The story goes, in 1981 I got a call—while I was home—from someone that I greatly admired. I had gone to a lot of his shows and respected tremendously. He called me from Washington, DC. "Hello? Is this Al?" I said, "Yes." "This is Frank Zappa here." "Frank Zappa! Wow!" I said, "What's happening!" "Well, we're coming to New York and I'd love you to come down. I wrote this piece and I thought of you. I'd love you to play it with us. It's called 'Clowns On Velvet.'"
About Al Di Meola [FZ] said that he had never heard him play before. "The only thing I heard was Warren Cuccurullo's imitation of the way he plays where he mutes all the notes and just goes whipping up and down the aeolian mode until you're blue in the face." The song written that afternoon of the show, using the Al Di Meola Secret Chord Progression which is E major, F major, G major, F major, E major and variations thereof, inserted in the middle, and it came out good.
[Spring 1982] [FZ] puts my curiosity to the test by playing one of the hundreds of sleeveless records which are heaped on a huge mixer which once belonged to the Beach Boys. From the grooves sizzles Al Di Meola furiously playing guitar along with FZ in an improvisation never heard before.
I've met Al [Di Meola]. He jammed with us at the Ritz in 1981. We recorded it, too. In fact, it was broadcast live on the radio in Long Island. They broadcast the show live. I can't remember the name of the station. I wanted to release the performance on an album, but he refused. He didn't think his solo was good enough, so he didn't want to do it.
I only heard about Al Di Meola not liking his performance. That would be enough, I think, to can the album. But what do I KNOW!?
That was a mess about Al [Di Meola]'s solo. I don't know why he was being so picky. To tell you the truth, I think we had a lot of Chalk Pie as outtakes to other things we were doing all along. I do remember putting everything on hold to do Drowning Witch because Bennett [Glotzer] was on our ass to get it done. It might have been Chalk Pie, but I seem to remember for sure that we stuck Crush All Boxes in the vault the same day we started on "No Not Now" for the DW album.
[Al Di Meola] says he regrets NOT agreeing with Frank on releasing "Clownz On Velvet"!! Apparently FZ wanted to put that out (!!)—and Al recalls "I was too uptight at that point, I said 'No'. Hearing it a few years ago, I think it's pretty good and I regret not saying yes to Frank on that...."
It was a rainy November Sunday in 1981 and I was sitting on the couch watching TV when the phone rang. "Hello, this is Frank Zappa. Al, can you come and sit in with us on Tuesday at the Ritz in NYC. I wrote a song with you in mind and want you to perform it with us." I thought it was a phone prank but I did show up at the Ritz on Tuesday and we did play "Clownz on Velvet" and "Ride like the wind" by Christopher Cross (who was supposed to be there as well but never made it so Frank's roadie sang the vocals). That was also the first time I played with my brother Steve Vai
Additional informant: Charles Ulrich.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos