[Ruth Underwood, Bruce Fowler, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Ralph Humphrey, Jeff Simmons, Chester Thompson, Tom Fowler, George Duke, FZ]
SAM EMERSON—SYGMA/IMPERIAL PRESS
I had been forced to sing with Frank Zappa [...]. I began experimenting with odd time signatures and various synthesizer textures. [Faces In Reflection (1974)] was my first solo record using a synthesizer. Frank Zappa is responsible for my introduction to synthesizers. He told me one day, that I should play synthesizers. It was as simple as that! He bought an ARP 2600 and put it next to my Rhodes. It had all these knobs and looked totally intimidating. I took it home a few times with the manual, but got nowhere. I thought I was back in College studying some abstract foreign language. I finally settled on something simpler. It was an ARP Odyssey. I decided to use an ARP, purely to be different from Jan Hammer, who was playing the Mini Moog, and had a head start on me in the mastery of synthesis. Also, Ian Underwood was real good on the 2600, and I knew I'd sound like a total novice compared to him. But I must admit, I was really drawn to the possibilities inherent therein. There were some things that were a drag also! Remember, at this time there were no presets or ways of saving patches. Not only that, but you were limited to one note at a time. So overdubbing, a good memory and management system became very important. The year was 1974.
One tour, [FZ] bumped it up by bringing in this guy, Jeff Simmons. He was a guitarist that was comic relief, almost. He made Frank laugh and a big part of those days was humor.
I never got a chance to play with all of them. The most I ever had in a band was three, but that's a pretty good average. That's definitely a unique family. The father is very interesting also. In fact at one time he invited my whole band up to the small jazz school there in Utah where he teaches, the name of which I can't think of right now, and he had us spend the day and everybody lectured on his particular instrument or skill. But the brothers are great, they're amazing musicians. I think they have their own band now.
Paul Hoff, who's been travelling four years with Zappa, is the unofficial head of the Mother roadies. He was selling clothes, into a heavy drug thing, and knew nothing about the technical aspects of rock and roll before starting work with Zappa. Hoff said he "was living with a woman that was Frank's secretary, went down where they were doing a gig, asked if I could have a job, and was hired."
Coy Featherston says he too was "in the right place at the right time." Coy's older brother was a Zappa roadie until the show hit Austin, Texas three months ago [March 4, 1974]. Coy's brother decided to quit the tour and stay in town. Coy was working at Armadillo World Headquarters, the hip music mecca in Austin, when he found out that Zappa needed two equipment men. Coy talked "to Marty Perellis (Zappa's road manager) on a Sunday and started working on a Monday."
Another Austin product, a 23 year-old named Jim, was hired at the same time with a recommendation from Coy [Featherson]'s brother. "I've got a little 4-track dubbing studio in my home in Austin, and I've been starving to death there," Jim said between hits on a can of Budweiser. "I'd been doing sound in clubs around town for people like B.W. Stevenson and Tracy Nelson. When this gig came along I latched onto it because of the travel, the money, and the music."
Jim's work includes setting up the mikes, PA, and working the mixing board during the show. Coy runs mike cable, sets up George Duke's keyboard equipment, Chester Thompson's and Ralph Humphrey's drums, and jumps around the stage shooting pictures of the band during performances.
Hoff remains backstage during the shows to keep an eye on the equipment. During setup, Paul said he's responsible for seeing that "all the equipment on stage, lights, sound, band, equipment, is hooked-up and running right." It takes the roadies about three hours to unload and set up the 11 tons of equipment for Zappa and the nine Mothers.
The new truck driver for Intercontinental Absurdities, Ltd., Bill Romero, told me at his old job he "was making twice what I make now, but I was working ten times harder too. But now it's just great working for Frank. It's a beautiful atmosphere to work in because everything's so cool."
[...] Bill Romero trucks an inconspicuous National Car Rental vehicle around the country carrying Zappa-Mother paraphernalia. After the roadies have loaded the equipment in the truck at the end of a concert, Romero drives between 300 and 400 miles to the next gig. He watches the show sometimes, but usually ends up crashing in his motel room.
Romero has had some hassles with older truckers about his long hair at truck stops. "The Midwest has been probably the worst area I've encountered as far as the hair goes. In the South they look at you weird, but that's the South for you," Romero philosophized. "They look at everybody weird in the South."
Zappa's alter ego on tour is road manager Marty Perellis, a slick who said he "was throwing college dances called 'gee, I'm glad it's Friday' parties and found I enjoyed that more than the family business." Perellis figures he'd be back in Baltimore pushing pantyhose if he hadn't caught on to the entrepreneurial game.
As he slouched in a stuffed chair and severed sections from an orange, Perellis said his responsibilities include, "getting the group to and from a gig, making sure they get paid, arranging hotel accommodations, doing the books, making wake-up calls, and hiring new personnel."
As shown in the program, events with Zappa/Mothers at Westminster College took place 11 AM through 4 PM on Tuesday March 12 and Wednesday March 13. The events included jam sessions, master classes given by band members, and a panel discussion. Gail Zappa was also present during the visit, as was manager Herb Cohen.
The following day, the band resumed their tour and played three shows on the road before returning to Salt Lake City for the concert at the Terrace Ballroom on Monday the 18th. Participants in the Westminster event were invited to attend the afternoon soundcheck on the day of the Terrace Ballroom show.
SCHEDULE for FRANK ZAPPA and THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION
Tuesday, March 12
UB (or Walker Room)
Vibes and percussion
Hogle Hall guitar room
Converse Hall C-19
Converse Hall C-19
Hogle Hall guitar room
Wednesday, March 13
UB (or Walker Room)
Hogle Hall guitar room
Converse Hall C-19
The Music Business
The Future of Music
Frank Zappa and the
Mothers of Invention
Time and place to be arranged:
Participation in the Master Classes is limited to present and former Westminster College personnel and high school music students with their faculty members. Official excuses are required for high school students during their school hours
Jam session and the Panel Discussion are open.
Concert Poster, design by Neil Passey.
He called the house about three or four weeks ago, just out of the blue; he hasn't been in touch for four years, something like that. He called up and asked for me and I wasn't there, and he wound up talking to Gail for a while. She asked him what he wanted, and he says, "I called up Frank to thank him for producing the Trout Mask Replica album. It's the best album we've ever put out." She was shocked, you know, because he's so full of shit.
After Trout Mask Replica I don't know what happened to him—he just went nuts saying all this stuff about me, so I just stopped talking to him for about 5 years,—then he called me up on the phone one night and apologised and I said, OK. Come over and visit.
Q. Are you composing any large orchestral works like 200 Motels?
FZ. No. I have an itch to get back to doing that, but the stuff that I'm doing right now is so time consuming that it's hard to get started on a piece like that. Because that's about the most time consuming thing that you can do, it just drags on and on.
BG: Do you still write things with an orchestra in mind?
FZ: I haven't for years. Just been too busy. I've kept my time occupied with practical poop. Running bands and stuff.
BG: You haven't had any chance to get any of your works played?
FZ: To me, that's the least important of the things that I do in terms of bringing home some bacon for the house. When something comes up where I have to deal with practical stuff I take my music and stick it on the shelf. We tour like seven months of the year, so that doesn't leave much time for writing pages of orchestration.
A page of full orchestra score will take 18 hours to draw for three bars where you're dealing with a dense texture. [...] The problem with writing music on paper like that and sitting in your own little dream world and thinking 'Ahhh, this is going to sound-fantastic!' is that eventually you have to come to grips with the musical reality, that is to say the human beings who will perform that music.
It has been my tragic experience that the people in symphony orchestras are not much fun to deal with. They don't have any real feeling for new music, and they actually resent it, no matter where it comes from or whose it is or what is is. Most of the people in orchestras or chamber ensembles or studios or shit, take the playing of an instrument the way a plumber accepts a call to go to a house and fix a toilet.
They're watching the clock, and they're concerned about their pension. It's just sickening. I hate to be around musicians like that. They don't put any energy into it. When I write it, I imagine this stuff being played with all kinds of fire and flamboyance and accuracy and everything going exactly the way it's supposed to go.
Instead, we go in, hand it out, correct the copyist's mistakes because he's on the clock too, and he doesn't give a fuck. Besides that, he's charging you an arm and a leg. [...]
BG: Do you see yourself ever being able to fulfill those orchestra composing dreams?
FZ: I can write for an orchestra anytime I want, but if I want to make it into actual music, I have to do a bunch of other stuff. Writing for the orchestra is just the beginning.
Here's your options: after you write it you're either going to see it through to performance yourself, or you're going to hand it over to somebody else to do it.
So it you do that, you relinquish control and you relinquish some of the accuracy, the-potential accuracy of what you wrote. If you're dealing with any kind of non-standard notation, or if you're dealing with any kind of musical textures that are not easily notatable, or special effects, you always have to be there to explain it. You have to exert some control over it to make it come out right.
[...] For me, to hear what I write, l want to be there and tell every guy; it goes just like that! Don't change it, play it exactly like that. And before you can get to the point where you can do that, you got to find just the right guy. And you don't have any choice if you're going to use a regular orchestra, see, because you have to use their guys, and they're always weird.
If you want your parts to be accurate, you've got to copy them yourself. And that takes a long time.
Meanwhile, while you're investing all this time and effort into converting a piece of music on paper into a piece of sonic reality, you're just spending immense amounts of time and not getting any money for it. I mean no income, period!
If I were to take the time to do that, I would have to disband the group because I can't keep them on a salary; they're not working. I've got to sit there and draw little dots all day long. It doesn't make any sense to do it. Besides that, once you've written it, who gives a fuck, you know.
You get to play it one time at a concert hall and a concert hall holds two to three thousand people, if you want to have it in a real concert hall. There's very few of them that are any bigger than that, and you'll be scrapping to get any income from your show. [...]
A lot of what I write is hopelessly passé by contemporary modern music standards because everybody that's in modern music today, all the so-called serious composers, the last thing in the world they want to do is write a fuckin' melody and have it happen against a set of chord changes, no matter how abstruse the melody might be and how abstruse the chord changes might be. That's the way I write. I've got melody verses over rhythm tracks.
Napoleon has vast problems with that Freak Out material because his learning rate is slower than most of the guys in the group, especially in terms of words. He picks up the instrumental parts really fast.
We rehearsed six hours a day, six days a week for two weeks before we came out here on nothing but that Freak Out stuff. And he still doesn't have the words memorized. He's really struggling with it. I got on his case after the show tonight. I told him if you're gonna play something that nobody's ever heard before and make a mistake in the middle of that, 2% of the audience will know you blew it. But if you go out there and you're singing songs that are already on record and people know what the words are, I don't want anybody in the audience to feel sorry for you. So get out the cassette machine and learn those words.
But he really tries, you know. He's the most unusual guy that's ever been in he goes into his room after a show and gets out a cassette machine and the stuff that he's supposed to work on, which is the flute part or the sax part, and he practices. At night! After the show! He practices on his days off, sits in there for four hours, five hours and goes over the stuff.
I'd known Frank for quite a long time through Bruce and Tom [Fowler]. Originally I'd auditioned for Frank's group back in '73 or '74. And actually he said that I had the gig. [...]
And I auditioned on the "(Bebop) Tango" and played the "(Bebop) Tango" for him, and nailed that. And he said, "Wow, pretty impressive." Then I waited around for a half hour at the Sunset studios where they were rehearsing. And Frank came back and said "Sorry about telling you you're in the band, but we really can't afford you right now, you know." I don't know what all that was about, but I guess he'd had a meeting with his management, but he'd already had a sax player anyway, Napoleon Murphy Brock. So I guess they were looking for something else cause eventually he got Don Preston and Walt Fowler to do the gig, so I felt it was probably just a combination of a horns thing because if he already had a sax player, why have me, you know?
[FZ, unidentified trombone player, unidentified, Albert Wing, Walt Fowler]
I had the opportunity to be heard by Frank Zappa when I was 18...a month later, I joined my brothers Bruce and Tom and became a Mother of Invention and went on my first pro tour. And so it began...
Bruce came back to [Salt Lake City] after that tour was finished and started teaching me all the music that they had been playing. And I pretty much learned all of it, like two hours worth. Not that I could play all of it . . . Basically, Don Preston and I were replacing Ruth Underwood. Marimba music is very difficult to replicate on a trumpet!! Some is unplayable. But when I went down to LA to audition, we rehearsed a whole new show pretty much, NOT playing 90% of the music I had learned. So that was quite the mental exercise. Four hours of new [to me] Zappa music, memorized! Crazy! But that was one of the best experiences of my life.
He then got another band together with George Duke, the Fowler Brothers [Tom and Bruce] and Ruth and Ian Underwood—and I went on tour with them throughout the United States, also did the album Live At The Roxy with that band. That was the last time I was in the band, I finally had a falling out with Zappa and couldn't do any more.
IB: And your recollections of the 10th Anniversary tour?
DP: I mostly remember how great the band was and getting to know George Duke who was an exceptional musician.
Sitting nearby us was a black gentleman, about six-foot three, 200 pounds, powerfully built, with a shaven head. I think he was Zappa's bodyguard, although that may not be his official occupational title. Some kids were climbing onto the stage over to the left where Don Preston was. Suddenly he was there. He jerked his arm swiftly as if to say, "Down and away from there and I mean it!" They got down.
[Marty] Perellis know Smothers from Baltimore. Perellis is also from Baltimore. When I first started carrying a bodyguard, I had tried out two . . . let's see . . . no, I had three bodyguards before Smothers. The first one was a guy named Newmar, who lost the job because on one occasion, he took a fan, who'd tried to jump onstage, I mean, some menial little transgression, and took him out in back of the place, and beat him up, (laughter) and, y'know, I thought, "This is totally uncalled for." [...] So, he got fired. Newmar was an off duty LAPD, and then, the next guy was another LAPD, except he was a Jehovah's Witness [...] and when you have to spend a lot of time with these guys . . . and I couldn't handle that guy y'know. He didn't last long.
Then, another guy, who was really a great bodyguard, and I wish I could remember his name, he was only with me for a short time, but he used to sing in a rhythm 'n blues group called "The Calvanes", on Dootone, and he recorded a song called "Florabelle", which I have in my collection. His name is Bob. I can't remember his last name. Bob was a good guy. We used to sit in the dressing room, and sing doo-wop tunes together, but he wasn't available anymore, and couldn't do it anymore.
And then, I got another guy named . . . John, who was the brother . . . of a girl that I went to high school with in Lancaster . . . and he contributed a little folklore. He was the one who cane up with 'swimp', and, uh . . . [...] Well, there is a language called Gullah. [...] Gullah is that black dialect, that Negro dialect that is repeated most constantly. It comes from this language called Gullah. They have different words for different things, and different pronunciations and 'swimp' is 'shrimp'. They call 'em 'swimp'. His language was very Gullah, and so, I was introduced into the concept of 'swimp'. The other thing that guy was famous for was he liked to fuck Holiday Inn maids with hairy legs. [...] And, the idea that, uh ... y'know, to imagine this guy in the morning, when the maid knocks on your door, and you have to get up too early, and he would be dragging one of these women into the room, and, y'know, strapping her on before he got on the bus, and telling everybody how hairy her legs were, scratching his back, and all this weird shit. (laughter) Quite a guy.
Then, along came Smothers. At first, at the beginning of the tour, he thought I was crazy. He tried to go home. He tried to get out of the job. But, he stayed with me for ten or eleven years.
Zappa and another bunch of Mothers put on two solid performances at the Riverside with Dion as opening act. Both shows were different and both Zappa sets went close to two hours solid. The place was packed. [...]
The overall presentation blended a wide variety of Zappa and Mothers material well, reaching back in the trash for such unforgettable melodies as "Who Could Imagine" and a short quip of "Suzy Creamcheese" now "Georgy Creamcheese," interlaced with the newer stuff, like "Cosmik Debris" and "Excentrifugal Forz" from Apostrophe. Zappa's guitar work was his most impressive to date, his nine piece collection of Mothers superb. Don Preston was there on moog and hung pig, a Mother since way back. George Duke was Preston's keyboard complement. Napoleon Murphy Brock turned in one of the hardest working performances I've ever seen on a stage, handling the zany Zappa lyrics as lead vocalist and doubling on sax. The Fowler brothers rounded out the horn section with another Fowler, Tom, on bass. Ralph Humphrey handled half the drums (the other half is the only name I missed. Sorry 'bout that.) and Jeff Simmons backed Zappa on rhythm guitar and harp. Everyone had a chance to solo and as a unit handled the full scope of Zappa's complex transitions with graceful professional pizzaz.
It was a complete mismatch. We had the same manager [Herb Cohen], and he said, "Aaaargh! Go to Canada with Frank! Frank will treat you right! In fact, go meet Frank in Canada! At a hockey arena!" After my cruel set, after the bleeding had stopped, I came back in the middle of his show and he would play "Ol' 55" and I'd tell a story. I had fun, some nights. But I had to have Frank on stage to keep them from hurting me. They were Frank's people, you know? They didn't want to hear anybody. And they thought that whoever was coming out before Frank, Frank had designed it that way and wanted them to hurt me: pelt me, throw things at me and abuse me. And the chant: "We! Want! Frank!" Or "You suck!" was also a big favourite."
The second time I left, I got kicked out partially because Dion's manager caught me and a roadie doing blowzine, and told Herbie [Cohen, Zappa's manager], and Herbie told Frank. That resulted in a card being delivered to my hotel room, which read: 'Any more drugs, and you'll be fired.' And that warning set the stage for what happened later: Frank told me he wanted me to fill in, to noodle over a pedal tone, I think maybe it was E over D. The whole band would sustain this one note, and I would noodle. So I did some Curtis Mayfield-kind of fill-in things at rehearsal, and I was starting to play a little more lead, and starting to show him I could play a little bit of Albert King, a little bit of B. B. King, a little bit of the whole King Family, if need be... and then, at the gig, I filled in and noodled like I thought he had told me, and afterwards Frank came over and said, 'I thought I told you to lay off my part!' and I said, 'Whoa!' And the next thing I knew, on July 4th, I was relieved of my position.
We were on a tour in the States supporting Zappa's band: George Duke on keys, Chester Thompson on drums and Tom Fowler on bass. I remember checking them out in rehearsal and being amazed at how all this highly complicated stuff was being played with such precision. Little did I know that soon it was my turn! Tom couldn't make one of the gigs, and they asked our bassist Colin Pattenden if he could stand in. I was a huge Zappa fan and knew most of the tunes inside out, so it was suggested that I join in too. We experimented with the line-up in soundcheck—the first tune was from 'Apostrophe' and I'll never forget Frank's face when I just started up with the riff! So that night I came off stage after our set, changed, borrowed Colin's Rickenbacker and played a two and a half hour set with Frank. It was fantastic. I had to busk my way through all the intricate stuff but it was great to be on stage with those guys. Zappa's manager approached me afterwards, offering me money for the gig! It was the greatest night of my life, I should have paid him! Even so, he insisted on giving me the money and so I bought a Les Paul with it.
I had the chance to speak with Tom [Fowler] recently after a BFU concert in France, and he gave me clues to that (approximate transcription of his words):
"That's a different story. My wife had collapsed in front of our house and was brought to the hospital, so I said to Frank I wanted to go and see her. He said, 'You don't need, now she's taken care of,' but I said I needed to go anyway. So this guy replaced me. I think it was Alabama."
Venue: Municipal Auditorium
Other acts: Tom Waits, Manfred Mann
From the opening notes of "Cosmic Debris," to the closing beats of "Join The March" and "Eat My Starch," Zappa and his band threw tempos and keys around in a fantastic kaleidoscope that never ceased going in directions we'd forgotten ahd directions.
Zappa was in complete control as he directed his group with movements that were reminiscent of 200 Motels of Eugene Ormandy, and the response was executed with precision.
Zappa's humor was evident throughout the evening as he delivered comments about the size and shape of his percussion player's, Ruth's, feet. Later in the first show he directed the group in a song called "Montana" which is about growing fields of dental floss in that state.
True to his word that each show is totally different from the one before, Zappa changed directions in the second concert in Morgan Hall Sunday and did older tunes.
The Mothers laid down everything from "In The Pygmy Twilight," to "Wowie Zowie," and from "How Could I Be Such A Fool," to "Who Needs The Peace Corps." Once again the versatility and excellence in musical mastery shone through as the group's lead singer Napolean delivered his lines with precision and laid down some truly outstanding lick on the flute and sax.
One of the added surprises of the evening came during the second show, when Zappa brought his traveling minister out on stage to preach the "true religion." The true religion turned out to be a raffle of Zappa's shirt and he was almost talked out of his pants.
The second super attraction of the evening also came in the second show when one of UA's most beautiful coeds, Lynelle Braehler, dressed in hotpants, a matching top and go-go boots, accompanied by the UPC frog, presented Zappa and the Mothers with an anniversary cake in the shape of a male sex gland.
One couldn't do a valid review of the Zappa concert without mentioning the warmup singer. Tom Waites, a native San Diegan got the crowd ready for Zappa with blues that would have made old Muddy Waters proud of the fella. Waites is headed for a bright future and hopefully he will be given the needed breaks.
"We got to meet Quincy [Jones] because we would meet the artists at the airport. They always used to have a brass band to meet famous people, especially musicians . . . Then we met Frank Zappa, who came into New Orleans. They played at the Civic Auditorium in St. Bernard Parish. They invited us—just the horns—to play the final number with Zappa, believe it or not. I wish I had someone there to take a picture because we were on the stage with Frank Zappa. He had a young guy in his band at that time named George Duke, a pianist who is very well known now, and Frank Zappa's wife was in the band as well. And a saxophone player—I'll never forget—they just called him 'Napoleon.' He was the cat that was thrilled with that brass band sound. He's the one that told Frank to get us up there—myself, [tenor saxophonist] Kevin Harris, I think [trumpeter] Gregory Davis, Michael Johnson, the trombone player, and maybe Lucien [Barbarin] too. At that time Lucien was playing the trombone. In the Hurricane band, Lucien switched over [from snare drum to trombone] because on the record Charles Barbarin is playing bass drum and Puppy [Johnson] is playing snare."
The Hurricane Brass Band joined The Mothers on stage for Apostrophe. A recording is in circulation (but not available on Zappateers).
The Hurricane Brass Band started playing about three and a half minutes into Apostrophe. After Apostrophe, The Mothers left the stage and the Hurricane Brass Band played an instrumental.
Jones didn't mention a clarinetist or a sousaphonist, but I hear both instruments on the recording. From what I've read, I think they were probably played by Joseph Torregano and Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen.
It was noticed by one of our correspondents that at the Frank Zappa concert of late, at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, the notorious "Whipping Post Request" made itself known.
As related by our resident authority on underground folk lore and jargon, "Whipping Post Request" stems from the historically spontaneous voicing of "Whipping Post" as a request from the audience, immediately prior to the now immortalized recording of "Whipping Post" on the Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East album.
Thus it is that at every concert, at least one request for "Whipping Post" must be heard in order for the concert to be considered worthwhile.
Also, included in the spontaneity is the artist's response to being confronted with a request for a song so obviously far away from his repertory.
Zappa, we are told, responded to the mysterious visitor thusly: "Well, gee, I don't know. How about a tongue job instead."
Frank Zappa erected a house of blue lights on the stage of Golden Hall last night, then proceeded to fill it with sounds of every color.
Zappa, with his group, the Mothers of Invention, played two and a half hours of his own brand of rock 'n' roll, a music rich with the bizarre and avant garde, with electronic wows, guitars, drums, giant cow bells and Chinese gongs.
He has a somewhat satanic look, with his black moustache and bit of beard on his lower lip, and his deep, resounding voice at times takes on the character of a slightly balmy radio announcer.
UNDER A SPELL
Standing at the side with a cigarette in one hand, he points at his musicians with the other, and they respond like so many Trilbys under the spell of this long-haired Svengali.
The show is completely the creature of one man. Before the performance was scheduled to start, technicians had intended a sound test. But Zappa decided he wanted to play.
So early arrivals were treated to Zappa and his band already under way, bathed in blue light falling from the four light stands erected on stage. The master launched into a political monologue at one point, played a bit of "God Bless America," and told his audience, "You are the Pepsi generation, whether you like it or not."
After another number by Zappa, the back-up act, a folk singer and monologist, came on. But the crowd, already having heard the headlner, was in no mood for the second banana, who sounded a bit like the folk singer parodies done by television comedians.
After an intermission, Zappa and the Mothers returned and the leader was again obviously his own man. He brought back the folk singer (named tom; his last name was rendered unintelligible by the sound system), who proceeded to tell a long, long, slightly scatological story, then, disappeared again.
It was back to Zappa, and a hymn to dental floss. Here the lights came into their own blinking blue, green, gold, and pink with the music.
Zappa played one of several long, expert guitar solos, wandering through the musical scales they way his words and thoughts seem to wander through the outer reaches of the mind.
At one time, he was spotlighted in green and red, smoke drifting upward from the cigarette lodged in the end of his guitar.
Then came "The Mudshark," a sort of off-color story about a fish and a motel in Seattle, then a spell of blues, then home.
Second time: August 11, 1974, at the Golden Hall, which was not golden at all, being a prefabricated concrete coal bunker in San Diego. Due to equipment problems, the band was onstage, still soundchecking when the audience entered the hall. (Nice of Frank not to make us wait outside until he was finished, like most big rock stars would have done.) The Mothers were down to a six-piece now: FZ, Duke, Ruthie, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Tom Fowler and Chester Thompson. Since it was getting late, Zappa decided to start the show while the techs were still working, and they played "Uncle Meat," "Pygmy Twylyte," "Cosmik Debris" and "Help, I'm A Rock" through the ailing sound system. Declaring "That seems to be as good as it gets," Frank led the band off and Tom Waits came on to do the "opening" set, performing solo at the electric piano. He was mercilessly booed; some schmuck near me kept yelling "Somebody shoot that fucker!" After a break, the Mothers returned and Frank brought back Tom Waits to tell his "12-inch man" joke while the band played "Ol' 55" behind him. The remainder of the Mothers' set was a mix of stuff from Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe with as-yet unreleased material like "Inca Roads," "T'Mershi Duween," and "Dupree's Paradise," and even a rather reluctant version of "Mudshark," and an improvised blues closer in which FZ lamented the poor sound we had been subjected to. I remember Tom Fowler and Napoleon lying on the stage and kicking their legs in the air during the final encore of "Apostrophe."
I talk to [Paul Buff] once in a while still. In fact in a sense today we still work together—that is in the sense that Paul invented the computer mix-down system that's being used at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, and the Record Plant is a studio I use quite a lot.
In fact right now you know what is sitting there at the Record Plant? All those masters from the Cucamonga days—I've been working toward an album of that material—all those Ned & Nelda things. Well as you know those original masters were recorded on a five-track machine, and in order to re-mix those masters the original heads from that machine had to be remounted on another chassis; and this has been done, and that machinery is sitting in the Record Plant. So at the end of this 1975 European tour I'll go back in there and provided no damage has occurred to the machine—because it's in a very fragile condition—it's just mounted very lightly onto this Ampex chassis—I'll be able to have stereo mix-downs of pieces that pre-date the first album or the earliest things that were done with Captain Beefheart.
Why—if you really want to get down into the meat of the matter—is [Stephen Stills] present at Frank Zappa's tenth anniversary party in this ludicrous Paris nightclub—especially since when he once got up to jam with The Mothers, the band went into their parody version of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." [...] This is gonna be a great party. After all, didn't Zappa stalk over to our table and say, "Herbie [Cohen] set all this up. Blame him"? [...]
So who are all these people present to help Francis Vincent Zappa (or 'F.Z.' as he likes to refer to himself these days) celebrate ten years of Mothering? Well, some of them are movie people 'n some of them are fashion people 'n some of them are from the French rock press 'n some of them just seem to be the type of liggers who show up at parties in fancy duds and cluster in corners murmuring. "Yes, but is Bianca coming?"
[...] The place is called the Alcazar, and the evening's entertainment is a kind of acrobatic-musical-sexual-satirical cabaret with a cast of thousands. Every so often the waiters—all nattily accoutred in 'DiscReet' Tshirts—quit hauling round the champagne and bound onto the stage for a quick chant and prance. Meanwhile, the regular cast who seem able to switch make-up and set within seconds—scamper through a succession of sketches, parodies and musical production numbers. An angel flaps around for a few seconds and vanishes, an aerialiste does a few swift undulations around a trapeze, Mae West, The Andrews Sisters, Barbra Streisand and Sylvie Vartan are mimicked, and the whole thing is spiced up with plenty of tit. Periodically a sign reading 'Welcome Zappa' is flashed overhead. Suddenly, with the velocity of a striking poodle, Uncle Frank himself is on the stage, looking more scarecrow-orientated than ever, his hair longer than it's been since Hot Rats days, dipping and wheeling through a deadpan tango right there with the cast.
[Beefheart] called Zappa to praise Apostrophe and "just to say hello."
"He apologised for all the garbagio and asked for a job," Zappa said. "The Captain repented. He had been real confused."
Beefheart auditioned just before Halloween, Zappa continued. "He flunked. See, he had a problem with rhythm, and we were very rhythm oriented. Things have to happen on the beat. I had him come up on the bandstand at our rehearsal hall and try to sing 'Willie the Pimp' and he couldn't get through it. I figured if he couldn't get through that, I didn't stand much of a chance in teaching him the other stuff."
Zappa and Beefheart tried again this spring.
Zappa celebrated his first Halloween in New York—after '72 and '73 stands in Passaic, New Jersey, and Chicago respectively—with early and late shows of two hours each that established the city as Zappa's mischief-night headquarters into the mid-Eighties. The repertoire on that night in '74 spanned his entire, winding history in provocation and incisive adventure, going back to jump street—1966's Freak Out!—via the jazzy expanse of "Big Swifty" from 1972's The Grand Wazoo and the devious accessibility of the '74 chart shock, Apostrophe ('). During the second set, Zappa also hit the trick-as-treat button, bringing Lance Loud—the aspiring glam-rock star and breakout gay icon from the proto—reality TV series, An American Family—onstage to join the vocal shenanigans.
Two Mynah birds were supposed to get married onstage, but they never showed up, and in their place was a rubber chicken on a wire, a traffic light that leaned to one side, a bust of some obscure 19th Century Pederast, an electric Moose, a Maraschino Cherry and Lance Loud.
It was Halloween in New York at the Felt Forum, and Dr. Dreamland had spread his obligatory fog over the audience for this concert. Everybody (and anybody) was there. [...]
At this point the musicians began wandering onstage, lost in some Steppenwolfian trance, mumbling about misplaced dental floss. Green smoke issued forth from one of the amplifiers, and a roadie quickly fanned it into flames. The audience, sporting enough denim to cover every Conestoga wagon to appear on the Oregon trail, burst into applause.
At this point, Frank Zappa walked onstage.
And a huge crescendo obligatto filled the Felt.
And the music began.
[FZ, Bianca Jagger.]
[Louise Varèse, FZ.]
On Halloween, 31 October 1974, after the second of two dates at the Felt Forum in New York, Zappa threw a party to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Mothers of invention. Labelle sang "Happy Birthday" and guests included James Taylor, Carly Simon, Bianca Jagger and Dory Previn. Aside from the conspicuous absence of any members of the original Mothers of Invention, it was an enjoyable occasion. For Frank the most interesting guest was Louise Varèse, the widow of his hero.
Oct. 30, 1974, DANCING and clowning around with FRANK ZAPPA . . . .
at his BLUE HAWAII Party in New York
before photographing his performance in November at the Felt Forum.
Everyone eventually takes their turn trudgin' through the tundra, the bus's doors open and close for the last time, and Curtis, Frank's personal driver, shifts into gear.
Leased from Celebrity Coach and distinguished only by the words "Go Big Red" on the back, this is the Mothers' means of transportation to gigs five hours or less apart (anything more and they fly). The front section has six red, crushed-velvet seats, three on each side of the bus, facing each other. The rear compartment, making up some three-fourth of the total length, resembles a train with upper and lower berths for sleeping. Three sections of two bunks each on a side, divided by a narrow aisle down the middle, it accommodates twelve horizontal bodies.
With red shag carpeting adorning the walls and the floor, and thick plush vinyl covering the ceiling, Big Red is virtually soundproof—and incredibly comfortable.
The next morning, after getting wake-up calls at seven, all six Mothers, road manager Marty Perellis, PR-man Dick Barber and the ten or so crew members make their way, one by one out to Big Red, waiting in the parking lot. [...] Curtis scans his maps and pulls out for Ithaca.
That same afternoon, after checking into (where else?) another Holiday Inn, Frank sits in his Ithaca motel room putting the finishing touches on a piece called "Greggery Peccary." Piles of sheet music rest on the bed while he works with a composition pad on his desk. I am ushered into the room by Dick Barber. Frank has agreed to set aside time for an interview and begins to clear his desk.
With his spare time, Zappa decided out of curiosity to catch David Bowie's show at the Spectrum and then see Randy Newman at the Academy. After returning from the Spectrum, Frank was resting in his Academy box during intermission waiting for Newman to bring out his orchestra, when MC Steve Mortorano approached him.
"How would you like to go out and tell the kids not to smoke?" Zappa was asked.
"Sure," said Frank.
Mortorano walked out on stage first. "We have a special guest," he said, "who's here to deliver a message. Would you please welcome Doris Day."
Frank strolled out briskly and took the mike in his right hand. "Ladies and Gentlemen," spoketh Zappa, "I've come out here to make an announcement. Please do not smoke. If you want to smoke, go to the Spectrum and watch David Bowie."
I broke my hand in the middle of a tour which was my downfall. We were playing football and I broke this bone right in the middle of the tour in Dayton, Ohio [November 22, 1974]. I stayed with the band and directed. I had all the notes on the keyboard and I would point at them with a chemical wand that glowed in the dark. We had one horrible bass player after another and tried to do it and there was no way it was working, me trying, to count them into D flat and all this odd metered stuff was going by. There was no way these guys could have done it; they would have to have known the music. I tried to get Abe [Laboriel] to do it; he was in Boston, but he passed on it. I don't know why. He was a good enough player to have done it, I think, but it was just too much too fast.
We were playing touch football one day and Napoleon had the ball and was running past Tom, and Tom reached out and tagged him. A little bit later he goes, "Man, I think I broke my finger." We all went, "Come on. Get out of here."
Turns out, he went to the hospital and he really had broken his finger. We had this other guy jump in. Man, what a wacky period. His name was Birdlegs [James Youman]. He would be onstage. Frank had a blackboard onstage with all the note names on it. Tom Fowler would stand onstage with a pointer and would point to the notes he was supposed to play. [Laughs]
Well, one morning about 8 or so, I get this call that woke me up because I had probably only been in bed about 2 hours. And I hear this drunk voice saying to me "Zappa wants you" and he kept repeating it. Thinking it was a bad joke I hung up. I was playing with Kudzu at the time and later that morning Little Phil called me and told me that he was in Richards, one of Atlanta's top rock clubs at the time, the night before and they announced that if anyone knew how to get in touch with me to have me call them. So this time, being Phil, I gave it more thought and called Richard's. Sure enough, Zappa's road manager had left a number for me to call. I called and we worked out the necessary finances etc. and he told me there would be a ticket at such and such a counter at the airport and I would meet them in Chicago and they would pick me up at the airport. A ton to swallow because it happened so fast and the answer had to be right then.
Frank's bass player had broken his finger and Frank had seen me playing at Richards with Kudzu while he was in town to perform maybe two years or so before this. I remembered we had had quite a conversation after our set and I even told my wife that I felt like it was an interview. But nothing ever happened so I didn't think too much more about it. Now I had to call Creig and Jimbo and tell them I had to leave with no notice. I was torn because I loved those guys and we depended on each other, but I had to go.
Now I don't like flying, but in just a matter of hours I'm flying by myself to Chicago. [...] I was shown my room and rested a minute or two and Frank called and said "How bout I buy us dinner in your room". [...] We had some very interesting conversation. [...] And one other thing stood out that he said—"If you do drugs, don't do 'em around me. That's the stupidest thing any musician could ever do". That's all he said on the subject, but he made himself very clear.
He gave me the music written out in sheet music and a cassette player with the music on it that I had to learn in 24 hours. I got to hear it performed one time that night and I would go the next night. Gulp. But the player sitting in that night wasn't too impressive (this is not a knock. That music was impossible to walk on and do cold) and I knew I could at least do that so that boosted me a little. It was still scary though. [...]
After a couple of nights I began to have a feel for things and it became fun. Tom Fowler, the bass player I was replacing til he could heal, would be introduced with all the musicians but would be introduced as Tom Fowler on Pointer. He would take a pointer and point to the root note of the next chord we were going to, and that got me through the first couple of nights in a rather humorous way. [...]
I don't remember how many dates we did, but it was usually 2 or 3 nights on and one off. We had a 7 or 8 course meal that we all went out together for on Thanksgiving.
[James "Birdlegs" Youmans, FZ, George Duke]
When Frank played in Chicago back then, it was usually the Auditorium Theater but sometimes he would take advantage of the touring time and book an additional show or two at another venue. He typically scheduled Chicago around Thanksgiving and on November 30, 1974, he played an additional show at a gymnasium at North Central College in suburban Naperville. First of all, I'm not sure why he played that location. I got the feeling maybe the tour promoter decided it would be a good idea to make a show accessible to kids that normally would not venture into the city. The other strange thing was that a group of friends from my northwest side neighborhood, that weren't really into Zappa very much, decided they all wanted to go to that show with me. We all lived in the city so why they would choose an inconvenient suburban location as their first Frank Zappa concert experience is something I never understood. Maybe the tickets were cheaper than usual. I don't know.
We arrived and found a gym that was covered with a tarpaulin to protect the floor. And no seats. For some reason, nobody stood for concerts back in those days like we do now, so everyone simply sat on the floor for the show. The acoustics were bad and it was hot inside the building. During the show, Frank commented, "This is about the shittiest place I've ever played in." Frank was never one to want his fans to be unhappy with a show, and I think he tried to make up for it by extending the show and playing some very long guitar solos. However, for some of my friends who didn't quite get Frank's music, they found that to be rather tedious, particularly under the crappy conditions. Another unusual thing about the show was that bass player Tom Fowler had a broken hand, leaving him unable to play his instrument. A bass player by the name of James "Bird" or "Bird Legs" Youmans was pressed into service. (Seen behind Frank in the top photo.) Since he apparently had little or no experience playing Zappa music, a series of block letters, representing bass guitar notes, was taped to the back of a keyboard instrument. Throughout the show, Tom Fowler would point to the letters during a song and James Youmans would watch intently, playing the corresponding notes.
Zappa became his own teacher. He presents the case for libraries as learning centers firmly and succinctly, a factor which must have been decisive in his selection as guest speaker at a California librarians' conclave five years ago. "I'm in favor of libraries because they make information available to people at a low—if not free—price. If you go to a music school, what do they tell you? 'Go to the library.' Do you need to pay tuition to a music school for someone to tell you to go to the library? That's stupid. When I spoke at that librarians' convention in San Francisco, the topic under discussion was whether they were actually going to increase the number of records they purchase for the libraries and diminish the number of books, because it seemed that the larger a library's record collection, the more people were drawn to visit the library. I think they said their expenditures were about 30% for records, and it was going up, which is great, if it brings people in. But I'm afraid that libraries are going to be an endangered species due to Proposition 13."
I went back out after Christmas and we rehearsed for the New Years Eve gig, I think it was in Long Beach. This time I was on guitar. Tom's hand had healed enough for him to take back over. The adventure was coming to an end. I was at my peak as a bass player about that time, but I was not an accomplished guitar player for that level at all. But that was Frank. He found a way to let me play that New Years Eve Gig and it actually went well all things considered.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos