The History And Collected Improvisations Of Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention

The History Of The Box

5 LPs Version

FZ, interviewed by Paul Eberle, Los Angeles Free Press, August, 1969

I put together a five-record set, "The Mothers, Live." And nobody believes that we can sell it. Nobody wants to put it out. [...] Ten sides, recorded live over a period of about two years. Some of the weirdest things we've ever done on stage. Not just songs, but, like, raps with the audience, and weird things like that. Most of it's stereo and pretty good quality recording, even though it wasn't done eight-track in a studio, you can really hear what's there. But I've got letters from Warner Bros, that say, "Yeah, you go ahead and do it, but we just don't think we can sell it, and we just want to go on record now . . . "

I got a very nice letter from [Mo Ostin] saying that he would in no way ever consider interfering with what I want to do artistically, but he says there's zero chance that we're going to be able to sell this, and I wanted to price the LP, so that it's maybe a couple of dollars more than Uncle Meat. So he still says, I don't think you'll be able to sell it—which gives us a big problem about representing what The Mothers do. Because we do so many different kinds of things. And I hate to go on and just do three minutes of this and three minutes of that . . . split them up by bands . . . on an album, and say, well, here's the next Mothers record. Because we're into a whole bunch of different things, and all simultaneously. And the only way you can really hear what we do is by judging—you know—like, a twenty-minute section. Like, if we can go and sit and improvise a complex piece of music—I don't mean just solos, but, like, time changes, chord changes, and all kinds of different variations, on a theme that didn't exist in the first place, how are you going to express that in three minutes on a record? You should play a twenty-minute section at a time that happened on a stage.

And if you're going to let people know that this is not just a lucky thing that happens once every eight months, you should be able to compare that twenty-minute section to another twenty-minute section that you did the following week. You know? So right now I've got to figure some way of putting out a Mothers' Album that will really show what we're into this year. Because Uncle Meat is already more than a year old.

 

12 LPs Version

Jerry Hopkins, "Mother's Day Has Finally Come," Rolling Stone, October 18, 1969

Zappa also said he had recorded material for a dozen full length LPs on the shelf in his Hollywood Hills home, records he hopes to release through a Mothers of Invention Record Club, now being planned. The albums cover the band's five-year development and were recorded on tour (in Europe as well as throughout North America) and in studios stretching from Los Angeles to New York.

[...] At the same time, Zappa has holed up in his basement workshop to concentrate on:

[...] Supervision of planning the Mothers of Invention Record Club, which he said he hoped would be announced in (get ready) Playboy magazine. "Those are the people who need to listen to us most," he explained, adding that Mo Ostin, president of Reprise, was "working on it." The titles of the 12 LPs are Before the Beginning, The Cucamonga Era, Show and Tell, What Does it All Mean, Rustic Protrusion, Several Boogie, The Merely Entertaining Mothers of Invention Record, The Heavy Business Record, Soup and Old Clothes, Hotel Dixie, The Orange County Lumber Truck and The Weasel Music

Richard Williams, "The Mothers Are Dead, But Zappa's Still Very Much Alive," Melody Maker, October 25, 1969

Frank has a typically unlikely plan to put out the 12 unissued Mothers albums he has ready for release.

"I'm negotiating with Playboy magazine to start a Mothers' Record Club. Members will be able to receive the albums either one a month for a year, or all at once.

"Why Playboy? It's got a large circulation. I couldn't do it through an underground paper, because they don't reach enough people. And it's going to cost a fortune just to press and put covers on these albums."

FZ, "What Ever Happened To The Mothers Of Invention?" Hit Parader, April, 1970

Awaiting release is a collection of 12 complete albums of Mothers' music, a retrospective exhibition of the group's most interesting work, covering a span from two years prior to the actual formation of the ensemble, through August 1969. Included in the collection is documentary material from first rehearsals, tracing the development of the group through to its most recent live performances in the U.S. and Europe, some of which have become almost legendary. To those people who cared at all about The Mothers' musical explorations (and also those who didn't care & who wish to be merely entertained), this collection will prove of great interest.

FZ interviewed by Jay Ruby (c. May 9, 1970), Jazz & Pop, August, 1970

What I wanted to do is put out a twelve-record set. Then we did a cost breakdown on doing that and in order to press 10,000 of each of the twelve records, plus coverage—it would come to about a quarter of a million dollars. Now anybody who would invest a quarter of a million dollars in any Mothers of Invention project on a record level has got to be desperate. So we just tossed that one into the garbage can.

What I've been doing is ripping up the twelve albums, which were already edited—I had them ready to go. Chopping them up and I put together a new album called Weasels Ripped My Flesh—the cover of which is right here. So Weasels Ripped My Flesh is an all-live album. Most of the music on it—I'd say 80% of it—is group improvisation not just accompaniment with solos, but where the group was conducted into a spontaneous piece of music.

Robert Oman, Beetle, July, 1973

A few years back, right after the original Mothers Of Invention broke up, it was announced that a twelve record set of previously unreleased material, ranging from the Mother's first practice sessions, to live concerts to the final recording session of that venerable band was going to be released. I asked Frank if the material was still around and if it was ever going to be released. "That's right, that material is in existence, it's all been edited and it's sitting there waiting to be released. The problem with releasing it is, if I put out two albums per year I like to have it represent what I'm doing currently. Perhaps at a point when the Mothers aren't touring, which was probably the case when that article came out, and no current material is being performed, then I'll release that."

Lowell George, interviewed by Andy Childs, ZigZag #50, March, 1975

I'm also on the 12-album set that Frank planned to release. I think I have half a side. I do a border guard routine. I'm a German border guard interviewing people as they cross the border. And I think I play one long relatively lame guitar solo, almost half a side. One of these days Frank will put that thing out—the Xmas album—that was when it was supposed to be for awhile. But nobody will take it. Nobody wants a 12-album set. It'll probably cost 30 bucks or something, and not many people will want to spend 30 bucks on a 12-album set of the history of The Mothers Of Invention. What he might do is make it a limited edition.

Miles, "Alchemy, Hagiography & Hieroglyphics VS. The Teenage American Archetypal Theme," Crawdaddy, 1970

[FZ] has a Scully 280 two-track and a TEAC A1 200U connected by a wall mounted patch-board. He also has thousands of tapes, mostly on NAB spools and labeled:

MERELY ENTERTAINING
SOUP AND OLD CLOTHES NO.1
RUSTIC PROTRUSION NO.2
THE MAD GUMMER NO.2
CUCAMONGA ERA NO.2
CRITERIA: RIGHT THERE BUNK
FINALE

And so forth.

Each one has a carefully indexed contents sheet with such entries as: 'Relaxed Raga Snork Collage with Moody Piano—very boss stereo—slightly deficient in highs. At approx 1:35 goes into up tempo section . . . . . 2.41

 

9 LPs Version

"18 Sides Of Mothers," Circular, August 23, 1971

Frank Zappa and his fellow Mothers of Invention are readying a nine volume anthology, a documentary of five years of Motherhood, for the record changers of the world. The albums, to be released on Zappa's Bizarre label, distributed by Reprise, will issue forth in three three record installments, the first of which will see light the end of this year (a Christmas package?). Plans call for the second wad of albums in mid-1972, an election year, with the wrap-up to come at year's end.

The boggling audio document includes live performances by the Mothers, rehearsals, business meetings, sounds of the road and other recorded paraphernalia accumulated during the last half decade of the Mothers' existence.

Herb Cohen, manager of the Mothers of Invention, describes the contents thusly: "Some of the music will be heard in its original state, which is quite different from the final version, and some of it will be things that were finished but never released. The dialog—well, hardly any of that has been released; most of it is substantially interesting if you're a Motherphile."

FZ, "Hey Hey Hey, Mister Snazzy Exec!" Circular #29, September 20, 1971

Maybe you know (maybe you don't know) about our plan for the release of the historic 9-disc History & Collected Improvisations of The Mothers around Christmas or after the first of the year. Maybe if you're in the promotional areas of WB/Kinney entertainment factory and heard about this unprecedented release you might have scratched your head and mumbled to your buddies at lunch ". . . I never heard of these guys and I'm supposed to promote a NINE DISC HISTORY ALBUM . . . I mean 'I HEARD OF THEM A LITTLE BIT,' but I mean I never HEARD of them . . . I mean so who else ever HEARD of them and THEY SHOULD CARE? Some group dumping NINE FUCKING ALBUMS? During the depression and everything?"

Disco Expres #143, Spain, October 15, 1971

La casa de discos de Zappa, la Bizarre, tiene el "sano" proyecto de lanzar antes de final de año NUEVE álbumes del conjunto que se pondrán a la venta en bloques de tres. En estos LP's habrá de todo: versiones de temas antiguos, nuevas canciones, diálogos de Zappa con el grupo y grabaciones de "mítines" de la industria del disco. Algo insólito y original.

Google Translate:

The Zappa record company, the Bizarre, has the "healthy" project to launch before the end of the year NINE albums of the set to be put on sale in blocks of three. In these LP's there will be everything: versions of old songs, new songs, dialogues of Zappa with the group and recordings of "rallies" of the disc industry. Something unusual and original.

Ian Pollock, "We Are The Mother People," Rainbow Theatre Programme, December, 1971

Due for release on March 1st is a nine record set entitled 'The History and Collected Improvisations of The Mothers of Invention'.

'It shows all the different groups of Mothers wherever tape exists that's of pertinent interest. I've got recordings of rehearsals, at different stages of development, candid recordings.'

FZ, interviewed by Go-Set, Australia, July 14, 1973

David [N. Pepperell]: When's the 9-album set coming out?

Zappa: When there's no more Mothers.

Ian [Meldrum]: That surely shouldn't be for a long time?

Zappa: Probably not. I don't think there's any immediate need to release that because we travel. We have the policy now to record every show we do, I have the chance to extract the best of all those shows for putting albums together and if I don't come up with a live album per season that makes any sense then all the rest of that material gets stored and reorganised to extend the boundaries of that 9-record set.

FZ, interviewed by Charles Shaar Murray, Go-Set, September 22, 1973

What's the current progress on that fabled nine-album set?

"All I can say is that there's a depression in the United States, folks. It's very difficult to imagine putting out nine discs and having anybody afford to buy 'em".

David Rensin, "A Chat With The Mother Superior," Circular #42, December 10, 1973

The lineage of the Mothers has been so long and so involved that Zappa plans to issue an album containing quad recordings of four of the various bands in concert to commemorate the MOI's 10th anniversary next year. In addition, he would like to put out his legendary yet mysterious nine-record history of the Mothers, but, as always, the project presents a number of apparently insurmountable problems.

"Next year is the time to put it out," Zappa explained, "but it would be hard to release something so gross in a depleted market at a time when they've just raised the overall retail cost per disc $1. Plus, there's no way I can afford to pay everyone entitled his fair share of royalties for his work," he chuckled. "I may be squeezed into the position of putting out a quadruple album now and waiting another 10 years for the next set."

 

3 LPs Version

FZ, interviewed by Beetle, September, 1971

Speaking of tapes, I understand that you used to carry a recorder with you.

Yeah. I used to but not any more. There just isn't any time. These tapes you mentioned are part of a three record set to be released this November. It's the history of the Mothers.

Disco Expres #221, Spain, April 27, 1973

Frank Zappa estrena nuevas Mothers of Invention. Para presentar a su grupo ha grabado un álbum con la historia de las mejores canciones de las Mothers, un disco que cuenta todas las vicisitudes del conjunto y que cuenta con una canción donde interviene el increíble bajista Jack Bruce.

La historia de The Mothers of Invention consta de tres álbumes, con sus diferentes formaciones, comparaciones de estilo y grabaciones en vivo así como diálogos con el humor que siempre ha caracterizado al grupo.

Google Translate:

Frank Zappa premieres new Mothers of Invention. To present his group has recorded an album with the history of the best songs of the Mothers, an album that tells all the vicissitudes of the set and which features a song featuring the incredible bassist Jack Bruce.

The history of The Mothers of Invention consists of three albums, with their different formations, style comparisons and live recordings as well as dialogues with the humor that has always characterized the group.

Bill Gubbins, "Conversation With Frank Zappa," Exit, May, 1974

BG: I've always followed the history of your announced but never released nine record "History of the Mothers of Invention" thing. Is that ever going to come out?

FZ: Well, as you know there is a vinyl shortage and as you know this is our tenth anniversary. I wanted to put that fuckin' thing out. And right now I'm arguing with Warners just to get a three-disc release for that as our next thing. But I don't know if they're even going to let me do that because they have a policy now that says no more double lp's.

BG: Would it be the same material that you had originally talked putting out?

FZ: There's even more now. There've been five bands since we first talked about putting that out. And every one of them's been recorded.

Since I've bought the four track machine, we've recorded every concert since Just Another Band From L.A. in quad. I've got walls of tapes that I haven't even listened to from tours.

 

4 LPs Version

FZ, interviewed by Michael Bourne, American Eye, October 23, 1974

Let me tell you a tragic story. There's a vinyl shortage, you know. I wanted to put out an anniversary album that had one disc from each of the four periods of the Mothers: quad recordings of the first group, the Mark and Howard group, the ten-piece brass group that preceeded this, a lot of stuff from the group with Jean-Luc (Ponty), plus all the recordings on this tour. I wanted to put out a four-record set or something like that. We can't do it anymore. In fact, we can't put out a double record. And we can't even put out gatefold albums because there's a cardboard shortage. Coupled with the vinyl and cardboard shortage, there's a state of economic depression. If you were gonna put out a nine-record set, as discussed, over the last X number of years, I don't think anybody could afford to buy it. Even the most avid of fans is gonna be hard-pressed. So in lieu of that, I was gonna do a tidy little summary of four discs with four or five different groups. Now I can't do it.

[...] It's possible that we may try to release that four-group thing on tape. I think that stuff has been sitting around long enough. It should come out and amuse people.

FZ, interviewed by Lon S. Cerel, The Cowl, April 30, 1975

C: What ever happened to No Commercial Potential?

Z: One of these days . . . it'll be out.

C: How did the album set come about?

Z: For instance, we recorded tonight's concert. We record all of our concerts. I have a huge amount of tapes of live concerts, and things that were left out of albums, funny stuff from studios, rehearsal recordings, things like that, I wanted to put together a special album.

 

10 LPs Version

FZ, c. 1975, quoted by Michael Gray, Mother! The Frank Zappa Story, 1996, p. 44

I still have (of course!) a tape of [The Uncle Frankie] show—and that piece of tape is to be included in the ten-album set that I've been trying to put on the market ever since 1968!

FZ, interviewed by Alan Bangs, BFBS, February 17, 1976 (transcription by Charles Ulrich)

The reason [the ten-record set is] not out right now is because I have an argument with Warner Brothers about how it applies to my contract . . . When you sign a record contract, the terms are based on the number of years versus the number of units of product. And if you give a record company a double-LP, it counts as one unit. But if you give a record company a ten-record set, I think it should count for more than one unit. And they want to have it be just one unit against my contract.

Scott, "Frank Zappa | Fort Homer Hesterly Armory 10.14.76," Tie Your Shoes Reviews, [2014]

His 12-record set is still a possibility, but Warners wants "albums that make money," with the implication clear that such a set would not be a million-seller.

FZ, interviewed by International Times, March, 1977

IT: About 3 years ago you said you were compiling a range of about 10 albums and they were soon to appear, but never did. What happened to those?

Z: They'll come out.

IT: What do they contain?

Z: They contain such things as music that was recorded before there was a Mothers, when I had the Cucamonga studio; the first recordings of Captain Beefheart, when he and I had a group called The [Soots]; tapes of the rehearsals for the Freak Out album; live concerts of the old group that were down at the Fillmore West, 1966; stuff that was left off of albums. Hot Rats was supposed to be a double LP, there's a whole disc of Hot Rat's stuff that never came out; there's plenty of studio stuff that's never been released; and there's live concerts that are kept up to date. All the concerts on this tour have been recorded.

IT: So it might come out soon?

Z: Well my contract expires with Warner in the summer, it all depends on what contract I sign.

Hugh Fielder, "Zappa," Sounds, September 9, 1978

And these [Zappa In New York and Studio Tan] are not part of the legendary ten-album set you've been working on (to be called 'A History Of The Mothers Of Invention' I think).

Absolutely not. These were designed for commercial release as a part of my record contract. [...]

So does this mean that we might yet see the 10-album set released?

Well, I've already discussed with Richard Branson [of Virgin] about releasing it here. The problem with it has always been a very simple matter of mathematics. When you make a record contract with a company you sign for a certain number of units versus a certain amount of time versus a certain amount of money in advance for the production of each album. If you deliver a single album it's the same amount of money as a double album. So what happens if you give them ten records?

You mean they may decide that counts as one?

That's exactly what Warner Brothers has done for the past eight years. Every time I've brought the subject up they say: 'we won't give you any more. That's only going to count as one'. I can't afford that. I've already invested my money in making the thing so I have to get reimbursed for doing it. So there has to be some way to adjust it.

Jeff Spurrier, "Frank Zappa: Samplin' Fool," Music & Sound Output, March, 1987

Frank Zappa is a busy, busy man. With a new record out on his own Barking Pumpkin Records label, a 10-record boxed set of live performances due this spring [...].

William Ruhlmann, "Frank Zappa: Moving On To Phase Three," Goldmine, January 27, 1989

Goldmine: Let me go ahead and get into the On Stage thing in a kind of roundabout way in that sense that anyone who's followed your career over a fair amount of time has at one time or another heard about a 10-record set or a 12-record set, with various titles; I think one of them was No Commercial Potential. There's even a little Warners promotional thing that you included in the Masters.

FZ: It got so far as test pressings. But, see, the problem was that Warner wanted a rate on the publishing and refused to pay full publishing on the thing, so I said forget it.

Goldmine: What was on that record at that time? Was it 10 records, or how many records was it?

FZ: It was 10.

Goldmine: And what was that material that was on there?

FZ: It was live recordings, basically, that were done either using a Scully two-track or a Uher two-track with a portable mixer, mostly from '68 and '69.

Goldmine: Do you still have that stuff?

Frank Zappa: Yeah.

Goldmine: And do you have any plans to include any of it with—I guess a couple of things have already turned up on the first On Stage.

FZ: Yeah. But I just think that there's so much better material since that time and there's no reason to dwell on the '68-'69 period, just in terms of listening quality.

 

Current Status

Gail Zappa, zappa.com, December 2, 2010

Thoroughly dissected and resectioned and much of it resequenced and recollected into other existing releases. Hard to know today exactly what the original material consisted of.

 

The Test Pressings

1 Of 9 Mothers (Rustic Protrusion)

Tracklist (from The Zappa Patio)
  1. Lost In a Whirlpool (2:13) [The Lost Episodes version]
  2. Do It in C ["Ronnie Sings?"] (1:35) [The Lost Episodes version]
  3. The Story of Kenny & Ronny (2:08) [also on The Lost Episodes]
  4. The Booger Freaks of America (1:22)
  5. Any Way the Wind Blows (2:26) [The Lost Episodes version]
  6. Fountain of Love (2:16) [The Lost Episodes version]
  7. Opus 5 (3:43)
  8. Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance (4:02) [The Lost Episodes version]
  1. We Are the Mothers (3:32) ["Mothers at KPFK" on Mystery Disc]
  2. This Is What We Sound Like (3:51)
  3. Right There [listed as "Variations on a Theme From 'Run Home Slow'"] (4:15) ["Skweezit Skweezit Skweezit" on Mystery Disc plus a bit of "Right There" on Stage #5]
  4. The Jelly (2:22) [last part of the CD version of "Didja Get Any Onya?" from Weasels Ripped My Flesh—plus a little extra]
  5. Igor's Boogie (6:54) [including parts of "King Kong" on Ahead of Their Time]
Anonymous Source quoted in The Zappa Patio

This was an acetate given to one of the members of the original Mothers, who allowed it to be taped (for an exorbitant fee of course—stories of this band member's money problems are legend! Know who I'm talking about now?) by the producers of the old Mud Shark bootleg label, who released it as Necessity Is . . . / Rustic Protrusion in 1979 or so. This bootleg has been copied as We Are the Mothers & This Is What We Sound Like (1985). The acetate label reads "1 Of 9 Mothers" as it was the first disc of the unreleased legit 9-LP box The History & Collected Improvisations of the Mothers of Invention which was to be sold through the Playboy Record Club (!!) in late 1969. Thus, while parts of the tape ("skweezit") come from Hartford, I'm not sure it all does. It sounds definately studio-overdubbed too. Incidentally, according to Rob, on the bootlegs, the sides are reversed. Side one of "1 Of 9 Mothers" begins with "Lost in a Whirlpool"; side two ends with "Igor's Boogie".

 

"The Artisan Acetate" (RS-6406)

Artisan RS-6406 Artisan RS-6406

Tracklist from Zappateers
  1. Wipe Out 3:04
  2. East L.A. 4:59
  3. Weasels Ripped My Flesh 4:09
  4. Kung Fu 2:16
  5. Igor's Boogie 1:28
  6. Passacaglia 3:11
  1. Copenhagen Night Music 3:00
  2. Help, I'm A Rock 3:46
  3. Chocolate Halvah 3:33
  4. Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Sexually Aroused Gas Mask 3:35
  5. The Cookie Jar Lecture 3:11
  6. It Must Be Your Breath 2:04

 

The Weasel Music

The Weasel Music

Tracklist from Zappateers
  1. Albert Hall Spoken Introduction
  2. Chamber Music Piece
  3. Mozart Ballet
  4. Some Zany MOI Bullshit
  5. Chamber Music Piece 2
TFEC (Zappateers, May 23, 2007)

A firsthand account from my source . . .

So I get a call from the widow of the great artist, Neon Park. She says, "I've been going through Marty's stuff (Neon's real name was Marty) and I have a lot of records of his. I was talking to (mutual friend) Betzy and she said you like records. Do you want them?" and, being the vinyl hound I am, I said, "You bet! I'll take 'em all sight unseen." She said, "Okay, I'll go pull the can back in from the street." She had had them all in a trash can waiting for the Sanitation Engineers to pick them up.

Now I know Neon worked for many years doing album art for Warner Brothers (best known for Zappa's WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH and his string of covers for LITTLE FEAT) and was on their mailing list for new releases. Upon going through the LPs from the trash bin I found the usual assortment of product, some good, some not to my liking.

But then . . .

In an envelope addressed to Mr. Frank Zappa at his Laurel Canyon address, I found three studio acetate test recordings: a early ELO LP, a copy of Jean-Luc Ponty's Zappa tribute LP, KING KONG, and a curious disc labeled "The Weasel Music". Suspecting that this might indeed BE SOMETHING, I cautiously played it once. It seemed to be a live recording of the Mothers goofing around on stage doing what I guessed to be a mock-ballet. While light pseudo-classical piano arpeggios play (Ian Underwood?) you can hear the shuffling of feet and various antics while the crowd respond with laughter and amusement. I would imagine that it was mostly a visual presentation as opposed to an essential Zappa musical composition.

 

Additional informant: Charles Ulrich

Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/
This page updated: 2017-11-14