EB: The picture of Baby Snakes, with the girl with the tongue. Is that just a model, or is that someones . . .
FZ: That was the make-up girl. [...] It was a candid shot, y'know. She just happened to have her tongue stickin' out when she was touchin' up my make-up on the thing.
FZ: You wanna be in the band?
Warren: No! . . . Well . . . I, I wouldn't do that, man, I would try out for your band . . . but I wouldn't . . .
FZ: I'll try ya out
Warren: I don't sing . . . I'd do anything, you see . . .
I was first exposed to Frank Zappa with the Hot Rats album. I liked his style of playing, the way he would go from blues type stuff to very complex fusion-like pieces. When I heard Overnite Sensation I decided I had to see this guy live. I finally saw him at Brooklyn College in 1975, and I couldn't believe that anyone playing guitar in an ensemble could sound like that. It was phenomenal.
For about two years I was going to his shows, and at one of them I met his sound guy. I would hang around talking to the sound guy after the shows. One night we were talking and he was saying stuff like, "You know how Frank is." And I said, "No, I don't. I've never met him." He was really shocked—I'd been hanging around enough that the sound guy naturally assumed I knew Frank. So he introduced me to him at Frank's next New York City show. We talked for a while and Frank told me to stop by at some of his other New York Stage gigs. So over the next year I kind of followed him around, taping shows so that I would hear stuff that he hadn't released yet.
In the meantime, I was trying to learn his stuff on the guitar. I never even thought of playing in his band though, because a lot of his guitarists were singers and I didn't sing. One day, Frank approached me about working for him—as a radio promotions guy. He knew how enthusiastic I was about his music, and he thought I'd do a good job of talking him up to New York radio people. The turning point for me as a guitar player was when I was out to dinner one night with Frank in New York. We were sitting in this little place and William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were at the next table, and Frank starts making introductions. He introduced my friend as "This is Malcom, he's a taxi driver," and then he said, "This is Warren, he's a guitar player." I just went, "Wow." I mean, I was a truck driver, and Frank was introducing me as a guitar player.
The toughest chart I ever had to play with Frank was the straight version of "The Black Page." It's mainly difficult for the drum chair, but it's a tough chart all around. We actually worked up two arrangements of it: the straight one and the disco arrangement, which was hilarious. Terry would slip into sort of a Latin hustle beat, and I did the ubiquitous bass octaves that had been made popular by God knows how many groups of the era. We'd hold a dance contest onstage; some of that is in the concert film, Baby Snakes. He would bring up members of the audience and have them dance to this arrangement. Peter Wolf and Tommy Mars would play the keyboard chart as written, but Adrian Belew, Terry, and I would slip back and forth between the disco and straight arrangements, causing these hiccups.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos