IT: How is it working with Captain Beefheart now?
Z: He comes in the studio all the time now, comes in hangs out.
There were a lot of problems having the band with Eddie [Jobson], because his priorities were in peculiar locations. But I don't want to say anything bad about him.
I use Marshall and Acoustic amps, and also there's a stereo feed from the guitar that goes direct to the PA. The pedalboard I have has 27 different buttons. It's a specially-built thing that looks a little like a small version of the G.P.O. Tower around here. It has all the normal fuzz and phasing switches taken from their little boxes and put on this thing. It was constructed at the beginning of this tour—this is the first tour where I've actually used it.
[...] One thing that I've enjoyed using has been the Eventide harmoniser that I have included on the board. I had been using it to do some space effects and stuff like that, but one day I decided to set the pitch control at 99, instead of some lower figure, so that means that the double note is a small per cent flat from your original note, and it comes out about 30 milliseconds late. So I've got that split left and right, because I have switching on the pedalboard that allows me to cut off the Marshall and the Acoustic, so the only thing the audience hears is the direct sound from the PA. When you strum chords through that it makes them sound really full, and then when you punch in the normal guitar amps, you get all the distortion.
There are so many different combination possibilities with the switching set-up on the pedalboard the way it is that, as I've only been using it about a month, I haven't been able to experiment with all the ones that really work in a concert situation. If you don't have enough time before a concert to set all the levels you can step on a button and get a horrible surprise. There's still some improvements that I'm going to make on the board; the guy that built it for me is Klaus [Wiedemann], who's on the crew now, and used to work for Stockhausen. Unfortunately he's leaving the crew at the end of this tour to do six weeks skiing!
In addition to Klaus [Wiedemann], described as "Mr. Fixit," this Zappa tour has involved a pretty hefty crew, including a sound mixer, a monitor mixer, keyboard tuner and maintenance person, drum roadie, two truck drivers, lighting designer and operator plus assistant, power distribution man, security man and Larry, the road manager.
Discreet Records wants $2.5 million in collective damages and a Federal District Court ruling that Frank Zappa is its artist and return of his masters from Warner Bros. Records.
Discreet, believed to be owned jointly by Herb Cohen, Zappa's manager until recently, and Zappa, originally contracted with WB Records for distribution in January 1973. [...] Zappa was to produce six albums prior to Dec. 31, 1975.
According to the pleading, Zappa delivered the first five albums on time. WB extended the deadline for the sixth album Nov. 13, 1975 and Discreet extended its paper with Zappa Oct. 25, 1975, for a similar period of time.
On May 17, 1976, Zappa informed Discreet it had defaulted because he had not been paid royalties due as of December 1975. On June 16, 1976, Discreet informed Zappa no royalties were due him until Sept. 5, 1976 and attached an itemized statement of royalties the artist had received, it claims.
On June 25, WB agreed to "cure" the default by paying Zappa. Zappa received $26,633.90 and $17,735.02 and purported to deem the Zappa-Discreet contract assigned to WB.
Discreet disclaims the assignment, claiming it still has Zappa as an exclusive act. Discreet claims its responsibility to deliver a sixth album to WB was fulfilled when Zappa delivered an album directly to WB Oct. 29, 1976, which that label released about that time.
Discreet claims its reputation was blighted because the album release did not carry the Discreet label, as contracted for. Discreet alleges WB induced Zappa to depart and the two defendants conspired against Discreet. Suit claims Zappa told WB not to pay Discreet any more royalties in July 1976.
Discreet wants returned from Zappa recordings by Captain Beefheart, which it claims it paid for.
In 1976 Zappa's relationship with manager Herb Cohen ended in litigation. For Zoot Allures Zappa took his own copy of the master directly to Warner Bros. Records, who agreed to release the album, therefore bypassing Cohen and DiscReet. However, Warner Bros. changed their position following legal action from Cohen. Zappa was then obligated to deliver four more albums to Warner Bros. for release on DiscReet. Zappa sequenced a double live album and three studio albums, but Warner Bros. objected to some or all of these recordings and refused to reimburse Zappa for production costs as required by the DiscReet distribution contract. Zappa then re-edited the material into a 4-LP set called Läther (pronounced 'leather'). Zappa made a deal with Phonogram and scheduled the release of Läther for Halloween 1977. However, Warner Bros. threatened legal action and this forced Zappa to shelve the project. Infuriated, Zappa hosted a broadcast on KROQ-FM in Pasadena, California and played the entire Läther album. Zappa repeatedly criticized Warner Bros. and openly encouraged listeners to record the broadcast. Warner Bros. took further legal action against Zappa, preventing him from issuing material for over a year.
Z: My contract expires with Warner in the summer, it all depends on what contract I sign.
IT: Do you know what you're going to do when your contract finishes?
Z: We gonna deal with another record company probably.
IT: A better one?
Z: Let's hope so. The idea is to get the music out. Without having to worry about a bunch of crap.
IT: Is there a good record company around?
Z: CBS is really good in the States. I don't know what it's like over here. They're very efficient in the U.S.
Frank was always fighting with record labels. At the time we worked together, he was trying to get out of his Warner Bros. contract. We were cramming to finish a bunch of albums to deliver to them. At 7 a.m., on the last day the material was due, Frank grabbed a legal pad and hand-wrote a letter to Mo Ostin to accompany the masters we were sending over to Burbank, Calif. One of my favorite artifacts is a copy of that three-page demand for "payment by the end of business day today."
I was hired by Frank in June of 1977 and worked for him nearly continuously till the Autumn of 1984. I had studied clarinet and composition in college and had a strong interest in contemporary music. Frank needed someone who could copy, edit and otherwise manipulate his difficult written music—which was laying in piles all around his studio the first day I met him. Over those 7 years I produced a large number of scores and performance parts of his music, many of which are available now from Barfko-Swill.
[...] I was a student at Cal Arts in Valencia CA. Ed Mann was a student at the same time. His teacher was John Bergamo (who I also worked with). John had been hired for some session work with Frank (I think he's one of the nameless musicians on Greggary Peccary) and had gotten Ed the chance to get in the band and Frank hired Ed. Frank was looking for someone to be his "musical secretary" and both Ed and John recommended me to him. Then they both told me that I would be getting a call from Frank Zappa. "Sure" I thought "when pigs have wings."
Bergamo had played the Black Page and had lost a copy of the music which Frank had given him. So John hired me to copy the Black Page to give it to Frank. I figured they had showed that to Frank.
One Sunday afternoon (this was June 1977—as I was eating a pancake breakfast with my roommate) the phone rang and it was Ed Mann saying "Frank Zappa wants you to work for him." so I called Frank and he told me to come right over. I thought it was a job like all my other work at the time (i.e. "come right now we have music that needs to be recorded at 8 o clock tomorrow morning"). When I got there he took me in the house and showed me piles of music. He started handing me things from the piles and giving me instructions to work on stuff. I asked him if he had seen the copy of the Black Page—he hadn't.
So I had showed up to my interview without the one piece of music that was sure to get me the gig.
Obviously I got the gig anyway and left the house with 8 different projects. He told me which one to do first. I worked like a fiend—in the next 24 hours I probably worked 18 or 19 to finish the project. When I showed up the next day (with the completed project AND The Black Page) he was very impressed. I told him that I was working too hard (I was exhausted). Frank said "So don't work so hard." Funny, at the moment I don't remember what that first piece was, but later he gave me that score—sort of as a memento. A rare thing for him to do. I still have it—so I'll have to look up what I worked on that first day. But where is it? It was music for the new band he was putting together—that was the band with Adrian Belew.
[...] At one point there were 5 copyists working for Frank simultaneously. Besides me there was Richard Emmet, Adam Stern, Gene Bowen, Tom Nixon, Art Jarvinen (the "Art" of "When You Were Art" who also did some 2-piano transcriptions of Franks big orchestra pieces and who I'm still in close touch with), and a guy named Lee something (whose last name I've forgotten)—hmm—that's more than 5, I know, but there were never more than 5 at one time.
[...] My job as copyist for 6 of my 7 years with Frank involved *technical* musical matters—mostly notational, sometimes orchestrational. I was the guy who had to remember what the bottom note on the piccolo or English Horn is, for example. However, when it came to the actual music he made all the decisions. He might play tapes for people and measure their reactions—but the music wasn't finished till HE liked it. In fact, to do my job (which I still do for other composers) I've learned not to make suggestions about how the music sounds.
When Frank hired me in 1977 my initial job title was "music secretary". Some of the work I did for him was done "freehand" with pens, ink, and a single ruler, using pre-printed manuscript paper. This is generally called "music copying" and it wasn't long before I was just referred to as Frank's "copyist". There were a lot of copyists in Hollywood doing all sorts of music. But Frank really liked it when his scores were done in a style called "music calligraphy" or "autography", which I'd learned at CalArts and which had little commercial potential because it took much longer to do. This style used drafting tools and templates to make a more uniform look, although still obviously hand-drawn. All the staff lines in Frank's full orchestra scores were ruled by hand. The distinction between copying and engraving is generally that copying is done quickly and the finished product has a lot of inherent variability. Engraving implies some sort of mechanical production and the symbols are identical each time they appear. Also much more care is given to the layout of the music. Autography has elements of both.
Most of the seven years (1977-1984) I worked for Frank Zappa I spent preparing music for full symphony orchestra. I was a music copyist, using pens, ink and drafting tools to draw Frank's music on paper, line by line, dot by dot. This process is called "Autography" by those who did it. Most other people called it tedious.
Obviously Frank wanted his music performed by orchestras, that wonderful, antiquated, exhilarating, infuriating massive ensemble of diverse talents and elevated egos. You can tell just how much he wanted these performances by the huge amount of money he paid us to prepare the music. When you pay copyists to make scores and parts and then they sit on a shelf for years, there's no return on your investment. (Yeah, of course Frank knew this, check out The Real Frank Zappa Book.) Besides myself, some of the other copy-workers were Richard Emmet and Art Jarvinen.
All of the scores except one received at least one performance before Frank died. That one is an arrangement of Penis Dimension and I'm Stealing the Room scored for narrators, chorus and orchestra. Still gathering dust after all these years.
Adam [Stern] worked briefly as a copyist for Frank and is now assistant conductor of the Seattle Symphony.
When I was hired Frank had just fired Adam Stern. He needed work done, and it was more than the staff could keep up with, especially since the guitar book was in production. I replaced Adam. There were also Richard Emmett, David [Ocker], and Lee Scott. While I was still around he also hired David Izzard. That put the total at five, for at least a while. When Frank called to tell me he had to lay me off he said "Sorry, but my accountant tells me I can't afford to put this much money into my 'classical department'." I don't remember exactly who stayed on after that, but it was those with more seniority than I. I was there for 14 months as a full-timer.
Concurrent with the release of "LATHER" (pronounced "Leather"), perhaps the most incredible album ever to be made available for universal consumption, the 1977-78 CONCERT SEASON brings to the bored & miserable people of this curious little planet a live-in-person musical experience of unexcelled quality, combined with the usual dreadful & generally tasteless stage antics of myself & various other people (too evolved to cram the ol' safety pin through the cheek, but rude enough to do those things that make for colorful concert reviews when you need a little something to get the readers' minds off the music . . . what the hey . . .), and so, without further ado, some statistics with which to fill those other nasty little vacancies in your impending story:
FRANK ZAPPA lead guitar, vocals, press kit
ADRIAN BELEW rhythm guitar, vocals
PETER WOLF keyboards, butter
TOMMY MARS keyboards, vocals
ED MANN percussion, vocals
PATRICK O'HEARN bass, vocals
TERRY BOZZIO drums, vocals
The activities of the above mentioned virtuosi are made possible by:
BENNETT GLOTZER our new manager
PAUL HOF our same old stage manager
DAVEY MOIRE sound mixer (audience)
AL SANTOS sound mixer (stage)
COY FEATHERSTON lighting design
TEX ABEL choreography, fashion advice
LEON RODRIGUEZ divine assistance to all
LEE HAUSMAN power distribution
THOMAS NORDEGG keyboard maintenance & card tricks
ALAN BARCLAY electronic design
JOHN SMOTHERS security
(plus an as yet undisclosed couple of truck drivers and bus pilot)
KENNY "PONCHO" LYONS drayage
Q: Why did you decide to go with two keyboard players at this time?
FZ: Because of the orchestrational possibilities. When George Duke was in the band, a second keyboard player would have been a waste of time, partly because of the type of stuff we were doing. George is so diverse; he can play just about any style, and he's got the discipline to play parts. He really understands how to comp; he's a really well rounded musician. But people like George don't grow on trees. Sometimes to replace the guy who is so diverse, you need two guys who can fit into each other's liabilities. [...]
Q: Do you prefer to use synthesizers now instead of horn sections, or does it depend on the type of music involved?
FZ: It depends on the type of music. For instance, if you are playing a synthesizer that makes a brass ensemble sound and you take six fingers and make a six-note chord and it comes out in tune and loud enough to compete with electric guitars, then you are doing the right thing. For two reasons: One, it's easier to get a balance acoustically, and two, chords and things like that really tire out brass players over a long period of time. Just playing whole-notes is a real boring job for a brass player. It always sounds good, but they always hate to do it because horn players too like to play a million notes. There isn't a horn player alive that likes to play background harmony for a guitar player. They just don't like that, and ultimately they hate their lives; you take them on the road and no matter how much money you pay them, they don't like their lives because they're not out there noodling away. You begin to feel sorry for them, and that brings you down. You feel that you can't play for too long because those guys on horns are going to go to sleep back there. So that's one of the best things about a brass-sounding synthesizer: You can get a brass-like sound in a live performance without breaking the hearts of a number of people who blow on things.
How about Adrian Belew?
I found Adrian working in a bar in Memphis, Tennessee. He was working in a bar band. They were all dressed like the Godfather. They had, you know, fake mob-type suits on and stuff and he was doing Roy Orbison imitations.
I never would have thought of him like that. Did you hire him on the spot?
No. I don't hire people right away. I give them a chance to audition.
Was he always into that Hendrix thing, or did he develop it later?
He was doing some of it at that show.
I was in a bar band in Nashville playing covers of Bowie and Rolling Stones tunes. Frank was in town and asked the chauffeur to take him to see a good band. Well, we happened to be the chauffer's favorite band, so he brought Frank to see us. I saw him walk in from the back and just watch us, which made me a little nervous. In the middle of "Gimme Shelter," he came up to the side of the stage and reached over and shook my hand. Later he got my name and number from the chauffeur, and not too long after that he gave me a call to come audition for him.
This was in 1977, I was familiar with some of Frank's work, but I had never played it. I borrowed a bunch of his records from a friend and then realized how hard it was to play. Trying to figure it all out, I never thought that I would pass the audition. When I got to Frank's it was the day they were installing the studio, so I'm standing there in the middle of these movers and electricians running around. I'm trying to concentrate on playing well and Frank's on the other side of the room with all these people moving stuff in and around us. I knew that I had done a bad job by the time I finished, so before Frank could tell me that it wasn't going to work I said to him, "Look, I can play much better than this, give me another chance in a quieter setting." So we went upstairs to another room and he sat on the couch and I redid the audition. That time, I knew I played well and Frank gave me the job.
We began three months of rehearsal, and it was pretty tough rehearsal. Ten hours a day, five days a week. I'd spend my weekends with Frank, and he'd prep me before the week's rehearsals, so that I was ready when we went to play with everybody else. I needed a little more coaching than everybody else.
I had played in a number of bands and ending up joining a band in Nashville that just played other people's music, but it was a rather interesting band called Sweetheart. I was writing my own material, but the band didn't do that. It was more a band that just played a lot of club dates. We were located in Nashville but didn't often play there. We mostly played around the Mid West. So there I was, floundering in this band (laughs) and Frank had played a concert in Nashville. He was looking for something to do afterwards, and asked his chauffeur where to go. He said, "Well; I like this band playing over at Fanny's," so Frank and his entourage, including John Smothers, Patrick O'Hearn and Terry Bozzio came on over, this strange interesting exotic looking bunch of people. I saw him walk in as I was playing. It was undeniable that it was him, and you know I just lit up like a neon sign, because I played and sang better than I ever had done that night.
[...] It was a total surprise. You could almost tell from the audience that something unusual was happening; there was a real buzz in the air. Frank sat and listened to us for about forty minutes, then he came up and shook my hand in the middle of a song, "Gimme Shelter." He said he would get my number from his chauffeur and audition me some time later. It was about six months before he called and I thought he had forgotten about me, but he'd been out finishing off the tour. So then I auditioned at his house and the rest is history.
[...] I think [the rest of the band] were all genuinely excited for me, but as the months went by, everyone thought it wouldn't happen, and nothing would come of it. The band fizzled out anyway. At about the time Frank called, I had nothing to do. It was a pretty low point for me. I was behind in the rent and just about to go crazy (laughs) when I got this wonderful call saying, "Hi, this is Frank Zappa; I want you to come and have your audition. Here's some songs for you to learn." I don't read or write properly, so he just gave me a bunch of songs and said to try to figure them out, to sing and play them as best I could, and I worked probably sixteen hours a day for the next week.
[...] I did two auditions really because I was so nervous at the first one. I was up at Frank's house; there were people moving pianos and other equipment, and there was me in the middle of the room with a little naked microphone standing there, singing Frank's songs. He was sitting behind a studio board, smoking a cigarette and just said, "Play this; play that," and "No, that's not right; play this one," so it was very nerve-wracking. I stood around the rest of the day, watching other people audition, I actually watched Tommy Mars audition. Incidentally, Frank told me later that he had auditioned fifty guitar players, so I felt lucky to get it. Near the end of the day, I finally caught Frank's eye and said, "Frank, I know I didn't do very well, and it's because I thought we would do this differently. I thought we would sit down somewhere quietly, just you and me and I could play the songs and show you I can do it." He said, "Well fine. Let's go up to the living-room and sit on the couch and we'll do that." So I did the audition a second time; then he shook my hand and said, "You got the job."
Q: How did you feel?
AB: I felt like a million dollars (laughs). I was so happy I couldn't believe it.
Q: How long was it after the audition that you were on stage with him?
AB : We rehearsed for three months solid before we ever went on stage and it was a very intense, educational period for me. I worked five days a week with Frank and the band, then on weekends I would go up to his house and start working on next week's songs. In other words, he would give me a chance to start learning them by rote before he would show them to the rest of the guys. So I literally spent seven days a week for three months learning Frank Zappa material and staying at his house, working to the wee hours of the morning with him. Hard work, but I loved every minute of it. It was a great time for me. I will always have nothing but great things to say about him because he was always really great with me. I know other people say he was demanding or hard to work with; yes he was demanding but to me it was always a joy.
I was a starving musician and I suddenly got a call from Frank Zappa. He was very nice to me, and he said, "Well, here is a list of songs." He learned at that point that I didn't read music. All the other musicians he was intending to hire read music, but he still gave me a chance. He gave me a list of songs. I worked feverishly twelve hours a day to try and figure out these songs. Frank's advice to me was simply figure out how to sing and play these songs anyway you can. He then flew me to his house in Hollywood Hills. It was very scary for me, because first of all there was a lot of confusion, a lot of things happening, people were rolling equipment, and here is me standing in the middle of a room with Frank Zappa sitting behind a console smoking a cigarette. Frank would say, "Okay, play this," and then I would try to play it, and he would say, "Okay, try this one." I didn't think it went very well. I stayed there at his house for the rest of the day. I watched him audition a lot of great players, including some of the players that I ended up playing with, Tommy Mars and Ed Mann. It was tremendously hard material that everyone was being asked to play. The rest of the people came in and sight read. It was interesting to see these great musicians being put through their paces by Frank. At the end of the day, after everyone had left and I was still there, I said to Frank, "Hey, you know, I don't feel like I did very well, and that's because I really thought that you and I could just sit down somewhere quietly and I could show you that I can play and sing these songs." He said, "Fine, let's do that, then." So we went upstairs into his living room. We sat on the couch together. I had a little tiny practice amp face down on the couch so it wouldn't be very loud and I did the second audition, at the end of which he shook my hand and said, "You've got the job."
I was playing here in Nashville. I lived here in the 70's for a couple of years and I played with a band called "Sweetheart". It was a 5 piece band; Saxophone, keyboards, bass, drums, guitar, three singers. Three of us sang I should say, haha. And it was a good band. It was colorful. We dressed in vintage 40's clothing. I wore Fedora hats and ties everywhere we went. It was a band that had a little bit of a following. They played really only just cover music. Things like Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, the music of that era.
And we were playing one night in a dark, dank bar called Fanny's which is now a parking lot here in Nashville and Frank had played a concert. He was looking for somewhere to go afterwards with his entourage with a few of the band members and some crew people. And they had a limousine, the limo driver, his name was Terry, was a fan of our band so he directed him to the night club called Fanny's. They came in and listened for about 40 minutes, then Frank came up to the edge of the stage, reached out and grabbed my hand, shook it and said, "I'll get your information from the chauffeur and I'll audition you when I finish this tour." About 4 or 5 months went by before the call actually came and by then of course everybody all thought it was just a fluke, especially me. But then he called and he said, you know, "Here's some songs I want you to learn from these records and I'm going to fly you out to my place and audition you."
Now as the audition went, it was pretty hairy, uh, first of all I don't read music. I had to learn everything by rote, had to figure out as Frank told me, "Play and sing whatever you can figure out, play and sing." So I learned those records and I really dedicated myself to that. [...] It was very complicated music for me at the time because I had never really played anything outside of popular music really. I mean I hadn't really understood odd time signatures and things like that, although I had an ear for it.
So I went to the audition in Franks basement. It was very unnerving 'cause people were moving equipment around, lots of things were happening. I was standing in the middle of the room with a microphone, a pignose amp and a stratocaster and Frank was sitting behind a recording board saying, "Play this." Then he'd stop and say, "ok, stop and try this." and so on and it went that way and all kinds of choas surrounding me. I felt very uncomfortable and didn't feel I did well. And he auditioned 50 guitar players. [...] I didn't see any of the auditions for the guitarists. I only saw some of the keyboard players and percussionists audition and they were tremendously tough auditions for them.
So I was there at his house, I had nowhere to go. So, I stayed around and watched the auditions all day then when the day was over I finally got a moment to say to Frank, "Hey Frank, you know I don't feel I did well in my audition but it's not the way I was expecting it to be. I thought we'd just sit down somewhere quietly and I would play these things for you." [...] And he said, "Well, let's go upstairs and sit in the living room and we'll do that."
We sat upstairs on his purple couch and I did a second audition just sitting right there next to him and that was very successful.
Uh, pretty soon he was mentioning things and you know showing me different harmonies and stuff, you know. Then he reached out his hand and said, "Well, you've got the job and here's what I pay and here's the rules.", and so on. He ws very straight forward, just a verbal agreement, for one year. [...] He said, "This is a one year agreement." That's how he did it, year by year with his players. And he had different rates for whether you were rehearsing, there was a rate. There was a rate if you were recording. There was a rate if you were touring. Filming had another rate, you know. So basically it was a pay scale and it was more money then I'd ever made, haha... I was thrilled about it of course.
I lived Nashville for two and a half years in the '70s. I played with a band called Sweetheart. It was a good band, and it attracted a lot of attention and stuff. It was a cover band, but we had a unique look and a unique style of doing these songs. Frank came in and saw the band play for 40 minutes, came up and shook my hand and said, "I'm going to audition you. I'll get your name from the chauffeur." That's what happened. Then I flew out here to California for my first time ever, went to his house and did an audition. There were, I guess, 50 guitar players, supposedly. And then I got the gig. Then, you know, really for that first year that I worked with Frank, I stuck beside him like glue. I used to go to his house every weekend. We rehearsed all week, five days a week, but on Friday night I went home with him. I stayed with him at his house so he could show me what was going on the next week and get me started. [...] I was the only guy in the band who didn't read music. So in order for me to learn it, I would start ahead of everyone else. On Monday mornings they would get sheet music, but I would sort of already know what was coming up by then. That lasted for three months. So I felt like in those three months I really got to know Frank very well, and lived at his house and got to know his family and thing. It was a great experience. And then we went on tour all through the states and Europe.
[...] I was also the person who introduced everyone I knew to the Roland [JC-120] Jazz Chorus Amps, including Frank. I heard the Roland at a party I went to when I was rehearsing with Frank, and I said, "You've got to hear this new amp," and they brought some over. That's when I started with them.
Frank for me was my first and only official schooling. I'm a self-taught musician. I don't read or write music or dots on paper. I was the only guy in the band that way; everyone else was a reader. So‚ they got sheet music. It meant that I had to really pay close attention in practice and I had to memorize a lot. I had to work close with Frank‚ and I got close with him. I would work with him on the weekends in between rehearsals that would last all week. It was a great year for me because of that factor. I was able to absorb so much practical knowledge—not just musical knowledge‚ but all this other knowledge that you would gather from around the world from touring and making records.
[...] I read about how he used to stay at a different hotel than the rest of the band. But with you it seems like it was a lot different.
Yeah‚ he didn't treat me that way. He sort of took me under his wing. Actually‚ the people that didn't want to hang with me was the band. They didn't care too much about me. So‚ I hung with Frank all the time‚ and‚ like I said‚ he took me under his wing and it was really generous. I felt a little like a teacher's pet‚ but I felt like this was my opportunity and I want to learn as much I can from this guy who is a genius. You don't get around that everyday! [laughs]
I moved here to Nashville back in the mid-'70s to play with a particular band, a regional band that did a lot of work and was well-known, called Sweetheart, and they wore 1940s authentic vintage clothing everywhere. If you were in Sweetheart, you had to wear your 1940s three-piece suit with a fedora, even if you were just shopping at Kroger's at two in the afternoon. They were a very good cover band and they did songs that were not your normal fare—a lot of Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, McCartney and Wings—stuff that you wouldn't be ashamed to play. Anyway, Frank Zappa played Nashville, and after his concert, he had a chauffeur and a limo, and he asked the limo driver, whose name was Terrance Pugh, where would he go to hear some good rock music. And Terrance said, "Well, my favorite band is playing over here in this little biker bar called Fanny's," and Zappa said, "Okay, let's go." So I was standing on stage playing, and suddenly I saw Frank Zappa with his big bodyguard, John [Smothers], and Terry Bozzio. They walked in and listened to us for 40 minutes, then Frank came up and shook my hand while we were playing "Gimme Shelter" and he said, "I'll get your name and number from the chauffeur and when my tour is over, I'm going to audition you."
Adrian Belew, I thought, had potential to add something to the band as it was constituted at that time, which was kind of a funny band. We blew out a lot of comedy stuff like "Punky's Whips." That was the band that originated "Broken Hearts Are for Assholes," and that kind of material. And Adrian just fit in with that, and so that's why he got the job.
ADRIAN: Frank is blatantly straightforward and honest. That's one of the things that first appealed to me about him. When I passed the audition with him he shook my hand and said here's how much I pay, here's how much I expect from you, and that was it. There was never any bullshit to have to work through.
STEVE: No contracts, no lawyers. None of that shit.
The Audition For A Hand Shake.
my first phone conversation with frank went something like this:
frank: "do you read music?"
adrian: "no, I don't, but I can learn from records pretty well."
frank: "alright, here's a list of 12 songs. try to figure out how to sing
and play as much of them as you can. I'll see you here next week".
I borrowed the records I needed to learn from
(I couldn't afford to buy them) and went into high gear.
every day for the next week I was consumed from morning till night
with learning frank zappa music.
man, it was hard.
the day came to fly to his house. it was the first time in my life I had been past the Missisippi. one of frank's crew members met me at the airport in a white cargo van. it was hot in california. the windows were down. he was shouting questions as he drove like a madman up the canyon's winding hills. I was deposited at frank's house. me, my strat, and my little pignose amp.
there was the beginnings of a studio in frank's basement. he sat behind a console chain smoking. I stood in the middle of the room with my little amp and sang into a microphone.
frank would say, "okay, try wind up workin' in a gas station". I would play and sing for a minute or two, he would stop me. "that's enough".
"now try andy".
I would play and sing for a bit and he would stop me.
and that's how it went.
the problem was the commotion. there were roadies rolling equipment around the room and people busy doing things to prepare for rehearsals. it seemed like there was an army in that small basement.
I knew I hadn't done well. I had nowhere to go until my flight back home so I stayed around all day watching other torturous auditions. I watched tommy mars' piano audition. it was frightening. but tommy was fabulous. I was told later frank had auditioned 50 guitar players!
as the day was ending and things quieted down I had a moment to say something to frank. I told him I knew I hadn't done well but it was not what I'd expected. I thought it would be the two of us somewhere quiet. he said, "well fine. let's go upstairs".
we sat on the purple couch in his living room.
I put my pignose amp face down on a pillow so it wouldn't be too loud.
and frank gave me a second audition.
at the end of it he reached over and shook my hand.
he told me I had the job for one year
and went on to explain his pay arrangements
(i.e. so much for rehearsal, so much for shows, etc.)
with that hand shake my life was changed forever.
I was in Los Angeles literally just two weeks when Frank Zappa called me. I did a job with Lalomie Washburn, a singer who was renting a room from Andre Lewis, the keyboard player who replaced George Duke in Frank's band. She played Andre some of the tapes, and he went to Frank's house to tell him about me. At that point, Frank was looking for a new keyboard player; he had auditioned, like, 60 of them. So he called me: "Hi, this is Frank Zappa. I'm looking for a keyboard player. Do you want to audition?" I said, "Sure!"
I went over to his place and went through the whole madness of reading "The Black Page." It was so hard! I can read anything that a studio gig in L.A. would ask me to read, but Frank Zappa material was beyond belief: seventeen tuplets followed by sixteenth-notes, and that's followed by quarter-note triplets. Nobody in the world can sight-read that correctly. So I would trip over these incredible rhythms, and he would go, "No, that's wrong. Try it again."
After a while, Patrick O'Hearn came in; he had already been in the band for a year. Frank said, "Patrick, why don't you play with this guy?" Patrick had his acoustic bass, so I played piano. We had a great time, because we were both jazz players. We were flying! Then Frank said, "You like to play with this guy?" Patrick said, "Yeah!" And that was that.
I saved some money and came to California in 1976. I arrived here and met a lady by the name of Lalomie Washburn, who I met through a guitarist I had played with in Vienna. He'd come to America a year or two prior and was always telling Lalomie about me. So when I came to L.A., I called her and she said, "Why don't you come down to the studio? We're rehearsing for my new record on Casablanca."
I wound up recording the album with her, playing on it and working as musical director and arranger. Lalomie's roommate was Andre Lewis, a keyboardist and friend of Zappa. One day, I went to Guitar Center to try some synthesizers, and this tall man came over to me and said, "You must be Peter Wolf." I nodded, and he asked for my phone number.
Apparently, Frank had asked Andre if he knew any new keyboardists. Andre said he had heard "an Austrian kid who sounded pretty good." He gave Frank my number and the next morning—at 7 o'clock!—I get this call, "Hi, this is Frank Zappa. I'm looking for a keyboard player. Want to audition?" I said, "When?" And he said, "Now."
I drove up to his home and spent the entire day. He had a Bösendorfer Imperial grand, which the family still has, and he put all this heavy music in front of me. I stumbled through this hard, hard, stuff. I thought I would never get the gig. Then Patrick O'Hearn walked in, with outrageous long hair. I didn't know who it was at the time, but Patrick was the bassist for Joe Pass for years. We started playing and had a really great time. Frank asks Patrick, "Do you want to play with this guy?" "Yeah," says Patrick. Frank turned to me: "Okay, you're hired." That was it.
[...] Ruth [Underwood] did call me one night late to ask if I knew any great keyboard players—Frank was looking for someone interesting and unable to find anyone. Tommy (Mars) had just moved out to California and so I said that I absolutely knew the guy for the gig—Ruth said call Frank RIGHT NOW (it was midnight)—so I did—and 3 hours later I was in the band. The next day when I called Ruth to tell her—she said, "I knew that would happen," in kind of a dismayed way . . . but she was a supporter, and was gracious. She also did quit the band several years earlier and if she had not, the gig still would have been hers.
[...] When Ruth called me at midnight, and then I called FZ at midnight, FZ seemed only mildly interested in the keyboard player info. But he said, "I remember you—why don't you come over here right now." So I did—it was about 1.30 a.m. when I got there. Patrick O'Hearn and Adrian were there too. Frank's basement: red velvet walls, muted yellow lights; dark. A big marimba with music stand sitting in the centre of this poorly lit room. First Frank put up the chart to 'Montana' and asked me to sight read it—which I did, but not really that well. Good enough to show that I knew how to figure stuff out I guess. There was some other bits and pieces—stuff that wound up in 'Wild Love'—and then Frank put on his guitar and said "OK—I will play a lick, and then you play it back to me on the marimba." That went pretty well. The whole time I was thinking "this is just entertainment for Frank," because when we had been in the studio recording 'The Black Page' several months earlier, he said out of the blue that he no longer would be taking any percussion on the road. Anyway, then Frank asked me to improvise—play a little solo, etc. I did that for a few minutes and then Frank says, "Great—you want to be in the band?" I just thought "WHAT?!?"—but I stammered, "Uh—yeah!" FZ extends The Handshake and then outlines the responsibilities, the pay, the schedule, and the expectation that I would have to buy all my own gear—he was otherwise purchasing gear for the keyboard players and guitarists—but that he did have some stuff I could use . . . then he pulled a 6-pack of Budweiser out of the fridge and we sat around for a half hour. Then he told me to arrive at 9 p.m. the next night for further planning, etc. I got home at 4 a.m. thinking, "Wow—what a day."
[...] Later on during the summer of 1977, I felt like I just was not getting some critical detail about how to play Franks' music on the marimba—Frank wrote stuff that required your hands move in directions that was opposite of the normal way that the arms will allow. So I called on Ruth and went over to her house so I could watch her play some of the passages. She played a little bit of 'Inca Roads', a bit from 'The Black Page', and a lot of Bach. That was very kind of Ruth to accommodate me—and I know that she was doing it for Frank as much as for me—and it did help. I adore Ruth—you gotta love Ruth!
I had been earning a living in Santa Barbara as a choir master, organist, and solo jazz pianist when my friend Ed Mann, who was playing percussion with Frank, called and said that Frank Zappa was auditioning keyboard players. Aside from "King Kong" and "Peaches En Regalia" I didn't really know Frank's music. I just thought he was kind of a nutty guy. But he called me up, and I went down to his house.
Immediately, Frank puts me to the wall. He was still writing "Sinister Footwear," although it was called "Slowly" at the time. The ink was still wet on it. He said, "I want to hear how this sounds." I hadn't seen these kinds of rhythmic relationships since I was doing serious contemporary classical music in college. I read through it; it wasn't perfect, but at least I started and stopped at the right time, and that's reading to me. Then he played a couple of measures for me and said, "Okay, this is Section A. Here's Section B. Now play them A-B-B." Then he said, "Here's Section C. I want you to put A with C, then do two of B ..." I couldn't write any of this down, because he wanted to check my memory. It was baffling, with these strange guitar licks. I have perfect pitch, so that helped a bit, but I was like, "Holy shit! This guy is stretching me like freakin' gum!"
Then he said, "Hey, can you sing?" I said, "Look, man. I sing for my supper. I have to sing every night on these club gigs. I must know a thousand songs. But my head is so fucked up from this audition that I don't think I could remember the lyrics to one song all the way through. How about if I just improvise for you?" He gave me the strangest look, and he said, "Man, that's the first right thing you've done all day. Go for it, kid."
So I started wailing. For some reason, the last thing I did was that song from The Wizard of Oz, the one that goes, "Bzz bzz bzz, chirp chirp chirp, and a couple of la-de-dahs." I don't think I'd ever done that song before, but I played the most wild, insane version. And he totally broke up. He said, "Number one, just sit right where you are. Number two, I don't think you're ever going to play again in any more Holiday Inns. Number three, I'm gonna go up and get my wife; I've never heard anything like this before. Just hold tight." And he went upstairs.
While he was gone—I can't tell you how cosmic this was—I looked at some of the music he had in the room. And on the bottom of one sheet, it said, "Munchkin Music." I said, "Whoa! I think this is meant to be."
He came back with Gail and said, "I want you to do it again, exactly like you just did it." I said, "Look, man, that was an improv. But I can approximate it." I went for it, and Gail just fell in love with me. So Frank gave me 12 or 13 pieces and said, "I want you to learn this. I'm putting you on a temporary retainer." Back in Santa Barbara, as I went through this stuff, I was thinking, "My God, this is very Hindemithian," or, "These melodic ideas and rhythmic phrases are incredibly Stravinsky-like." It was barking at all the composers, yet it didn't sound like them. It was strictly Zappa's own hybrid. I noticed his passion for reiterated notes. To me, if you play one note, you've said it. But he always had to play the same note two or three times. That was a definite rhythmic characteristic.
A week later, I came back down from Santa Barbara; I had learned every piece that he gave me as a solo piano arrangement, even "The Black Page" and "Punky's Whips" He thought I would just learn the chords and some of the melodic licks, but I did everything as if I would do it solo. So he was utterly flabbergasted. The rest is history.
When I did my audition and Frank said "You brought some gear with you?" I brought my Rhodes, and I brought my Electrocomp, and my Taurus bass pedals, and he said "what's this?" and I undid it and I played something, and of course my signature sound was a French horn kind of brass sound that it did, it was my kind of signature, and his jaw dropped. I don't think he'd had ever heard a synth kind of do that kind of sound in that kind of expression that it was able to have.
And I said "this E-mu you that you have?", and he was just like so proud of his E-mu, this is so funny man!), and the only sound that he had on it, which is the easiest sound in the world to make, was a little pipe organ sound, an eight foot and a four foot, no envelope, no nothing, I said "you mean with all this that's all you got?" (laughs), and he says "Yeah?" and I said "Well I don't think you noticed that the Electrocomp is very similar, I could set this sound up exactly for you on the E-mu, and then you'd have five voices, you'd have complete polyphony". And in those days that was like, you know, going to the emerald city, like follow the yellow brick road!
Frank got so excited he says "OK, do that" and he tentatively hired me that day at his house, he said I want you to come back in a week, I'm going to give you this music and I just want you to play it for me and then pretty much, you'd be in the band. So when I came back the second week the cats from E-mu [Marco Alpert, Dave Rossum and Scott Wedge] were there, and I showed them what I had done and Frank says "hard wire it", so they did. So even if you messed with the knobs (except for the tuning, those knobs, they had to be free) but the rest of it, the envelopes, were pre-set; they were tied up in the back.
One day Tommy went to his letterbox and found some junkmail. The mail was addressed to T Mariano, but on one letter from a company, there was a sticker with T Mar5. The sun was shining and he couldn't see it exactly. Instead of a 5, he saw an s, so instead of T Mar5, he saw T Mars and he decided to call himself T Mars ever since.
I was hired on the eve (as a last minute, after thought) for the '77 tour.
I was called unexpectedly, just before the fall '77 tour began. The previous Winter and Spring, I had been on tour with an English group called Gentle Giant. There, I had been responsible for the setup and maintanence of all keyboard instruments. Shortly before Frank's tour began, they decided they'd need another person to help with the enormous keyboard setup they'd accrued. So, without ever seeing a rehearsal, or meeting any of the band members, I signed on.
[...] I first met Frank in September of '77. I was hired at the last minute. I didn't get to see any of the rehearsals or meet any band members. I first saw him at the airport after our plane had landed. He walked up to me, introduced himself and welcomed me on board.
On September 11, 1977, the first night of a tour and Zappa's Las Vegas debut, road manager Ron Nehoda committed suicide in his Aladdin Hotel room through self-inflicted razor blade wounds. Nehoda spent about $10,000 on drugs and gambling at Aladdin's casino. Zappa's manager Bennett Glotzer called Phil Kaufman to take over as tour manager.
[FZ's first appearance in Las Vegas], in the summer of 1977, was marred by the suicide of his road manager at the Aladdin Hotel after the band had left for their next gig.
Frank was playing a gig at the Cobo Arena in Detroit when one of the janitors came into the green room with a guitar before the gig. "I just have to do this," the janitor said with an "Ah, Shucks" kind of attitude. Frank gave him the go sign and Mr. Janitor did a couple of songs. Frank thanked him and asked for his card. The band chuckled, thinking that would be the last time it would touch Franks's eyes, but six months later Mr. Janitor Ike Willis was on an airplane out to Los Angeles to sing on a record with the esteemed Mr. Zappa. And he sang on almost every record Frank made until the end.
When the beginning of my senior year rolled around, that's when I met Frank . . . October 2nd 1977. That was at the beginning of the Sheik Yerbouti tour. I was on the local crew, just to schlep equipment and help the guys set up the equipment. Frank and I just happened to meet. We made eye contact after I spent all day hanging out with his crew setting up the equipment. After the sound check, he called me over to his table in the hospitality room and just started talking to me. He did the usual 3rd degree . . . he asked me if I played instruments and what kind of stuff I was into. Then he dragged me back to his dressing room, when it was time for him to get ready for the show. He handed me his guitar . . . told me to play . . . told me to sing.
[...] He was basically asking me questions. What instrument I played and how have I been playing? . . . was I into any of his shit? I said "Well sure, I know some of your songs." He said "Well play me one." I played "Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy". I started singing it and he started singing along. Tommy Mars, Ed Mann, Patrick O'hearn, and Bozzio . . . Belew came in and he started singing along. It was like an old time hootenanny. Frank told me "Look, I have auditions every year for my band, after I get back from every tour. What I'd like to do is fly you out and have you audition for the band. I've been looking for a lead vocalist. I like the way you sing . . . I like the way you play."
Photo: Michel Penomareff [Robert Charlebois, Adrian Belew, FZ, unknown]
The much-beloved Frank Zappa sits backstage at the Forum, waiting to return to the spotlight for his encore. One of his visitors was Quebecois singer Robert Charlebois for whom Zappa once did some unreleased production work.
[...] Back in the Forum dressing room, Quebecois superstar Robert Charlebois walks in, humbly bows and passes Zappa a note inscribed with a restaurant rendez-vous. "Thanks, Robert," says Zappa using the English pronunciation.
[...] They opened with the classic "Peaches in Regalia," a lovely composition from the late 1960s, before heading into the harder new material. A snappy rock number, "City of Time and Lights" ["City Of Tiny Lights"] competed with the heavy-rockers on their own turf. Another song chronicled the brags of Bobby Brown, a sleaze who sings in ecstacy, "Oh God, I am the American dream." "Coneheads" features some robotic dancing with the soundtrack making Star Wars seem like a tin box, and preceded a long instrumental saga, "Envelopes."
His protest against incompetence, "Flakes," pointed a scatological refrain directed at Warner Bros. executives. He saved two recent popular items for the encore, performed at near double-time: "Dinah-Mo Hum" the infamous 'sexist' tale, and "Camarillo Brillo," a laugh at some of the very fans who love Zappa so.
So how come you're playing Palo Alto and passing on San Francisco?
Because of Bill Graham. He didn't want to pay the right amount of money. He has a monopoly on this town. I have nothing against him personally. I like Graham. He's quite a character, but business is business. When somebody doesn't want to pay me what it costs me to bring a show to town because he's got a monopoly on a certain area, I resent it and instruct my manager to deal with that person. To sit still on the road with 85,000 pounds of equipment and 20 or so people costs a fortune. Someone thinks this is a major metropolitan area that must be serviced. Big Deal.
Isn't that a prevalent attitude in other urban centers?
In a lot of locations, one guy will control all the dates in a town's largest public hall and wants to grab you by the weenie every time you go in there.
The current 100-concert world tour is Zappa's most ambitious in a long and ambitious career. He performs new material from a four-disc album entitled Lather, an album, alas, tied up in litigation.
[...] The legal problems go like this: Zappa says he discovered that Warner Brothers, which has issued 14 of his albums, had diddled with his contract and royalties, and he thus sued them for $5 million and entered into agreement with Phonogram to distribute his new label, Zappa Records. In reply Warners has threatened to sue Phonogram and plans to release a Zappa Live in New York album to coincide with Phonogram's Lather, thus posing serious competition problems.
HARD CORE NEWS ITEMS:
These things might not be news by the time you get this turkey in the mail, but, as of right now this stuff is news so check it out:
1. FRANK ZAPPA SUES WARNER BROS. RECORDS FOR CONTRACTUAL BREACHES & VARIOUS EVIL DEEDS INCLUDING FRAUD AND CONSPIRACY FOR DAMAGES IN EXCESS OF FIVE MILLION DOLLARS . . . those rats . . .
2. FRANK ZAPPA SUES DISCREET RECORDS, HERB COHEN, MARTIN COHEN & ASSORTED ROES (a legal term) FOR CONTRACTUAL BREACHES, BREACHES OF FIDUCIARY RESPONSIBILITIES, FRAUD, AND OTHER MALIGNANT ACTIVITIES
3. FRANK ZAPPA SIGNS NEW LABEL DEAL WITH PHONOGRAM FOR WORLDWIDE DISTRIBUTION, THE NEW LABEL TO BE KNOWN AS (you'll love this . . .) "ZAPPA RECORDS"
You know, I made a unilateral delivery. "Here you guys go. Here are the master tapes to four albums. I don't owe you guys any more product, you don't want me on your label anyway, so just take this stuff and I'm gonna go away. And then the contract would expire December 31 of this year. [...]
The points in the contract were that they pay on delivery and then they have six weeks from the time of the delivery to release the tapes. Well, they did not pay, they did not release the tapes, and they did not pay me any of my back royalties. And so I said, "All right, I'm getting a lawyer, you guys are in breach." And I notified them the breach of contract and proceeded to—
Amazingly, Zappa is currently without a recording contract, having had a parting of the ways with his former distributors—Warner Bros. Records. He is entangled in two huge lawsuits, one against Warners for breach of contract, the other with former manager Herb Cohen and his brother Martin. So Zappa's grand new project, a four album set called Lather (pronounced "leather;" Zappa says it contains everything from punk rock to orchestral music) is currently on the backburner, awaiting both a resolution of his legal problems with Warners, and for a new company to pick up distribution of his Zappa Records label.
The dispute concerns the four albums which he was due to deliver to Warners last year and which he says he did deliver. The contract expired at the end of 1977, and by that time he says they had not paid him the 60,000 dollars advance per album he was due on delivery of the master tapes of each album—sums which did not cover his production costs, which he pays himself.
He re-edited the albums then into a four-album boxed set under the overall title of Lather (pronounced like leather) which first EMI, then Phonogram considered releasing, but decided not to—for rather suspect reasons, he believes.
Insult was added to injury, he says, when WEA advertised one of the four albums, Zappa Live In New York in the US earlier this month. [...]
The titles of the four original albums were: Zappa Live in New York, Hot Rats III, Studio Tan, and Zappa Orchestral Favourites.
Fragments of each of these have been spread across the re-edited work, so that live cuts are spliced into studio takes, and a linking narrative—if that is the right word—added, featuring famed American radio announcer Don Pardo. [...]
(The entire work did have one New York broadcast, so don't rule out the possibility of the odd bootleg getting across.)
I owed them three or four albums, whatever it was. I had a deadline to deliver these things, and the fact of the matter was they were in the can. So I walked into their office and handed the master tapes to this girl about three months ahead of the deadline. And I'd spent the money out of my own bank account to make those albums.
When the four albums were delivered to them, they would not even listen to 'em. Apparently, somebody had done this before—not delivered four albums—but in order to finish off a contract, had walked in with an album of the person singing, backed up with an acoustic guitar. They thought, "What is this? Just Frank and a guitar?" They said that to me. And it was weeks before they could find time, or find somebody qualified to listen to the tapes and notice it was a very elaborate thing.
Frank [Zappa] would up losing his studio on Sunset, his films stored there, his recording equipment and control over his DiscReet product until some future litigated date.
In Los Angeles, there are several law firms who specialize in show business law, right? It's a specialized field just like copyright law, divorce. There's only a few people who do it; and among the few who do it, there's a few who are famous, and who have a lot of connections, and those are the top ones. But they're working both sides of the fence because not only are they representing artists, they're representing record companies, and the record company is the guy that's really paying them their salary. So if you're an artist and you go and you get the best lawyer you can get from the best firm you can get, all you're really doin' is gettin' reamed, because the guy owes his ass to the record company, see? And so it's difficult, if not impossible to have adequate representation if you're an artist when you go to negotiate your contract. And to make it even worse there are some law firms who represent several major record companies.
Additional informants: Javier Marcote, Bill LantzResearch, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos