My agent looked into [doing concert with the Synclavier] and most people were afraid of doing it and didn't think they could sell any tickets. You see, in order to perform the music, all I would have to do is walk on stage and push the 'start' button on the control panel and the Synclavier would play itself. The question is, "Will anybody buy a ticket to see that?" And the answer is probably "No!"
I have considered performing as part of a band, which would obviously give people more to look at. But you know, I'm so involved with the Synclavier and what it can do and being able to hear my compositions played exactly, that I'm not even interested in writing or performing any other kind of music.
Throughout the late afternoon and evening the band arrived one by one and I got to stay until the late evening hours. There was Ed, Chad, Scott, Tommy, and I remember Ike arriving fairly late. It's so long ago now that my memory of it is a little fuzzy to say the least. I seem to remember Flo & Eddie being there but I can't remember for sure.
Later in the evening, Frank came over to me and said... "OK, you can go now." And that was that... The end of my day watching Franks new band rehearse. I heard from someone afterwards he wanted to have a band meeting and that Tommy was about to be fired. Whether this is true or not I don't know, but I heard about some logistical argument that it would take a five piece horn section to replace Tommy, which coincidentally, is what ended up going on tour in '88.
They were not there long. I think it was difficult for them to fit in—they were not band members (too big for that), but not the stars either (that is Frank only, and Frank was paying the bills). I think the most fun they had was on the first day—remembering old routines a capella over the mic with Frank. That was cool to behold . . . "Jewish and short," (I can say that) etc.—they were just cracking each other up—and it was always so great to see Frank laugh like that. I think right after that, it hit home for them that "you can't go back again"—and so they bailed.
AG: Mark and Howard remained friendly on and off with Frank over the years, didn't they? At one time they were gonna be on the 'Broadway' tour.
WC: So was I—Frank invited me to join him.
Q: Is it right Ray White was also rehearsing for the 1988 tour?
E: Ray White? He never . . . no, he came for two days and then he left. No-one knows why.
Q: I think Frank said something about problems with his home or something.
E: Yeah, but nobody really knows. Or maybe he knows more than I do. I don't really know, let me put it that way. He was there and then he left. It was strange. And then Ike left too. He was gone for three weeks and no-one knew where he was and then all of a sudden, he came back.
I stayed with Frank until the tour in nineteen eighty four, I was asked to do the next tour but that's another story . . .
I called 818-PUMPKIN and discovered that Frank was in rehearsals with a new band. My initial thought was "Cool. I get to see another Zappa show." But upon further reflection I realized that this would very likely be my final opportunity to work with him [...].
So the day after hearing the message on the PUMPKIN answering machine, I called back early enough to get an actual human on the phone. It happened to be Gerald Fialka (to whom I owe an EXTREMELY IMMENSE debt of gratitude). I informed him who I was, that I could sing and play keyboards and guitar, and that I didn't know if Frank was auditioning but I was highly conversant with the Zappa repertoire and would love a chance to try out. [...] Gerald thanked me for calling and said he'd pass on the information. I hung up, thinking that nothing would come of it but I was glad to have taken the initiative.
To the best of my recollection it was THE NEXT DAY when I got a call from the office, a woman (it might have been Muriel) who asked if I could come up to audition for Frank THAT NIGHT.
Here's where I did something that I would never ever do now. I TURNED DOWN the audition because [my group] Drop Control had a gig at the Moonglow that night. [...] So I asked the mystery woman if it would be possible to come up during the weekend (it was Friday when this conversation took place). She said she wasn't sure if Frank was conducting auditions during the weekend but someone would get back to me if he did. I hung up and suddenly felt really stupid about what I'd just done—there was a very real possibility that I had blown my chance; what if another guy got an audition before me and got the gig?—but tried to comfort myself with the thought that I had done right by my band. [...] Walking into the club I saw another band's equipment on stage. Huh? I asked the club owner Jim Duncan what was up. Oh, sorry, he'd meant to call me . . . he decided to hire another band for the evening.
I won't attempt to put into words how I felt then. [...]
The next day I was alone in the house staring at the phone until it rang. I said hello and was asked by a woman if I would hold for Frank Zappa. I suggested that this was a definite possibility. Frank got on a few seconds later, genially introduced himself and got to the point.
"I understand you know everything I've done." (Hmm, a slight exaggeration . . . how should I deal with this?)
"I'm familiar with all of it, yes."
"Do you have any idea how many songs that is?"
"Yeah, they're all in the other room."
"I don't believe you. Get your ass up here and prove it."
I suggested that this was a definite possibility.
Frank gave me a list of some of the tunes the band was soon to rehearse (I still have the titles scrawled in a lyric book within which I was writing a song called "Targetland" when the phone rang). He said I should come up that evening for an audition, prepared to play "What's New In Baltimore?" and "Sinister Footwear II". I can't remember why now, but I didn't have access to a car right then, and Viv wasn't around for some reason. I got in touch with Marty and made plans for him to drive me up. Then I frantically learned those two tunes—utter bears, both of them—and got them to a respectable level of playability ("Sinister" I'd messed about with a few years earlier and promptly forgot, "Baltimore" I'd never played before).
Marty drove me up to LA and I practiced the tunes, and every other FZ song I could think of, in the back seat. I remember sweating over a couple of notes in "Little House I Used To Live In"—Marty noticed my building panic and said I was as prepared as I was going to be, and Frank would either realize it or not. Lurching into a frenzy at this point wasn't going to help me at all. I recognized this for the sage advice it was and calmed greatly, although I kept playing. We even stopped for burgers.
We had more trouble finding the rehearsal studio than we should have and I began to worry that Frank might leave before our arrival, but this was not the case. The rehearsal space was enormous (formerly part of Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios) and occupied only by my brother and myself, Bob Rice, Bruce Fowler (just leaving) and FZ. Since I'd been playing the guitar in the back seat I didn't bother to put it in its case. Frank's first words to me were "nice case". [...] Bob Rice was playing a Synclavier sequence of "The Black Page # 1"; I plugged into Ike Willis' rig and chumped along with it. Frank was not horrified. He asked to hear the two songs he'd mentioned on the phone and I chumped through those as well [...].
Then Frank wanted to test my repertoire comprehension and started suggesting random song titles. The ones I remember now are "Cheepnis", "We're Turning Again" and "Studebacher Hoch". I presented presentable versions of each. We harmonized, vocally, on a couple of things (he liked the blend but was a little concerned about the "shaky" quality of my voice, which I assured him was pretty much unique to this event) and he made me try to sing "he could be a dog or a frog or a lesbian queen" to watch me struggle through the leaping fourths. He put a chord chart for "Yo Cats" up and I failed miserably, which he acknowledged.
He asked if I knew "G-Spot Tornado" on guitar. I didn't but I had learned "Night School", so he had Bob Rice get the Synclavier print-out of the score to read along as I played the melody. When I got done one of the famous eyebrows rose heavenward. "There was only wrong note". I started feeling really good around this time.
Then he set out the music for "Strictly Genteel" on top of a DX-7 and asked me to play the piano part. I couldn't sight read worth a damn, still can't, so I squinted at the page and played it by ear. Now I've heard interviews where Frank says he's gotten incensed at auditioners who pretended to read, but I must have done a reasonable job because even when I copped to doing exactly that, Frank was visibly amused rather than offended. And at this point he shook my hand and said I was a remarkable musician, and that I'd best return for the rehearsal on Monday so "the rest of the band can witness your particular splendor".
Marty and I did a lot of screaming in the car on the way home.
[...] The following Monday marked the beginning of my audition period with the full band. When my brother and I arrived at the rehearsal hall I was instructed (I don't recall by whom) to set up my gear on the upstage riser, in the same portion of the stage the horn section would soon occupy. At this point the horn guys might have been hired, but if so they didn't start attending rehearsals until a while later. And when they did, they were originally positioned on the floor in front of the riser, in the position that I would eventually occupy. One day I came in to rehearse and found that the positions had been switched, the horns were now behind me. But I get ahead of myself now, as I always do. On my first day of rehearsal/audition the band consisted of Chad, Scott, Ed, Robert, Frank and, tentatively, myself. Ray White had just done a disappearing act and there was not yet anyone to fill the lead vocalist chair—Ike made a social appearance on that first day but I don't recall him singing; there was about a week of vocalist auditions before Ike officially joined (thank God—the other guys who auditioned were a shockingly motley lot. I remember being stunned that a person of Frank's position in the industry was giving any of these guys a shot—but then he was doing just that for me, wasn't he?).
Back yet again to my first day. I was busily setting up my little amplifier and little effects (borrowed from Marty—a Roland Jazz Chorus amp and a couple of blue rackmount effects units—none of which I had any idea how to work. I was a keyboard player y'understand) in my little station next to a Yamaha DX-5 synthesizer (Frank's synth, and the one I would come to use on the tour—I especially liked a combo patch which had a very chiffy tuned percussion sound stacked with a French Horn—most readily audible on the fast written sections of "Inca Roads" on "Best Band"). I introduced myself to Chad, Bobby and Ed, all of whom received me with politeness.
Then came a tall, head-shaven, impolite force of nature skateboarding into and all around the enormous facility. This combination punk-rocker/Marine drill sergeant on wheels was, of course, Thunes.
He skated up to my feet (he was on the floor, I on the riser, y'understand) and I immediately proffered my hand. "Hello, my name's Mike Keneally, I enjoy your playing a great deal and I'm pleased to meet you".
"Thank you what are you DOING here?"
"I'm auditioning to play in the band".
"OH GOD". He skateboarded away and left me to my shiftless tinkering. Instantly he returned.
"Can you play 'T'Mershi Duween'?"
The song had yet to be released officially, though I was exceedingly familiar with it through bootlegs. I'd never played it, and as this was my first day I didn't want to misrepresent my knowledge of the repertoire, so I told him I didn't know it. He snuffed, huffed and skated away.
I began to gingerly piece the "Duween" melody together on the guitar. I was playing unamplified, and Thunes was about a football field and a half away, but somehow he heard my unplugged electric over the sound of his racing wheels.
"YOU KNOW IT!" he shrieked and skated back. He began barking string/fret positions at me and after a minute I was playing the melody to his satisfaction . . . at least he appeared satisfied because he didn't say anything to wound me, he just skated away once again.
Frank wasn't there yet (he rarely was for the first several hours of each rehearsal—which were five-day-a-week, eight-hours-a-day affairs). Scott, in his appointed role of clonemeister, ran the early part of the rehearsal, and called "Alien Orifice". This is the moment when I learned that picking up FZ tunes off of an album is no substitute for seeing the stuff on paper, especially when it comes to odd groupings, because when I played what I believed to be the weird section after the guitar solo, the other gentlemen of the group found my efforts to be greatly amusing. After my attempt at playing the main "Alien" melody in Tommy-style block chords limped to a miserable death, Scott padded over to me from his position of authority, seemed to grow several inches and glowered: "That was BAD MUSIC". Other tunes were called and I struggled through, not nearly as ragingly as I'd hoped, but evidently some sort of impression of my knowledge was being formed—Robert Martin asked me during a break how come I knew Frank's material so well. This was the first semi-encouraging sign of acceptance from the other band members. Making a good impression on Frank was apparently a breeze compared to these guys.
As night commenced, Frank arrived and took over the rehearsal; the lighting got very moody and the situation very dreamlike. Frank started a Synclavier sequence of "Mo 'n' Herb's Vacation" and Scott ran like a motherfucker to find the printed bass part, spread it out on the riser and began to play along with it. For many minutes this went on and no one spoke a word. I watched Scott negotiate that fucking piece, my every sinew suffused with awe. This guy was a dead-on motherfucker and I was NOWHERE near his league. Frank called "Filthy Habits" and I chumped the fives—Frank sang the subdivisions to me and it took me embarrassingly long to nail it. He said something like "why is that so hard for you to play?" Fuck. Yet somehow he was not offended by my presence and at one point Frank, Scott, Chad and I played a quartet version of "Sleep Dirt" which had my brother swooning.
