1991—Chronology Sources, Notes & Comments

January 1991—Gulf War

Bob Guccione, Jr., "Signs Of The Times," Spin Magazine, July 1991

SPIN: What was your reaction after the Gulf War, and the jingoism and the euphoria that followed?

Zappa: Well I had a very bad reaction to the war in general because it was such an incredibly stupid idea to do it. All you got to do is look at what's happening in Iraq this week, and see whether it was a good idea to send a half a million guys over there to blow shit up. It's a bad idea. So I look at it as the utter failure of diplomacy, the utter failure, embarrassing failure of the U.N. to stand up for any of the original principles that it was supposedly constructed to uphold. It was well worded into putting a rubber stamp on the war, because George Bush decides that there ought to be something called the new world order. I did an interview with a German television station not long ago, and the guy said: " 'New world order,' doesn't he know that Hitler said that? That is a Hitler line."

SPIN: What's your theory of why America didn't finish off the war, why we left Saddam in power?

Zappa: First of all, there's no guarantee you can get him. The other thing is, on Crossfire last night, Stephen Solarz was arguing that we should start the war again and go in there and not just get rid of Saddam Hussein, but root out every aspect of the Baathist Party in Iraq. Tell me, what the fuck kind of tweezers are you going to need to do that? If you kill Saddam Hussein the Baathist Party—it's just like trying to get the Communist Party out of Russia. At every level. There's Baathist Party guys running everything. Plus five different forms of secret police. How are you going to do that?

The thing is, there's nothing more threatening to those bogus monarchs down there than democracy. If the Kurds and the Shiites succeed in toppling Hussein's government and they go for a democratic parliament and the rest of that stuff, if that trickles southward then it endangers the Kuwait [Emir] and the whole Saudi royal family. They don't want democracy anywhere near that peninsula. And also from the U.S. national interest point of view it's probably easier for our business guys to deal with one corrupt monarch or another then to deal with some unruly democratic parliament. It's easier to pay off one guy and the rest of his relatives.


Barking Pumpkin Records, Capitol Records & Music For Nations

FZ, interviewed by Den Simms & Rob Samler, Society Pages, June 1991

RS: Have you gotten a distribution deal in the U.S. for your CDs?

FZ: Yeah, we're gonna be distributed through Capitol.

DS: So it's gonna be the same kind of format that, say, the BABY SNAKES CD was done with?

FZ: Yes.

DS: The Barking Pumpkin label, distributed through Capitol?

FZ: Yeah.

DS: And so essentially, when those things are gonna be released, they'll be released simultaneously that way here in the United States, and with Music For Nations [...] in Europe?

FZ: Yeah.

DS: Some of the Eastern Europeans that we've managed to contact have expressed a little bit of concern about not being able to get things on vinyl, 'cause they don't have much access to CD technology. They wanna know . . .

FZ: Music For Nations is releasing some of these titles on vinyl. [...] I don't know what their Eastern European distribution is going to be, but that's kind of like the last part of the world where we're doing any vinyl, 'cause making vinyl is getting more and more problematical [...] 'cause the factories are all closing clown. [...] So, I realize that about the people in Eastern Europe. I know they don't have CD players, so we've made vinyl masters for a lot of these titles, and I don't know how extensive Music For Nations' distribution plans are for that product, but they're also aware of the vinyl market in that part of the world. I just hope that those people get CD players real soon.


February 1991—Synclavier

FZ, interviewed by Peter Frame, February 1991, MOJO #300, November 2018

Over the last four or five days, my assistant has put together a list of all of the compositions that are in various stages of completion and there are about a thousand of them.


Captain Beefheart

FZ, interviewed by Peter Frame, February 1991, MOJO #300, November 2018

I still talk to him on the phone every once in a while.


June 24, 1991—Prague, Czechoslovakia

FZ, interviewed by Matt Resnicoff, Musician, November 1991

I'm faced with a bit of a dilemma which is going to smack me right in the face on Thursday. I'm going to Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and I've been invited because they're having big celebrations. The last Russian soldier leaves Czechoslovakia on the 24th and Hungary on the 30th, and they want me to bring my guitar over and play. And I haven't touched it for years. I don't have any calluses! I don't know what to do with that fucking thing. And if I don't take it along with me I know a lot of people will be disappointed, but I know if I plug it in they're going to be even more disappointed, [laughs] 'cause I can't play anymore.


June 30, 1991—Budapest, Hungary

Istvan Fekete, "Budapesti Búcsú 1991," Outa Site

Gábor Demszky, the Mayor of Budapest, met Zappa in 1991 in LA, and invited him to Budapest.

FZ, interviewed by Marc Allan, 1991

I'm getting ready to make another trip to Eastern Europe I've been invited by the mayor of Budapest to come there on the 30th of June, they're having this big celebration because it's the day last Russian soldier leaves Hungary. So at that point I hope to meet a number of Hungarian businessmen and government officials and get some idea what kind of things their interested in doing and see if I can help out by helping businessmen find out who to talk to and what's wanted or what's needed at different points.

FZ, interviewed by Miklós Győrffy and Gábor Demszky, Hungarian TV, June 30, 1991

I'm interested in the region because I like the people. And after this first visit to Hungary I know I'll be coming back.

I feel very comfortable playing with gypsy people. I like this gypsy band. This was a unique experience because I had only met them last night. And the first time I tried to play with them was this morning. We played one song in the morning to practice. And then when I went on the stage tonight we played something completely different. So the first song we played tonight was like a little march for the soldiers to go home. And the second song we played was a lullaby for them to go to sleep. I thought that the audience wanted to hear it.

I'll leave tomorrow. I feel well [here]. I'm very happy.

Gyula Babos, interviewed by György Kerékgyártó and László Muka, Hungarian Frank Zappa Association, June 30, 2004

We (Egri, Kőszegi, Szakcsi and I) formed a jazz band that was really accustomed together. We had used to play jazz in Merlin Theatre around that time, and the organizator of Zappa's concert was the same person as of the Merlin concerts. When Zappa called him, he said he didn't care about anyone from the hungarian jazz or rock scene, he was only interested in those musicians of gipsy origins who were the "product" of those weird communist decades. So that was his decision.

[...] the phone rang one day, "hey kids, Frank Zappa has just arrived, you should be at the Tabán (the quartier of Budapest where the concert took part) by 3 o'clock p.m. with your instruments". So we arrived there at 3 o'clock, a limousin came along, Frank Zappa came up to the scene, and asked us if we had some cigarettes. We said yes. So we smoked, and the guys from the city headquarter were there wondering "god, what Frank Zappa will say"? Well, Frank Zappa said to fetch two pieces of 9V batteries because those in his guitar were exhausted. Those days I think he had some 43 guitars, and he hadn't played for years at all. To Budapest he brought a very special one. He took the guitar, put in the batteries and simply started to play; and we kept listening. In jazz you always have a leader to watch out. He started to lead the session, and we followed. [...] We didn't discuss anything!

[...] You should just keep playing and the ideas come along. [...] Ideas came and went by, sometimes Frank showed us who was to play the next solo. Then something happened that was unique in music, though. We played in 3/4, then suddenly Zappa showed Imre (the drummer) "five" by his hand. It meant he wanted to change to 5/4. Normally a band should practice for two hours to be able to make this change. In this case that guy had such an aura, such a charisma, like in soccer matches, when all balls just go where they are due to, that we were just cool, kept playing, 4-3-2-1 . . . and we changed to 5/4 without having taken notice of it. Without any difficulty.

So that was the rehearsal. In the afternoon we had a short conversation, jammed a little, then he was taken away to be hauled here and there. In the evening he was back. He didn't really like all that ado with limousin, bodyguards, he even made signs to show us how he disliked it. In the afternoon he put the improvisative skills of the musicians to a test, tried if this kind of meta-communication could work; and in the evening, when he had completely different things in his mind, when all had a different feeling, and he knew he had some good musicians around him, he played a completely different thing. His charisma and his faith in music was so strong, so deep, that each of those tens of thousands of people could feel it.

[...] We couldn't really have a good chat here, 'cause all those people around him were sitting on him like birds on the wire. Everyone just wanted to be with Frank Zappa. He said he wanted to spend some time with the musicians, but he couldn't—due to protocol matters. He said that after the show we'll come together, hang around, have some chat, 'cause it's him, Prince, Sting and Pat Metheny are those four musicians who, anywhere they go, at night, right after the concert, go and visit the local clubs, to play with local musicians 'til morning. That's what he wanted to do here, too, but he was forced to give it up.

Imre Kőszegi, quoted in frankzappa.blog.hu, December 15, 2012

We had used to play in Merlin Theatre's jazz club those days, and the organizer told us one day "Guess what, Demszky invited Frank Zappa to Budapest, he's already arrived and will come down this evening". He was already told about us, about our group, as it was made up then by Szakcsi on keyboards, Egri on bass, Babos on guitar and me on drums. The organizer guy asked us, what about choosing us to play with him...?

So he came down, [...] and then we played music for a while. "You are the ones", he said, "so we're gonna play tomorrow". [...] Someone came up with the idea of having a short rehearsal the other day. "Right", he said, "it's not that important, but anyway, let's do it". [...]

We went out to the Tabán, at about 11 a.m., the stage was just being built, there was no audience yet only some people walking up and down in the park; well, we said, let's give it a try then. It was just a kind of jam-session of course; playing his music was out of question as we would've needed much more than 10-15 minutes in that case [...]. We had a chat, we played several rythmic and harmonic schemes—it was damned good, just playing around.

That was all very well, but! Useless to say, in the evening concert we didn't play a hint of what we had rehearsed in the morning... [...] So we went up to stage, I was sitting quite far from him, on a kind of a small platform, down there was Szakcsi sitting, then Egri, and right in front there was Frank with Babos behind him. There he was, with his cigarettes put among the guitar strings all the time. [...] We kept an eye on him, on his gestures—he wanted to show that the music should flow freely, like a permanent humming noise. By this he wanted to imitate the withdrawal of the soviet military troops from Hungary. It was a march-like tempo. We couldn't talk to each other, he was quite far away, but during the decades of the professional career one gets used to be able to accompany somone only by seeing his hair moving. I can even follow a singer if I can't hear him just see him taking breath. So I kept watching his foot clapping the rythm, I followed the tempo, we started to play...

He conducted like a mime does—and then a wonderful thing happened. I still cannot understand this even today—this is quite a particular thing, but you'll see what I mean. We played in 4/4, you know this kind of rhythm. We changed it here and there, to a more rock-like style—then suddenly he showed us the palm of his hand wide open, with the five straight fingers. Well, one could've thought that he wanted to catch a fly, or say farewell...

He meant a 5/4 rythm. 5/4! Just by showing this, we changed to 5/4. I started it, this was my task as a drummer. And it worked perfectly. It went on like knife cutting the butter. Even today I can't recall for how long it lasted—30 minutes, or an hour? I swear I could never tell how much we played, for me it was like a whole life, or one hundred years.

It was just marvellous.

Istvan Fekete

Taban Szinpada

'Taban' was the location of the concert. It is a part of Budapest where the houses were demolished at the beginning of the 20th century. Now it is an empty hillside which is sometimes used for open-air concerts. Szinpad = stage. 'Taban szinpada' would be 'stage of the Taban'. Neil Slaven in his book gives the location wrongly as 'at the Tabanban'. 'Tabanban' means 'at the Taban'.

The band consisted of FZ and 4 hungarian (gypsy) jazz musicians who were invited to support FZ. So this was a different setup to Prague.

There was a soundcheck in the morning, where they played for about 15 minutes. In the evening, FZ was introduced by mayor Gabor Demszky who had invited him to Budapest for the Summer Festival. Then Frank said the song they're going to play will be called 'One of a kind'. They jammed for about 20 minutes, and they came back for a 10 minute encore. That was it. Frank didn't play too much, most of the time he left the band play (or conducted it) and waited for the right moment to join them. My favorite is the soundcheck, but his other solos are worth a listen too. His guitar sounded really beautiful.

This performance hasn't been officially released. Yet. (Oops, I didn't say anything ;-).) Anyway, I have it all on video along with what was shown on TV in a program titled 'Zappapest': a cruise on the Danube, Frank (and Gail) visiting an old man demonstrating some traditional hungarian instruments, Frank talking about running for president (and admitting he doesn't have a real big chance: 'George Bush has more balloons than I'.), etc. (Looks like Clinton had 99 balloons :-) more than Bush.)

Istvan Fekete

Eddie Persson

The show.

Me and my ex-girlfriend were in Budapest on holiday. One day downtown Budapest I saw a poster that said "Taban jazzfestival, with special guest Frank Zappa". I didn't beleve it! I ran around in recordstores and tried to find out if it was true. It was, everybody I spoke to told me that it was the truth. I couldn't belive it anyway.

Anyway, my girlfriend and I went to the park where the show was going to be. A stage was built and we were the first people in the audience. It was abuot 10 o'clock AM. A couple of hungaryan freaks came. They had FZ t-shirts on so I felt more sure that it really was true. I tried to speak with them but they didn't understand so much english. At least I understood that this is going to happen, FZ is in town! they showed me pictures of FZ from the airport the night before.

By noon, things started to happen. Movement backstage, people were beginning to get excited, something was going on. Suddenly people ran backstage to welcome FZ as he was getting out of the limo. He entered the stage, as the king that he was, and the soundcheck started. All my pictures is from the soundcheck. There were four musicans on stage excluding FZ. Drummer, base, keyboard and another guitarist. They were all Hungarian jazzmusicans. Gail Zappa stood at the side of the stage during the soundcheck and so did the bodyguard from the 88-tour (Dave?).

FZ left again and there were nothing to do but wait for the concert to begin. The festival started of with a lot of jazz-groups and FZ was the big event that night.

After a very, very, very long time he came!

He and the band from the soundcheck didn't play any FZ-tunes. The band was playing in the background and our common friend played the solo guitar. I cried.

I tried to take some pictures but I had no flash so they didn't get so well. The FZ-gig were about an hour long and then it was over. After the concert I went up to the stage and found one of FZ's smoked cigarettes. I took it as a memory of him and I still have it.

Budapest '91


July 10, 1991—Ensemble Modern in Los Angeles

FZ, interviewed by Matt Resnicoff, Musician, November 1991

I have no link to the cultural life of Los Angeles. The closest I'm going to get to anything that is official L.A. cultural life will be when I go into a rehearsal hall that's being provided as a courtesy by the LA. Philharmonic to this German organization who are sending 25 musicians over to rehearse some of my music for a festival—they sure as fuck ain't doing it for me.

FZ, interviewed by Libby Purvis & Brian Hayes, Midweek, Radio 4, London, UK, July 3, 1991

The big project for next year is a new composition for the Frankfurt Festival. It gets in the premiere in the week of September 14 1992. I'm writing this piece for a group called the Ensemble Modern which is a twenty-five piece chamber orchestra. On July 10, they come to LA for two weeks and I start working with them directly to create the composition.


Spencer Chrislu

Don Menn, "Spencer Chrislu. Engineer Of The Right Formulas In The Baby Milk Factory," Zappa!, 1992, p. 81

Two years ago, following the departure of Zappa's long-time engineer Bob Stone, Spence was recruited, on the recommendation of Todd Yvega, to man Zappa's Neve console, where he now sits ten hours a day, five days a week.

Spencer Chrislu, interviewed by Andrew Greenaway, March 6, 2020

How did you come to work with Frank?

Through my association with Todd Yvega. Todd and I met within the first six months of me living in Los Angeles. I had moved to the Enterprise Studios and Todd was in the first session that I worked on over at Enterprise.

Where are you originally from?

I'm originally from Chicago. I had just gotten out of the University of Illinois. And then I was actually living in Nashville for a couple of years after school. Then I came up from Nashville to California to seek my fame and fortune!

So Todd introduced you . . .?

Well Todd and I had worked together for years. I think we met in 1986. We had known each other and had been working on and off on various projects. And then, in the summer of 1991, the Ensemble Modern had just visited Frank's house. At the time, I was working at a different studio, and Todd had come to me and asked if I wanted to come in and interview for Frank. He and his engineer had parted ways, and there was an opening.

And I said, "No!" [laughs]. I couldn't imagine taking the position as I had heard of Frank's reputation for being a taskmaster. I knew of stories where he'd stop a concert in the middle of a song because someone had made a mistake.

I think Todd and David Dondorf between them had done the recordings when the Ensemble was there for the first rehearsals, and Todd asked me if I wanted to come up. He went over it and told me how great it was working for Frank—how he wasn't anything like the person people thought and what a great person he was to work with. Todd also related that they had just installed a new console there which he thought might suit me. So I took him up on his offer and went up to meet Frank and, yeah, we went from there.

And what was the first project you worked on for him?

As you're probably aware, Frank never worked on one thing at a time. During our interview, he asked me what I knew about the new console and what could I do with it. He seemed completely uninterested when I said yes to his various questions, but his ears pricked up when he asked another question and I said, "Oh, I don't know that." He thought that was more interesting than the things I did know. I felt that was kind of strange, and I didn't know what to make of it.

He then asked me if I could build a digital reverb that sounded like the back of the live room. It's a strange space with hard parallel walls, a wooden floor and a huge 25 or 30 foot ceiling. I said, "Sure, I'll give it a try," and that seemed to please him.

After the interview, he said to come back and he'd give me a try out.

The first thing he did was put on a recording of one of the eighties bands—one of the big bands: I think it was the 84 band. I walked in, and he told me to "pan this guy left, this guy right, put my guitars here" and then he said he had to go to the doctors and he'd be back in a couple of hours. I opened the manual and started mixing. He came back a few hours later and said, "Hmm, you seem to know what you're doing." So that was the first thing.

Besides the 80s band project (that became one of the YCDTOSA albums), he was mixing the first Ensemble Modern rehearsal, which then became part of the Everything Is Healing Nicely album.


Zappa For President

George Varga, "Zappa's Revolutionary Legacy Endures," The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 25, 2013

KCAL, Channel 9, aired an interview with Zappa on June 13, 1991, that prematurely identified him as a presidential candidate. ("I'm not a candidate," he later stressed. "I'm just exploring the possibility.") The Disney-owned station followed the interview with a phone survey asking viewers if they would vote for Zappa for president. About 1,800 viewers responded, said KCAL spokeswoman Jennifer Barrett, and 86 percent indicated they would vote for Zappa were he to make an official White House bid.

Zappa's subsequent battle with the prostate cancer that would claim his life nipped his political aspirations in the bud. But in a 1991 U-T San Diego interview, the man Vaclav Havel so admired left no doubt he was open to serving.

"My main qualifications are that I don't play golf, I don't take vacations and I do think the U.S. constitution is one hell of a document and that this country would work better if people adhered to it more closely," Zappa said during a June, 1991, phone interview from his Los Angeles home. "But if a miracle was to occur—and it would take just that—and I really ran for office, you can believe that I'd be serious about the job."

Zappa's presidential platform would, he said, center on eliminating federal income taxes, raising most state taxes except for those on staple food items, and "getting the government out of people's faces."

Asked how he would redefine the U.S. military's role, Zappa replied: "The only thing the military should be used for is protecting the country, not bad foreign policy."

Always ahead of the curve, Zappa said that if he ran he would like then-obscure Texas industrialist H. Ross Perot to be his vice presidential running mate. If elected, Harvard University professor and constitutional law expert Alan Dershowitz (in his pre-O.J. Simpson defense attorney era) would have been Zappa's pick for attorney general.

Zappa described himself as "a reluctant candidate" who was "volunteering" to run for the presidency. "If there was anybody else who could walk in from outside and do this, I'd vote for them," he said. "But I don't see any other volunteers."

FZ, interviewed by Libby Purvis & Brian Hayes, Midweek, Radio 4, London, UK, July 3, 1991

I haven't announced my candidacy yet but I'm doing what they call a feasibility study. [...] The only thing I really need to finish my feasibility study is to ascertain what happens when a person stands as an anti-partisan candidate, and has to go through the process of the Electoral College. This is a legal question that has to be answered. You can win the popular vote in the US but not get elected. You have to have the electoral college and I don't know what the mechanics of that are if you refuse either of the parties.

[...] I'm anti-partisan because I believe that neither of the major parties there have done a good job in domestic or foreign policy. All of the specifics of what my platform would be would be made available in a position paper on the day when I actually announce, but the two things that I'm most concerned about is getting rid of the American income tax. [...] Because I think that it penalises people. It dissuades them from being productive, because the more you earn, the more they take out of your pocket and it's psychologically bad. If you do it the other way [put the tax on sales and services], you have a better chance of capturing part of the underground economy.


Zappa's Universe: A Celebration—November 7-9, 1991

"Joel Thome," Zappa!, 1992, p. 102

The event held in New York at The Ritz last November 7-10, brought Zappa veterans (Steve Vai, Dale Bozzio, etc.), classical virtuoso Lorin Hollander, '50 vocal stylists The Persuasions, and a symphonic grouping dubbed The Orchestra Of Our Time to packed houses of Zappa fans from the worlds of serious music and rock and roll. Cal Schenkel, designer of numerous Zappa album convers, provided the stage backdrop, a t-shirt, and an official program.

Mike Keneally on Guitar Magazine, February 1994

The Zappa's Universe project came up in 1991, and conductor Joel Thome approached Frank to get him involved. When it came time to pick a guitar player and a singer for the project, Frank said, "Get Keneally" and there I was.

Neil Slaven, Electric Don Quixote—The Definitive Story Of Frank Zappa, 2003, p. 379

Another project nearing fruition was a stage presentation of Broadway The Hard Way, already postponed twice from October 1990 and March 1991. It was the brainchild of conductor Joel Thome, with whom Frank had collaborated ten years previously on a tribute to Varese. By May, the project had broadened. "Almost two years have gone by [since the original idea]," Mike Keneally explained, "and so it makes more sense to do a lot more music from a lot more phases of Frank's career." [Society Pages, 6, "Would You Like Some Fries With That Interview?", by Martin De Jong, Piet Dodder, Aad Hoogesteger, Uli Mrosek and Axel Wunsh.]

"This is a wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to Frank," said Thome. "He's such an important force in music with such apassionate vision, so it's our way of saying, 'Thank you'." [Society Pages, 7, "Hot Poop! News & Spooz!", interview with Joel Thome by Rob Samler.] By September, the show had been retitled Zappa's Universe and Zappanauts would be attending The Ritz in New York City for four days beginning on Thursday, November 7.

Mike Keneally, interviewed by Slang and Cube, Guitarhoo!, June 25, 2004

I didn't have too much to do with the organization of that show, other than suggesting some players, transcribers and some songs to play, so I don't know how hard it was for the organizers to get everyone together, but I'm guessing it wasn't easy. I know it took a long time for it all to come together. I was kind of nervous because the video was shot on the first day of four performances in a row, and it seemed logical to tape the last show when so many of the bugs would be worked out, but unfortunately Steve Vai was only available for the first show and they really wanted him on the tape.

We'd had a horribly ragged rehearsal a couple of hours before the gig (the show involved a full orchestra and complex arrangements, so that always means millions of things which can potentially go wrong, and at this rehearsal a lot of them did) and the soundcheck ended with union guys showing up and threatening to close the performance down, and I didn't have loads of confidence that it was going to be a good performance.

Also I wasn't supposed to sing nearly so much at that frigging show, other singers were supposed to have learned many of the parts I had to sing and they didn't, and as I was the only guy around who knew all of the stuff it fell on me to sing it somewhat against my will as I knew it wouldn't help the show overall. I know a lot of people have complained about me doing too much of the singing and I agree completely. Also I'm completely out of breath during "The Idiot Bastard Son" because I'd just played a crazy guitar solo, but the solo's not on the tape so my singing just sucks for no justifiable reason.

But! The vibe in the room during the show was absolutely incredible, the players and audience felt really unified, and Gail, Moon and Dweezil were all there and we all felt at the time that it was a special night.

Unfortunately there were legal complications following the concert which ended up corrupting the residual vibe of the experience, but I'm still glad that video exists as a document of what really was a great, great night.

Spencer Chrislu, interviewed by Andrew Greenaway, March 6, 2020

You were obviously aware of his illness when you first met him?

Yeah, he made it clear the first day that he was sick and had been sick. In fact, it was shortly after that that Dweezil and those guys made the announcement.

At the Zappa's Universe shows?

That was literally the first week that I was there. In fact, he wanted me to go up and record those concerts. And again, Frank being Frank—he was amazing—he just decided that since I was on the team, I could do anything.

He said to the show organisers, "You've got your engineers to do it, but they're doing it wrong and I've got my guy and he's gonna tell you how it's run." He explained to me that he'd already gone over the show with them and since they didn't have multiple machines, they didn't know how to ensure they'd capture everything. And he was like, "No, I'm gonna send my guy."


Morgan Ågren, "Being In Zappa's Universe," Morgan Ågren

The rehearsal time that we got for Zappa's Universe was one week (5 days) in Joe's Garage, L.A. with "The Rocking Teenage Combo"—which was Scott Thunes, Mike Keneally, me and Mats [Öberg]. Then in New York, we got another 5 days with the full Orchestra of Our Time, all the guests; Persuasions, Denny Walley, Dale Bozzio a.o.

First day in Joe's Garage me and Mats got there first. [...] Scott locked his car and marched up to Mats and me. I told Mats that Scott was there, and Mats totally lightened up! (Mats is blind, in case you didn't know.) When Scott was facing us, he says: "Greetings!," and we shook hands. Mats says: "Nice to be here!" Scott reply was: "Well, I'm not sure about that, that we gonna find out later . . . It's too hot outside, I got to go inside, see you . . ." I looked at Mats with my mouth open, as we started to imagine the attitude of the next two weeks.

Mike arrived, and when they were ready to play, Mike says: "First side on You are what you is" and the next second he counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and we're off! And it sounded GREAT! We just ripped it, loud and intense. [...] After the three songs Society Pages, I'm a Beautiful Guy & Beauty Knows No Pain in segue, Scott put down his bass on the floor, threw his pick up in the air and said: "GREAT, this is good, now we won't have to rehearse this shit for the whole week, we can go down to the beach and enjoy ourselves instead!"

[The second day] we were just having a break, and I saw a car coming with Dweezil behind the wheel and . . . yes, Frank was sitting next to him. They both came in and Frank said hello, how are you etc. and continued with a big smile: "So let me see what you can do now . . ."

We went into the rehearsal room, Frank sat down on a couch, lightened a cigarette, legs crossed and said: "Can you play Marqueeson's Chicken?", wich got me confused, because that song wasn't on the list as far as I remember, but Frank wanted to hear it, so we'd better give it a try!

Next song Frank wanted to hear wasn't on the list either . . . as well as the next and next and next . . . He just wanted to see what we really knew from his repertoire. We did really fine though. Mats knows more material than anyone on the planet, believe me. Mike knows a lot too for sure, as well as Scott. So, we basically played everything he wanted. Then Frank said: "What about Tink Walks Amok? . . . lets hear it with just Mats & Morgan!" That one worked fine as well (Mats played the bassline on the keyboards). Everything went just great, lucky us!

Later the same day, when we went to Frank's house. Me and Mats sat down on a couch, Frank came in and sat down too, and said: "This was one of the nicest afternoons I had in a long time!" We were in Nirvana.

Later that night Mats completely amazed everyone even more. We went down in Frank's studio and Mats got to play the Bösendorfer grand. Frank asked Mats to play another 10 songs, amongst others Sleep Dirt (which is mosty a guitar solo!) but Mats just played it, and Frank said: "Well, I didn't know you could do that that one." He was really impressed. Then Mats overdubbed a piece on the Synclavier. Frank loaded something that sounded like Civilization Phase lll, and then he wanted Mats to improvise on top. Frank stored the improvisation in the Synclavier entitled Mats. After that Frank started to sing Evelyn as Mats backed him up on the Synclavier with a Gamelan Orchestra sound! It was so nice, and Frank was in such a good mood, as well as we of course.

"Warren De Martini," Zappa!, 1992, p. 14

Though he has never played on a Zappa record, Warren De Martini is one of a handful of guitar players singled out by Frank as worth listening to. The 29-year-old lead guitarist has skills and finesse beyond what is usually exhibited in the confines of Ratt, the group he fronted for a decade. Last November, as Zappa's Universe was being pulled together by Joel Thome, Warren received the call that put him onstage soloing on "I Am the Slime" for the controversial birthday tribute to Frank. He cranked up and wailed in the rarified atmosphere of such hand-picked Zappa interpreters as guitarists Mike Keneally, Scott Thunes, Steve Vai, and Dweezil Zappa, keyboardists Lorin Hollander and Mats Øberg, percussionist Morgan Agren, and Doug Perry, as well as the entire lineup of the legendary Persuasions. De Martini was honored to be part of the show. "I don't want to belittle it by trying to say what it means to me, because I don't have the facility to really do that. That Frank Zappa likes what I do is the best compliment I could ever have.

"He let me pick the songs for the tribute. I worked on the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore version of "I Am the Slime." And he ended up going, 'Well, it will get applause, but let's mix it up and do a really different arrangement.' He came up with an arrangement, and we worked on it for about four hours. Just watching him think of stuff was the best, because every 32 bars it would change completely. The verse would change, and then it would go into something completely different from the bridge, and then it would go into this feel and that feel. It was exceedingly good fun."


Melinda Newman, "PolyGram, Zappa In Legal Clash Over Song Rights," Billboard, October 9, 1993

PolyGram Diversified Entertainment has filed suit against Frank Zappa, alleging that the artist has failed to act in good faith with the company over the audio, home video, and broadcast exploitation of a Zappa tribute concert, "Zappa's Universe."

According to the suit, filed Sept. 14 in U.S. District Court here, PDE is seeking a declaratory judgment that it has the right to exploit Zappa's compositions as performed by various artists at the two tribute shows, although Zappa claims he did not give consent. The suit also alleges that Zappa's delays in negotiating terms "continue to threaten the viability of the project," and asks the court to direct Zappa to conclude negotiations with PDE "immediately."

Despite the suit, PolyGram imprint Verve released the audio version of "Zappa's Universe" Sept. 14. PolyGram Video intends to release the home video Nov. 2.

The tribute concerts, recorded in New York Nov. 7-8,1991, were the idea of impresario Joel Thome, who sent a proposal to PDE.

According to the legal papers, PDE agreed to the proposal 'only if PDE could exploit the concert for the purposes of audio and video recordings and commercial television broadcast." PDE alleges that negotiations with the artist for permission to use his songs were concluded in an Oct. 2, 1991, agreement.

After that date, plans for the tribute evolved to include a performance by Zappa, for which PDE says separate terms were negotiated and agreed upon on Oct. 24, 1991. The shows' other performers included Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Dale Bozzio, the Persuasions, and Rockapella.

According to the suit, at about the time of the concerts, Zappa boarded a chartered plane PDE had secured to fly him to New York, but exited the plane before it took off, "abandoning the trip and the concert."

After being informed the day of the show by Zappa's wife, Gail, that Zappa had prostate cancer, PDE and Gail Zappa discussed other ways for the artist to participate, including an interview to be included in the home video, the recording of a new song, or use of archival footage.

After the concerts, Verve announced its intent to release an album in spring 1992. According to the suit, the project "encountered significant delays because ... Zappa did not respond to PDE's repeated inquiries concerning the nature of his postgc-performance contribution." He subsequently refused to discuss any such arrangements until PDE reimbursed the family the remainder of the $25,000 travel bill it had incurred. PDE states that it had already paid $10,000 of the bill "as a gesture of good will ... without any legal obligation to do so, since its promise to pay for these accommodations was in consideration for Zappa's promised and undelivered appearance at the concerts."

In the meantime, PDE also sought to tie up terms left open in the Oct. 2 agreement. However, the suit states that as it tried to do so, Zappa began to maintain "that PDE has no such right [to exploit the concert] and that release of a phonorecord, home video, or broadcast of 'Zappa's Universe' would constitute copyright infringement." Last month, Zappa's attorney, Owen Sloane, told PDE that Zappa would not issue synchronization licenses for the home video.

Sloane disputes PDE's claims that Zappa had agreed to surrender his rights. "There were really no negotiations on Oct. 2," he says. "There was just an agreement to work further. There weren't any specific terms agreed to or discussed."

Sloane says he does not know if Zappa intends to file a countersuit for copyright infringement. Instead, he's hoping for a settlement. "I think this will get settled. We were fairly close to working it out beforehand."


Friday Margarita Nights

Rip Rense, L.A. Weekly, c. 1996

At Gail Zappa's behest, the blenders roared every Friday evening about 6. In short order, Frank's staff of invaluable studio wizards and office workers became duly sloshed, and took to verbally slaying the dragons-of-the-week in tones that can be gently described as rollicking. At first, the Boss merely tolerated this; grudgingly accepting it as a necessity for non-workaholics, and continued quietly writing, oh-so-carefully listening, deftly editing, and tweezing, as he liked to say, in his pristine, ahead-of- the-state-of-the-art basement studio, the "Utility Muffin Research Kitchen" (a reference to the Zappa song, "Muffin Man," more recently amplified to "Utility Muffin Research Kitchen & Baby Milk Factory" in honor of the Iraqi "dairy factory" that was actually manufacturing bio-chemical weapons during the Gulf War.) This soon proved problematic. Running leviathan computerized keyboard systems required assistants—assistants who were not snockered—so in time, the labor fiend was forced to observe the Friday breaks.

He actually took a Margarita in hand.

The scope of such a compromise, in Frank's mind, can only be imagined. At this point—late 1991—he strongly suspected that his time might be short; he had been feverishly (literally) devoting every carbohydrate of energy he could conjure to finishing a half-dozen major projects—including the opus that he regarded as the most ambitious of his life, a sprawling 113-minute Synclavier/orchestral netherworld called "Civilization, Phaze III," composed over a period of ten years (released posthumously in 1994.) Sacrificing even a few hours of work time was not terribly desirable—but he assessed the situation with characteristic clinicism (or was he merely rationalizing?):

"Nobody else will work, so I can't get anything done."

Ben Watson, MOJO, March 1994

On Friday nights everyone in the house—employees and family—collected together and drank margaritas, a tradition initiated by engineer Dave Dondorf after a particularly crisis-ridden day in the studio.



Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
This page updated: 2024-04-21