In about 1984, we'd gotten into a situation where we were really subsidizing Frank's manager. He owed us a lot of money, and so in order to keep the business going we were taking care of all his outstanding debts, and I was getting very agitated with that. Things weren't working in an efficient way. Frank was on the road, and the shit hit the fan.
He fired the manager, and I took over the business, and the first thing I did was fire everybody that worked for us. The lawyers, accountants—I just said, 'That's it, I don't want any help from any of those people,' and went out and found replacement parts. I took over in 1985, and it was trial by fire. It took several years to get through the outstanding nasties.
It was a few years ago that Zappa and his wife decided to cut their overhead. They had employed managers, lawyers and accountants to run his music businesses. "After we started reading the contracts, we started to get smart and figured out maybe we could do it better," Gail Zappa said. "So I fired everyone and started over."
Since 1985, she has run the business end of things. "He's the artist and puts the product together. I handle all production aspects of it, the cover art and packaging. I make all the financial decisions."
FZ answered phone calls at the Pumpkin office a couple of times in the 80s, and in 1985 I got through to him. The main question I had was about some lyrics in the "Strictly Genteel" finale (they were "bent, reamed and wasted"), but I also mentioned it was a dream of mine to work with him someday. His response: "Keep dreaming. I'm never going on the road again."
[FZ's work] these days includes projects outside rock & roll: a book of fiction, Them or Us; two potential Broadway shows, The Works and Thing-Fish; and a 60-minute video from his recent 20th anniversary tour.
I'd tried the Fairlight [C.M.I.] a few years ago and didn't like the sound of it, so I bought the Synclavier instead. I don't want to denigrate the Fairlight, because I understand they've made a lot of improvements to it since the time I heard it. And that's also not to say that the Synclavier is the ultimate computer instrument, because I've heard others capable of doing things it can't. But the main feature is its music-printing program, SCRIPT. After all those years of scoring with pen and pencil, it's a blessing to be able to write your own composition, push a button and have all the parts printed out.
The compositions themselves are loaded in by me playing things on the keyboard, and I do all the editing myself. Until recently, I used a guy named David Ocker to do all the cleanup work, such as putting in clefs and performance marks. He was like a musical secretary, typing in specific rhythms and stuff in SCRIPT language. I just hired another guy to do that job.
APRIL 12 / PRESENT TENSE
Iannis Xenakis (1922-)
"Tetras" (1983) ***
Michel Colombier (1939-)
New Work (1984) *+
Frank Zappa (1940-)
"None of the Above" (1984) *+
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
String Quartet No. 12 (1968)
* World Premiere
*** San Francisco Premiere
+ Written For Kronos
Rarely at a loss for words, Zappa prefers to let his music speak for itself, but he did have one comment for the Kronos musicians: "You asked for it."
I was in the studio when he was working on the Kronos Quartet piece. He played some of it for me on the Synclavier. The patches or samples he had set up were of string sections—big and lush. That's how he was already hearing and conceiving the piece (orchestral, as usual). I remember thinking (to myself) "Frank, what the hell are you thinking? There's only four of them. It won't sound anything like that". David Harrington told me once that Frank wanted them to record the finished piece and put it on an album along with the Synclavier version. Of course, they didn't.
[...] I also remember the exact words Frank used once, although I don't recall just what project we were discussing (and truthfully, I don't think it was the Kronos piece—more likely the lack of resources he suffered on the Orchestral Favorites album). He said "You can't do anything with a string quartet". Obviously a few other composers would disagree.
This was the ugly summer when the PMRC formed. Actually, it was before they called themselves the PMRC, but a letter was sent out to the RIAA signed by a large number of Washington wives who used their husbands' names—Mrs. James Baker, Mrs. John Danforth, Mrs. Albert Gore—as opposed to their own. Something like 11 or 12 of these women were married to prominent Congressmen.
Three former members of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention rock band have filed a $13 million lawsuit, accusing the band leader of not paying them royalties for their performances on records.
Two of Zappa's music companies, Bizarre Records Inc. and Barking Pumpkin Records, also were named as defendants in the Superior Court suit filed Thursday.
Neville Johnson, an attorney for musicians Don Preston, Jimmy Carl Black and John "Bunk" Gardner, said none of the plaintiffs has received a royalty check from Zappa since 1969.
He would not say how much money is owed the musicians.
Zappa's attorney, Owen Sloan, could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman at Barking Pumpkin Records in North Hollywood said Zappa was editing a new concert video and was unavailable.
Johnson said he is trying to locate more than 20 other musicians who were members of the Mothers of Invention from 1965-73 to have them join in the class action suit.
"These guys are real scattered," Johnson said. "They are all poor now . . . and we don't know where any of them are.
"One of them, Ray Collins, was last heard of sleeping in a cemetery."
Records featuring performances by the musicians include: "Freak Out," "We're Only In It For The Money," "Ruben and the Jets," "Lumpy Gravy," "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" and "Just Another Band from L.A."
Johnson said the band members also have not received royalties from Zappa's "200 Motels" movie.
The lawsuit claims Zappa broke three different contracts with his band members and charges breach of fiduciary duty and fraud.
It also asserts that Zappa improperly obtained rights to master recordings of his records without including the musicians as partners.
You know I'm actually flattered that you're doing this interview, because it's about time that somebody recognized the original guys in the band. Because without us, Frank Zappa would be NOTHING right now, and you can tell HIM that for me, if you want! Maybe he'll settle our little lawsuit then, if he starts thinking about it.
Well, we want to get paid for what we recorded so far in our partnership. It's been 20 years since we got any money, and I think he owes us money. All those old albums sure sold a whole bunch, and now he's got it re-released again. He's never even contacted any of us, to even let us KNOW it was being re-released. A friend of mine told ME about it! That's how I found out that the albums were being re-released. Now what kind of bullshit is that?—for the guys that helped you get where you're at. I suppose that since he didn't pay us the first time for royalties, I suppose he's going to go this time without paying us anything. He hasn't even sent me a copy of the new box set. I think I would be entitled to a copy of something that partly belongs to me, which those albums do. And Frank's going to be finding that out very shortly; that he may have acted a little out of line by doing what he did, according to certain legal documents.
Back to the Grandmothers, if the lawsuit gets going, and we can get some money from Frank, we want to get back together and do some stuff. We do a lot of fusion stuff, plus we do a lot of old Mothers stuff—stuff that Frank doesn't do anymore.
Black and the other Mothers Of Invention (Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Roy Estrada, Ian Underwood) members filed a joint suit against Zappa two years ago, claiming that he owed them $16 million in royalties from the recordings on which they appeared. The suit is still pending.
"Oh, I don't have any hard feelings about Frank. It's just business," explained Black. "In fact I'd still like to do some things with him, even have him produce the new Grandmothers album.
"I want my share of the pie. I'd like to see the lawsuit work out, probably settle it out of court. I haven't talked to Frank, though, since 1981 when the Grandmothers recorded that first LP for Rhino Records."
Q: What is your current view of Frank Zappa?
A: It is the same one I had when he decided to end our association in October of 1969 which is disappointment, sadness, and finally anger at a man who preferred to pay lawyers (what should have been our record royalties) rather than the band members. We had to wait twenty-five years to get our money. I'm not at liberty to discuss any aspects of the lawsuit!
One of my clients, Playboy Magazine, asked me to illustrate an article they were doing on the [PMRC] subject. They wanted as portrait of Frank, showing what would happen if the PMRC won. Frank was making an appearance at the "Limelight," a club in Chicago. I arranged a quick photo session. I bought a quart of milk and a package of Vanilla Wafers, brought all of my stuff down there, set up a white background and wrapped a small box with white paper. I placed the milk and cookies on the block and waited. After a while, Frank was ushered into the room, laughed at the plan, sat down and a great shoot happened.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos