Gábor Demszky, the Mayor of Budapest, met Zappa in 1991 in LA, and invited him to Budapest.
I'm interested in the region because I like the people. And after this first visit to Hungary I know I'll be coming back.
I feel very comfortable playing with gypsy people. I like this gypsy band. This was a unique experience because I had only met them last night. And the first time I tried to play with them was this morning. We played one song in the morning to practice. And then when I went on the stage tonight we played something completely different. So the first song we played tonight was like a little march for the soldiers to go home. And the second song we played was a lullaby for them to go to sleep. I thought that the audience wanted to hear it.
I'll leave tomorrow. I feel well [here]. I'm very happy.
We (Egri, Kőszegi, Szakcsi and I) formed a jazz band that was really accustomed together. We had used to play jazz in Merlin Theatre around that time, and the organizator of Zappa's concert was the same person as of the Merlin concerts. When Zappa called him, he said he didn't care about anyone from the hungarian jazz or rock scene, he was only interested in those musicians of gipsy origins who were the "product" of those weird communist decades. So that was his decision.
[...] the phone rang one day, "hey kids, Frank Zappa has just arrived, you should be at the Tabán (the quartier of Budapest where the concert took part) by 3 o'clock p.m. with your instruments". So we arrived there at 3 o'clock, a limousin came along, Frank Zappa came up to the scene, and asked us if we had some cigarettes. We said yes. So we smoked, and the guys from the city headquarter were there wondering "god, what Frank Zappa will say"? Well, Frank Zappa said to fetch two pieces of 9V batteries because those in his guitar were exhausted. Those days I think he had some 43 guitars, and he hadn't played for years at all. To Budapest he brought a very special one. He took the guitar, put in the batteries and simply started to play; and we kept listening. In jazz you always have a leader to watch out. He started to lead the session, and we followed. [...] We didn't discuss anything!
[...] You should just keep playing and the ideas come along. [...] Ideas came and went by, sometimes Frank showed us who was to play the next solo. Then something happened that was unique in music, though. We played in 3/4, then suddenly Zappa showed Imre (the drummer) "five" by his hand. It meant he wanted to change to 5/4. Normally a band should practice for two hours to be able to make this change. In this case that guy had such an aura, such a charisma, like in soccer matches, when all balls just go where they are due to, that we were just cool, kept playing, 4-3-2-1 . . . and we changed to 5/4 without having taken notice of it. Without any difficulty.
So that was the rehearsal. In the afternoon we had a short conversation, jammed a little, then he was taken away to be hauled here and there. In the evening he was back. He didn't really like all that ado with limousin, bodyguards, he even made signs to show us how he disliked it. In the afternoon he put the improvisative skills of the musicians to a test, tried if this kind of meta-communication could work; and in the evening, when he had completely different things in his mind, when all had a different feeling, and he knew he had some good musicians around him, he played a completely different thing. His charisma and his faith in music was so strong, so deep, that each of those tens of thousands of people could feel it.
[...] We couldn't really have a good chat here, 'cause all those people around him were sitting on him like birds on the wire. Everyone just wanted to be with Frank Zappa. He said he wanted to spend some time with the musicians, but he couldn't—due to protocol matters. He said that after the show we'll come together, hang around, have some chat, 'cause it's him, Prince, Sting and Pat Metheny are those four musicians who, anywhere they go, at night, right after the concert, go and visit the local clubs, to play with local musicians 'til morning. That's what he wanted to do here, too, but he was forced to give it up.
[Ray Collins has] lived in Claremont since 1991 [...]. He moved to Claremont after a modest legal settlement with Zappa over his and other founding members' contributions to the band, he says.
I can't talk about it. The lawsuit. So there is no sense in even get into it. It's not allowed to for us to say what the settlement was or how much we made or anything.
And it's really nobody's business.
Wasn't that much, let's put it that way.
The Zappa's Universe project came up in 1991, and conductor Joel Thome approached Frank to get him involved. When it came time to pick a guitar player and a singer for the project, Frank said, "Get Keneally" and there I was.
The rehearsal time that we got for Zappa's Universe was one week (5 days) in Joe's Garage, L.A. with "The Rocking Teenage Combo"—which was Scott Thunes, Mike Keneally, me and Mats [Öberg]. Then in New York, we got another 5 days with the full Orchestra of Our Time, all the guests; Persuasions, Denny Walley, Dale Bozzio a.o.
First day in Joe's Garage me and Mats got there first. [...] Scott locked his car and marched up to Mats and me. I told Mats that Scott was there, and Mats totally lightened up! (Mats is blind, in case you didn't know.) When Scott was facing us, he says: "Greetings!," and we shook hands. Mats says: "Nice to be here!" Scott reply was: "Well, I'm not sure about that, that we gonna find out later . . . It's too hot outside, I got to go inside, see you . . ." I looked at Mats with my mouth open, as we started to imagine the attitude of the next two weeks.
Mike arrived, and when they were ready to play, Mike says: "First side on You are what you is" and the next second he counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and we're off! And it sounded GREAT! We just ripped it, loud and intense. [...] After the three songs Society Pages, I'm a Beautiful Guy & Beauty Knows No Pain in segue, Scott put down his bass on the floor, threw his pick up in the air and said: "GREAT, this is good, now we won't have to rehearse this shit for the whole week, we can go down to the beach and enjoy ourselves instead!"
[The second day] we were just having a break, and I saw a car coming with Dweezil behind the wheel and . . . yes, Frank was sitting next to him. They both came in and Frank said hello, how are you etc. and continued with a big smile: "So let me see what you can do now . . ."
We went into the rehearsal room, Frank sat down on a couch, lightened a cigarette, legs crossed and said: "Can you play Marqueeson's Chicken?", wich got me confused, because that song wasn't on the list as far as I remember, but Frank wanted to hear it, so we'd better give it a try!
Next song Frank wanted to hear wasn't on the list either . . . as well as the next and next and next . . . He just wanted to see what we really knew from his repertoire. We did really fine though. Mats knows more material than anyone on the planet, believe me. Mike knows a lot too for sure, as well as Scott. So, we basically played everything he wanted. Then Frank said: "What about Tink Walks Amok? . . . lets hear it with just Mats & Morgan!" That one worked fine as well (Mats played the bassline on the keyboards). Everything went just great, lucky us!
Later the same day, when we went to Frank's house. Me and Mats sat down on a couch, Frank came in and sat down too, and said: "This was one of the nicest afternoons I had in a long time!" We were in Nirvana.
Later that night Mats completely amazed everyone even more. We went down in Frank's studio and Mats got to play the Bösendorfer grand. Frank asked Mats to play another 10 songs, amongst others Sleep Dirt (which is mosty a guitar solo!) but Mats just played it, and Frank said: "Well, I didn't know you could do that that one." He was really impressed. Then Mats overdubbed a piece on the Synclavier. Frank loaded something that sounded like Civilization Phase lll, and then he wanted Mats to improvise on top. Frank stored the improvisation in the Synclavier entitled Mats. After that Frank started to sing Evelyn as Mats backed him up on the Synclavier with a Gamelan Orchestra sound! It was so nice, and Frank was in such a good mood, as well as we of course.
At Gail Zappa's behest, the blenders roared every Friday evening about 6. In short order, Frank's staff of invaluable studio wizards and office workers became duly sloshed, and took to verbally slaying the dragons-of-the-week in tones that can be gently described as rollicking. At first, the Boss merely tolerated this; grudgingly accepting it as a necessity for non-workaholics, and continued quietly writing, oh-so-carefully listening, deftly editing, and tweezing, as he liked to say, in his pristine, ahead-of- the-state-of-the-art basement studio, the "Utility Muffin Research Kitchen" (a reference to the Zappa song, "Muffin Man," more recently amplified to "Utility Muffin Research Kitchen & Baby Milk Factory" in honor of the Iraqi "dairy factory" that was actually manufacturing bio-chemical weapons during the Gulf War.) This soon proved problematic. Running leviathan computerized keyboard systems required assistants—assistants who were not snockered—so in time, the labor fiend was forced to observe the Friday breaks.
He actually took a Margarita in hand.
The scope of such a compromise, in Frank's mind, can only be imagined. At this point—late 1991—he strongly suspected that his time might be short; he had been feverishly (literally) devoting every carbohydrate of energy he could conjure to finishing a half-dozen major projects—including the opus that he regarded as the most ambitious of his life, a sprawling 113-minute Synclavier/orchestral netherworld called "Civilization, Phaze III," composed over a period of ten years (released posthumously in 1994.) Sacrificing even a few hours of work time was not terribly desirable—but he assessed the situation with characteristic clinicism (or was he merely rationalizing?):
"Nobody else will work, so I can't get anything done."
On Friday nights everyone in the house—employees and family—collected together and drank margaritas, a tradition initiated by engineer Dave Dondorf after a particularly crisis-ridden day in the studio.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos