling stuff in those (international) markets, but a lot of the mom and pop stores were in the export business. So literately exporters were buying it, and the sale was in the United States.
What you were doing with CEMA as well as handling the mail order business yourself was insuring that you had control of the masters.
Absolutely. That was the whole point there was no point beyond that. It was that nobody was going to tell Frank what kind of record that he was going to make.
As well, being distributed by CEMA insured that you got paid, and got paid in a timely manner.
Yeah, but we had to do that. Primarily, (with a record deal), you get paid twice a year. A distribution deal gets you paid on a monthly basis. A few months in, and then you are getting paid every month. That was a much better way for us to operate, and be able to plan ahead, and pull monies together. Without that, we wouldn't have been able to do a lot of things. Before, we were just struggling to save the money to hire an orchestra to do anything orchestral. Those were still the days that if you were a composer, you didn't have a chance in hell in hearing your music unless you hired an orchestra to play it. And it was very expensive. With copying costs, every time we got involved with an orchestra event, it was always $400,000 for some reason. That was the magic number. Think about it. Even today, it's still horrendous. When you think about all of the copying and everything. There were no digital files, either.
When I was hired Frank had just fired Adam Stern. He needed work done, and it was more than the staff could keep up with, especially since the guitar book was in production. I replaced Adam. There were also Richard Emmett, David [Ocker], and Lee Scott. While I was still around he also hired David Izzard. That put the total at five, for at least a while. When Frank called to tell me he had to lay me off he said "Sorry, but my accountant tells me I can't afford to put this much money into my 'classical department'." I don't remember exactly who stayed on after that, but it was those with more seniority than I. I was there for 14 months as a full-timer.
John Trubee: When and how did you get hired by Frank Zappa to do music copying for him?
Art Jarvinen: 1981. He had just fired Adam Stern because he wasn't producing enough work to earn his salary. David Ocker suggested that I submit a work sample, and I was hired immediately. He already had three full time salaried copyists, but needed more staff because he was not only in heavy production, but also still re-working things like 200 Motels. I was in Frank's employ for 14 months until his accountant told him he couldn't afford to be pumping that much money into his "classical" work, which wasn't bringing money in.
John Trubee: Did he also hire you to transcribe his music? What tunes of his did you copy and transcribe?
Art Jarvinen: I never transcribed. Steve Vai did almost all of that, and Richard Emmett did some. What I did was what I guess you'd call "arranging". Specifically, I took most of his orchestra scores and worked them out so they could be played on two pianos. That's a common practice in the classical realm. Stravinsky, for example, did his own two piano reduction of The Rite Of Spring.
I copied those arrangements, plus things in the Frank Zappa Guitar Book. Not sure which ones. Pink Napkins I remember.
John Trubee: Your music copying work is remarkably clean and elegant. When, where, and how did you learn to do it?
Art Jarvinen: The specific technique you're referring to was developed by Donald Martino as far as I know. He taught it to his students at Yale, including Stephen "Lucky" Mosko, who taught it to several of his students at CalArts. All the Zappa copyists who were working for him when I was hired were trained by Lucky in that specific type of copying, so unless you have a real good eye, you can't really tell our work apart. Sometimes we would get reassigned mid-piece, and someone else would pick up where we left off. You'd be hard pressed to tell.
In April 1981, I went back to California to do rehearsals with the Grandmothers for the first upcoming tour. While I was there I called up Frank and asked how he was doing. He said, "Good. Listen! Come on by the house because I have a song that I want to give you!" So I went by his house and that's when he played me a song called "Falling In Love Is A Stupid Habit." He sat and played it on the piano and sang it onto a little cassette player. He handed me the words and the tape and just said, "Put a banjo on it and a violin."
I went over to Frank's house two or three times while we were rehearsing at Don Preston's house. Originally, Frank was not opposed to us starting the Grandmothers. He was well aware of what we were doing and didn't say a thing about it. I think he thought it was a good idea at the time.
So, the Grandmothers played six gigs at the end of May, before we went to Europe. We played Vancouver, Seattle, Eugene, Eureka, two nights in San Francisco and then we finished with a show at The Roxy in Hollywood. [...]
Motorhead turned up for The Roxy show. He was up on stage doing all sorts of wild shit. Don Preston had made this life-sized doll and put a drawing of Frank's face on it and he used to have it propped up by his amp. It was just sitting staring out at the crowd. Motorhead grabbed the doll and started abusing it. [...]
So, the call was made, by Frank, direct to Don: "I don't like what you're doing with that doll . . ." [...]
Things changed drastically for us when he heard about the doll. I was going to record the new song he'd given me but I never got a chance to do it, because of all the trouble that had started!
Frank Zappa, the American pop composer and singer, will join in a "Musical Tribute to Edgard Varese" at the Palladium on April 17. He will offer a reminiscence and appreciation of the late composer, whom Mr. Zappa has called "the idol of my youth."
The Orchestra of Our Time will be conducted by its music director, Joel Thome, in Varese's "Ionisation," "Integrales" and "Deserts." The program has been selected by the composer's widow, Louise Varese, who is in her 90th year.
A number of pre-concert dinners and a champagne reception for Mrs. Varese will be held on April 17 for major donors.
The concert is called a "Musical Tribute to Edgard Varese" and includes "Offrandes," "Integrales," "Ionisation," "Density 21.5" and a complete version of "Deserts" with all its electronic interpolations. All five pieces will be played by the Orchestra of Our Time, founded 16 years ago by its conductor, Joel Thome.
In a sense, this will also be a celebration for family members and longtime admirers. Varese's widow, Louise, is in her 90th year; and with her enthusiastic approval, Frank Zappa, the rock performer, will introduce the concert. Mr. Zappa is a lifelong Varese enthusiast. Pioneered Electronic Music
The expected audience of 2,000 will be a mix of old friends, newmusic aficionados and, most interesting of all, young rock-and-roll fans presumably free of the historical musical prejudices that made Varese's career as a composer so agonizing. Radio spots, some by Mr. Zappa, have created a substantial advance sale from young ticket buyers. They are coming, it seems, partly out of curiosity and partly because of Mr. Zappa's popular appeal.
What made it a rock event, and attracted a near sell-out crowd of predominantly rock fans (apart from some doughty if somewhat bemused classical types in the center orchestra seats) was the presence of Frank Zappa, erstwhile Mother of Invention.
Mr. Zappa confined himself, as advertised, to introducing the concert and filling time between pieces. [...]
The concert's success could be measured in several ways. The Palladium crowd is a notoriously rowdy one—the hall is as much as place for white male teen-agers to get drunk or high in and make noise as it is for mere music. Given that tradition, Mr. Zappa handled the crowd well, and there were remarkably few disruptions of the music itself.
Second, the orchestra's performances were first-rate, and the slight amplification did not appreciably distort the instruments. Indeed, it added a nice impact to the sound; one suspects Varese would have approved. Mr. Thome's interpretations were intelligent and carefully prepared, and the soloists—Sue Ann Kahn, flute, for "Density 21.5" and Lucy Shelton, soprano, for "Offrandes"—did fine jobs. The other three pieces on the program were "Ionisation," "Integrales" and "Deserts."
[...] More seriously, for all his skill at crowd control, Mr. Zappa made no attempt either to explain the music, even in rudimentary terms, or even to give some sense of what it was that had quickened his interest as a boy. Constricted by his characteristically crippling irony, he just said it was great, told people to shut up and signed autographs.
This past spring, Zappa served as master-of-ceremonies at a Varèse retrospective conducted by Joel Thome with the Orchestra Of Our Time, playing to an audience for whom Zappa was the principle draw at New York City's Palladium Theatre. Zappa's obvious regard for Varèse's music served him well in a role reduced to keeping the audience quiet during the performances.
The phone rang again in late May with Frank on the line. Apparently, the January rehearsals had never materialized and Frank had to cancel whatever touring plans he had once he realized he had no band. He wanted to hire me to prepare some click tracks for some tunes he wanted to record that required more than a simple stead beat. [...] I went up to the house nine times between May 27th and June 13th to record the click tracks, as well as some bass, guitar, and piano parts that would end up on the Drowning Witch and Man From Utopia albums.
The orchestra's rehearsal was "cloaked in secrecy," because the maestro, avant garde rock satirist Frank Zappa, needed privacy for his special project.
"He was here, practically speaking, to see how long it would take to rehearse the music before he could present it on a stage," Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra spokeswoman Vicki Vigorito said Tuesday. Zappa, known for his theatrics and relentless innovation, provided his own conductor, Joel Thome, to lead the 120-member orchestra in a secret rehearsal of several original scores on Monday. They reportedly included pieces from a 1969 film, "2000 Motels," and several unreleased compositions.
The experiment cost several thousand dollars and it took nine months to copy the scores for the orchestra. "Financially, I could have done something better, but musically it was something I had to find out," Zappa reportedly told an orchestra aide.
In 1981 and 1982 I didn't go on tour so I could have kids and start a family. But I did the albums.
Last weekend I (finally) watched Chad's dvd "Chad Wackerman Trio Hits Live". [...] Anyway—during a short interview section Chad tells the story about meeting the bassist (Doug Lunn) during the auditions for 88 tour. Clearly Doug didn't get the job, and Scott did. But I had always thought that the "old core band" (veterans like Ike, Chad, Scott, Bobby, Ed) didn't even have to audition...so maybe they did?
My recollection of that interview is that Doug met Chad when he auditioned for Frank in the "early 80s", not 1988.
Then, he might have been one of the three bassists who made it to the last stage of the audition in mid '81. It must have been a tough competition, because the other candidates were Scott Thunes and Stuart Hamm.
I auditioned for Frank Zappa in 1981 after spending the Summer in Europe touring with a fusion big band. I did well and probably would have gotten the gig had I chosen to stick around LA, but I flew back to Boston to see Miles Davis at Kix disco, in one of his first gigs in years with Mike Stern, Marcus Miller in the band.
According to the Miles Davis sessionography, Miles appeared at KIX Club in Boston on June 26-27.
FZ mentioned in one radio interview from circa early summer '81 [1981 06 28 WMET Chicago] that he had hired a drummer named Marty Zevin. Scott Thunes mentioned once on a.f.f-z that he worked with another drummer for a while before FZ decided to hire Chad instead.
HOW LONG IN BAND: One month (since July 20)
In 1981, Thunes contacted Frank Zappa at the behest of his brother, who had himself tried unsuccessfully to audition for Zappa's group. Scott recorded some tracks in Los Angeles and was summoned back for the formal audition a week later. This session included improvising to arrhythmic tracks played on a drum machine, as well as performing the same song with two other auditioning bassists, the three of them competing face-to-face.
I remember his 2nd day in the band—Frank was giving some generalized direction and Scott interrupted and said aloud to me and Tommy "Listen up! This applies to you!" I didn't know him then—and I thought " . . . what the fuck?"—after all, WE were the vets and HE was the new guy. Of course that was arrogant thinking on my part—and over time I began to understand Scott's safety-pin-in-cheek humour—and once you get it, it is pretty funny: almost like performance art.
I had come to the audition merely to give moral support to my boyfriend at the time, Chris Armstrong, an avid Zappa fan and talented drummer. I do remember what I was wearing and it was definitely not dressed-to-impress: red gym shorts and a silly white t-shirt with tiny red hearts on it. I came to the studio with no acquaintance with Frank's music and was acting mostly as a 'roadie' for Chris. When I saw sheet music lying around, I took a glance and hummed through it. It seemed purposefully difficult but I got a kick out of trying to get the rhythms. Tommy Mars caught me glancing at the music and suggested that I audition for Frank. After several terrified auditioners were summarily dismissed from the studio after failing to meet Frank's expectations, and definitely after Chris' audition was also not up to 'snuff', I had every intention of helping him pack up and head home. But Tommy approached me again and was quite insistent that I audition for Frank. Not one to say no, I sat at the piano while Frank placed music in front of me, testing my musicianship, playing and singing. I remember auditioning for quite a long time, perhaps 45 minutes, turning around occasionally to observe an ever-growing group of guys behind me looking stunned, as though they were thinking "Who IS this girl?"
When the audition was over, Frank pulled me aside and gave me a stack of music to memorise and said to come back in several days and play for him again. Well, that was my first real challenge as I had developed my ability to read music but not my ability to memorise it! I did my best to learn it and came back for my second audition. The singing went well and it was obvious that Frank enjoyed my over-the-top operatic renditions, basically opera with boozy jazz styling. Then I was informed that I would be put on a trial period which eventually lasted three weeks. There's much to tell about those three weeks, which overall I found quite harrowing. My background was classical and pop piano but I was expected to play primitive synthesizers and learn four hours of almost unplayable music and then be able to play it in any style and in any key. That was quite beyond my experience. All the while, though, Frank was very supportive—even warm—towards me and I gave the process everything I had, even to the point of swollen hands from practicing.
At the end of three weeks, Frank called to let me know that my trial period was over and I agreed that it wasn't working out. I had not come to the situation as an experienced player; I had just gotten my Master's Degree in Classical Voice and had fallen into the situation. He was kind when breaking the news to me and though I was of course disappointed, I was also very relieved. Going on a 60-city tour with 40 guys and one girl, me, was a daunting thought to say the least! I did hear later through the grapevine that if Frank had not been able to find a replacement, he was planning to call me back. But he found Bobby Martin, an extremely skilled and experienced performing musician.
FZ: [Lisa Popeil] auditioned for the band one day when we were trying out drummers. [...] Lisa had, at the time, a boyfriend, who was a drummer. We were having an open call for drummers. This was when we were auditioning, when Chad got the job. So, when her boyfriend showed up to audition for the job, Tommy got into a conversation with her, and came over to me, and told me, "This girl says she can play the piano, and sing, and sight read, and all this stuff. Why don't you try her out?" I said, "OK. I will." Her boyfriend didn't get the drummer job, but she could play. She could sight sing. I handed her the music for 'Be-Bop Tango'. She sight sang it! [...] And, y'know, she's a skilled musician. So, I said, "I'll consider putting a girl in the band again, why not?" And so, she attended a few of the rehearsals, I guess for about a week. and there were some things that she could do, and do very well, and other things that she couldn't, and it just turned out that there were more of the things that she couldn't do, that we needed, for a second keyboard position in the band, that it, y'know, just didn't work out.
There's only one guy in the band who would offer ideas and sometimes he comes up with great ideas and that's Tommy Mars but usually it's just a waste of time because I already know exactly what I want and if they'll just do it this way we can move on.
Chad auditioned. And we actually auditioned 31 drummers. We had auditioned him twice. We couldn't find a drummer to replace Vinnie Colaiuta.
In 1981 a bass player friend of mine, Kevin Brandon, called me and said, "I just spent yesterday at Frank Zappa's house auditioning for his band. Here's his number, Frank's looking for a bass player and drummer".
I first thought that it would be pointless, that I wouldn't get the gig. It wasn't until I spoke with Jim Cox who said I had to go and audition, because I'd get a funny story out of it. I thought it over and realized that I had nothing to lose. I called Frank and spoke to him, telling him that I was a drummer who lived in L.A. and was interested in auditioning for the band. He said "Do you read"? I told him I did, then he said "Are you a good reader or are you a phenomenal reader?". Not knowing quite what to say, I told him I had experience in percussion ensemble music, big band, session work etc, but I hadn't seen his notation, although the reputation of his music was that it was complicated stuff. He gave me his address and asked if could I be there in an hour.
I packed up my drums and drove up to Frank's house. I was let in the gate and the first person I saw and met was Steve Vai. Steve introduced me to the other core members of that tour—Ed Mann and Tommy Mars. I heard a couple of quick drum auditions, then it was my turn. The pieces he auditioned on were Alien Orifice, Drowning Witch (the classical interlude part). Mo and Herb's Vacation- (which is arguably the most difficult drum part of his compositions).
After somehow getting through the music—(all of the drums were written classical style, bass drum, snare, 4 toms, ride, crash, hi hat, china cymbal, 3 roto toms castanets, cowbell). All of the drums had their own respective lines written on the staff. Some rhythms were comprised of polyrhythms nested in other polyrhythms, and all of the music was beautifully copied.
The next stage of the audition was playing in odd time signatures. We played in 21/16 and 19/8. The other guys in the band were extremely solid on this stuff, and we played these grooves for a long period of time.
Frank then had me play in just about every style imaginable; heavy metal, swing, funk, New Orleans style rock (he called it a Delta groove), a Weather Report type feel, Latin styles, Swing Reggae, Straight Reggae, Ska, punk . . . Then it was combining an odd time and a Ska feel or a Reggae feel . . .
After this Frank put on his guitar and played various rock feels, solos, riffs and we began to improvise off of certain feels. This ended day one of my audition. Frank had me return for the next two days for more playing—I got to take home some of the music and we basically just did lots and lots of playing.
At the end of the third day, I went home and got a call that night from Frank saying that he just had a meeting with the band, and they had decided to offer me the gig. This meant 3 months of rehearsal 5 to 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. Frank had about 80 songs that we were to memorize, and arrangements changed regularly. The tour was 3 months in the US and Europe. He then asked me if I was interested in the gig! (I answered yes of course). I was to go to his house the next morning to pick up a stack of music and entire albums to start memorizing, as rehearsals started in 2 weeks. He then said that I got the gig because he liked my feel.
Around 38 min. [on Podcast 142—Chad Wackerman: From A To Zappa, December 7, 2015], Chad says that on the first day of the audition, one of FZ's daughters, who was still very very young, was having a birthday party.
If his recollection is correct, it was Diva's birthday (July 30). He also says that he was hired on the third day of the audition, therefore it was August 1 (if it was done in three consecutive days).
HOW LONG IN BAND: Since 8/24/81
1980 found me in L.A. and while I was on tour with Etta [James], one of the roadies for Orleans told me about an audition for the Frank Zappa Band. I did the audition and I got it.
In the Summer of 1981, I had another call from a guy who had been a sound guy with Orleans, named David Robb, and at this point he was working with Frank. He was watching Frank tear his hair out trying to find the last person for the band to do the 1981 tour. He had Tommy Mars, and Chad Wackerman and Scott Thunes had just joined the band. Ray White was in the band, but Ike wasn't. Ed Mann and Steve Vai were there, so it was a great band, but Frank was not able to find the last person to fill out the band. David told him about me, said 'I know a guy who plays a lot of things; he sings great; you ought to check him out. He's got a classical background.' So Frank said 'Yeah, give him a call; bring him down here.' Dave called me and said 'Be here tomorrow'. I had already heard some of the Zappa audition horror stories that people had endured. So I thought 'What the hell? I'm just going to wing this.' I'm not even gonna try to prepare anything. I knew a few things from back in the bar band days.
I went in, and first he had me sight-read some keyboard things. I think the first one was 'Envelopes'. Not easy at all, but with my classical background, I could read so it wasn't a problem. My technique wasn't blazing. When it got too difficult to get everything, I would just read the top line, so that he could see I was following the metric changes and the harmonies. [...] I did find that with that piece, he could tell that I had the training and I had the comprehension, and the ability to go from 7/8 to 3/16 to whatever.
He had me continue to read a few more things on keyboards, then he didn't have anything written for French horn, so he asked me to play some other horn parts. For a French horn player, transposition is just a way of life; you have to know how to do it, because you must do it in the classical literature constantly. I transposed some sax parts onto the French horn and also some concert pitch parts from 'Strictly Genteel'. I did fine with that, then he had me transpose some keyboard parts onto tenor and that was very tough.
He had me play what was called at the time 'Mystery Studio Song'. I don't actually know what the final recorded title was; it had three or four different names. It used to go into 'What's New in Baltimore?' (sings). A lot of it was in five, so I was sight-reading that and transposing it onto sax from a keyboard part. And he said 'Well, this is good. You're doing real well. I understand you sing real high and strong; let me hear you sing. What do you know?' I didn't have any Zappa songs prepared, so I said 'I don't know; 'Auld Lang Syne'.' He said 'Great, 'Auld Lang Syne', key of A' and the band starts to play the song. I sang it an octave higher than anyone would have expected, and it goes up real high. Everybody goes 'Woah', and he says 'You got it'. So, 'Auld Lang Sync' was the real capper. [...]
When I first joined the band, everyone else had been there for like a month, I think, rehearsing. So they had a huge head start, so it was really tough for me. It was the most challenging thing I'd ever dealt with. The highest level of classical stuff at Curtis prepared me very well but not completely, because with Frank I had to be there at that level classically, but I also had to be able, like everyone else, to play everything else, to play real authentic blues, real improvisational jazz, then spoof a country song and play heavy metal, but do it all authentically. You can't play tongue in cheek unless you can play legit.
He gave me this huge book of stuff to learn, all these charts, not only to learn them and get them under your fingers, but then to memorise it all. It was exhausting. I would go to rehearsals for eight hours, but before that, I would get up and practise for two hours, then go in and rehearse for about five or six hours before Frank would come in. Arthur Barrow was the Klonemeister, then Frank would come in and run us through some things, make changes and throw out half of what we'd done and make us do something new. By the end of the day, I was so tired that I could barely see to drive home.
The only time I've ever met Vinnie [Colaiuta]:
OK, it was the deepest darkest time of the first rehearsals for the '81 band. We're in the warehouse (which later is to become Joe's Garage Rehearsal Studios tm), and it's getting close to the very last day of the 3 months we've spent perfecting Frank's art. We're all pretty happy and confident. Vinnie shows up with Jeff Berlin [...] and listens to a set run-though.
They're sitting around with Frank afterwards, and Frank's on the couch, they're sitting on various items lying around.
[...] During this time, Jeff decides (?) that he wants to be in the band again, even though he was part of the mass-firing. So he sends Frank a cake (do you guys all know this shit already?) that says (I LOVE THIS BIT, as did Frank):
'Let's Play Some Jazz.'
Frank was pretty pleased with the irony.
So I'm getting my stuff together after the rehearsal, and I've been nervous as hell. The Great and Powerful VINNIE is here, along with his sidekick, JEFF BERLIN-MAN. They're sitting around, and Vinnie is on my Anvil bass case What do I do? He's sitting on it like it's his, and we all know you don't fuck with the masters of space and time [...].
So, I've been introduced—I don't remember when that day, if it was before or after we played the set—but haven't talked to either of them. They're the Guys, and I'm just a guy. I lean down, and say pretty humorously (I thought), and in a slightly Southern twang: 'Excuse me, son, but you're sitting on my case.'
He turned around to me and said: 'Son?', like I'd just called him a 'bad drummer'. It was pretty bad.
That was the only time I've ever spoken to or seen him.
At one point [FZ] asked if I would consider changing my mind about being in the band, but I declined. Soon after he hired Chad Wackerman on drums and Scott Thunes on bass. To my surprise, Frank asked me if I would stay on through the first set of rehearsals to be the clonemeister and get the new guys up to speed, and of course I said yes.
I began clonemeistering the new band in early August, 1981. [...] It was a lot easier running the rehearsals with this band than it had been in the past. [...]
The rehearsals continued for almost two months, until September 25th.
We did a bunch of recording before we left LA [in September, 1981]. [...] A lot of stuff with Roy Estrada. A song called "Truck Driver Divorce" which will probably be the end of country and western music. It's like country music on PCP. And another song called "Willing Suspension of Disbelief" which is a science fiction extravaganza. It has everything in it about cheap monster movies that wasn't included in the song "Cheepnis." And another song called "Sex," which is a very nice song. And then there's a straight ahead mongolian sing-along song called, "No, Not Now." And there's another one called "Viva La Rosa," which is like a jazz song, bossa nova type. That features Tommy Mars on Hammond organ and recorder. And then there's all the ones that we were doing in the [Palladium, October 31, 1981] show that you heard that have also been recorded and haven't been released yet.
Of new material Z said that before going on this tour "we did a lot of material in the studio. I've probably got 5 sides of material already recorded and we've been recording everything on this tour with my brand new 24-track remote truck."
About the tour: Hartford, Montreal, New York & Chicago were cited as successful/responsive dates, with some others 'dedicated, small pockets of resistance', but don't sell as many tickets. The net income was in question and if there is not enough money in the bank to pay the expenses of a large scale tour, there will be none next year.
The next technology upgrade came when Douglas and Pinske convinced Zappa to purchase the Beach Boys' recording truck. Both the truck and its Neve console required considerable refurbishment—stored for years at Beach Boy Mike Love's seaside estate in Santa Barbara, Calif., the truck was badly rusted—and Douglas also built a 150-channel snake/splitter system, with 102 channels available in the truck. "We told Frank we had only 90 channels, which was just as well, as his first mic input list was for 99 channels," recalls Douglas. A Midas console was installed at right angles to the Neve, and two additional Carvin boards, the fruits of an endorsement deal, were mounted on the truck's side walls. Another endorsement deal with AKG provided the 1981 tour with a full complement of AKG dynamic and condenser mics.
We started moving into, "Well, what can we do to have a better situation live?" That's when I decided that we could build a recording truck. And that's where the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen recording truck was pretty much born. I bought—the shell of the truck I bought from the Beach Boys. They had this sitting up in the backyard of their house. They hadn't been using it so much. So I took the shell of the truck—it was a 27-foot trailer. We pretty much had to redo everything in it. Added a new hydraulic airbag, shocks, and all that kind of stuff. It was a little bit beaten up. But the inside of it was still pretty good shape. We took a Neve—had a Neve 8108 on the front of it. We wired it up for an elaborate amount of inputs, because I didn't want to have to be somewhat in a tour, have some bad channels, and stop and do repairs, and stuff like that. So we kind of did an overkill on all that.
[...] I had 142-channel ins. Three 24-track machines, and four videos. [...] And we had a Neve 8108 across the front. Then we had a custom made Midas made for us by Midas, that went down along the wall, which is pretty much normal the first hundred channels. Now we also did an endorsement with Carvin, which adds a couple extra boards, but normally we would use like 96 channels live. We would put everything on its own channel. All the channels that were over the 96 that we used were pretty much all spare channels. So we did a little endorsement, we took a little picture of the truck and put a couple little Carvin boards up on the wall for anything that was over Channel 100. And Frank stood there and took a little picture and they recycled that thing, and we were able to get some free equipment out of it and all that kind of stuff.
[...] They were just there for—what happened was, we took that picture, and we got extra keyboards and amplifiers. The keyboard players on stage would use some of the Carvin mixers for their keyboard rigs on stage left and stage right. We had Tommy Mars at that time.
[...] We overlapped the tapes. Originally we started off analog 2-inch tape, at 30 ips. We ran two Ampex MM1200s. And I had a 3M M79 machine in the back. The one in the back was primarily a spare. So what we did is, we took the 24 buses that we ran, and we overlapped the tapes by about a minute or two minutes, so that we could always edit them all together later. I tried to make as many big reels as I could, 14-inch reels. Normally, we just took out of the box, reels, ran them, started this next machine one minute before the other one would run out, and we just kept altering the machines as the night went on. And that way everything got caught on tape. [...] 30 ips [...]. Non-Dolby. [...] On the first three-months tour, we had 946 master tapes, if I remember correctly. I can almost remember the number. A huge amount of master reels of tape. Matter of fact, we did use Dolby on some channels, but most of the time we didn't use Dolby. He hated Dolby on the cymbals and stuff. I'm trying to remember how many reels we had on an average—normally it would take about eight reels a show, overlapping them. Somewhere along that, depending how long the set was. A lot of times we did these small theaters in America. We did like the Fox theaters, the Palladiums, those kind of places, so we would do double shows. And that way we would record two whole shows, and Frank had a habit of not repeating any of the songs from the second show to the first show, so we'd have pretty much different tunes through both shows.
[...] I built the truck in the spring of 1981. That's when the very first tour it went on, I guess would be in—the first tour we did in 1981, and then we recorded—it pretty much went on every tour after that. We took it overseas. We put it on the Queen Mary, and we shipped it across to—we rehearsed originally over in Denmark, or Amsterdam. We took it all around Europe. We recorded all of Europe on the truck as well.
[...] At that point, in 1981, is when we went through about two or three different house mixers. Bob Stone came on board a little later. He did some house mixes. We had a couple of guys—one guy, Chris that was with us for a while. Mike Abbott. We called him Rat Man. We had a variety of different house mixers. We had Marque Coy doing the monitors. It was a real elaborate set up. What we did was, I used to do some of the submixing from the truck. We had that, like I said, 142-channel snake, but 30 of them were like direct lines. So I could take an individual input, for instance, on all the drums. I could have 22 channels on the drums. We'd have Syndrums or Simmons drums, or a combination of a whole set. We'd have a lot of individual direct mics inside. I would take the combination of all of it, and send, for instance, tom-toms left and right back out to the house. The house would have it's own kick, it's own snare, it's left and right toms, left and right overhead cymbals and the separate hi-hat, whatever. And I would take things like that on the keyboards, as well. We might take nine different stereo keyboards, and I would mix them all down to a stereo keyboard mix. And the stereo keyboard mix could go back to the monitors onstage, and back to the house mix. What we found by doing that is we had a lot more control over the feedback, and we had a lot less problems with the recordings because we had the same sonic tone, and the same path pretty much going to each of the locations. [...] That's one of the reasons we used it all the time. Because I had 85 noise gates in the truck, and we could pretty much really, really control everything. And I could solo stuff up up there. It was really brilliant because we could solo stuff up and I could hear problems, like little buzzes or hums or something like that. We could isolate the problems, and I could treat them with some of the best outboard gear you could get, and send it back to these guys and it would be all spiced up. And of course, you're not going to get the kind of equalization that you have in a Neve console out of a little portable Midas board.
[...] With Zappa we owned our own P.A. We bought the John Meyer system. [...] We had the very first M-3 system that he made. [...] We took it all over the whole—we bought that system from John. In fact, that was the first one he made, and I even helped John out with a couple of problems. He had a couple of microprocessor problems in the first ML-3. The microprocessors had a little bit of a problem, and we ended up having a little problem more on a couple of the horn things. But after that—that was just a PC board problem. Once that got fixed, we never had any problems with the stuff. It was fabulous. We had A and B amplifiers, a full spread of his stuff. Took it all around the world.
[...] That's the way he did things. We owned all the sound and all the stage. What we would do with the lights, though, we would buy a system from LSD Lighting, we would use it for three months and then sell it back to them. And he would hire three guys on the crew for the lights. He did that instead of renting the lights. And he had a—Frank was a pretty smart businessman. By the time we would finish a tour, we would actually save a lot of money by buying the system and just paying for the crew to run it, than we did—especially on lights, because light rentals were so expensive. So he would do things like that all the time.
HOW LONG IN BAND: Three years
OTHER INFORMATION: Currently not touring with the band but acting as "clone-meister" helping rehearse the band.
HOW LONG IN CREW: 1 1/2 months
GEORGE W. DOUGLAS
HOW LONG IN CREW: One year
ED "LEROY" MANN
HOW LONG IN BAND: Three years
TOMMY MARS (MARIANO)
HOW LONG IN BAND: 5th year
HOW LONG IN BAND: Since 8/24/81
HOW LONG IN CREW: Four and 1/2 years
MARK G. PINSKE
HOW LONG IN CREW: Since February, 1980
INSTRUMENT(S) PLAYED: Recording engineer, live mixing engineer, bass guitar (formerly)
HOW LONG IN CREW: Since December, 1980
INSTRUMENT(S) PLAYED: Recording console, guitar
OTHER INFORMATION: Started as a P.A. mixer in 1969. This is his first tour mixing "live". "No other groups have had the musical and technical qualities to make it interesting before this." A Zappa fan since mid-60's.
HOW LONG IN BAND: One month (since July 20)
HOW LONG IN BAND: Two years
HOW LONG IN BAND: One month
RAY S. WHITE
HOW LONG IN BAND: Three years
Zappa's longest-tenured employee, Coy has been at the monitor board for Zappa's stage shows since 1981 and otherwise sitting in the head office of the premier rehearsal facility in the Los Angeles area—Joe's Garage. [...]
Coy went to Elektra Asylum as a staff engineer from 1978-1980, then off to tour with Chris De Burgh (where he worked with Harry Andronis), then back to Elektra, and then the phone rang.
"I pick it up," he recalls. "A voice says, 'I understand you're a monitor engineer.' 'Well, I'm a recording engineer,' I said, 'but I know how to do monitors.' The guy says, 'Well, my production manager will call you within the hour—you're hired.' I said, 'Who is this?' He said, 'Frank Zappa.' I said, 'Oh . . . okay . . . . ' I've been with him ever since."
I hired Marque Coy as he was a roadie for Helix, the band that Bob Harris and I had in Colorado. He got his nickname from me: 'Marqueson'. We were living together in Boulder and when someone called and asked for Mark, we would say, "Which one—Markman or Marqueson?" We are still very good friends to this day.
Before [the Palladium, October 30, 1981 gig, Artis The Spoonman] played at the Mac Court gig in Eugene Oregon on 10/4/81. A first-hand witness reports that Steve Vai was "slack-jawed".
[Artis The Spoonman] told me about having his first meet and greet in a hotel lobby in Oregon while FZ was in town for a 3/27/80 MacArthur Court show, whereupon Frank exclaimed, "You've gotta be on TELEVISION," or something close to that, which struck Artis as odd, Frank not (yet) being known as a TV-type guy.
Frank says that Artis sat in with them at the Eugene 3/27/80 show.
I don't think that the people that consume music via radio are aware of what the problem in radio is today, when 150 of the stations that really matter are controlled TOTALLY by 5 companies who program them. And we've run into situations where, the best example was, Tucson, Arizona. I flew in from Las Vegas on my night off to go to a radio station to be a disc jockey, at their invitation, on the station that was co-sponsoring the concert. I got there, I asked them if they had my record, they said they did, it had just been sent in. I put it on—I was playing it, said hello I was a disc jockey—blah, blah, blah, the regular guy was sitting right there—soon as I played my record the phone rang from the program director—said 'don't let him play it!' and I said 'what is this? Your gonna have me on here and I can't play my own record?' I said 'forget it' and walked off. And this station was co-sponsoring the concert. They took the money from the promoter for the advertising time—wouldn't play the record because they were formatted by the Abrahms chain. This station used to have a record library of 2000 albums. As soon as they became a formatted station they threw away 1500—and in that 1500 were all of my albums. And that's the way it is. A hundred and fifty stations that really matter, programmed by 5 companies that tell them precisely what to play and nobody plays anything other than that on the station—no matter what—that's called 'freeze dried radio'. Your looking at a situation where for the rest of your life your going to hear the same 10 songs over and over again until you're blue in the face. And that's what happens. I'm not part of that ecological chain.
[Artis The Spoonman] described playing "Man Against Machine" onstage 10/30/81 at the Palladium against "Wendell the Drum Machine", and how HE got to conduct Zappa. [...] Apparently after FZ cuts off "Wendell", Artis continues on in a big ol' cadenza, and then cues Frank back in. He had a hell of a grin on his face describing that to me, as if it were a highlight of his career, him conducting the master.
Frank introduced me and let me solo for several minutes, then motions me back to trade licks back and forth and motions me back again to do it all over again! Ha! Frank I think played some of the very best guitar I EVER heard him play, He was hot! This was the finest night in my career! [...] A couple weeks later, Frank shared with me how much he enjoyed our playing and that my playing was outstanding. Wow, whether I was or not, how sweet to hear that from the master!
Fourth time around: one year and three days later, which would make it, um, carry the 1, uhhh, December 12, 1981 at the Fox Theater in San Diego. A much more musically interesting set, including such goodies as "Envelopes," the "Baltimore/Moggio" medley, "Alien Orifice," "Drowning Witch," and much more, including an electric-cooled pony harness—er, I mean, lots of YAWYI songs again, and a couple of cool doo-wop medleys ("Man From Utopia/Mary Lou" and "The Closer You Are/Johnny Darling"), all topped off with one of the few performances of "Frogs With Dirty Little Lips." Frank spent a lot of time conducting the band while Steve Vai did the stunt guitar parts.
The Orchestra Nationale of Mexico City wants to do three of my ballets. That's the latest. Do you know about the orchestra in Poland? The Polish Radio Orchestra wants to give a complete concert of all of my orchestra works. [...] The Berlin Festival this August wants to do an evening of music with this orchestra in Czechoslovakia. The Buffalo Symphony wants to do a bunch of stuff in the springtime. All of these are offers that are in and nobody has signed a contract and nobody has finalized it. [...]
I wrote three pieces this year. In fact, I am almost finished with a piece that I was writing for [Pierre] Boulez's group because he wanted me to write something for his Ensemble Intercontemporaine in Paris. But that's a small orchestra.
Looking after Zappa's far-flung interests has [Bennett] Glotzer doing a good deal of globe-hopping. He recently spent some time in Poland organizing some special shows for Zappa.
"The Polish government," he says, "has wisely decided that they'd like Frank to come there next Spring and work with two fine Polish orchestras for the purpose of performing his symphony music in Poland and other cities in eastern and western Europe, which would probably include East Berlin, West Berlin, Vienna, Munich, Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam and possibly London. The concerts will result in world wide album releases of the music." Further down the road, Pierre Boulez is scheduled to conduct the music in Paris in 1983.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos