Cruising With Ruben & The Jets


The Concept

Billy James, Necessity Is . . ., 2001, p. 65

MGM's contract specified that the group owed the record company two more LPs, but Uncle Meat was proving to be a huge recording and editing undertaking, so instead Zappa took the group back into Apostolic Studios in New York in January 1968 to record something quick as a way of fulfilling their contractual obligations.

Richard Kunc, quoted by Billy James, Necessity Is . . ., 2001, p. 66

Frank never seemed to work on just one album at the time—two was the absolute minimum. He'd start on one and a little ways into that he'd get an idea for another one. [...] One of the best examples of this is the album Cruising With Ruben and The Jets. During a break at a session for some other album, we were sitting around talking about old high school days and doo-wop tunes. Ray Collins and some other people just started singing them. Then someone sat down at the piano, someone else played drums, and so forth. All of a sudden Frank said, "Hey, let's make an album of this stuff!" Right then and there Cruising With Ruben and The Jets was born. He came in the next day with charts for the whole album.

Dan Forte, "Zappa," Musician, August 1979

MUSICIAN: Was Cruising With Ruben & The Jets a parody of the 50s then, or was that a serious attempt to play in that style?

ZAPPA: I'll tell you, there's a very scientific reason for the existence of Ruben & The Jets. The closest relationship between that album as an artistic event and another event from a different field that you can compare it to would be the point in Stravinsky's career in which he decided he was going to write neo-classical music. He started doing stuff like Pulcinella—writing music in his day and age, but using forms that were thoroughly out of style and frowned upon by the academic establishment. You have to remember that the American people don't have much going for them in the way of taste. I mean, taste is something that's inflicted on the American public by other outside forces. So if somebody tells you that something is cool, well, you'll think it's cool and you'll go out and buy it. To make an album like Cruising With Ruben & The Jets at that time in history, in '68, was very unfashionable. And everybody went, "Oh, I can't own that; it's not cool. It's not acid rock, it's not fuzztone, it's not psychedelic. Who needs this?" I didn't do it just to be arbitrary—I like that kind of music, and I wanted to have some examples of that style in my total catalog output.

MUSICIAN: Is it difficult to find musicians who can play in that style convincingly?

ZAPPA: Yes, it's very difficult to find vocalists who understand that technique anymore. The sort of stuff Roy and Ray [Estrada and Collins] were doing—that's a lost art. That kind of falsetto stuff—there may be a few people left in the world who know how to do that. None of the younger singers know how to do that.

MUSICIAN: You sang the bass parts, right? That's a bit of a lost art in itself.

ZAPPA: Yeah, you have to understand what it means to make those sounds come out of your throat. They're not just low notes.

FZ with Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989, p. 88

There was a lot of nonsense in the press when Cruising with Ruben & the Jets came out, about how it had 'fooled people.' I heard one story that a DJ in Philly was playing it like crazy until he found out it was the Mothers, at which point he yanked it. The fact is, everybody knew it was the Mothers of Invention because it said so on the cover: "Is this the Mothers of Invention recording under a different name in a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio?"

I conceived that album along the same lines as the compositions in Stravinsky's neoclassical period. If he could take the forms and clichés of the classical era and pervert them, why not do the same with the rules and regulations that applied to doo-wop in the fifties?

The Beach Boys, interviewed by Mike Quigley, January 15, 1969

Carl Wilson: Yeah, Cruising with Ruben and the Jets. I think that's really out of sight, man.

Mike Love: If he keep comin' up with titles like that, he's gonna have friends for life from The Beach Boy organization.

CW: You know, we think those type of things are humorous. Ruben and the Jets . . .

ML: They're somewhat esoteric, but Frank knows what they mean.

CW: That's out of sight, man.


The Recording Sessions

Liner notes by FZ, 1968

engineered by Dick Kunc at Apostolic Studios, New York

Liner notes by FZ, 1968

JIMMY CARL BLACK and/or ARTHUR DYRE TRIPP III: lewd pulsating rhythm

FZ, "The Oracle Has It All Psyched Out," Life, June 28, 1968

The function of the drums in a rock music ensemble is to keep the beat. ("It has a good beat . . . I give it 10 points, Dick.") On early R&B records, the drum part was usually executed with brushes. All the arrangements required, generally, was a dull thud on the second and fourth pulse of the bar. There were very few "breaks" or "fills." When the drum fill (a short percussion outburst, usually at a cadence or resting point of a musical phrase) became popular in rock arrangements, it most often took the form of groups of triplets (three-note rhythmic figures, squeezed into the space of two beats . . . sounding like: ya-da-da ya-da-da ya-da-da ya-da-da- whomp). For a while, during the mid-50s, it seemed like every record produced had one or more fills of this nature in it. Eventually, with the improvements in studios and recording techniques, the drummers began to use sticks on the sessions and the cadence fills became more elaborate but, before and after the fill, the drummer's job was still to keep the beat . . . that same old crappy beat . . . the beat that made the kids hop around and scream and yell and buy records. A long process of rhythmic evolution has taken place since the early 50s. It is laughable now to think of that dull thud on the second and fourth as lewd and pulsating.

Art Tripp

Jeff Slyker, "Conversation With Artie Tripp," Mother People #14, December 1982

Ruben & The Jets was the first LP [Art Tripp] played on. Dick Kunc had set him up with Zappa. He came in and laid down the percussion track. Everything else was already recorded at that time.

Art Tripp, interviewed by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 229

The first thing he had me do was he had me redo all the drum tracks for Ruben And The Jest, because he didn't like what Billy Mundi had played. So, it was funny, because I hadn't had a lot of experience. It was funny to sit down with the phones and play to the track. The music was already done and they were just replacing his drum tracks.

[...] The parts were so ridiculously easy, it was real simple. [...] It was a lot of fun. We sat there, and I think we did the whole goddamned album in a day.


The Cover Art

Cal Schenkel,, October 2, 1997

summer 68 -LA. Acrylic, pencil, collage, spray-paint. Animopomorphized snouts courtesy Carl Barks. In spring of 68 Frank moved the operation back to LA, and I took up residence in the tree-house at the Log Cabin wherein I assembled this comic combo. (reference the Uncle Meat story) Then I found some interesting trash on the hill up above the Log Cabin where they were building roads. which started a diversion to overlaying car parts diagrams on people's heads.

95RR-inlay: Jellyroll/Bop from promotional material .

Calvin Schenkel, interviewed by Dan Nadel, Eye #53, 2001

The Ruben and the Jets characters were really just me showing Frank a comic strip with the dog-nosed guys who I stole from Carl Barks, and Frank wanting to use them as the fake doo-wop band on that record.

FZ on The Johnny Otis Show, November 2, 1970

You know the cover of the Ruben & The Jets album? There's a figure on the front holding a guitar. And it's a red Stratocaster that's all scratched up. It was copied as exactly as possible—including the hand position—off the cover of the Pee Wee Crayton album that was out on Kent. All the cracks in the pick-ups and everything are illustrated in that . . .

Cal Schenkel, interviewed by Jamie Atkins, Udiscovermusic, November 6, 2023

I was a big fan of Carl Barks, who did the Disney ducks and all the funny animal comics. I found all the superhero stuff very boring, but Carl Barks did very complex, interesting, and funny stories. They were really a classic type of delivery and influenced a lot of artists of my generation, including Robert Crumb.

The jellyroll illustration [a how-to guide to achieving a perfect greaser hairstyle, included in a promotional package for the album and reproduced on the 2012 CD reissue]; was fun to do and it fitted in with the dog snout characters on the cover. Again, some of that goes back to those ads that I did for Moop, which were surrealistic comic strips, basically. Frank liked that concept.

And so I was playing with the animal nose type thing. At one point, we were going to do these rubber noses for the band to wear. We took a cast of Frank's nose in order to do that.

I used some acrylics, some watercolors. The background is Krylon spray paint, because I didn't have an airbrush to work with at the time, so I just used a spray can. It's incredible. I like to work in all different media, so it was good for me. Collage works well too, because then, if you make a mistake, you can change it easily.

FZ on The Howard Smith Show, October 10, 1971

Have you ever seen a cheapo, cheapo album that sells for about 98¢ called Blues After Hours by Pee Wee Crayton? Well, Pee Wee Crayton is the possessor of I believe the very first Stratocaster ever manufactured. It was given to Pee Wee Crayton by Leo Fender. And on the cover of this Blues After Hours album, you see this Stratocaster #1 after a zillion years worth of wear, and the frets are all messed up, and in between the frets the wood is vanishing, and the faceplate is scratched, and some of the knobs are broken off, and it's really a great looking guitar. And Calvin duplicated Pee Wee Crayton's hand chordal position on the guitar and most of the details of the guitar itself for the picture on the front of the Ruben album. Definitely a detail man.

Pee Wee Crayton
[Pee Wee Crayton, Pee Wee Crayton, Crown Records CLP 5175, 1960]

Mutts Sunday Panel, June 14, 1998 by Patrick McDonnell

Cruising With Ozzie & The Mutts

Additional informant: Charles Ulrich.

Liner Notes


There was already 11 other guys in the band so when he quit nobody missed him except for his car when they had to go to rehearsal or play for a battle of the bands at the American Legion Post in Chino.

Chino American Legion [Post 299]

Hall Capacity 299.
8 hr. Rental.
Bartender Services Included.

Joe Mancini, "Mother—Mother," GQ Scene, Fall, 1967

Frank lands a spot with his first rock band, the Ramblers, in San Diego. They work places like American Legion Post No. 6.

F.P. Tullius, "Zubin And The Mothers," Playboy, April 1971

Towns such as Lancaster always have American Legion Posts, where in the Fifties they held dances that they hyped over the radio: "Come and meet old friends and make new ones. No Levis or capris, please." And then the next day, the news on the same station would say there were five knifings at the dance. Guys got high on white port and lemon juice and wore leather jackets, peggers and hair in a ducktail. Girls wore full skirts with five petticoats.


Generally speaking, they save "Cherry Pie" & "Work With Me Annie" till the late part of the evening

FZ, "The Oracle Has It All Psyched Out," Life, June 28, 1968

One of my favorite Negro R&B groups during the 50s was Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Their work was some of the most important sociosexual true-to-life commentary of that era, for instance: "Stingy Little Thing" (a song in protest about girls who wouldn't "put out"), "Work with Me Annie," and "Annie Had a Baby." Songs like these got played on the air every once in a while—the kids would hear "Annie Had a Baby" and say, "Hey, here's a song about a girl getting pregnant," and rush to tune it in—but an official of the station (with teen-age children of his own to protect) would "lay a pink memo on it," and the song would sort of "disappear."


The 80s Remix

FZ, quoted in "The CD Watchdog,"ICE #43, October 1990

The master tapes for Ruben & The Jets were in better shape, but since I liked the results on We're Only In It For The Money, I decided to do it on Ruben, too. But those are the only two albums in which the original performances were replaced. I thought the important thing was the material itself. I'm not necessarily enthralled with the level of musicianship or technical capability of my recordings done in 1967.


1. Cheap Thrills

FZ, interviewed by David Fricke, Trouser Press, April 1979

There's only two songs on that record that were easy to do—'No, No, No' and 'Cheap Thrills.' I wrote them, recorded all the instruments, and vocals, and mixed both of those songs on a Sunday afternoon. It took about seven hours and I did both songs from top to bottom.

FZ, interviewed by Tony Reay, The Fifth State, November 28-December 11, 1968

[The album] contains four of the songs from Freak-out, re-arranged in the '50's style, plus two which I wrote, played eight instrumental backing tracks and six vocal tracks for, recorded and mixed all in one Sunday afternoon in the studio alone, just for a laugh.

Cheap thrills up and down my spine


2. Love Of My Life

Matt Olmos, April 29, 2006

In LOVE OF MY LIFE at the end Ray quotes the Penguins version of EARTH ANGEL. The descending 'Waah-aahhh-ahh-oooh' is a direct quote from said song.

FZ with Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989, p. 89

One song has the background chant of "Earth Angel" superimposed on the chant from another song, and so on.


3. How Could I Be Such A Fool


4. Deseri


6. Jelly Roll Gum Drop

The Pachuco Hop

And the L.A. Slop

Stephen C. Propes, quoted in ARF: Notes & Comments

The Olympics released "The Slop," it's a dance, c.1959.


8. Later That Night

Oh, I cried
(I cried)
My heart out

Biffyshrew, quoted in ARF: Notes & Comments

The phrase "I cried my heart out" is the title of a song by Jackie & the Starlites, who also did the original "Valarie."

(I hold in my hand three letters from the stages of your fine, fine, super-fine career . . . )

My best white shirts with the Mr. B collar

"Billy Eckstine," Wikipedia, August 6, 2011

[Billy] Eckstine was a style leader and noted sharp dresser. He designed and patented a high roll collar that formed a "B" over a Windsor-knotted tie, which became known as a "Mr. B. Collar."


10. Fountain Of Love

FZ with Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989, p. 89

There are some dead giveaways in that album, too. For instance, on the fadeout of "Fountain of Love" you can hear the opening notes of [Stravinsky's] Rite of Spring.


11. "No. No. No."

Joe Travers, "The ZappaCast Presents: The Funky Nothingness Livestream," YouTube, July 6, 2023

Do you wanna know something about drum loops? Frank was doing drum loops on the Ruben & The Jets sessions at Apostolic. And I found them, I found them—they're in little boxes, they're just little tape loops. You know the drum beat on "No. No. No."? That's a drum loop.


13. Stuff Up The Cracks

FZ with Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989, p. 88-89

The listener wouldn't really think that a song like "Stuff Up the Cracks" was an honest-to-goodness 1950s song. In terms of timbre, it's right on the fringe (because of the vocal parts)—but those chords would never happen in original doo-wop.

The songs of that period were locked into a choice of three formula/flavors: I-VI-IV-V ("Earth Angel"), or I-II-I-II ("Nite Owl"), or I-IV-V ("Louie Louie"). Very seldom would you hear a III chord or a flat VII chord—or hear someone going from I to flat VII. There were only a few examples of that type of harmonic deviation during the fifties—the best one being "This Paradise" by Donald Woods and the Bel-Aires on Flip—so our chord progressions were not exactly part of that tradition.



Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
Original provocation by Vladimir Sovetov
This page updated: 2023-11-18