Bongo Fury


Release History

No British Release

Barry Miles, "Any Resemblance Is Purely Conceptual," New Musical Express, UK, December 4, 1976

[Frank Zappa] has released "Bongo Fury," a live album recorded with Captain Beefheart which most of us didn't hear, because Virgin Records issued a court order which stopped Warner Brothers from releasing the album in this country. It is available on import though, and still well worth buying.

Stuart Penney, "Great Concerts Revisited: Captain Beefheart, London, 1975," And Now It's All This!, November 5, 2023

Never the shrewdest businessman, in 1974 Beefheart had somehow managed to sign contracts with more than one record label at the same time, causing all kinds of legal problems. Consequently, Virgin records blocked the British release of Bongo Fury which appeared in America and elsewhere on Zappa's own DiscReet label through Warner Bros.

The album was allocated a UK Warner Bros catalogue number (K59209) and was even pictured with this number on music press tour ads, before Virgin called the lawyers in and the British release was cancelled. UK white label test pressings do exist, but that's as far as it got. US copies were easily found in the London import stores, but Bongo Fury was not officially released in the UK until the CD era many years later.


The Cover

Jim Sherwood, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, p. 10

Jim Sherwood: [In Lancaster] you could go [to Bubi Burgers] and pick up a hamburger and a Coke and fries for like 75 cents. Then, they had Foster's Freeze, which was only two doors up, which later on became a hangout for a lot of the guys.

John French: Right, which is also where the Bongo Fury cover was (later) shot.

John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, p. 59

The "famed" drive-in that appeared on the cover of Bongo Fury [...] was Foster's Freeze on Sierra Highway (right next to Bubi Burgers).

The Photo Session

FZ & Captain Beefheart


May 20-21, 1975—Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin, TX

Liner notes by FZ, 1975

*Recorded live at ARMADILLO WORLD HEADQUARTERS, Austin, Texas, May 20th & 21st, 1975

The Concerts

eBay seller

Armadillo Poster

This is the original concert poster for the concerts that took place in May 1975 at the Armadillo World Headquaters in Austin, Texas where the album Bongo Fury was recorded.

The very interesting thing about this poster is the letter that some guy named David wrote on the back of the poster. In his letter he describes what happened at one of these shows that he attended, there was a bomb threat and the building was evacuated for an hour before The Mothers could resume playing. He talks about what Frank said, an experimental guitar that the people of Ampeg gave Frank to check out what this guitar looked like and sounded like, what The Mothers sounded like, etc.

Liner notes by FZ, 1975

TERRY BOZZIO—drums, moisture

Terry Bozzio, "Bongo Fury,", 2002

I remember it was really hot! (Zappa caught a glimpse of my face as I hit the heat coming out of the hotel one day and quipped, "Bozzio, you look like you're waiting for the fog to roll in!!"—This being the first US tour for a green kid from San Francisco, he wasn't far off!).

When I arrived at the Armadillo I remember the incredible smell of food being prepared and soon was having my first experience with a Tex-Mex delectable called a "Nacho"! I have eaten some of the best food you can eat, all over the world, and I still have not come across anything as good as THOSE Nachos!!

When we played (2 shows—2 nights) I was sweating so hard there was no way to hold on to my drumsticks!!—Hence the credit, "drums and moisture" on the album!

Armadillo World Headquarters

John Henley, "The True Story Of Bongo Fury," ARF: Notes & Comments

The Armadillo (or AWHQ) was an old Nat'l Guard Armory that had also served as a skating rink. It was located in a part of Austin, south of the Colorado River, that's right on the border where the downtown business district gives way to a neighborhood. Around 1970, some enterprising hippies transformed it into a music hall in the spirit of the defunct Vulcan Gas Company. They struggled with it til about 1972, when both Willie Nelson and Freddie King decided they liked playing there and began doing so often.

As a music hall, it was mid-sized, held about 2500 people comfortably. There was a stage, the main floor (which usually had only a few rows of chairs at back, people mainly sitting on the floor), a raised area at back where folks could sit at tables, two bars (one on each side of the hall) and the food counter off to the side. For a long time, the main floor was covered by many 3-square-yard patches of carpeting. Pretty handy—when one got soaked with beer, it could just be replaced. In the late 70s, they carpeted the whole place with red outdoor pile, and it never smelled the same again.

There was also a nice beer garden outside.

It was popular with touring musicians because, unlike most other concert venues, a point was made of feeding the bands with real food, not just deli snacks, before or between shows. Evidently, no one was more impressed by this than Frank. Hence, the credit on BF to "the Armadillo kitchen staff, especially Jan Beeman." The actual Guacamole Queen was an early AWHQ cook known as Big Rikki, but she'd been gone for a while by this time and kitchen manager Beeman had become known as the GQ sort of by default.

For the most part, attendance at an AWHQ concert required a person to not mind at least getting high on second-hand weed smoke, because toking was almost a requirement. Very democratic, too—if you didn't have any, all you had to do was sit and wait for one to come by. (At his 1977 concert there, Frank pointed toward the emergency exit at stage right, the doors of which were usually open, and said "Please blow your smoke that way.")

Liner notes by FZ, 1975

Special thanks to the kitchen staff at THE ARMADILLO, especially JAN BEEMAN

Brad Buchholz, "Soul Of Armadillo Kitchen," Austin American-Statesman, April 13, 2007

Jan Beeman was the "earth mama" of the Armadillo World Headquarters concert hall in the mid-1970s. She was the soul of the Armadillo kitchen, a mentor to young artists, and "the face of hospitality" to touring musicians such as Frank Zappa and Van Morrison, who loved the 'Dillo for its home-cooked meals.

"If there was an important meal to cook, Jan cooked it," recalled Bruce Willenzik, an Armadillo alumnus who now runs the annual Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. "Whenever Zappa called, he asked for Jan. She knew all the musicians, their personalities, and tried to give them what they needed. Lose a button off your shirt? Hold on: Jan will sew it on for you. You say you need to do some laundry? Jan will fold it up for you."


The Recordings

Liner notes by FZ, 1975

Remote recording by THE RECORD PLANT, L.A.; Overdubs and mixing at THE RECORD PLANT, L.A.
200 Years Old, Cucamonga and Muffin Man intros were recorded in January and February, 1974 at THE RECORD PLANT, L.A.

Kelly Kotera | LinkedIn

[...] Engineer—Producer at Record Plant

Michael Stone | LinkedIn

Music Mixer
Greater Los Angeles Area | Entertainment
[...] Past
Chief Engineer at Record Plant Los Angeles

David Hewitt, interviewed by Blair Jackson, Mix, September 1, 2006

[c. 1973] I went back to Record Plant in New York to see what was happening, and I walked through the front door and bursting in to greet me is Frank Hubach, who had been left in charge of the remote truck after Tom Flye moved to California to work at Record Plant in Sausalito.

Davy Moire

Chris Michie, "We Are The Mothers . . . And This Is What We Sound Like!" Mix, January 1, 2003

[Davey] Moire, who met Zappa during the live recordings that went into Bongo Fury (1975), joined the organization when Zappa asked him to mix FOH for the Royce Hall (UCLA) concerts, which resulted in the Orchestral Favorites album (recorded in 1975, but not released until 1979).

Davy Moire, interviewed by Matt Wake,, May 22, 2018

I moved [from New York] to California. I was living in Laguna Beach. Got call from my friend, she'd been a studio manager at Record Plant New York, and said, "I'm in L.A. working for Record Plant West. Want a job?" I was like, "Doing what?" "Well, you could start off driving the remote truck. You know how to do that."

Then we did Frank Zappa at the Armadillo in Austin, Texas with Captain Beefheart. Two nights. Came back from that and Frank requested me as the second engineer on (a recording studio) session. I thought I was just going to assist the first engineer and Frank would produce.

Frank walks in and I've got the number one reel set up on the tape machine and everything, and he sits down and says, "OK let's get started." And I said, "Well where's (engineer/producer) Mike Stone?" "Mike Stone doesn't work for me anymore." And I said, "Who's going to mix these tapes?" And he said, "Well I guess me and you." So, from then on, I was the first engineer and ended up doing my own albums, like (former Deep Purple guitarist) Tommy Bolin's solo project, a bunch of Frank's records I was co-engineer on. It was a pretty cool thing, actually.


With Zappa, I became a first engineer [...]. Now I was thought of as a first engineer and we no longer thought of as only a tape operator or second engineer. With Frank, I was splitting the recording duties with Michael Braunstein—the two of us were working on his records together and even the movie soundtrack Baby Snakes. I worked on records like Sheik Yerbouti, Zoot Allures and Studio Tan. I ended up singing the lead vocals on "Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station" off Zoot Allures. Background vocals on (the Zappa single) "Disco Boy." "Let Me Take You to the Beach" on Studio Tan. I sang background vocals on "Baby Snakes," all the high falsetto. Sang on a bunch of his stuff.


Frank had a live show with a 40-piece all-electric orchestra and he was playing at Royce Hall at UCLA, which was like a big symphonic theater on UCLA's campus. He said, "Come out and mix live sound for that." And I said, "Frank I don't mix live sound. Hell, I'm barely a studio engineer."

I'd never done live sound in my life. He said, "Well everything that you're doing here (in the studio) just do it there." And I was like, "What?" This is a 40-piece all-electric orchestra, so even the acoustic instruments are mic-ed and playing through amps. So even the cello and the bassoon and oboes and violas are all playing through amplifiers. I ended up mixing and Frank, he's conducting the orchestra, and about the third song he puts the baton down, climbs off the front of the stage, walks up the center aisle to where I am. And he's listening and he's like, "Yeah, a little more strings. Yeah, yeah, sounds fine." Walks back down the aisle. Climbs back on the aisle, flips the page to the score, takes up the baton and continues. That was like the first live show I ever mixed. And from then on, I did his albums and his tours.


1. Debra Kadabra

Make me grow Braniac Fingers
(But with more hair)

FZ, 1983, quoted in Miles, Frank Zappa—A Visual Documentary, 1993

The ultimate worst is in a Mexican science fiction movie called The Brainiac. It's one of the worst movies ever made and when the monster appears, not only is the monster cheap, he's got a rubber mask that you can see over the collar of the guy's jacket, and rubber gloves that don't quite match up the sleeves of his sport coat. When the monster appears there's this trumpet lick that isn't scary. It's not even out of tune, it's just exactly the wrong thing to put there—it doesn't scare you, that's the greatest example I can think of.

Did you ever hear the song "Debra Kadabra" (on Bongo Fury)? That's what that song is about, and when you hear in the background DA-DA-DA-DA-DAHHH, that's making fun of that stupid trumpet line that's in the movie. But nobody's seen it over here so you can't appreciate the humour of the song.

When he's saying "Make me grow Brainiac fingers" that's what he's referring to, because Vliet and I have both seen that movie and it's fucking stupid. Mexican monster movies are great, The Aztec Mummy's Ghost, that's a good one too.

Robert Froggie Camarena, December 3, 2003

I [...] also did vocals on [...] "Debra Kadabra." Beefheart & Frank disagreed on something or other so I did some parts on the uncompleted song. Also I took Frank to the studio that night in my '69 lowered Grand Prix with the Marijuana leaf laminated into the dash. Should have seen him. We were cruisin' . . . Frank paid me a lot of money to cover those parts so I didn't get credit.

Robert Froggie Camarena, December 7, 2003

You have the parts right ["Ankles sorta puffin' out," "Cast your danding spell my way..."], except "Debra kadabra say she's a witch shit ass charlotte ain't that a bitch." Frank & Beefheart had a falling out over some dispute at that time. That's when Frank was forming the group that never toured so he asked me to do some scats and parts that were missing. I can do a similar voice. Listen to the Con Safos LP. In the beginning of "I want to know" you'll hear an impression of Wolfman Jack, that's me. [...] Frank rode with me down the Sunset Strip on the way to the Record Pant, where we recorded [...] "Debra kadabra" and other parts in other songs.


2. Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy

yetanother, Zappateers, January 12, 2012

And just so I don't have to create another thread about this, I'll take the opportunity to point out another quote that's missing from IINK. It's a little 7-note motive (E-B-E-F#-D-E-B) off the very end of the theme from "The Dog Breath Variations"—most of you probably won't have noticed it because it's quite buried in the Uncle Meat mix, and these notes were changed for the YS arrangement, but it's slightly more noticeable on the YCDTOSA2 version (1:29-1:30) and most apparent on the Token of His Extreme version (1:37-1:38 on this youtube clip). These notes recur on "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy" at the phrases "...I woke up and she was gone", "...with a rumpled paper sack" and "having people stomp on you" (then FZ switches to Sprechstimme for "don't you worry what it is").

FZ, interviewed by Co de Kloet, The Supplement Tape (quoted in Zappa Wiki Jawaka)

That was written actually for the girl who played the gong in [...] "Eat That Question." She used to work at the recording studio and she was from South Carolina. [...] The song was based on stories she had told me.


3. Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top

Tan Mitsugu, November 4, 2018

Speaking of the quotations of FZ's own compositions, how about the recurring lick in "Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top" (0:19-0:20 and 2:44-end)? Isn't it from "San Ber'dino"?

Although it might not be exactly the same as the one in the OFSA version (which was probably played by fretless guitar), but the same fingering was used for later live versions including the ones in Halloween '77.


4. Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead

Stuart Penney, "Great Concerts Revisited: Captain Beefheart, London, 1975," And Now It's All This!, November 5, 2023

The story goes that Frank had been introduced to the British/Australian homosexual pejorative slang term "poofter" by Jimi Hendrix's English roadie Howard Parker. This is the same man who gifted Zappa the guitar which Jimi supposedly burned onstage at the Miami Pop Festival (although the provenance of that Stratocaster is still fiercely debated within the guitar world).

Frank instantly loved the word, naturally, and he worked it into the lyric of the song. In fact, "poofter" crops up in no less than two songs on Bongo Fury, as Beefheart also slipped it into his recitation "Man With The Woman Head." It's quite probable neither Don or Frank knew (or cared about) the true meaning of the word, but simply liked the way it sounded to their American ears.


5. 200 Years Old

Hoy! Hoy! It's 200 years

Howlin' Wolf, "Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy" (Chess 1870, September 1963)

Hoy! Hoy! I'm the boy
I got three hundred pounds of heavenly joy


6. Cucamonga


7. Advance Romance


8. Man With The Woman Head


9. Muffin Man

FZ, answering a phone call, WIOD, Miami, FL

It's poetry. Poetry pertained to an absurd person who puts crumbs in his pockets.

drdork, Zappateers, October 23, 2015

The Muffin Man intro was written long before 1974. It dates from the same era as Grand Wazoo ("Fuck you if you don't like my hat!") and the story on the Capitol Lumpy Gravy ("Bernie bites through the tough plastic baloney wrapper"). On different occasions, FZ estimated the year as 1959 or 1962.


Additional informants: Javier Marcote.

Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
Original provocation by Vladimir Sovetov
This page updated: 2024-07-14