[...] I didn't get the big yay or nay after the first night. [...] The fourth day of my audition/rehearsal period, Frank calls me over to say that Ray White's whereabouts are still a mystery, and I seem to be doing an OK job in the vocal/guitar slot (plus keyboards as kind of a bonus skill), so it would appear I'm in the band. But if Ray returns, I'm the fuck outta there. He extended his hand and I had no choice but to accept the gig on these shaky terms. Even to get that much, though, was a mind-blowing triumph. The rest of the band congratulated me enthusiastically, none more so than Scott, who had not stopped giving me shit for four days solid. Thank, well, Gail, that about a week later Frank came into the rehearsal and announced that he'd been talking over the Ray situation with Gail and they decided that if Ray was irresponsible enough to disappear without warning and then not contact them afterwards, that he would not be welcomed back into the band even if he were to return. Although he didn't then turn to me at that point and say, "Your position in the band is now secure", I felt that it was safe to take it that way. And it was.
Rehearsals continued, the horn guys arrived, Ike was installed permanently. The twelve piece band was now intact. I had, of course, the time of my life. Many tunes were rehearsed which did not make their way into the live repertoire. Many hours were spent on a weird, mechanical Devo-sounding arrangement of "I Come From Nowhere". I sang lead on a medley of "She Painted Up Her Face", "Half A Dozen Provocative Squats" and "Shove It Right In" which we rehearsed constantly, then stopped rehearsing suddenly. We rehearsed "Jezebel Boy" a trillion times, getting into the energy the neighborhood supplied, then played it ONCE during the tour (and didn't play it at all well—it's the version you hear on BTHW). One day I spent about twelve hours in Chris' apartment learning "Moggio"—when I was done I felt like I'd been skiing for a week solid. When Frank called the tune in rehearsal, most of the guys in the band hadn't worked on it and it didn't sound very promising, so he said "Omit that". The song was stricken from the repertoire that quickly. Scott saw my jaw hit the floor and said "That's what you call The Clamp". And no impassioned defense on the song's behalf could loosen it. (It was I who insisted on playing "Moggio" at the Zappa's Universe shows—I wasn't going to have learned that fucker for no reason.)
We messed around with "Night School" and "G-Spot Tornado". All the new songs which would become "Broadway The Hard Way" were pieced together without charts, Frank would bring in a printout of the song's lyrics and conjure up musical settings on the spot, dictating parts to the band as he went. [...]
And so rehearsals came to an end. And it was time to hit the road.
Q: Did you do any work with FZ in the studio? If so, is any of that going to be released?
A: Unfortunately not.
So anyway, [FZ and me] kept in contact throughout the years until '88. I mean we had meetings and he'd send me literature, this and that saying "I'm thinking about doing these pieces," which I'd always take them and learn the pieces, or try to learn them. Some were so hard, you know what I mean. It was like, "Wow, I think I need a rhythm section on this one." But I got them basically down and I'd try get them as good as I could without sitting there with the band. But nothing really ever happened until late '87, I mean when we started rehearsing. That's when it happened, so you know I was ready (laughs).
As far as I can work out from the available evidence, the chronology seems to have been something like this:
early pre-88 rehearsal lineup: FZ, Ike, Ray, Tommy, Robert, Ed, Scott, Chad, Flo & Eddie (Robert Martin seems not to have been present at some early rehearsals, but perhaps he was occupied somehow and expected to join later.)
—Flo & Eddie leave
—Tommy leaves, FZ begins considering using a brass section
—Ray White disappears
—Mike Keneally joins (MK has said it wasn't certain yet when he joined that Ike was to be in the band, which Ike disputes. Ike does seem to have been present at the rehearsal with Flo & Eddie circulating on tape, and F&E have also mentioned Ike being there.)
—brass section joins
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos