I was born with short hair, so what's the difference? The only thing that makes me feel different about a haircut is that you never know how it's going to turn out, when they chop it off. It was pretty much spontaneous. First of all, at that time, I thought I was not going to tour this year. So I didn't have to dress up like Frank Zappa. So I cut my hair.
When we [The Missing Persons] had finished our little demo cassette, pre-studio, I get a call from Frank saying we're gonna be going on tour. So, I met up with him and brought this cassette and I played him the tape and told him I really wanted to do this and that I couldn't go on tour with him. It was such a hard thing for me to do, because I was the biggest Zappa fan, but these songs meant so much to me that I couldn't turn away from them. Frank helped us immensely. He let us use his studio to record and he'd never even recorded in it!
It was the hardest decision of my life. But there were always so many band changes and it got so I wanted a more permanent situation. I had been hanging out with Terry and Dale and we'd made about 10 songs together. We thought we had something special and Frank liked it. Then he called up to say he was gearing up for the road again and I said 'I think we're gonna do this band thing. He wished us all the luck in the world. So, with his blessings, we did it.
PE: Was there ever a point when you thought about ditching the Missing Persons idea?
WC: It was only at the very beginning when Frank called me and said "I am ready to go out on the road, I want you in the band." I said, "I'm going to come over tomorrow night, and I will talk about it." I went up there with a tape, and I explained to him what I had been doing, and he really liked it, and he couldn't believe that Dale could sing in time, because he was the one that discovered Dale, and put her on . . . you know she sang, the first words she'd ever sang was (sings) "Warren Cuccurullo" on "Catholic Girls." He just loved the sound of her voice. So, he couldn't' believe that she was singing, and he liked the stuff, but let me tell you, he said, it's not easy, and he took out a record, and it was a Devo album, and he said "you see these guys, they were the hottest thing last year, 2 years ago, and now nobody even wants to know about them," and um, it was true, you know how it is. It's very trendy and of the moment, and I have to say he was right, but he said if you want to do it, I wish you all the luck in the world, you've got my blessings, and if there is anything I can do to help just let me know. And I said, "yeah, Frank, I really do want to do it," and that was it. I made the decision at that point. I could have had another world tour under my belt, you know, to go out with Frank again, I would have learned a lot more, but I think I did the right thing. I don't regret not staying with him at that point, even though now that he is dead, I wish I had some more great times with him, but you know I had other great times with him even though I wasn't in the band.
The story is this. As we all know Vinnie was in the band when he discovered that he could remain in town and make twice as much as touring with Zappa. I remember Arthur coming over one night after rehearsal and playing me some of the stuff with a new drummer Sinclair Lott, which seemed obvious to me at the time that this guy would never make it as FZ's drummer and I mentioned this to Arthur. Less than a week later David Logeman had been hired. That's all I know.
The auditions took place under some duress because Frank was pressed for time to find a new drummer and start rehearsing ASAP for an upcoming tour. I heard about the auditions and decided to go down.
It was essentially a "cattle call" that lasted four or five days that every drummer in Los Angeles showed up at, and many more flew to LA for. Everyone played the same kit. I heard a lot of guys that lasted less that 30 seconds. Frank would stop the band if he wasn't hearing what he wanted, thank the guy, and move on to the next drummer.
When I got up there he quickly told me the rhythmic subdivision of the tune, which as I recall was odd groupings of 2's and 3's. I don't remember exactly, but it wasn't in 4/4.
After we finished the first tune, he counted off another. When we finished that, he gave me a copy of the Black Page and asked me if I could sight read it. I said, "Sure, no problem," which was complete BS. I'd never heard it, and had no intentions of sounding like crap while hacking my way through a piece like that.
Anyway, he told me to hang around and later asked me if I could start rehearsals in a few days. We rehearsed all the material that came out on "You Are What You Is" and then Frank called and said he had someone else that would do the gig.
It was a bit of a blow but within three weeks I was touring Europe and recording with Freddie Hubbard's quintet.
In January of 1980, I had the chance of a lifetime when Frank Zappa was holding open auditions for Vinnie Colaiuta's replacement. [...]
I'd met Vinnie when he played one night at the Baked Potato, where we struck up a conversation. [...] We stayed in touch, and one day, he let me know he was leaving the band and asked if I was interested in getting an audition. I was 20, had been playing odd meters for about five years, knew a little about polyrhythms from the Gary Chaffee books, but was not a killer reader by any means.
Still, the opportunity for the experience begged that I give it a leap. I spent probably two weeks listening to every Zappa album I could get my hands on, embarking on a crash course in extremely advanced drumming. I don't think I left the house during that time, because I did NOT want to miss the call to go audition.
It came on a grey and dreary afternoon. Los Angeles had been pummeled with rain, and the sun was nowhere to be found. I drove over to a North Hollywood rehearsal studio, took a deep breath, and went inside. I introduced myself to the guy at the desk, and a few minutes later, he ushered me into the actual studio . . .
The band was rehearing a version of "A Love Supreme," only it was "A Mouth Supreme" or something like that . . . funny as hell. A duplicate of Terry Bozzio's double bass kit was set-up, and in front it stood The Man himself.
Zappa welcomed me and described what he wanted to play. I asked if he minded if I jotted the directions down, and he had no objection. Arthur Barrow was playing bass, and he was also Zappa's musical director. When Zappa was away, Arthur led the band's rehearsals. I was in some pretty heavy company and was trying to remember to breathe . . .
The song was in 13/8, subdivided 4/4 + 3/8, (four measures) with a measure of 12/8 afterwards. I really wasn't sure what to play, but I knew I'd better listen to everything Arthur did, because he was holding down the fort.
We started, and it was absolutely surreal. [...] Arthur told me just keep time, and that's what I did. We played that 13/8 deal for a few minutes, then played some variations on the 12/8 measure with a 7/8 turn-around . . . I was able to make sense of it, but when it came to playing reggae in 13/8, I was toast. I couldn't conceptualize it, and while it was frustrating to not continue, I had no complaints.
Zappa shook my hand and thanked me for coming in. He looked you right in the eye, and there was a value in that moment I have cherished for years.
That day taught me that ANYTHING is possible, and I mean MILES beyond what you might think. Not too long ago, I sold a cymbal to the drummer who eventually got the job. We talked about the audition, and I learned that he'd attended Cal Arts, where he learned a great deal about advanced drumming, polyrhythms, etc.
Entonces me llamó Iggy Pop porque unos amigos le contaron de mi y extrañamente la misma semana también me llamó Frank Zappa. Yo tenía que decidir con quien irme, dos semanas antes una amiga me había invitado a un concierto de Iggy Pop y me pareció un gran artista. [...] Entonces decidí que tenía que tocar con él porque era muy bueno. Entonces llamó Zappa para ir a hacer una audición a los Angeles pero en ese entonces no me pareció muy interesante tocar con él ese tipo de comedia musical, me pareció que parte de su material sonaba un poco tonto, en ese entonces yo odiaba la fusión, por supuesto Zappa fue un gran artista y mucho de su material es genial. Era un hombre fuera de serie. Al final me fui de gira un año y medio con Iggy.
Then Iggy Pop called me because some friends told him about me and strangely the same week Frank Zappa also called me. I had to decide whom I was going with. Two weeks earlier one friend had invited me to an Iggy Pop concert and I thought he was a great artist. [...] I decided I had to play with him because he was so good. Then Zappa called to audition in Los Angeles, but at that time I wasn't so interested in playing with him that kind of musical comedy. I thought some of his material sounded a little silly, I hated fusion at that time. Of course Zappa was a great artist and most of his material is brilliant. He was one of a kind. Finally I went on tour with Iggy for a year and a half.
You auditioned for Frank Zappa, primarily a rock musician known for composing his songs, with charts and sheet music for each player. Did you ever listen to what a previous drummer of Frank's did with the material or did you rely on your ability to read the sheet music?
I didn't listen to previous performances because of the time factor. I was a fan of his, but by the time I played with him I'd stopped listening to him. I was reading some stuff, and wasn't that concerned with those that had previously performed it.
With written drum parts, do you ever stray from what is on the page?
My own personal philosophy is to play what is written. To me, you are dishonoring the composer (if you don't). You should always play it exactly as written first.
In your estimation, what was it that separated you from the 50 or so drummers that auditioned for Zappa for that spot?
Even though I was replacing Vinnie Coliauta, he didn't want a Vinne Coliauta-type player. The fact that I could play jazz and rock was a big deal.
How did you prepare for it?
I didn't prepare. Every time I went in it was a different scenario.
Was it as grueling an audition as it has been suggested?
Absolutely. When I first went, there was a drum set there, and they were playing in 13/8 and 11/8, but they didn't tell the drummer that. Frank would hand him the sticks and say, 'Play.' If the drummer could not find the 'one,' he would stop the band and tell the drummer to go home. I was smart enough to move to the back of the line. By the time it was my turn, I knew what they were doing.
How did playing with Zappa change your development as a drummer?
I don't know if it changed my development, but it validated it. I was always intent, from early on, to try and learn all styles, to play in authentic situations to learn those styles. I wanted to learn to read as well as possible. I wanted to be prepared for anything that would be thrown at me, and, of course, that was the ultimate. Frank Zappa is the ultimate at throwing things at a drummer.
Q: What happened in 1980 and 1984?
E: 1980 I was drumming. Those bands, he didn't want percussion in them. No actually, 1980 I was doing another project.
Ray has been in the band twice. The first time, he felt a little bit out of place because he is an extremely religious person, and our band is not. And I think that there was some religious/emotional conflict the first time that he was in the band. He was always great: He has a good attitude about working and he did a good job. But I sensed that there was a certain amount of discomfort about him being there vs. the type of material we were playing. So I let him go. And later on I said, well, why not try him again, because I had a band that I thought his personality would fit in with. So I called him up, he came down and tried out, and it clicked right away. So he's been with me for the past two or three years.
He's got a really good blues style.
He's wonderful; he just loves that kind of music.
I toured with Frank until nineteen seventy seven . . . I left the band that year, but was called back into action in the midst of finishing the Walter Hawkins gospel album with Phillip Bailey, Maurice White, and the Tower of Power horns . . . I said YES!
It should be finished by March or April. At the moment the gear is in my basement. I've got a Harrison 48-out computerised board, an Ampex 1200 24-track, I've got it slaved together with an Eko syncroniser, four ATRs and one of them has the new half-inch two-track heads and they're almost as clear as digital recording. With that kind of signal-to-noise ratio they're just incredible. When the price of digital recording comes down and the efficiency goes up, then I might get into it, but not now.
The problem for my ear is the bandwidth; it's only 16K on one system and there are problems in editing it—you can't cut the tape and I LOVE chopping up tape. You have to have two machines playing into a third, but I'm sure they'll get it together.
How long have you had a studio at your house?
Frank Zappa: About a year-and-a-half. I'd rather not talk about what I have here but in general I have a studio at my house, it's a private studio, it's not for rent to anyone else, it has a lot of top secret equipment in it, and that's that. I do all my recording here including mixing and I also have a remote 24-track truck and that stuff is processed here. I only got this a year-and-a-half ago because I had to save my money; I had to save my money just to get a facility where I could work.
Before when I came off the road and I would need to make an album and all the famous groups would have all the time booked at all the good studios in town. Fleetwood Mac would be at a place for eleven months and you couldn't get in there and somebody else would be at the Record Plant and you couldn't get time at a first class studio unless you wanted to wait around. So I said. 'I'll build my own.'
I got a tape from a kid—I think he's eighteen—named Steve Vai. He plays Stratocaster, and he's going to Berklee [College of Music in Boston]. He sent me a cassette, and it was fantastic; I mean, this kid has got incredible chops. He said he wanted to play the "Black Page Number One" [Zappa In New York] on the guitar and asked me for the music. So I sent it to him, and he sent me a cassette of two versions of it—one at metronome 58, and another one at metronome 84; I mean, if you saw it on paper you'd realize what a problem it is to do that at 58. It's a slow metronome tempo, but it's still fast when you get to the fast parts. And he got it going so fast that you could just barely discern what the melody was. That's pretty much the faster is better. But he's got an awful lot of chops, and he sent me a cassette of some original compositions that are real nice. I think he's going to turn into something.
How did you first meet up with [Steve Vai]?
He sent me a cassette. When he was 17.
And he was in a music school at the time.
I've always been an avid Frank fan, and I have all his records. Not fanatical, but for the music end of it, I really like that. Then I transcribed a song called "The Black Page," and sent it to Frank along with a tape of my playing. He liked it, and then I sent him the transcription of a song called "Black Napkins." He hired me as a transcriber, you know listening to the music and writing it down. I transcribed all the guitar solos on Joe's Garage, and a lot of the stuff on the Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar records, which is now being put in book form to be published.
Steve Vai got the job because he sent a cassette and a transcription of "The Black Page," and from hearing that, I could tell that he had a superior musical intelligence and very great guitar chops. And this showed me the possibility to write things that were even harder for that interment than what had already been used in the band. That's why he got the job.
I was going to Berkeley at the time and I was such a big fan of Frank's, I had transcribed "Black Page" and sent it to him. He was pretty blown away with it. So he sent me all these guitar solos and asked me to transcribe them. Which—if you know the way Frank plays—(is) not like a jazz player blowing over eighth notes, it's just attacking the strings with vengeance. Especially with Vinnie (Colaiuta, drummer) going off onto Venus. I actually did my best to transcribe the guitar and drum parts. It was a lot of fun because it was like an art project. It's not like a sax solo or an Allan Holdsworth or (Al) Di Meola solo. I had an opportunity to explore these twisted notational rhythms. I really got my ears together because I transcribed for four years and it came to the point where I didn't use a guitar anymore or any instrument. My relative pitch got really good. Frank started sending me all sorts of things from lead sheets to orchestra scores where he had orchestrated certain sections, like "Gregory Peccary." Other sections weren't orchestrated, they were just put together by Frank and he wanted to have the score for it.
[...] I transcribed the orchestration. I remember being amazed, sitting at airports with Frank and he would suddenly pull out some music and sit there and start writing. He did that all the time and I'd always try to get in on what he was doing and he would never let on.
[...] The thing I got most from Frank is he is a very honest guy. [...] There was one episode I remember from when I was transcribing. Fifteen years ago you had to have lead sheets for all your songs. And they paid you per bar. There was one song I was doing that could have been done in 2/4 or 4/4 and I went to Frank and said, "I can do this in 2/4 and there'll be more bars and you can get paid more." He said, "Just do the song the way it should be done—I don't need to make my money that way." That episode really stunned me. (He's) right—you don't ever need to make your money that way.
I first met Frank in 1977 after a gig at Atlanta. It was as brief as could be. I shook his hand and said hello, and that was about it. It wasn't really until about 1980 that Zappa was looking for a copy of this ten record boot that someone had released, and I had quite an extravagant collection of recordings. Steve [Vai] would borrow some of my tapes and he told Frank that I could probably get him the record. I did track it down for him. I went backstage at Rhode Island and 1980 and gave him the set, and also handed him some of my chart work. Steve was doing a lot of the transcriptions of the jams from the live shows, the spontaneous improvisations. Steve is probably the most amazing transcriber in the world. There are rhythms in this stuff that I cannot believe he could transcribe because they are so difficult and foreign to ninety-nine per cent of the musicians in the world. So he was feeding me some of these transcriptions. A lot of these polyrhythmic figures were so difficult that I developed a mathematical formula that demonstrated how these figures worked.
So I'd handed some of these charts to Frank, never expecting to hear from him. Then a few months later, I got a letter from him telling me how much he appreciated the charts. This lead to me doing some more charts for him which I guess he used to teach the band members how to play certain rhythms. He will often use some of the rhythmic figures to write things. A lot of the band members, even though they are excellent players and readers, could not understand how these rhythms worked. I remember doing some things like 'Stucco Homes' and 'Joe's Garage' and a few live things. So it wasn't really an awful lot.
I contacted Frank when he came to Wichita for his concert. Earlier that week I had been recognised by the board of the Wichita Jazz Festival as the New Aspiring Artist in Wichita. When I asked them if I could play, they said that I had not submitted a tape according to their process. I asked them why the Joe's Garage album I had recently recorded on wasn't sufficient and that I would think that a local player who had just recorded with Zappa would be joyfully showcased, but they blew me off. I shared this with Frank, so when he introduced me to my home town audience, he stated this: "The Wichita Jazz Festival won't let Twister play, I think that stinks so we are going to feature him here with us tonight!" Typical Frank Zappa, a phenomenal artist who would go to bat for a tree trimmer who was on the correct side of an ethic!
Here I am, 20 years old and Frank tells me to learn something like 40 songs to try out with the band at rehearsals. I get there and obviously he doesn't choose to perform any of the songs that he told me to learn. He picks up the guitar and awkwardly and slowly plays a very unorthodox fingered melody line. "Play this," he says to me. So I'm like, okay, and I play it. He says, "Faster." I said, "Okay" and played it faster. He goes, "Okay, now play it in 7/8." I think for a second and say, "OK," and I play it in 7/8. He says, "Now add this note." Okay, I add the note and play it in 7. And he goes, "Now reggae, 7/8 reggae." This is a true story. I thought for a minute and said, "Okay, I got it." and I played it in 7/8 reggae. He goes, "Okay, now add this note." And he played a note on his guitar. I thought for a minute and then I looked up and said, "Um . . . that's impossible," because it was impossible to do on the guitar. It was just physically impossible for anyone to do on the instrument. And Frank says, "Well, I hear Linda Rondstadt is looking for a guitar player."
When I had gotten on the road with Frank, I was a nervous wreck. I wasn't eating right, I was sick, I was fooling around all the time. I was 19 years old and I was out there and I got no respect from anybody on the crew. I was under a lot of pressure because the music was so hard to play and I didn't want to make any mistakes. I did—it was inevitable—but the music was extremely hard and I had to keep practicing all the time. But, it was all really just nerves. I thought Frank was going to send me home. Why he didn't, I don't know.
As far as playing guitar, some people are born with inner time and some people just have to work on it. I didn't even realize what it was until I started working with Frank. He just sat and tried to punch me through this one [song] and I said, "I don't understand, Frank." I'm surprised he didn't fire me or just say, "Forget it, I'll get somebody else." But he was patient with me and explained to me what it really meant to be in time.
RF: You played double bass with Zappa?
VC: Here's what happened. When I started with Frank, for the first two tours, I had this little Gretsch set with one 20" bass drum and he loved it. But after a while, I wanted to go out and get a bigger bass drum, a 22" or something. He said, "No, I'll make it sound good." So he went out and got a lot of outboard gear and made it sound good. He just loved the idea of this little set I was playing. I sat like two inches off the ground and he kind of liked the concept of where I was coming from. I guess he wanted to get into a different approach, drumwise. Finally, on the last tour I told him I wanted to play two bass drums. He said, "No, because we'd have to leave one mic open all the time and there would be problems acoustically." But finally I convinced him and just took them on the gig. I didn't really practice on them, but when you rehearse a tour with Frank, you rehearse for like two months, eight hours a day, before you go out. So I got a chance to get used to them in rehearsals. But it took a while. We went on the road for three months or something, and by the middle of the tour, they started feeling good.
[...] It's funny, because my whole equipment scene evolved to a point with Frank where at the end of the time I was with him, I had two bass drums, I had a Synare electronic bass drum in the middle of those two drums, a real snare, a Synare snare, timbales, four Syndrums, five Synare tympani, tom-toms, Roto-toms, the two cymbals on top of one another, and one of those splash cymbals that is cut out of a hi-hat so it sounded real thick. I was starting to think of it more like all these sound varieties to the point where I'd come up with grooves that you wouldn't normally do on a hi-hat and one bass drum. Nowadays, I'm playing one bass drum, two tom-toms, two floor toms, a ride cymbal, two crash cymbals and a hi-hat.
He came for an audition at the time of Roxy and Elsewhere. He was already very good, but he couldn't learn his parts fast enough, not as fast as George Duke and the others, he was slowing us down. I said to him: go home and work, and call me when you're ready. That's what he did, and now he's in the group.
I remember one time, I think it was eighty-one, nineteen eighty-one, I had just done the album "You Are What You Is" with him, and he played in Albuquerque. I was living in Albuqureque, New Mexico at that time. And he played a gig there, it was one of the first gigs of the tour. And he asked me to sit in and sing "Harder Than Your Husband" with the band. And I did. And he said "come on backstage", before I went on. "Have a glass of wine with me". And I said, you know, at that time I wasn't drinking anymore. I had quit, I think for five or six years I didn't drink anything, no alcohol. And that was at that time. "I'm sorry, Frank, but I'm on the wagon." "OK... All right." He was cool. Most of the time, he was cool.
When I was here the last time at Halloween, I had the flu so bad, I couldn't even stand up and for 4 out of the 5 shows, I managed to get through it. I had to cancel the fifth one cause I was so weak I thought I was gonna have to go into the hospital and that was the beginning of the tour. I thought I was gonna have to cancel a bunch of dates and I had to knock off the last show.
"To Henry [Goldrich] from F. Zappa and the guys"
[Ray White, Bob Harris #2, Ike Willis, FZ, Tommy Mars, Steve Vai, Vinnie Colaiuta, Arthur Barrow]
Let's pick things up in the backseat of a limo, circa 1980, after a Harper's Bazaar shoot for Gucci. I was making out with rocker Frank Zappa before we stepped out for dinner at the fabulous Russian Tea Room in New York City.
As the two of us strutted inside the place, all eyes were on my hot white jeans, which left little to the imagination. Somewhere between the antipasto and the second bottle of vino, I looked down and noticed something clammy between my legs—something that had nothing to do with Frank. Perfect, hot, model-babe Janice had all of a sudden turned into just-got-her-period-all-over-her-Calvins Janice.
What to do?
Before Frank got a load of the problem and decided I needed a transfusion (yep, it was that bad), my brain went into overdrive. Suddenly my hand was spilling half a bottle of wine into my nether regions.
"Oh my God, Frank, you had me so hot I wasn't paying attention," I purred as $200 worth of booze soaked into my crotch. I could always get hold of another bottle of wine—but at least this way I knew I wouldn't end up as the bleeding girl on one of his anthology albums!
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos