At one stage it had been mooted that the Frank Zappa mind had been toying with the idea of assembling a group of skinny degenerates with a view to presenting to an unsuspecting public the definitive drug-crazed, heavy metal rock band which was to travel under the nifty moniker XS (excess, geddit?). I asked if he still gave the project any currency?
"From the moment that Michael Des Barres started blowing his mouth off about it, I figured that it wasn't worth the trouble going forward with it. He was sort of presumptuous really, because one: I had not talked to him personally—he heard about it from his girlfriend—and two: he was making statements about an album and a tour I hadn't even discussed with him."
"It would have been a nice idea as a surprise, but you can thank him for spoiling the surprise."
Frank Zappa (1974) Photo Credit: Yoram Kahana/Shooting Star
My guess would be that this is one of the Greggery Peccary sessions, which actually took place in the first week of January 1975.
I instantly recognized Earle Dumler standing up in the back. Also Donald Waldrop (tuba) and Dana Hughes (trombone).
An East Coast tour played 31 shows from Oct. 28 to Dec. 1 . September was spent in Europe. A southern U.S. tour will come in February  and after that a trip to Germany to work with a symphony orchestra, then a tour of Japan.
After eight years of touring with the Mothers, Richard [Barber] decided to seek a more traditional career path which included selling airplanes and later working as a college administrator.
33 1/3 RPM
The judge presiding over the court is 67-year-old Mr. Justice Mocatta. The Hon Sir Alan Abraham Mocatta, who was knighted in 1961 and received the OBE in 1944. He's been a Judge Of The High Court of Justice, (Queens Bench Division) since 1961 and was educated at Clifton College and New College, Oxford. Who's Who details a distinguished War Service Record as follows: "2nd Lieut 12 LAA Regt RA, TA, 1939; Bde Major, 56 AA Bde, 1940-41; GSO (2) AA HQ BTNI, 1941-42; Lt Col GS, Army Council Secretariat War Office, 1942-45."
Whether you can translate Who's Who's peculiar shorthand or not, it sounds pretty impressive.
The day before we got to court Mr. Justice Mocatta, who has to decide whether the AH Management were justified in their decision to cancel the concert on the grounds that Zappa's material was "in poor taste" or in any way offensive or obscene, was treated to an illustration of Zappa's music.
Mr. Alan Campbell, representing the Zappa/Cohen Bizarre Productions Inc, played the judge two songs from the soundtrack album of 200 Motels. Mr. Justice Mocatta listened, head in hands, to "She Painted Up Her Face," after which he commented: "A certain amount of the speech I could not hear." He then lent an ear to "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." His response to the latter was: "I could not hear the beginning or the end."
Mr. Campbell, QC, suggested that the judge might like the volume of the stereo player increased to which Mr. Mocatta replied: "It's quite loud enough."
Mr. Justice Mocatta refused to listen to a third song which Mr. Campbell QC had intended to play. It was called "Penis Dimension."
"You need not listen to that particular song," said Mr. Campbell (who was educated at the Ecole Des Sciences Politiques, Paris, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge and whose clubs are listed in Who's Who as the Carlton and Pratt's).
"In fact," he continued, "we draw attention to it and it is open to reasonable objection on the ground of good taste. We have made it plain from the start we were prepared to substitute with other songs."
This [...] was a point which would be taken up by Mr. Michael Ogden, QC, who was representing the Albert Hall management. But before we move on to that matter, we'll just take in a brief exchange between FZ and Mr. Justice Mocatta. The latter was a little confused by a reference to a "groupie."
"Is a groupie a girl who is a member of the group?" he asked.
"No," replied Zappa. "She is a girl who likes members of a rock and roll band."
[...] On Wednesday the court is already in session at 10 am. Zappa is answering questions directed at him by Mr. Ogden. Mr. Ogden has been a Barrister-At-Law since 1968, and was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. He served as a captain in the RAC (Royal Glos Hussars and l6th/5th Lancers) l944–l947.
As the legal representative of the corporation which controls the Albert Hall, Mr. Ogden has to establish, using as references the lyrics to the soundtrack of 200 Motels and the movie script, that the performance of all or parts of Zappa's material would've been (here we go again) offensive etc.
As we pick up the story Mr. Ogden is questioning the validity of Zappa's claim that the concert need not have been cancelled. If, Zappa argued, the AH authorities had specified which particular songs they considered offensive he could have amended the lyrics to ensure they were "socially acceptable."
Mr. Ogden remains somewhat sceptical about Zappa's ability to rewrite, at such a crucial point, an entre body of lyrics.
The amended version could even have been prepared by someone other than Zappa, he pressed.
"Would it speed things up if I agreed with you?" retorts Zappa, with sardonic nonchalance.
"And what if someone types it wrong?" he adds.
Mr. Ogden then diverts our attention to the actual contents of Zappa's compositions in an attempt to reveal the true nature of his lyrical flights of fantasy. He makes a reference to one song, and questions the significance of the words "dumping excreta."
Excreta, says Frank is a euphemism for the word which actually appears in the script.
This, he continues, "is a short word which represents the concept" of excreta. In rock and roll parlance, it refers to "the material" musicians carry around with them and is used in their profession.
[...] Mr. Ogden draws our attention to another FZ song, "Lonesome Cowboy Burt." The role of Burt in the movie was played by Jimmy Carl Black, the well-known redskin cowboy. This lyric, asserts Mr. Ogden, clearly indicates the desire of Cowboy Burt to have sexual intercourse with a waitress.
Mr. Ogden draws particular attention to a stanza which ends with the line "and you can sit on my face." This, he concludes, is surely a reference to the girl sitting on Cowboy Burt's face.
"Not necessarily," answers Zap. "It could mean a piggyback ride in an unusual position." That, says Mr. Justice Mocatta must be "Very unpleasant."
"He's an unusual character," comments Zappa. Both Mr. Ogden and the judge press for a further explanation of Frank's song. The song, explains Zappa, is an attempt to draw a portrait of a character called Lonesome Cowboy Burt, and, to create an authentic impression of the character and his lifestyle, he's portrayed Burt in his "normal speaking style," being obnoxious in a bar. The exchange between Burt and the waitress is based on an actual incident he witnessed.
Mr. Ogden presses on with his examination of the lines he's quoted. He considers the lines to have a "cruder" meaning than the description supplied. Doesn't it actually refer, he wonders, "to the naked buttocks of the girl coming into contact with the man's face."
Zappa smiles. The line in question, he says, was "written on the wall of a toilet where people like Cowboy Burt would go . . . "
He runs his fingers through his hair and looks suitably pleased with himself. He's looking unusually smart today. Subdued checked suit and conservative tie, careful to appear as unprovocative as possible. But sharp-tongued enough.
The next song which Mr. Ogden inspects is "Would You Go All The Way." "Going All The Way" he says, "that's another reference to sexual intercourse?"
"It's an archaic expression," replies Zappa. It was "used in the 1950s to express sexual intercourse." In fact, it transpires that it's a song about US soldiers and is only incidentally about sex.
Mr. Ogden again quotes from the lyrics. The section singled out this time describes a guy out on a date with his chick. His hand is on her shoulder, her arm, her elbow . . . Suddenly, her brassiere has VANISHED. This, according to Mr. Ogden's interpretation, suggests that the male has his hand on the female's breast! Was this not the case, and if not, what happened to the brassiere?
"The brassiere has disappeared mysteriously in the dark of the theatre," offers Zappa.
"What is this monster," asks Mr. Ogden, referring to a subsequent line which, rather ambiguously, describes the sudden emergence of a "monster." The couple are watching a movie, says Zappa, and . . .
When Zappa and his manager sued, Mr [Tony] Palmer agreed to appear as a witness in the hearing at the High Court in London in 1975. "The judge questioned me and said we're not having homosexuality in the Albert Hall. So I said to the judge that, in the Prom season just gone Death in Venice had been performed, which was clearly about the homosexual attraction between a man and a young boy. The judge looked at me and said 'Who is that by?' And I said Benjamin Britten, and he said, 'Could you spell it?' At that point we knew the game was up and the judge didn't have the slightest idea what we were talking about."
The judge, Mr Justice Mocatta, was none too impressed when Zappa's song "Penis Dimension" was played in court, asking: "Have I got to listen to this?" Zappa lost his claim for £8,000 damages.
Zappa had wanted to perform 200 Motels at the Royal Albert Hall. The performance had been cancelled at short notice by the management of the hall because, they said, of the obscene nature of the content. Zappa had sued the management for breach of contract, and the matter had finished up in the High Court. I had been called as a so-called expert witness. Did I really think that a piece which included "homosexual material" was suitable for performance in the home of the Proms, the Judge asked me? It so happened that Britten's great opera Death in Venice had been performed the previous year in the Proms. When I mentioned this, the Judge said: and who wrote that? Benjamin Britten, I replied. And how do you spell that, the judge asked?
First I bought a building. And then the building has a rehearsal hall in the back, that's 60 by 40 feet. And then we set up our PA system inside the building. We own the PA system and we practice with the PA. Not the whole thing, cause we can't set the whole thing up in there, we set up most of it. And we practice for about a month, roughly six hours a day, with the dinner break, for 5 days a week, prior to the starting of the tour.
Ruth Underwood plays marimba and percussion for Frank and regretfully, he adds, "is planning to leave in January for personal reasons." Replacing her would be impossible, he feels, since "there's no other percussion player in the world who can do all the things she's doing now.
"Because even if they could play the parts and memorize the vast amount of stuff that she knows, they're still not her. And she adds as much from her personality as she does from her musicianship."
She keeps the troupe in high spirits by her own outrageousness, laughs Frank. "What can you say? You get a nymphomaniac percussionist on a bus with X number other guys and it's pretty amusing."
I got a letter from her about six weeks ago, she was living with her mother in Long Island, and Ian is working in Los Angeles in studios, playing synthesizer in a lot of film scores, they had some marital problems, I do not know how they're being resolved, and musically Ruth is not doing too much, and I already told you what Ian is doing.
Alphonso Johnson was a very good friend. He is from Philadelphia, and I'm from Baltimore, and we had started to cross paths. We had mutual acquaintances, so we started doing some playing together in situations would run into each other. I was playing with (Frank) Zappa at the time and Alphonso had been with Weather Report for a couple of years at that point. In fact, I remember the night he called me up to tell me that he had gotten the gig with Weather Report. He was pretty excited about it.
He kept saying, "Man, you've got to come down and jam with us . . . " because they were kind of between drummers at the time. So, they were looking for a drummer, but at the same time they were, I guess, auditioning via jamming. He kept trying to get me to come down and play something with them. I probably wouldn't have gone, but Zappa had cancelled a tour, and I hadn't been in L.A. that long, and I didn't have an awful lot of contacts or anything. So, canceling a tour meant that I needed to get busy, basically. So, I went down and auditioned with them, and it was just a good fit. In a band, you either fit with them or you don't, ya know? Fortunately, it 'clicked.' I had toured with them a year before Black Market was done, so the band was actually pretty tight at that point.
[...] I mean, as much as I loved the Weather Report experience, had I still been regularly touring with Frank, I don't know if I would have just left, because I like being loyal.
Definitely solid, inspiring drummer, a totally different style than the other guys. It was always fun to play with Chester, especially after he learned how to play polyrhythms, because he came into the band basically from the world of boogaloo. He could boogaloo his brains out. But trying to play guitar solos with Chester . . . you had the positive side that his rhythm was so contageous that people could really tap their feet no matter what you were doing on the guitar; but the negative side was that if you were doing some of the polyrhythmic things that are comfortable for you to do, and the drum track doesn't move with what you're doing, then it doesn't quite mesh.
So I had a couple of talks with Chester, and tried to explain to him in a non-technical way how things should be at certain points in musical compositions, and he scratched his head over it and started modifying, and I think it opened him up a little bit to some other ideas. He was great to travel with, too. A hilarious guy.
Re: Chester Thompson to be awarded Curtain Call Award at Belmont School of Music
Afterwards a Q&A. Lots of FZ's.
Why did he leave Zappa's band? Frank got new film editing equipment, so he cancelled the tour. Chester had to work, so he ended up in Weather Report after a "jam session" he attended due to his friendship w/ Alphonso Johnson.
I heard from Eddie Henderson—who I was playing with at the time—that George Duke had said that Zappa was looking for someone. Never heard his music. Three days before the audition, I decided to buy a couple of albums—'Live At The Roxy' and 'Apostrophe(')'. Didn't sleep for the next three days. Flew myself down to LA. Went to Zappa's warehouse—you know, he had a big huge stage, sound and light equipment I'd never seen before. Most difficult music I'd ever seen spread all over the stage. There was about 50 drummers around. There were two Ludwig Octaplus sets set up. And one drummer would set one kit up while the other one would audition. And they were going back and forth, dropping like flies. So I thought I'd never get this gig, so I asked some friends if they'd heard about a Weather Report audition, because I heard that they were looking for a drummer and I knew I wasn't gonna get this gig. And they said, well Frank's drummer [Chester Thompson] left to join them. So that made me even more discouraged. But I thought, well I paid the money to come down here, I owe it to myself to try. The one thing I'd noticed was a lot of the drummers were sort of flaunting their chops. I thought the least I could do was go up there and listen and try and play with the guy. So I did the best I could; sight-reading a very difficult piece, memorising a very difficult piece, jamming with a very odd time signature—like 19—and then playing a blues shuffle. At the end of that, Frank said "You sound great, I'd like to hear you—after I hear the rest of these guys—again." And I turned to his road manager, his road manager turns to the twenty or so guys that were hanging around, and they're all shaking their heads, and the road manager turns around and says, "That's it, nobody else wants to play after Terry." So Frank turns to me and says "Looks like you've got the gig if you want it." So I was completely blown away.
One thing that happened that drove George Duke and me nuts was that Bozzio, during my last tour, would play that elastic shit with Frank while Duke and I were supposed to keep time, and it was really confusing. We'd be there watching each other's feet to see where the beat was, literally because it was so confusing and irritating too. It was no fun. Bozzio's a great player though; I'm not putting him down. He was following instructions, but it just didn't work for some reason. Maybe it was my fault, I don't know.
Terry Bozzio, the drummer in the group now, is excellent. He has a tendency to frenzy out a little bit, but I just figure that's because he's from San Francisco.
While living in CA, I had re-connected with Jim 'Motorhead' Sherwood whom I had also gone to school with back in Lancaster at AVJUHS. He told me that Frank was looking for a slide guitar player and told him about me. Frank said for me come on down the following day. I loaded up my gear and went into Hollywood to Frank's rehearsal space and set up my rig. The band at that time was Terry Bozzio (drums), Tom Fowler (bass), George Duke (keyboards), Napoleon Murphy Brock (horns & vocals) and of course Frank. The first song I was asked to play on was Advance Romance. It was in the key of G, which was perfect for me as my guitar was already tuned to an open G, plus it is basically a blues. I was nervous as hell, but as soon as we started playing I was totally relaxed. At the end of the song, Frank said "Anyone with the balls to play those low notes has got the job". He told his then road manager Marty Perellis "Sign him up". That was it, I was in!
The first tour I went on with Frank was the Bongo Fury album and tour and that was both Beefheart and Frank. Frank had enlisted Don to come out on that tour and that was the first time we had played together. [...]
The way I got the audition, Motorhead told Frank that I was playing guitar and I had not seen Frank in about 15 years. MotorHead said he had talked with Frank and told him about me, and Frank had no idea that I even played. So he said that Frank wanted me to come by the next day and that he was looking for a slide guitar player. So I brought my slide guitar and my amp and I went in and there was George Duke and Terry Bozzio, Tom Fowler and Napoleon Murphy Brock. So there I was and couldn't back out now, so I set up my mess and Frank said he wanted to do "Dance Romance" and do it in "A" and I had my guitar tuned in "A" and did it cold. Half way through he just stopped it and told Marty Perellis, his road manager, "Marty, sign him up, anyone that has the balls to play those notes has got the job!" and that is how it happened.
After [Geronimo Black] disbanded, [Denny] Walley went back to work in L.A. He continued with blues, R&B, and soul acts, working with King Cotton, the Kingpins, and others. Near the end of 1974, Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood—another old friend from Lancaster and a longtime Zappa associate—came to visit. "Motorhead said Frank was looking for a slide guitar player," Walley remembers. "He told Frank about me. Frank had no idea I played because when he knew me in high school, I wasn't playing yet. So Frank says, 'Tell him to come on by tomorrow.'"
[...] Slide guitar was an obvious timbre choice for a Zappa lineup featuring Beefheart. It conjured serious blues mojo and complemented Beefheart's blues-influenced style. But Walley hadn't seen Zappa in years, and by 1974, Zappa was an institution. Walley was ready for his audition, but nervous. "I walked in the door and could've dropped to my knees," he says. "George Duke was on keyboards. Tom Fowler was the bass player. Chester Thompson was behind the drums, plus Napoleon Murphy Brock and Frank. That was what I walked into."
The audition couldn't have gone better. "Frank introduced me to everyone and it was real relaxed. He was so disarming. Frank called 'Advance Romance.' I'd never heard it before, but it turned out they played it in A, and I had my guitar tuned to open A. As soon as I heard the beginning I started to shake, because I knew that this was so in my wheelhouse. It was like Frank wrote it for me so that I would pass the test. Halfway through, Frank stopped the song and said, 'Anyone with balls enough to play those lows notes has got the job.' That was it. I packed my stuff and went with [road manager Marty] Perellis into the office. He got my information and signed me up."
"That's another interesting thing about the band that we have now. Besides Beefheart; this guy Denny Walley is another person from Lancaster, the town where Beefheart and I used to go to high school. At that time, Denny lived next door to me; he was about 10 years old. Now he's all grown up and plays slide guitar real good. So him, me and Captain Beef' sit around and have some great discussions.
"It's nice to have some people in the band who are not only disinterested in chess, but who share a common interest in other forms of recreation."
Like getting wiped?
"Well no, it's more into . . . I'll tell you what we do, if we're sitting round in the dressing room we just sing blues songs, as we all know the same old records."
Zappa and Beefheart tried again this spring. "Although he still has trouble remembering words and making things happen on the beat," Zappa said, "he's better. Just before the tour, I tried him again and he squeaked by."
[...] Remembering the lyrics had apparently been a problem for Beefheart—he keeps them written down on a stand located at his feet onstage. Zappa is interested in getting Beefheart "to relax to the point where he can improvise words. He can do really funny stuff when he's sitting around in a room. But he hasn't really gotten comfortable enough yet."
The band had been rehearsing for about a week or so before Frank brought Don in to start doing his parts. I had seen Don with The Magic Band a couple of times before this, but hadn't had a chance to talk with him. I knew Don from back in Lancaster when we went to the same school (AVJUHS). He was just amazing. His vocals and harp playing were chilling. He was pure genius. He said 20 brilliant things a day.
That was fun. I got to meet Don and we became good friends. We were out on the road and he and I hung out a lot. I could talk to him and he could talk to me, whereas it seemed that George and Napoleon, we weren't really on their wavelength. We were more out yippo than them, more abstract thinking. We had a lot of humour going on all the time. Both of us stood around a lot and then we'd do our little things. Don only did about two or three tunes a night and he just drew the rest of the time. When it came to a guitar solo, I would chase him off stage or he'd chase me. We'd go out and smoke a cigarette or drink a beer and Frank would be playing his solo. We'd crawl onto the stage over to his guitar lead and start chewing on it; stuff like that. Sometimes we'd crawl clear across the stage and he never knew it, because his eyes were closed and he was playing this solo. I'm sure he heard about it.
So how did Cap and the Zap feel about the two Hot Rats being together again? They had fallen out previously, during disputes over the two defunct labels Bizarre and Straight. "He's happy. It's fantastic! It's probably the best way for him to perform because he's really not a band leader. He doesn't have the business sense or the self-discipline to keep a band going and this really gives him an opportunity to cavort.
"This is a different dimension of responsibility for him, too. Now he has to discipline himself in order to remember lyrics and perform things consistently so that the band can have cues to relate to."
Has there been an opportunity to see if Beefheart could do his stuff? "Yes, we did two concerts in California just before we came over." And they were quite successful.
What we play on stage has little or nothing to do with what the mixer does, sitting out there in the hall. During the sound-check in the afternoon I set up a basic balance of the group for him, so that the equalisation of the instruments get the panning set up, but once the show starts, what the audience hears, is the result of what that mixer does. Now prior to this tour, we rehearsed for a month with a mixer named Stephan. And Stephan learned the songs, and the first concert Stephan got pneumonia, and that was about a week ago, and this guy has walked in with no rehearsal and he's mixing the show. I don't know what he's doing out there, and the only way that I can check it is by listening to cassettes that we make off the board each night, and if I hear he's doing something really wrong in terms of a blend, then I tell him about it, but it's hard to make music in a place that's designed for sports.
Question: I wanted to know what type of guitars, wah-wahs, strings and amps do you like to play out of . . .
FZ: OK. What I use on-stage now is a customized Gibson SG with a mixed set of strings: the top string is a .009 Ampeg string, the B-string is a Gibson E-string, and the G-string is an Ernie Ball 15 . . .
Captain Beefheart: The music was thud-like . . .
FZ: . . . and the D-string is a Rickenbacker D-string. And the A-string is a Rickenbacker E-string, and the low E-string is a Gibson 340 A-string.
Frank Zappa, a onetime West End resident who has become a major figure in rock music, was back in home territory last Friday with his Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart for two concerts at Bridges Auditorium in Claremont. [...]
The performance marked the premier of the Mothers' 1975 concert tour. Napoleon Brock, singer and saxophonist; Bruce Fowler, trombonist; Terry Bozzio, drummer; George Duke, keyboards; Tom Fowler, bassist; and Danny Walley, rhythm and slide guitarist, were introduced by Zappa as "your eight closest relatives."
[...] After what seemed an eternity of applause following the peformers' exit from the stage, Zappa, the Mothers and Captain Beefheart returned to the stage for an encore of "George's Boogie."
Hey, another guy who came to our concert—you know the song about "Let's Make The Water Turn Black"? Well we played it for an encore at the end of the second show, and standing there right in front of the stage was Ronnie! And I could barely recognize him. I mean, he was totally drunk and he had this knitted hat on and he was out there going "DO THE SONG ABOUT THE BOOGERS!", y'know, and I was doing "Who is this guy?"—and it was Ronnie!
So I pulled him up onto the stage—and I had just explained the song to the band a few days before, and they were going; "Yuhk! You know a guy who saves snot on the window??!" and all this sort of thing—squeamish!—and next thing you know, he was up on stage with 'em: it was really funny.
I remember it as plain as day. Frank looked down after the request was shouted out, laughed and said something like, "It's Ronnie Williams!" As I recall, he was in the center, about 6-8 rows back, and Frank invited him up on stage . . . Denny Walley was playing bottleneck most of the night on a Telecaster, took it off and handed it over to Ronnie. They played the song, the audience cheered, Ronnie gave the Telecaster back to Denny and the show moved forward. It was great.
It was the spring of 75' that Ronnie went on stage with Frank in Pomona. He did not sing he played guitar. He told me he shouldn't have been up there, he was so out of practice, but Frank didn't care. There was a review in the local paper that talked about it, the critic did not like what was going on.
Ronnie's guitar and equipment got stolen around this time. His telecaster had a design carved on the back. It was the nickname Frank gave him, Snail saw, Frank said it was because Ronnie was slow as a snail but he could buzz like a saw.
Ray Collins is currently employed as a carpenter, living at Don Preston's house, he's trying to get a group together, he has been trying to get a group together for quite some time.
Roy Estrada is working some place in Orange County, I think he might be driving a truck or working in a warehouse.
She's had a series of head injuries. She's been in a number of automobile accidents for some reason. She's in England now and she keeps getting in car wrecks and hurting her head.
[Pamela Zarubica] had three automobile accidents, mostly head injuries, and she's probably still living in England.
Do you plan to do anything again like you did with the LA Phil?
We've had maybe 5 or 6 offers from all over the world since that time, but it always seems like the wrong thing to do because what they want, really, is to get The Mothers as a rock and roll band to come and play alongside of the orchestra, so that they can improve their concert attendance. And so they use us as bait to bring kids into the concert hall with little or no regard for my music as something for an orchestra to play, and just, you know it's a shock, and I felt that from what happened with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and have sort of avoided the orchestral experience ever since. 'Cause it's disheartening to spend a lot of time writing some music for an orchestra and know that they just don't give a shit when they get the music, it's just another thing for them to do.
"One time Frank Zappa was in town, on a Monday night I think. He came up to the bandstand and called off a tune in F sharp, and it really flipped everyone out. 'F sharp? What the f*** is going on here?'" said [Dave] Maxwell. Zappa, accompanied by Captain Beefheart and drummer Aynsley Dunbar, played so loud that Tom Principato worried he might damage the Fender amplifier Zappa was using. "After the first song—I went up to Zappa and went, 'Hey Frank, could you not play my amp on 10?' Like I tried to be discreet about it, and he went, 'Oh, I could buy this f****** amp if I wanted to,' and he put down the guitar and walked away," said Principato.
Principato recalled a twist. "After Frank stormed off the stage he still hung around and tried to offer a gig to our sax player, Dave Birkin, and Dave turned him down—in front of everybody. Very cool," said Principato.
Zappa w/my ES335 sitting in with Powerhouse 1975
I sang "So Fine" and "Lonely, Lonely, Nights" and had a great time with the guys. I didn't know all the guys in the band but Denny Walley and George Duke I knew from before. By the time FZ and DVV got to El Paso, they weren't even speaking to each other anymore. Seems that DVV was drawing too many pictures of Frank in his drawing book and Frank didn't like it. I saw some of the pictures and I thought they were pretty funny. Frank didn't. That is where Beefheart hired me to join the Magic Band, and I did.
When would we see the new line-up in Britain? "I have no plans to come back to Europe this year at all. That doesn't mean we won't, but I have no plans to do so. I left the summer open because I was contemplating more work on a film project in that time. You see we have a long tour starting this Friday—a six-week tour—and then we have another long tour of the States in the Fall and the only time we could possibly come to Europe would be the summertime. I wanted to leave the summertime free to do the film."
After the first tour [FZ] told me "Duke & the Fowlers left, I'm gonna form a new band around you and me. Move to L.A."!!!
The new group that I'm putting together is three guitars, bass, and drums. A different kind of event than I've done before.
The new band includes holdovers Terry Bozzio on drums, Napoleon Murphy Brock on sax, and Denny Walley on slide. The third guitar will be handled by Frog ("a good singer also"), with old-time Mother Roy Estrada on bass. "Roy has been working in Orange County, driving a truck, being a night watchman and working in a wire factory," grins Frank. Novi of Chunky, Novi and Ernie will play violin and contribute what Zappa assures are definitive versions of the Frug and the Pony.
[...] Some craziness surrounds the beginning of the tour, since Zappa is still seeking a keyboard player to replace George Duke. One had not been found by early September, and the lucky winner will have a monumental task in learning the Mothers' complex repertoire in time. But Zappa expects the remarkable (and occasionally the impossible) from his musicians.
[The Billy Cobham—George Duke Band, "Live" On Tour In Europe (1976)] I was in the process of leaving the Mothers of Invention, not because I was unhappy, but I just needed to challenge myself in other ways. I wanted to dive headfirst into fusion.
There wasn't really room for me any more. All those guys left: George had gone, and it became more of a vocal thing. I just sat around and it was hard for me, sitting in a cold arena not doing anything and then to play a really difficult part. I'd make mistakes and Frank would get mad. It was just not right for me. Napoleon wasn't really an instrumentalist; he couldn't play that stuff in the right way. It needed Ruth, and when it was Ruth and George and me and it was more of a jazz group, then it made sense to have me there. But when it went back to more of a rock group, unless you're going to get trumpet and sax, then it doesn't make sense to have me in the band. Plus this is when synthesisers were first coming out strong and of course Frank was one of the first to use synths and try them because he was always into technology. It was just time for me to be out of the band.
[...] Don [Van Vliet] asked me to be in his band and then he asked me to play bass in the band. His manager heard me and said 'Well, don't call us, we'll call you'. So I said 'Fine, I won't go to the rehearsals. If those guys really want me in the band, they can come and get me.' So they did and told Herbie I was going to be in the band. I used an electronic trombone set up. Even as bad as it was, it was sort of OK. It didn't have the punch of a real bass, but it was kind of interesting. I could certainly go awfully low. But that was a great experience, trying to play the Captain's music on the bass.
I went with Jean-Luc Ponty (after 'Bongo Fury') which was a big mistake. His music was pretty fun, but it was unbelievably loud, way too loud. After a gig, I'd go back to my hotel room and it would still be loud. My ears would ring all night. It was painful and it was a drag and he paid us nothing and politically it sucked. It was a real drag. But some of the guys in the band were OK. Allan Zavod was in the band. He was hysterical. He'd play a chord, then twirl round and try to hit the same chord again. He never did. He always missed it, but it was pure comedy. It wasn't totally bad but it ended bad and I have a bad feeling about it.
Roy was offered to play with Beefheart and he seemed to think at that point that the music was more aligned to his style of playing. Because he thought it was all improvised. And he found out later that it was all very well structured and written. A lot of it was written out. Beefheart used to have the band notate these cassette tapes that he would like write four songs at a sitting at a piano, and then he would have the band notate it. That disturbed Roy a bit. I think he's back in his prime element now playing with Frank, because I think Frank's roots and Roy's roots are very similar musically.
My dear friend Elliot Ingber (a.k.a. Winged Eel Fingerling) told me Don needed another guitarist for their upcoming European tour and I should check it out. So I went down to the rehearsal studio which was on Sunset Blvd near Gower St. It was actually Frank Zappa’s headquarters of offices and rehearsal rooms. I went in the room and Don was there along with John French (a.k.a. Drumbo). John and I jammed for awhile, maybe a half hour or so playing spontaneous riffs and grooves. At the end of that jam John said “We’ve had over seventy guitar players come in here and you are the only one who has the feel we need. You’ve got the gig if you want it.”
[...] Rehearsals began shortly thereafter and continued on for about two weeks or so. It was John and I mostly going over the tunes and feels together while Don sat in a corner of the room and drew in a coloring book with magic markers coloring on the reverse side of the pages . . . an interesting technique. He would stop coloring sometimes to voice a comment or whistle or sing a specific lick he wanted played. At one rehearsal I was deeply concentrating on a specific passage when I turned my head and Zappa was standing right next to me with that typical intense look on his face scrutinizing what I was playing. I stopped playing and we started talking and he said he was impressed with what and how I was doing with learning the parts. Which by the way had to be played exactly as written or the song would not work.
[...] Rehearsals were going along fine till one Saturday afternoon Don called me at home and told me that Denny Walley the guitarist in Frank’s band had just quit and that he had decided to have Denny replace me because Denny knew all the material and they would not have to rehearse anymore. Don hated to rehearse.
So on the following Tuesday I get a call at home from Frank Zappa and he is asking me if I wanted to replace Denny in his band and could I come up to his house and play for awhile to feel things out?
Later that afternoon there I am at Frank’s home studio sitting cross legged on the carpet with Frank playing acoustic guitars together. We ran through some of his more difficult material and we both agreed that there just wasn’t enough time to get it together for a tour of Australia that started on Friday of the same week. He said that if we were flying on a chartered flight we could have rehearsed on the plane but since it was a commercial flight it wasn’t possible. I was thinking it would take a week just to learn one of his songs properly not the whole show. In addition he wanted me to be the only guitarist because he just wanted to sing. Talk about turning up the pressure a few notches.
After the Bongo Fury tour, Frank suggested that I play with Don as we got on really great and it would put Don back on the road and in the studio. The new Magic Band was Elliot "Winged Eel Fingerling" Ingber on guitar, John "Drumbo" French on drums, Jeff Morris Tepper on guitar, Bruce "Fossil" Fowler on air bass, and me on slide guitar. That was the most challenging music I have EVER had to learn to play.
After that tour ended and Frank took a break from touring he asked if I wanted to play with Don, and I said sure, you know. He gave me a copy of Trout Mask Replica and then I went home and listened to it and said, "What the hell is this? What part of this is mine?" (laughs)
One time we were working down in Phoenix, and this guy came to the dressing room after the show with this guitar he'd built and wanted to sell. He had copied a Gibson [SG] except he'd added one more fret so it went up to an Eb, and it had an ebony fingerboard, humbucking pickups, and some inlay, and some real nice woodwork on it. He wanted $500 for it, and I thought it was a real nice guitar, so I bought it. I had [guitar maker] Rex Bogue do some stuff to it, add a preamp and snazz it up, and that's the one I'm using now.
After a few incarnations the lineup settled on Roy Estrada, Andre Lewis and Napoleon Murphy Brock. We did a '75 Fall US tour on a private plane (w/ a brief excursion to the former Yugoslvia), a special New year's show at the Forum (complete w/ giant Father Time statue onstage which was destroyed during the show by the band members and almost fell on and killed me!), and an Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and European tour in Jan-Mar '76.
Norma Bell was a woman who came from Detroit. She's a really good saxophone player. She played with Tommy Bolin and, I think, Ralph Armstrong who was being considered for the gig at the time. He was the Mahavishnu's bass player. He suggested her. She played with us on stage somewhere like Detroit, where she lived, and then Frank brought her along on the road. By the time we got back to LA at the end of the tour she had pretty much succumbed to, you know, hanging out with the wrong people and doing a lot of drugs. And so Frank said, "Forget this!" She wasn't showing up for rehearsals. She didn't last very long. I don't think we recorded anything with her.
I have a live CD from The Tommy Bolin band from '76 at Ebbets Field featuring Norma Jean Bell on sax and vocals (and the great drummer Narada Michael Walden, etc.). Anyway, in the attached newsletter there's some info from brother Johnnie Bolin: "Norma Bell was playing with Frank Zappa in Los Angeles when Tommy asked her to audition. I remember Tommy saying he went down and saw Norma at S.I.R. Studios, where she was rehearsing with Frank Zappa and Terry Bozzio on drums . . . when he got the final line-up, he (Tommy Bolin) said it was the most phenomenal band he had ever worked with." So I guess Bell quit Zappa's band to join Bolin's.
I remember Zagreb was literally the smokiest gig I've ever played in my life. It was so smoky that as a comment on it I went out and played the show with an unlit cigarette hanging out of my mouth. The follow spots were like two beacons coming through the fog—like a lighthouse. I had never been in a hockey rink, with 10,000 people, filled with so much smoke in my life. It was probably horribly unhealthy. But the gig went over great. They didn't say a peep through the whole show—we thought we were dying a death—then they stood up and cheered for 20 or 30 minutes. As we left, they were still cheering. It was ridiculous. Then we went to Ljubljana and I remember that I went out after the gig through the arena, which was pretty much empty—went up to the mixing board and was just saying hi to my friends on the crew and there was this guy asleep with his face welded onto the ice—out on drugs. I just remember those images.
"We played before great audiences in Zagreb and Ljubljana. They spoke good English and knew the old songs. The kids there are into all differant kinds of music, and if those are the Communists of the future, we'll be in pretty good shape, because they were real nice.
But the older generation there was real weird and hostile. It was hard to get something to eat in the hotels, and they had detectives checkin' the rooms for girls. The detectives also followed Napoleon Murphy Brock around the hotel. There were maybe two other black people in the hotel. When Norma Bell went into a public toilet, this woman freaked off and wanted to touch her hair because she'd never seen an Afro. It was total culture shock.
[...] We were guests of the Yugoslav government, and although government 'attention' was in evidence, it wasn't oppressive. But there are lots of places l'd rather be. I did tell them when we left that I wasn't coming back; but I guess I was wrong, because our upcoming European tour will start in Belgrade. I figure, what can it hurt for one day?"
Then a few days later, Zappa taughtingly added, "It looks like we won't be going back to Belgrade after all, due to time problems."
I got visions of Centerville from 200 Motels in your description of your reception in Yugoslavia: You know, with the images of the barbed wire fences and all.
Yea, there was a hint of that there. Quite a bit of the time we were just following orders. Even in the dining room. The guy who was the maitre d' wouldn't let us order anything. It was really hard to get anything good to eat.
Well, first of all your jacket wasn't right. So you change your jacket and your pants aren't right, and your hair ain't right, and this ain't right, and that's wrong, or you don't have a meal ticket. Or if you do have a meal ticket, it's got the wrong date on it. And if you ask any questions everybody's just following orders.
What's the story? Is everybody there on a meal ticket?
Well, we had meal tickets because we were guests of the government.
Was Yugoslavia the only so-called Iron Curtain country you visited on this tour?
They poo-poo the idea of that being an Iron Curtain country. They don't approve of the term. I suppose because they are the most liberal of all the "Bloc" countries.
Because of Uncle Tito?
Yea, and when they show you around you'd think they'd just discovered the wheel And they haven't really quite come around yet, so you see these people—not horses, but people—dragging these wagons with the big wooden wheels. Ladies with the babushkas on their heads, big coats and monster shoes, pulling wagons with twigs that they're gonna burn in their fireplace, I guess.
When the Mahavishnu group disbanded, I went out with Frank Zappa. That was in '76. I did a Canadian tour with him. We did some recordings but I don't know what happened to them.
I think I met Zappa on a show. We opened for him. And he was freaking out at how I played the bass. And what's so funny about when I worked with Zappa was that Zappa had me bring every damn instrument I had on the road! It was so funny. I had my bass violin with the Barcus Berry pickup on it, digital effects with it, I had an electric sitar John McLaughlin gave me. He had me play that. All the shit I had on the stage! All kinds of basses! I was 19 when I played with Zappa. And what's so funny is that Zappa was a character, man. He called me when he came to Detroit in '76 because I was burnt out from traveling, you know. We worked so much. And I came to Cobo Hall and played with him right in Detroit. He had me sit in on stage with him. The next thing I knew, he was sending me an airplane ticket. He also put me on salary, like John McLaughlin did. Back then, it was different. They would put you on salary. I was part of his company. [...]
I got some music of his that I'm holding on to that was never played. I've never seen a human being write as fine as Frank Zappa, no human being. And I've seen some of the great writers. I mean the penmanship was like a computer, a work of art. It was incredible that way he could write. [...]
I played with Zappa for about seven months and then I quit. And I did it on good terms, as a friend. I told him I was just burnt out. For the type of tour he was doing, it was like being in the military. It would wear you out. There was no time. It would kill you. We would work every day, just about. You'd get up in the morning at 7:30, go have breakfast, leave the hotel at 8:30, get on the plane—he had his own plane—and then you'd go to the next venue. You'd go to the hotel for 30 minutes, you'd leave the hotel, go to the sound check for an hour-and-a-half, then eat dinner right after the sound check, then go back to the hotel for one hour, leave the hotel, go to the concert, then, when you got through with the concert at around 11:10, you'd get back at your hotel at about 11:35 and that was your free time. There was nothing. No leeway. Even when we had a day off, we were having dinner together. I was burnt out. I told him I had to leave. And he was so cool. He was a good guy.
Eddie Jobson: "Black Napkins" was my audition track. I went on tour with Zappa when I was still with Roxy Music. Frank flew me to Canada, and I went around with him on tour in Canada after Roxy tour. I used to play in the dressing room with Frank and Norma Bell, saxophone player. One night I was playing in the dressing room little bit. I think it was Montreal . . . no, it was Hamilton, Ontario. He just said, "I want you to come on the stage tonight." From the dressing room. I was just like traveling around with him, but he wanted me to play on the stage. I was completely unprepared and had no idea of what was going on the stage. It was like 5 minutes before the concert started. So I had to go on the stage with the violin. He played this "Black Napkins," which he wrote on this tour, and that was my audition in front of 10,000 people. He pointed me, and I had to do solo over "Black Napkins." Then he did something else, and he sent the keyboard player off the stage, put me on the keyboard, and he did some other songs. I forget what we did . . . and again that was like part of my audition. He just pointed like solo, you know. I was playing this guy's keyboard, and I didn't even know how it worked. I tried to read the knobs and expressive devices because he had a synthesizer that I didn't even know . . . old Roland synthesizer, and it had a Hammond organ on it. I was just trying to read the synthesizer.
Art Rock: On the stage?
Jobson: On the stage! This is my live audition, and next night I think I played again with him in Montreal.
I choreographed films and commercials and created the avant-guard comedy troop, The LA Knockers. Regulars at the Comedy Store and the Improv, The Knockers performed with Zappa and Dr. John at the Forum, were featured in Dick Clark's Rock and Roll Revue (Las Vegas), and toured the U.S., Canada and overseas during their twelve-year run.
[Dr. John, LA Knockers, FZ]
Additional informant: Tan Mitsugu.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos