Zappa-Zirkus in Bern [...] Sie besteht aus folgenden Musikern: Frank Zappa (guitar & vocals), Adrian Belew (guitar), Peter Wolf und Tom Mariano (keyboards), Pat O'Hearn (bass), Ed Mann (percussion), Roy Estrada (vocals).
Bill Harrington, c. 2000
The article credits Roy Estrada on vocals, however, at the last minute Roy had cancelled from the tour.
The night we played in Cologne, Germany unbeknownst to me Brian Eno was in the audience. Brian knew David Bowie was looking for a new guitarist for his upcoming tour. He called David after seeing our show and told David he should come see the guitarist for Frank's band.
The next night we performed in Berlin. There was a part of the show where Frank took an extended guitar solo and m...ost of the band members, including myself, left the stage for a few minutes. As I walked to the back of the stage I looked over at the monitor mixing board and saw David Bowie and Iggy Pop standing there.
Wow! I couldn't believe it!
So I walked over to David Bowie, shook his hand and said, "I love what you've done, thank you for all the music". And he said, "Great, how would you like to be in my band?" I motioned back towards Frank and said, "Well, I'm kind of playing with that guy." David laughed and said, "Yes, I know, but when Frank's tour ends my tour starts two weeks later. Shall we talk about it over dinner?"
David said he would meet me back at our hotel and sure enough when I arrived back at the hotel David Bowie and his assistant Coco Schwab were sitting on a couch in the lobby. As I walked past them they whispered to me, "Get into the elevator, go up to your room, come back down in a few minutes, and meet us outside. we have a car waiting."
It was like something out of a spy film.
When I came back down and went outside there was a black limousine waiting. The driver opened the door and I got in the back with David and Coco. David immediately launched into all this plans for his upcoming tour, the songs we would play, the staging, and so on, and how much he loved my guitar playing! It was so exciting! He said they were taking me to one of his favorite restaurants in Berlin.
How many restaurants are there in Berlin? 25,000?
We arrived at the restaurant, went in the front door, and who should be sitting at the very first table but Frank Zappa and the rest of the band! So the three of us sat down with Frank and the band. David, trying to be cordial, motioned to me and said, "Quite a guitar player you have here Frank."
And Frank said, "F••• you Captain Tom."
(note: Frank had demoted David from Major Tom to Captain Tom.)
David persisted, "Oh come on now Frank, surely we can be gentleman about this?"
Frank said, "F••• you Captain Tom."
By this point I was paralyzed. David said, "So you really have nothing to say?" Frank said. "F••• you Captain Tom."
David and Coco and I got up and went back out the front door. Getting in the limo David said in his wonderfully British way, "I thought that went rather nicely!"
Now it was official: I was being offered a 4-month tour with David Bowie. (In reality it turned into more than a year).
Later that day we were on a bus to an airport. I decided to break the ice. I walked to the very last row in the bus where Frank was sitting. I told him about David's offer. I reminded him of his plan to edit his film and pay me a retainer and asked him if it didn't make more sense for me to join David's tour for 4 months instead. I told him I would gladly return after the tour. Frank reached out and we shook hands.
That evening, February 26th, we played a concert in Brussels, Belgium. One of Frank's songs we did was "Yo' Mama". But for that show Frank substituted the words "Your David".
Two nights later the tour ended in London at the Hammersmith Odeon. There was an onstage occurrence which angered Frank. Fortunately I had nothing to do with it. Frank cut the show short and stormed off. The next day most of the band members flew back to L.A. where they all lived. I was told later that Frank fired the band on that flight home.
I got on a plane to Dallas for two weeks rehearsal with David Bowie.
I used to sit and watch [FZ] write it in airports or other places where he had some time to kill. He would pull out one of his manuscripts from a briefcase and sit there putting dots of pen on paper.
We went to Cal Arts together—I got him his job with Frank—and we lived within 5 blocks of each other in LA.
My job was really as a music copyist, more than a transcriber. I got it through a friend, David Ocker, who I'd gone to music school with. I had recently graduated and was looking for work and heard that David had been doing some copy work for Zappa. So I went to him and asked if he thought Frank might need another copyist, and much to David's credit, he said, "I don't know, I'll find out." Frank left word to call him, and the first thing he hired me for was a job that lasted two weeks as a transcriber. He gave me some guitar pieces to transcribe. I finished them, and that was it, for then. Several months later David Ocker told me to call Frank because he might need somebody again. I called him and I was hired on, full time.
[...] In copying orchestral scores for Frank, we would start with a blank page. So we'd draw staff lines, clefs . . . everything.
It was the Spring of 1978. I was living in a one-room, flea-infested apartment on the beach in Venice, California. I'd graduated from music school almost a year earlier and was playing guitar and flute for a theater company in Los Angeles.
When the phone rang, it was my friend David Ocker on the other line. He said, "Frank wants you to call him." The Frank being referred to was Frank Zappa. And life changed. [...] My friend David, a fellow musician and composer, had been hired recently by Zappa as a music copyist. I asked David if Frank might need another copyist on his staff, and David agreed to ask him. A couple of weeks later came his message to call Frank.
The deep voice on the other line was instantly recognizable. "Hello," he said, and I introduced myself. He asked, "Can you come over at four o'clock?" and I said, "Sure." Frank was a man who spoke succinctly. He gave me directions to his house, which was nestled in the winding hills of Laurel Canyon, and said, "Bye."
So I drove to his house. (I discovered later that Ringo Starr lived on the same street.) Frank shook my hand and showed me around his basement studio. We chatted for a while, and he asked if I was capable of transcribing some pieces he'd written. "Transcribing" entailed listening to the music on a cassette tape, figuring out what the musicians were playing, and then writing down all the notes and rhythms. Since I also composed music and had been a musician for many years, I didn't think this would be too difficult, so I said, "Sure!" (I thought "Sure" was a good thing to say around him.) Frank then officially hired me to transcribe these pieces, offering me a weekly salary higher than what the theater company paid. I didn't know how long the job would last, but I was thrilled to have this opportunity fall in my lap. I worked at home for the next two weeks and brought the transcriptions back for Frank to see. He liked what I brought him but had no other work for me at that point. A couple of months later, however, I got word to call him again, and this time, he hired me as a full-time music copyist. The job lasted almost five years.
Q: Is it true that Bowie and Eno approached you at a concert?
AB: Not entirely true. It was David Bowie and Iggy Pop, but Brian Eno was the one who instigated it. Eno had seen the Zappa show in Cologne, called Bowie and said, "I think this is a guitar player you should use on your next tour." Then David came with Iggy Pop in tow to the Berlin show and that's where I first met David.
Q: What was Frank's reaction when you wanted to leave?
AB: He didn't like it (laughs). I think Frank didn't care much for David Bowie personally, and then secondly I don't think he liked the idea that I was leaving so soon. But he shook my hand and said, "Good luck and I hope it works out for you." He ended up firing the whole band at the end of the London shows and was very upset about it. It had nothing to do with me, and since I had already in a sense removed myself from the picture, I didn't feel too responsible, but I did go and see him that last night of the tour after the show, and he said, "Good luck." The firing of the band had something to do with some incidents that happened on tour, where people had gotten into trouble with drugs. Not me. I was drug free (laughs).
I had a year long agreement and I intended to stay much longer than that if he would have me. But what happened, we started touring in Europe and . . . see it's kind of a long story but the little known part of it is that when we first started in Europe, several people in the band, not myself but several other people were busted which is a cardinal sin in Franks band. I didn't do drugs so I wasn't a part of it but it made for quite a horrible scene and it led everyone to believe that at the end of the tour he was simply going to fire the whole band which in fact is what he did.
[...] So what happened though, in the meantime, we played in Germany and Brian Eno heard me play in Cologne, called David Bowie who was in need of a guitar player for his upcoming tour. David came to the Frank Zappa show. I saw him on the side of the stage during a break in the show where I usually left the stage and I went up to talk to him and he asked me to join his band. haha . . .
So what followed after that was before the tour was even over I had a decision to make to either continue with Frank or to go move forward with David. And the real thing that made my decision for me was Frank told me that when he finished the tour he was going to spend four months back in his house. He was going to rent a film editor and he was going to edit the movie "Baby Snakes" and it would take him four months. And that during that four months I would be on a retainer. In other words I wouldn't be doing anything. And so, Davids original offer to me to tour, in fact, for four months. So it made sense and I went back to Frank and told him and he said, "Yeah, that makes sense to me too. You know, I think you should go ahead and do that."
I expected to come back into Franks band but things changed on both ends; the Bowie tour went more, much more than four months and Frank took much less time editing Baby Snakes and started another band. hahaha . . .
[...] David did not have any problem with Frank but when the two of them met together . . . and it was obvious David was trying to steal me from Frank. Frank was a little bit mean to David, hahaha He kept on calling him Captain Tom, hahaha So, um, I don't think David had anything against him. I doubt that Frank had anything against David either, he just didn't know his music very well. And it's true for David too, he didn't know Franks music.
During our tour in Germany, Brian Eno came to a show in Cologne and called David Bowie and said, "Hey, I just heard this guitar player with Frank Zappa. You've got to hear him, this is the guy." Then David came to the show in Berlin and offered me a job there. It worked out that Frank's tour was ending, and two weeks later the David tour was resuming. So I just jumped from one band right into the next.
STEVE: Isn't that true? He told me the story about when you guys were in Germany and David Bowie came to the show. You went back to your amp to do a guitar solo and Bowie says, "Hey, come on and join my band." Then you went out and did the solo, came back and said, "Okay." Is that right?
ADRIAN: It was kind of like that. There was a segment of the show where Frank did an extended solo and I think Patrick O'Hearn (bass) and Terry Bozzio accompanied him and the rest of the band could leave. I looked off the side of the stage and there was David Bowie and Iggy Pop. I walked over and said, "Hey, David, I've always appreciated your music." And he said, "How would you like to join my band?" I said, "I'm in a band right now with this guy over here," and pointed to Frank. It worked out later that Frank was sort of finished with his thing and it was time for me to go and do something else. That band broke up at the end of that tour but I don't think I created the breakup.
STEVE: Can I tell you what Frank did when I was in the band? You know (keyboardist Tommy) Mars.
ADRIAN: I love him.
STEVE: Scott Thunes was the bass player when we toured Europe and we played the same hall that David Bowie had come to in Germany and met you. We received this note after the show and it said, "Dear Scott and Steve: I really like the way you guys play and I'd really be interested if you want to join my band and stop playing this comedy music." It was a really long note and it was signed "David Bowie." It was something that Mars and Frank put together! It had phone numbers and fax numbers—I thought it was real.
ADRIAN: That's hilarious.
STEVE: I'm like, "Wow! I've got to call this guy and tell him no way—I'm in the middle of a tour here." It was Frank fooling around with our heads.
ADRIAN: I remember one night we were playing the song "Maybe You Should Stay with your Mama." Frank changed the words to "I think maybe you should stay with your David." Apart from that he never gave me any grief about it. He wished me well and it was very generous of him. I often have felt like it was an opportunist move on my part and I wish I hadn't done it, but those things happen. I was young and stupid.
[FZ] told me that he fired Bozzio and O'Hearn because they were taking too many liberties with his arrangements instead of playing the parts he had given them. Then he hires Vinnie who was allowed, even encouraged, to pretty much play whatever he wanted to play.
I auditioned with Group 87 to get a deal with CBS the day that we started to resume rehearsals again after a break in Spring of 78. And I went in, I'd cut my hair, I was wearing different clothes, I'd just played this audition and been offered a deal with a record company. We started to rehearse, me and Pat, and Frank could tell I wasn't really into it. So he called me into his 'office', as he would say, we stepped behind the stage and he said, "I think its time you go off and do your own thing."
He was in the group 3 years and then he decided he wanted to be a Rock'n'Roll Star, in capital letters. He joined UK a year and a half ago. When Eddie Jobson and Terry Bozzio were both in my group they were the best of friends. In UK Eddie was the boss, and as well as that he had two Englishmen and an American who were his slaves. Terry couldn't stand it. He left.
My audition was on Wednesday, June 15, 1978, at 4:00 p.m. at soundstage 16 on the old MGM lot in Culver City at 9339 Washington Blvd. A soundstage is a very large room with a high ceiling that is used for indoor filming. It was perfect for rehearsing a band like Zappa's because he could set up the full P.A. and light rigs just as they would be in a real live show.
[Electronic Music Laboratories] had a small business of professionals that would use [the Electrocomp], but it was mostly for education. And that's how Arthur found out about it, and it was so funny when Arthur got in the band and he found out that I played the Electrocomp, he was so elated because he actually had one! And I couldn't believe that he actually had one. [...] That was a big bond for us when he got hired.
[Vinnie Colaiuta] went down to audition. Frank was auditioning many drummers, and he played the "Black Page" for Frank. Frank thought maybe he was just lucky, so he gave him a piece of music to play entitled "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation."
Vinnie finally made the decision to move to Los Angeles permanently in January, 1978. A few months of rough times followed until April, 1978, while doing a gig with Tom Fowler. Fowler mentioned that Frank Zappa was looking for a rhythm section.
VC: I had always been a big fan of Zappa's and had every record. In fact, I had just bought Live in New York and loved it. It was funny and it was musically great. The irony is that I called the office and bugged the hell out of them, asking if I could bring a tape by. They said, "No tapes", but I dropped one by anyway. I'd go there every day until one day they called and said "Alright, Mr. Zappa will listen to you Wednesday night." My heart dropped and I literally sank to the floor. I was so happy, not just at the prospect of a gig, but because it was him!
RF: What was the audition like?
VC: I just went in there with the attitude that I was going to shoot my shot and not going to get real uptight because it Zappa. I would just go for it. This was it and I was going to put it all forward. I went there and was watching these people audition. The average time they lasted was like fifteen seconds.
RF: Why do you think they weren't cutting it? What was lacking?
VC: It seemed as though they just couldn't go through with what Frank wanted out of a musician. Frank would put this music in front of you that was ridiculously difficult, like equally on par with 20th-century compositional kind of stuff, and rhythmically it was incredible. These guys would sit there and they could play grooves but they couldn't read or vice versa. He looks for a special combination of elements in a person and I guess they weren't there. I auditioned on Bozzio's drums. I had never played on two bass drums, but I said, "Screw it—I'm going for it!" He put this thing in front of me, "Pedro's Dowry," and it was the melodic part that I had to sight read in unison with the marimba. So I sight read a little bit of that. I just had to concentrate on it completely, and to my surprise, I didn't make any mistakes. He was about to give me "The Black Page." I had tried my hand at transcribing it, so I had it memorized and before he gave me the music, I started playing it. I got about two-thirds through it and I guess he had heard enough because he said, "Okay, yes, you can read." Then he started playing this thing in 21/16 and he wanted me to play along. I grasped it; it was all subdivided in threes and twos. Then he told me to take a solo, so I played on it. Then he came back in and played and said, "Okay, that's enough of that." He started throwing tune after tune and we went through about four tunes. The whole thing lasted about fifteen minutes, which was like a record. Then he pulled me aside and asked me when I could start. I turned white and said, "Anytime." And that was it. That bailed me out of my whole living and financial situation.
I went to school in St. Louis and it was a jazz hub and my mom was a jazz singer so I grew up with a musical background. [FZ] came to do a concert at Washington University [October 2, 1977] and I was on the student concert crew. I met him and we hit it off and he invited me out to LA for an audition.
[...] He wanted a new lead vocalist because he didn't want to do it anymore himself.
I was in my dorm room in summer school . . . the last two weeks of summer school . . . he called me in my dorm room and said "Hey it's me. I'm back. I'm keeping my word. I told you that I'd like to fly you here to audition for the band." [...] He was in LA and I was still in St. Louis. He just got back . . . he gave me a call. I said "Ok sure Frank. If that's really who you are." (hahaha) This is like 8 months later. I really hadn't expected him to call me back, but he did. He flew me out the next week and essentially I made it. That's where I met Vinny Colaiuta, Artie Barrow, Peter Wolf, Tommy Mars . . . all those guys. I ended up passing the audition and I was with him from that point until he died in 93.
[...] He said basically, "Here's your ticket." He called me on a Tuesday and called me back the next Friday and said "Ok I got your ticket for Tuesday afternoon and I'll see you then. Can't wait to see you." So basically I flew into LA and we were rehearsing at the old Desilu studios from the old I Love Lucy show. I walk in . . . everything was all set up. It was Denny, Tommy, Ed, Peter Wolf. Frank was looking for drummers, vocalists, keyboard players and guitar players. We had to replace Adrian Belew, Terry Bozzio and Patrick O'hearn on bass. Essentially, he had everything all set up for me. He had a mic and a mic stand, an amp . . . and plug in your guitar . . . give me a hand with these other people that are auditioning too. I looked over to the side of the room and there was a whole long line of people waiting to audition. He gave me a big bear hug and said "Glad you made it. Help me with these guys here. I'll get to you later. Let's get to work." I was there and I pretty much didn't leave. That was on a Tuesday and on Thursday he gave me 20 seconds on my audition and goes ok let's get back to work. On Friday, he hired me and Vinny and Artie Barrow.
Ike Willis was a roadie at a college date in St. Louis; he was helping set up the equipment. He said he played the guitar and sang, so I told him I'd give him an audition. I did, and he turned out to be fantastic.
Q: Is it true Frank fired Ike in 1978 to learn to play the guitar?
E: No. There was however a period at the end of the US tour when Ike got sick and was not in the band.
Q: The band with two bassplayers?
T: Yeah. Patrick (O'Hearn) came in for Frank's solos. He was utilised just as a solo bassist.
E: And then Arthur was just playing the arrangements.
T: Ensemble parts.
E: It was funny. And they were playing in ten's and twelve's and things; it was funny, kind of cool.
My first two years in the band, I wasn't allowed to do any solos or any ad libbing, simply because I was a new member of the band. It was best for me to actually learn Frank's techniques and how his methods worked before trying to branch off and reinterpret any of his arrangements or anything like that. I thought it was a grand idea. After my first few tours, after the first couple of years with the band, then I was given more freedom to open up, and that's why you can hear us laughing back and forth, because it was more comfortable.
I'm kinda proud of the band at the moment because they know more complicated arrangements than any band I've ever had before. I've started doing rehearsals a different way too. I started last year hiring one guy in the band to run four hours of drill before I get there. I give 'em the notes. They either have it written down on paper or they've been told what their parts are. Then it's just a case of drilling and memorising it. And so I get one guy out of the band who gets to be drillmaster, he gets a double salary for doing that. Last year it was the percussionist Ed and this year it's the bass player, Arthur.
[...] But the other thing is that, invariably, everybody else in the band ends up hating them by the end of rehearsals. That's why Ed didn't want to do it this year because he wanted to be 'one of the guys'. So now Ed is giving Arthur a bad time.
[I was] appointed (not asked) to be Clonemeister for the 1978-79 band. I did a good job, but I did not enjoy having the responsibility of being a disciplinarian.
[I told] Frank that I no longer wanted to be Clonemeister after the summer of 1978 rehearsals were over.
Frank always treated the clonemeister(s) with respect. BTW—historical trivia—that name "clonemeister" comes from me and Tommy Mars.
It was a full time job. In fact we used to have to punch a time clock. It was 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, yes sir.
[...] Actually it was 4 to midnight, but it was still 8 hours. When [FZ] walked in the door . . . guitars strapped up, tuned up . . . everybody's ready to go. We had gone over the stuff that we needed to go over for that day. At that Ed Mann was our clone-meister. Basically he was the student conductor. We'd go in and work on the stuff that Frank wanted us to work on and he'd come in from the house and start cracking the whip. That's how it always worked.
On Monday, June 19th, the rehearsals began in earnest, with Vinnie, Ike and me as the brand new hires. Denny was hired too, but he was already a vet from the Bongo Fury days. Rehearsals were grueling and wonderful. We rehearsed at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 6 weeks before the tour. Rehearsals usually got started at 4 pm, although Tommy Mars was almost always there early working with his keyboard set up that he loved so much. One of the band members, Ed Mann, served as "Clonemeister," leading the rehearsal for the first half of the day until Frank arrived and took over. He would often come in and change a lot of things that he had us learn the day before, which could get very confusing.
Frank and a couple of the other cats went to Manny's (Manny's music store in New York) and he was buying some stuff, and he says "Mars, I've got the greatest instrument for you; you are absolutely going to have a heart attack". I says "What's up?" He says "I've bought you a choir!" (laughs). He says it's an instrument called a vocoder, and I'd heard the name but I'd never actually seen one before, and sure enough, they had it all set up for me at sound check. And I mean I didn't even know how to work it or learn how to use it so that it didn't feedback with ambient sound, it had its own incredibly sophisticated properties, but he actually said "You're going to use it tonight aren't you?" I said "Frank what are you talking about? I've just got it!" He said "I want you to use it tonight", so we actually used it, I think the gig was up at Stony Brook (State University of New York, Stony Brook—15th October 1978), that's the first time I ever used it.
The first tour was originally scheduled to be a U.S. tour, with the first date scheduled for Miami in mid-September. But one day in August, Frank announced that some dates had been added before the start of the regular tour at some big outdoor festivals in Europe. The first concert would be on August 26th. Consequently, there was a big push to get the show properly whipped into shape pronto!
[...] On Saturday, August 19th, 1978, at 12:30 pm, we boarded a TWA flight to London. We went there first to rehearse a few days before heading off to Germany for our first gig.
We were rehearsing in London last week and just got this idea to start trying everything I ever wrote as a reggae number. I started calling off song titles and saying, "OK, play this reggae." We got some hilarious results.
At some point we had a few days off in Munich. Frank rented the Circus Krone for more rehearsals on the days without any gigs booked. Right after we left the U.S. Frank had given me a piece of sheet music, the bass part of a composition I had not yet heard of called "Mo's Vacation." This version was a duet for bass and drums. [...] As soon as I got settled into my room in Munich, I dove into the chart full steam ahead, spending about 15 to 20 hours on it, memorizing as I went. [...]
There was a moment during the rehearsals, a food break, probably, when I had a chance to try to run through it with Vinnie. When I asked him about it, he said that he hadn't had a chance to look at it yet, but would be happy to sight read through it with me. He had a plate of sushi which he opened up and started eating while he located the drum part. He got the chart set up on his music stand, lit up a cigarette and he started reading through it. Incredibly, he was able to play it almost flawlessly the first time through! I was floored. Scarfing sushi and smoking a butt while sight reading "Mo's." I couldn't believe it.
[...] It was during that time at the Circus Krone that the German video We Don't Mess Around was recorded. What appears to be a live concert was actually a rehearsal in which Frank put on a show for the camera. [...]
After the rehearsal time in Munich was over, the rest of the European leg of the tour seemed to go very quickly. We started in Saarbrucken, Germany on September 3rd, and were back in England at Knebworth on the 9th.
Shortly before we played in Passaic on October 13th, I got a surprise visit to my hotel room from Frank and his wife, Gail. I was informed that Patrick O'Hearn would be added to the group for the remaining two weeks of the tour. Frank said he would work out some two bass arrangement ideas for some things, and that Pat would be doing the jamming parts. I was devastated, to put it mildly.
[...] I don't know for sure, but I heard that the Mean Girls in the band had been complaining to Frank about my playing. They were in touch with Pat, and influenced Frank to add Pat to the line-up. [...] Pat is a nice guy, and we got along fine.
Ike had been sent home back in October when he was spotted by Gail at the Gramercy Park Hotel bar in New York after skipping the gig in Stony Brook, saying he was too sick to perform.
See those boxes in my suitcase? That's two-thirds of the film that I've been working on. I've been having screenings of it here in Europe, trying to raise money to finish it. [...] Actually what this is, is kind of a really incredible document—it's a concert in New York at Halloween at the Palladium The concert itself was fantastic. The camera coverage of it was fantastic. And the stuff that the people were doing—it's just outside the realm of your normal idea of what a concert is about. It's a good picture. [...]
I have to do some more editing and I have all the final lab costs and the final dub. I need about another half-million dollars to finish it off. I've got nine reels cut and there's six reels in the suitcase. I've already put $400,000 of my own money in it. I just can't afford to stick any more in.
A call from Frank's office came in saying that rehearsals for an upcoming European tour would begin on December 11th at a rehearsal place in Hollywood called Mars. [...] This call was good news—it meant I was still in the band after all. I got to the first rehearsal, and, to my relief, I was the only bass player.
[...] Not only was I not fired, but because Ed did not want to continue to be the Clonemeister, Frank asked me if I would do it!
[...] This set of rehearsals ended on January 5th, 1979.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos