It was just an accident. I was invited over there with a guy who was thinking about opening a guitar factory and when I looked around I saw opportunities [...] and I told people about it.
[Zappa] is a self-described Marco Polo, traveling through Eastern Europe, helping to open the new Orient to trade from the West. He meets with heads of state, with newly enfranchised entrepreneurs, and tries to set up joint ventures and licensing arrangements between Soviet and American business people. If something clicks, he'll take a commission, usually 5 percent. He's formed an international licensing, consulting, and social engineering company. Its name: Why Not?
[...] It was a music connection that first launched Zappa into the world of International commerce. A friend, Dennis Berardi, who owns [Kramer] Guitars, told Zappa he was thinking of opening a guitar factory in the Soviet Union. "I told him he was crazy," Zappa recalls. "I knew exactly what everybody else in the United States of America knew at the time about the Soviet Union—nothing. You can't know anything unless you go over there and look at it. IT'S ANOTHER PLANET. So I went over there and met all these people and it was shocking. I was not prepared for the amount of data I was receiving. I was given an education in politics, sociology, and anthropology of the Soviet Union that you couldn't buy anyplace else."
What he saw, he says, was a market of 289 million customers who needed just about everything—consumer products, industrial technology, agricultural engineering—480 million, if you counted the rest of the Warsaw pact nations. He couldn't help but see the possibilities.
"You give me the most random things and I'll find some way that there is a relationship between them," he says. "It's just the way my brain works. From meeting people, hearing what they had to say, picking up statements like God, I WISH WE HAD THIS, and also knowing WHO DID HAVE IT someplace else, you would logically try and see if you could make the people cooperate."
[...] For all the ideas that he's thrown at the wall, so far only one has stuck. Zappa put a San Fernando Valley jewelry maker in touch with several suppliers of Soviet amber. "It sounds paltry when I say it," Zappa says, "but so many more ridiculous things have been offered that went nowhere."
[...] He admits that all the obstacles can be frustrating. "It would be frustrating if this was the only thing I did for a living," he says. "I probably would be crazy if by every Friday I had to post a deal some place. But since I do have another source of income, I don't have to worry." "It's culturally interesting to me. From a business standpoint, it's something that has to be done, whether I'm doing it or somebody else is doing it. and I genuinely like the people over there. I think their system is punitive, and I think the U.S. system can get a little bit out of control sometimes, but the way you change those things is by continually pushing."
Like any other businessman, he's worked at cutting his overhead and he looks for new business opportunities where he can find them, some as distant as the Soviet Union. [...] After four trips to the Soviet Union in recent years, Zappa has a variety of non-music deals he's trying to put together. He's already set up an agreement for a Chatsworth company to receive amber for jewelry-making from the Soviets, for which he received a 10% commission.
He is also working on starting a satellite-linked television show that would feature Soviet and American business and legal experts exchanging ideas and information. He says cable channel Financial News Network is interested in the concept, and he has another working trip to the Soviet Union planned for January. Other joint U.S.-Soviet deals in the works include the possible manufacture of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the Soviet Union.
I was really surprised how they appreciated me in those countries. They have a free glasnost rock and roll newspaper, a pathetic little thing from Siberia. Rock is all over the world in places you never would expect to find it. Somebody from a radio station gave me a history of just what they have to go through to get records, and beyond that interview information about the artists they want to play. Especially in Russia, they take everything very seriously. If they like something, then they want to know every minor detail about the performer. I guess some of the stuff I did in the early days was smuggled in there and a whole cult formed around it.
On my first trip to Moscow, I went to this place called the [Stas Namin] Center in Gorky Park. This guy [Stas Namin] had created facilities where rock and roll bands from all over the country could rehearse and he would help them get record deals and so on. He was giving me a tour of this place, and in one of these rooms was a Siberian RnB band. I walked in and I thought the guy was going to have a heart attack; he couldn't speak for spluttering. Through an interpreter, he says 'Look at this' and opens his wallet, shows me a photo of his house in Siberia. He's got all of my records on the rack, posters of me on the wall, and I was looking because I didn't know how the fuck it ever happened! They took some pictures of me and this guy together. The following year, I receive some copies of this Siberian rock newspaper and there's this picture of me and this guy. Just so odd. You never know who's listening or why they're listening.
On a recent sunny afternoon, Frank Zappa is at home listening to tapes of Soviet musicians, made during a recent trip to Russia [...]. Zappa occasionally steps into the next room, dubbed the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, to play back tapes of a Siberian heavy-metal band (he may produce some Soviet artists in the near future), "Broadway the Hard Way" performances and artifacts from his Mothers of Invention days.
I went there for the first time in February of last year, I've since been to the Soviet Union five times and to Czechoslovakia once. [...] The first time I went was just as an anthropologist; I just waited to see what was really going on. I didn't go there to play, I didn't have an instrument with me, I didn't have a concert engagement, I didn't have any business deals either. But, by the time I finished my first week there, I'd already started making deals.
Best Rock Instrumental Performance (Orchestra, Group Or Soloist)
It was in the middle of the '88 tour that Gail Zappa decided to open such a place. To run it, Frank suggested Marqueson; to house it, the ugly warehouse where for 15 years they had stored his equipment, Zappa rehearsed his bands, and finally, where Barfko-Swill was born. [...] "The Zappas didn't know what they were going to call it," Coy recounts. "I said, 'Well, you own the name.' They said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'The line in the song goes: "You can jam at Joe's Garage . . ." Let's call it "Joe's Garage."' And we did."
[...] The doors of Joe's Garage opened in February 1989
Another Gail Zappa project became Joe Garage, a professional rehearsal facility. Run for the past year under the watchful eye of longtime Zappa monitor mixer Marque Coy, Joe's Garage has been used by Tom Petty, Ozzy Osbourne, Rod Stewart, Ratt, Jefferson Airplane and a host of other groups. "The place is booked solid," says Frank Zappa. "They're turning people away now."
Joe's Garage is also notable as a rehearsal hall that is strangely free from the ancient debris and aromas characteristic of such places. "It has very charming surroundings, which I think that people who work hard in this business deserve," says Gail, "because usually they get the sleaziest, most horrible situations to have to work in."
On May 23 1989, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the UCLA Music Department presented 'An Evening With Pierre Boulez and Frank Zappa', in conversation at Schoenberg Hall at the university.
The presentation, which was preceded by a short press conference and photo opportunity, was sold out, and attended by such luminaries as the entire Zappa family, Mike Keneally, Scott Thunes, Bob Rice, Denny Walley, Janet the Planet, Laurel Fishman and Eric Buxton. It was hosted and 'moderated' by a fairly well-informed gentleman by the name of David Raksin. The evening was divided into two parts, the first comprising conversation on music and related subjects by the three participants, followed by a lengthy segment where previously written and collected questions from the audience were presented.
Zappa Plans World Orchestra
Frank Zappa's company, Why Not, is planning to recruit a World Orchestra to perform at the World Expo '92 in Seville. Zappa: "I hope to have 12 musicians by the end of the year. The idea is that they should be ethnic musicians able to read music—no easy task.
"Our first move will be to film a video to give the artists pre-promotion prior to exposure. They will then perform occasional concerts at smaller festivals. And after that I will recruit a backing orchestra of either 40 or 80 musicians and by late 1990 we will record an LP."
Zappa is inviting composers around the world to compose five to eight minute classical pieces, but the initial concerts will also include a strong element of popular music—some of which may be accompanied by lyrics.
Frank Zappa was in Madrid recently to visit Eduardo Bautista García, Vice President SGAE, Spain's right society, to discuss his project for a World Orchestra.
About four months ago, I made a proposal to the World's Fair organisation, the next one is in Seville 1992, and I offered to put together an orchestra that was made up of ethnic instruments, people who could play ethnic instruments from all different countries who could also read music and could play different styles, and could combine these with electronic instruments and normal orchestral instruments. Part of the project was that the people from Expo would commission composers around the world to write five to eight minute pieces for this orchestra. In other words, if you wanted to, if you were a composer that wanted to have access to these special ethnic instruments, it could be very difficult for you to afford to gather together, from all over the world, these different pieces of equipment, and have people who could read music and play it. It would be creating a vehicle that would provide an opportunity for a lot of composers. The status of the project is this: I'm going to Spain on May 28, because I've been told that the Christopher Columbus Committee, which is another organisation from Madrid which is putting on a big event in 1992, wants to finance the orchestra. I will believe it when I get a contract for it, but if they decide that they will finance this orchestra, I will then get on a plane and start shopping for musicians all over the world. I will get this together for them, and I spoke to Pierre [Boulez] the other day at breakfast and invited him to write a piece, (with mock anger) but HE'S TOO BUSY THOUGH!
"The level of connectivity in there is truly remarkable," Dave explains. "Everything is in sync. I went at this from the standpoint that I hated the way it had been wired. The original wiring may not have been bad, and I don't want to have anybody coming back and hitting me and saying, "You said I was bad." It's just that there's been a whole series of people who've worked for Frank, and each one had implemented their own ideas in various degrees. I wanted to start fresh, so I virtually yanked everything. The most difficult thing about rewiring was that I had to do it in a very short time. Frank took the family to Spain for a week. When he left there was one studio, when he came back it was a completely different studio, and everything was new."
[June 12, 1989]
Hi, this is Gail Zappa! [...] Frank wants to talk to you!
[...] He wanted to interview me for the position of "personal assistant." What did this entail, I asked? Well, he wanted someone to be able to set him up on the Synclavier so patch X was loaded and patch Y was filed correctly and he was impressed with my secretarial skills and wanted someone who could help him handle his new company, WhyNot, which was going to do business in Eastern Europe and Russia.
[June 14, 1989]
I'm ushered into the house and into the living room where Frank is talking with a business type. [...] And then finally it was my turn. [...] We meandered our way through a few rooms and ended up at a piano (not in the studio). He says, "sit down and play something." [...]
Then we went to the studio. [...] He introduces me to Bob Stone and we sit over in the corner, he on a couch and me on a chair. He's got my resume with him and wants to get down to details. The music is going on and off as Stone mixes away. [...] He did the standard job interview thing with me for quite some time—maybe 45 minutes. [...] The whole time was really intense, and my amazement at his routine grew moment by moment when—in the middle of a long threaded discussion about the work and my abilities, etc.—he would, without changing the tone of his voice, give Stone an order or suggestion about the mix. "Sweeten that applause" came at one point—"bring up that bari sax"—etc. etc.
[...] Then he excused himself and eventually Stone took a break and I was in that studio all by myself for quite a long time. [...] Bob Rice came in and we talked for awhile. He was there to "clean out his desk." He tried to assure me that even with my minute MIDI knowledge, I could "pick it up." He was really nice and gave me his phone number and offered to help.
[...] Eventually Frank returned. I'm afraid I had made up my mind that this wasn't going to work—mainly because, as I said previously, in my heart I knew I wasn't capable of the long demanding hours—and there was the whole matter of moving to Los Angeles from our longtime home here in Tucson. My wife is a settled professional and our oldest was just starting school, and it would have been a tough move. In any case, I ended up having back surgery in November. [...]
I started working with Frank in 1989.
I do have an assistant who is in there working right now. His chores include maintining backups of the entire database. He trims the samples. He is in the process now of preparing for a retail sale of my sample library. We're gonna have that out hopefully by the end of the year, it's going to be called Samples From Hell Library, available on optical disc, probably on Kennedy tape, and maybe a limited version of it on CD. [...] The primary customer is going to be New England Digital and they'll put it out on an optical disc. [...] The assistant name is Todd Yvega.
For 25 years I have tried to do something more than wonderful in the United States. And I have eaten shit. I can't get my music played on the radio. I do a series of sold-out concerts and lose $400,000. I wind up with musicians who feel they can do it all without me. Now what is this?
I have been offered opportunities to move into another type of life. Another type of work. And I'm gonna do it. [...] You'll read about it in the Wall Street Journal.
[...] I figure that there are other places in the world where large-scale interesting projects can work, and will work. Even if businessmen and politicians in the United States are too stupid to do them. And they must be done. So if I can't do them here, I'll do them somewhere else. What are you supposed to do? At this point, the whole idea of being a composer is, 'Well, that's a nice hobby.' So long as it doesn't cost me too much to do. If I can squeeze it in with the rest of the stuff, OK, I'll do it.
But I'm negotiating to sell all the 'P' copyrights to all of my masters, and trying to basically move away from the music business. Because, really, it's too depressing. I don't want to spend the rest of my life with a broken heart, eating shit. You know what I mean? I don't need this. And you wouldn't either.
[...] There's still plenty of stuff that's either completed or near completion that I will finish off, so there will be more product coming out. But I must say that my whole desire to function in the world of music has severely diminished. How long can you wait? How much can you do? How much can you lose before you look in the mirror and say, 'You're out of your fuckin' mind'?
Additional informant: Javier MarcoteResearch, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos