"I always felt my parents had a boring life," [FZ] explains. "They spent most of it watching TV. I wanted to entertain myself, so I steered myself in the other direction." As a consequence, between ages 18 and 21 Frank was alternately kicked out of the house and kept in "protective custody," as he puts it. "My father was afraid the neighbors would see me, but afraid if I moved out I might do something worse."
In Claremont, the friction between Dad and Frank was growing and was becoming unbearable. [...] Frank thought about moving out, but Mom said she needed him to stay on and help with me and Carl. [...] The day Frank finally did move out, Mom cried and cried.
[...] Not that contact with Frank was lost when he moved out. He called Mom one day and said he was starving, and asked if she could send him some money. Mom put Bobby on a bus with a care package of toiletries, clothes, some food and about $50, which in those days was a good amount.
Frank split home and went to live in the big city—Los Angeles. He found a rancid little apartment in Echo Park where he tried to make a living writing movie music. He managed to complete a score for his old English teacher, Don Cerveris, who'd written a cheesy low-budget western, Run Home Slow. Tim Sullivan, the producer, had some production difficulties—the leading lady had a miscarriage on the third day of shooting. Sullivan went into debt and the production was scratched for a few years while he tried to recoup. In the meantime, Frank developed stomach problems.
I adored my brother Frank. When he moved out to live in Los Angeles, mom was inconsolable. She cried like I'd never seen.
Don [Cerveris] got tired of being a teacher and quit—he wanted to be a screenwriter. In 1959, he wrote the screenplay for a super-cheap cowboy movie called Run Home Slow, and helped me get my first film scoring job on it.
Frank Zappa is 18. He goes to Los Angeles to seek his fortune. He gets a job selling records, is asked by one of his former high school teachers, now producing films, to become the youngest person ever to score a motion picture (Andre Previn did it at 20). But the movie's leading lady has a miscarriage. Production is halted.
In the spring of 1959, the Zappa family moved again, this time to Claremont, east of Pasadena. Frank used the opportunity to get his own apartment in the Echo Park district of Hollywood, between the Hollywood Freeway and the Dodgers Stadium. [...]
Some time earlier, Don Cerveris, Frank's English teacher at Antelope Valley had left to try his luck as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. They had kept in touch and now Cerveris convinced Tim Sullivan, producer of his low-budget Western, Run Home Slow, to hire Frank to write the music score. Unfortunately, the leading lady had a miscarriage on the third day of shooting and the production was shelved until Sullivan could raise more money. [...]
In the meantime, Frank was nurturing the stomach ulcers he'd had since he was sixteen. Heeding the advice of the failed film project, he moved back to Claremont.
Antelope Valley High School
Chaffey Junior College (6 weeks)
Musical training—two months of harmony at Chaffey Junior College in 1959
I had gone to Antelope Valley Junior College in Lancaster and Chaffey Junior College in Alta Loma for the express purpose of meeting girls. [...] At Chaffey, I met Kay Sherman. We dropped out of school, started living together and got married.
Back home again, Frank enrolled at [Chaffey] Junior College in Alta Loma, California, where he picked up another harmony course, taught by a Miss [Joyce] Holly, which included required keyboard practice. He also picked up his first wife, Kay. "We shacked up for a little while and then dropped out of school . . . actually I did one semester of school with the summer vacation in between." He went back in the fall, stayed for a few weeks, then quit again.
He enrolled for a harmony course, with required keyboard practice, taught by Miss Holly at Chaffey Junior College in Alta Loma. He also sat in, unsanctioned, on a composition course taught by Mr Kohn at the Pomona College nearby.
After [graduation] my father wanted me to go to college. I said no, I was interested in music, I didn't want to go to college. So I hung out at home for a while, but there was nobody to talk to, everybody else being at college, so I finally decided I should go too. That was very ugly. I stayed for a year. In the meantime I had shacked up with this girl and married her. We stayed married for five years during which time I held a number of jobs
The Spring Concert featured the Chamber orchestra which included, Dennis Molchan, Helen Blanchard, Keith Guthrie, Charles Miller, Richard Sarrick, Marilyn Bowers, Norma Tudor, Kit Evans, Marilyn Gaddis, Sandra Shaddle, Madeline Bruno, Richard Chrystie, Diane Magdaleno, Karen Hobbs, Karen Eldridge, Harold Collins, Ken Calhoun, AI Surratt, and Frank Zappa.
I studied music with Joyce Shannon (the same music teacher Frank Zappa had at Chaffey College).
George Goad was nice enough to share this historic picture. He is on congas and Frank Zappa is to the right with guitar. Valhalla Coffee House, 1959, Pomona, CA.
During the time [Doug] Rost and [Wayne] Leavitt knew Zappa, he lived at three addresses near downtown Ontario: first off D Street, then on West G Street, then at 625 N. Euclid Ave.
[...] Zappa met Kay Sherman at Chaffey College. They married and she got a job at First Trust Bank in Ontario.
"A very fun, friendly girl," Leavitt said.
On December 28, 1960 at the age of 20, Frank Zappa married the 21-year old Kay Sherman in San Bernardino County.
Frank [...] finally decided to go to Chaffey Junior College [...]. It was there that he met his first wife, Kay Sherman.
Things moved fast. The two of them definitely had a strong attraction for each other, and soon they had dropped out of college, moved into a house on "G" Street in Ontario, and, eventually, gotten married. Mom had to sign for Frank because he was only 20.
Before they got married Dad refused to go visit the two of them.
The pair dropped out of college and lived together for a while before getting married and moving into a house at 314 West G Street.
I was married to Frank before Gail [...]. We met at Chaffey College and Frank used to make these drawings and we hung them on the walls of our small apartment. I have photos of some of them that show he signed them F. Z. and sometimes Zappa. I still have one of his paintings he did when I told him I loved the idea of living in a tree house without walls. He did it in india ink and washed with shades of blue watercolor of an open (no walls) structure with grass mats and is very tropical. One painting I don't have a photo of is one of a base player playing a stand-up base. Very few lines but just enough to get the whole feeling of this base player's mood. It was a masterpiece. Don't know what ever happened to this painting. [...] He was a painter, composer and musician. He would create his music with india ink and wipe the excess pen ink on his jeans. One leg of his jeans had hundreds of black ink stains on it. His compositions for orchestra were beautiful where he wrote pieces for every instrument. And he loved cats! At one point in the early sixties, we had 4 cats and 3 gave birth to 5 kittens each. We had 19 cats of which we found homes for 8 pairs and kept the rest. It was joyous. Another side of Frank that nobody knows about. He is missed.
Well, if your wife has a good brain and a good job, and all you can do is get a job in a gas station, I'd send her out to work, too. But I'd make sure she knew who was boss when she got home. I was supported for two years by my first wife. It was an uncomfortable sort of feeling knowing that somebody else was bringing in the money, but I didn't have much choice. With the kind of line of work I was in, I just couldn't get any work. We needed some way to exist. So she was a secretary and brought home the bacon. Meanwhile, I was a lonely composer who couldn't get anything recorded or sold. I kept on writing.
I didn't get my first [electric guitar] until I was 21, when I rented a Telecaster from a music store.
I rented a Telecaster from a music store in Ontario, California.
There was a music store not far from my house, and I rented this Telecaster for $15 a month. Eventually I had to give it back, because I couldn't make the repayments on it.
[Frank's] departure freed up household expenses giving our parents a little extra money, which they would need as things got worse for Dad. He lost his job at Convair forcing us to move to another house in the same neighborhood for a lower rent.
Shortly after that move, Dad had a heart attack and remained in the hospital for a week.
[...] We ended up moving one more time while I was still a member of the household.
We moved into an area on the outskirts of the Claremont Colleges complex where mostly Mexican families, day laborers, and college support staff employees lived.
"One day after class in high school, I walked around the corner, took a look at him and said, 'Who—or what—the hell is that?'" remembers Terry [Kirkman]. "Back in 1961, Frank and I had a duo. He was really into Alan Watts, the ethnic folk thing, and blues. We would tease people with bongo drums and make up music on the spot. I was playing clarinet, singing and playing bongos. We didn't really have a 'repertoire,' per se. Club people would call us up and essentially want us to make noise or read some poetry. We also had a very short-lived six-piece band for about three months and we got a gig at the Pomona YMCA."
Terry [Kirkman] states that he "played with Frank Zappa long before the Mothers of Invention was formed. We were partners. Frank and I created things together . . . ethnic folk, Afro-Cuban, blues, sparse (duo) jazz, adaptations of Bach and other classics, etc."
I started out playing a tenor guitar in college back in '56, doing Kingston Trio and Four Freshmen stuff in a quartet that included Terry Kirkman, who wrote most all the songs for The Association. That summer, I got to play in a "front room" jam session with Terry and Frank Zappa. We were all in college at the same time.
I should probably document the Rent A Beatnik story Terry Kirkman told me some time.
We were in college together. And we played local coffeehouses in the late beat movement when, at least in Southern California, all sorts of small towns and the big cities had coffeehouses. And they had never existed before. It was a brand new concept. And people would go play folk music.
Sometimes people would call us up and ask if we'd play at their place at night. They really didn't have any idea what they wanted. And they'd tell us maybe, 'how about blues? How about ethnic folk music?' All they wanted was some music. (laughing)
We would literally learn stuff that very day and go play it that very night. And it might be the only time you ever played that music. It was just walking around being rent-a-guys for a new kind of entertainment that nobody understood what it was they were supposed to be doing . . . but wanted to do. It was just . . . 'I want to have a coffeehouse.'
Did you play with Frank Zappa in a band?
I didn't play in his band, I played with Frank Zappa in college, and then we started playing and singing together in beatnik coffeehouses in what is now euphemistically called the Inland Empire, so, Pomona, Ontario, Riverside, San Bernardino—like that.
Everybody, uh— The big deal was you would open a coffeehouse and people would come but you didn't know what to do with the coffeehouse, because they had never existed before, and it was entirely new to the culture, so we would hire ourselves out as ethnic folk-singers one night, and blues singers the next night, bongo players the next night, and we learned some music in the afternoon and then we'd just wing it from there.
We were actually even once rent-a-beatniks. We were invited to a party to be real live beatniks, down in Laguna Beach for a bunch of doctors and lawyers, who were taking— ill-advisedly taking very serious drugs. We were the rental people and then we watched them vomit a lot.
So this is before Frank had The Mothers Of Invention and he went off on that very special path of his . . .
The only thing that [...] me is people say, "Oh, you played with Frank Zappa in his band." No, I did not. We played together.
[Transcription by Román with corrections from Charles Ulrich.]
A young and then unknown Zappa petitioned [...] Karl Kohn to let him sit in on one of Kohn's 20th-century theory classes.
One used to see Zappa around Pomona College quite regularly. At that time, Zappa was studying composition with Karl Kohn there at Pomona. He was the only student of Kohn's who had the gumption to turn in his composition assignments in ink, not pencil! Very self assured, he was.
According to Karl Kohn, FZ first audited a summer school course on Twentieth-Century Materials. This course (offered through Claremont Graduate School) was taken primarily by school music teachers.
In the fall, FZ audited a similar course taught at Pomona College as part of the regular program for music majors. But he did not complete the course.
Prof. Kohn insists that he did not throw FZ out of the class. Rather, FZ told him that he was moving away and would be unable to complete the semester.
During Zappa's first marriage, his wife helped meet a professor named Professor [Kohn]. Zappa had terrible grades and SAT scores and no money, so he couldn't go to college. His wife and Zappa convinced the professor to let frank audit the class for free. Frank was the only one in the class who always turned his compositions in on time, and he always did them in ink, while everyone else did them in pen.
In the spring of 1961 Frank and Kay went to Pomona College to meet with music professor Karl Kohn. [...] Pomona College is one of the top private schools in the country. [...] Frank Zappa could never have attended Pomona if admission had been based on his high school record or ability to pay.
[...] On Kay's suggestion, she and Frank went to Dr. Kohn's office to ask if he would allow Frank to audit his composition course. They explained that they had no money to pay for the course for credit.
[...] In a lengthy conversation I had with Professor Kohn, he recalled that when Frank and Kay came to his office, Kay did most of the talking.
[...] As it turned out Professor Kohn had already heard about Frank from [his student, Sylvia Brigham, later a music professor at SUNY Buffalo.]
She told Dr. Kohn that she knew a "bright young man who exhibited an unusual talent for composition." [...]
According to Dr. Kohn, that summer Frank sat in on his composition class, he never missed a day. When Frank handed in his compositions they were always written in India ink.
Former employers—Nile Running Greeting Card Co.; Colliers Encyclopedia (door to door)
Let me get this straight. I was not Madison Avenue a go-go. I was national advertising director for a greeting card company in California. I prepared ads. I planned campaigns. I did—was a commercial artist and I did greeting card designs. And that was my involvement with the advertising business.
That was in Claremont. I was doing advertising work for trade magazines relating to those greeting cards. And I was designing greeting cards. And I was making silk-screens for them. That sort of thing. I could have run the place single-handed. My training in school, aside from the music things that I was doing my own, was mainly in art. I supported myself part time from working in commercial art. [...] I really liked it too. I still have a scrap book collection of some of those greeting cards and stuff.
I went to work for a company called Nile Running Greeting Cards. Their line consisted mostly of silk-screened greetings, designed for elderly women who liked flowers. I worked in the silk-screen department and, after a while, wound up designing a few of the floral horrors myself.
If you go to the Running Greeting Card Studio Hall of Fame, they are now located in Morgan Hill, California, you might see some of Frank Zappa's greeting card art. Maybe they have his Valentine card, an S&H Green stamp on the cover and when you opened the card, it said "Redeemable for one kiss."
Nile Running Studio was located at 247 West First St., Claremont.
(This address appears in directories published in 1965 and 1969, but by 1970 they had moved to Upland, which is east of Claremont and west of Cucamonga.)
From telephone interview by Murray Gilkeson with Dennis Running (CHS '60) [son of Nile Running].
Nile Running Greeting Card Studio started out in Minn. Around 1949 the whole business was shipped out to Claremont. It started on Harvard Ave. When College Chevrolet moved out, it moved in on the northeast corner of First St. and Yale. After 12 years in the building they moved it to Upland.
One day Dennis came into work and saw a new worker. Frank Zappa did color separation by hand. You would trace and paint each color on a separate piece of acetate or use photographic means. Silk screen would be used and then passed on to the production department. Frank would also paint designs on paneling. He had great style and his work was admired by Nile Running.
Dennis would also run into Frank down at a certain coffee house in Pomona where music was played. Dennis did work at the Meeting Place in Upland, serving beer. He described himself as a bit of delinquent in high school, who was told to either go into the service or he would be in jail. He was a drummer and into music, but did not join the orchestra or play sports in school. He tried Pomona College for one year. Dennis took over the business around 1964. In the 70's the business was moved over to Paso Robles, CA. It is now in North Carolina where he currently lives.
3.5" x 8.5" original greeting card samples
Fascinating artifacts from the mind of Frank Zappa
This is an original (circa 1966-1972) sample set of two (2) greeting cards stapled together with a typed comment slip inside.
The back of the cards are printed as follows:
CLAREMONT CAL USA
L-1 [and L-2]
Comment slip inside reads as follows:
Cards L-1 and L-2: for Lovers.
Perception on the animal level here. Don't sell model L-1 short, merely because it's kind of stupid. BY ACTUAL PSYCHO-LOGICAL TEST (I conducted it) AMONG YOUNGER NAIVE GIRLS, THIS CARD WORKS WONDERS AND GETS MORE LAUGHS THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN THE LINE! Subconsciously, I suppose, they think they are laughing at some way out gag with a reference to Oedipus Rex.
L-2 is straight "sick humor".
I think it's best that you don't see me anymore . . .so go poke your eyes out right now
If my findings are correct . . . you have a breast cancer
Then came a part-time job writing copy and designing ads for local business, including a few beauties for the First National Bank of Ontario, California.
I also had short stints as a window dresser [...].
[...] a jewelry salesman [...]
This was the early '60s, and in a small geography of limited employment opportunity and real financial necessity, Frank wore a suit and white shirt and a tie then nearly every day that he showed prospective customers engagement rings, wedding bands, and cufflinks and crosses at Zale's Jewelers. They sometimes had a few glittering specialty items on display in the windows. Frank would especially laugh about those tiaras. So even though he worked every day, as indeed nearly every one else was forced to do, the wages were low, like nearly everyone else's.
[...] and—the worst one—I sold Collier's Encyclopedias, door to door. [...] I lasted a week.
"The Boogie Men" rehearse Nite Owl for high school weekend job.
F.Z.'s garage, Ontario, California. Al Surratt—Drums, Kenny Burgan—Sax, Doug Rost—Rhythm Guitar, F.Z.—Lead, no bass player because we couldn't afford one.
[Wayne] Leavitt said he knew Zappa, a fellow Chaffey College student, circa 1960-'61. So did his longtime friend Doug Rost, who would soon be visiting from Rohnert Park. We met for lunch in Upland.
Rost has been cited in at least two recent Zappa biographies. To quote from Barry Miles' "Zappa," in a passage about the musician's 1961 activities: "Frank also formed a quartet called the Boogie Men, which consisted of Al Surratt on drums, Kenny Burgan on saxophone, Doug Rost on rhythm guitar and Frank playing lead . . . .The Boogie Men never got a bass player and it is not known if they ever played a paying gig."
Rost, now a computer consultant, and Leavitt were classmates at Chaffey College in the late 1950s. Leavitt did some folk singing. Rost learned guitar by hanging out with experienced players. Zappa drifted into their circle. [...]
As for the Boogie Men, "there were five of us," Rost said.
Terry Kirkman, a multi-instrumentalist from Chino and a friend of Zappa's, was also in the band. [...]
The Boogie Men, who specialized in 12-bar blues and rock, didn't get rich, but they did have paying gigs, Rost said. They played at Chaffey High School and Chaffey College dances and at the L.A. County Fair. Earnings for the five men were split six ways, with the extra share for the person who booked the show.
Besides his documented interest in composer Edgard Varese, Zappa liked folk music too. In his Ontario apartment, he played Alan Lomax field recordings for his Boogie Men bandmates.
"He knew a lot of folk songs, sea chanteys," Rost said. "Who would expect a rock band to be listening to A.L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl sea chanteys? In all things unusual, he had an interest."
The band didn't continue long. Rost was drafted and that was that.
Zappa moved to Cucamonga, taking over a recording studio and eventually becoming ensnared in a sting operation of questionable merit. Shortly after that he left town for good.
I'm Doug Rost, the second guitar in the Boogie Men.
We played paying gigs at local high schools and junior colleges. There were 5 of us, we split gig proceeds 6 ways. If anyone booked a gig they got 2/6ths and the rest 1/6th each.
We played less than a dozen paying gigs.
Members of the second semester Panther Blacks included [...] Wayne Leavitt [...].
Rhythm & Blues · Rock 'N' Roll
DOUG [ROST], AL [SURRATT], KEN [BURGAN], GARY, TERRY [KIRKMAN]
422 W. "E" Street
The other day I talked with Ken Burgan, who played tenor saxophone with the Boogie Men. [...]
Doug Rost recruited him for the Boogie Men when he (Burgan) was a junior in high school, circa early 1959. He played with them until he went away to college in September 1960. He continued to play occasionally with FZ even after that.
The Boogie Men were a quartet (FZ, Rost, Burgan, Al Surratt) for most of their existence. Later, other musicians were in and out, including a stand-up bass player (whose name he doesn't recall).
Their repertoire was strictly instrumental. It included Joe Houston's "All Night Long", Chuck Higgins's "Pachuko Hop", an R&B version of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture", and an FZ original entitled "Midnight Mover Groover". Later, FZ started writing more elaborate charts and bringing in additional instruments, including Burgan on bass clarinet.
They played at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, as well as school dances.
This is a screenshot from minute 0:00:28 approximately on Uncle Meat (1989), with the colors inverted. The name "Ramblers" is on the bass drum in what looks like FZ's own handlettering:
[From left to right, probably: Doug Rost, guitar; FZ, guitar; Al Surratt, drums; Joe Perrino; Kenny Burgan, sax]
Thanks to Javier Marcote for the identifications.
Informants: Javier MarcoteResearch, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos