The Midnight Special, January 30, 1976


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is your old friend Frank Zappa, appearing on a show that I've always felt to be [...]. However, I've been invited down here to tell you all the story of my life.

Well, it begins like that, you see. When I was young I was just a little sort of a person and I lived with these Italians. One was my mom and one was my dad. This is back in Baltimore, Maryland, a long, long time ago. We didn't have ever much money, we lived in this little cardboard house, as I recall. It was at 15 Dexter St. in Edgewood, Maryland.

My father used to work for the government. Do you remember the government? Well, he worked for the goverment in a capacity for experimentation with poison gas. Way back during World War II. Well, because we didn't have very many dollars to buy toys for the kids, I had a gas mask.

I played the drums until I was about 18, at which time I switched to the guitar. I started writing music when I was 14. My earliest composition was a piece for snare drum, gong, tune-up machine—which is a little box that puts out a constant tone of an E or a B flat, depending of what you're tuning up—, and a triangle, I think it was. This was not a popular piece.

I went on from that to something a little bit more dramatic, it was a snare drum solo. The name of that solo was "Mice," and I played this snare drum solo on a competition in my high school. It sounded like this, "Rat-a-tat-tat, ta-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat," but faster. I can't really sing how fast the "Rat-a-tat-tat" was going. They gave me a certificate that said, "Okay."

So about the age of 18 I became interested on the guitar. My younger brother Bobby had already started playing the guitar—he'd found one some place for I think it was $1,50, at an auction. It was an arch-top, f-hole, ugly sort of a guitar. And it was very hard to keep it in tune, and he was strumming on this.

I'd developed a peculiar interest in rhythm & blues music and decided that there were too many saxophon solos on those records and it was too hard to hear that good kind of notes that were popular in those days with the guys on my block.

The guitar heroes of those days were Johnny Guitar Watson, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, and, uh, whoever that guy was, that was playing the good stuff on Howlin' Wolf records. I believe it was Hubert Sumlin, but one can't be sure when one lives in Lancaster, California.

So I started playing the guitar and I got my own little band together. The name of this band was The Blackouts. And they were called The Blackouts because they would literally black out after the show from drinking peppermint schnapps.

This was a rowdy sort of a teen-age band and it was the only rhythm & blues band in the desert area where I was living. This is—

For those of you that do not know much about California geography, Lancaster is a place that is about 8 miles north of the Los Angeles basin. And it is a peculiar kind of a place because it's a desert that is high up and it's surrounded by mountains, so in order to go anyplace that resembles civilization you gotta sort of go up and then you go down. And so consequently the people on that area call Los Angeles—now get this—DOWN BELOW. And they very seldom went there because it was too mysterious for them. All the people who lived there in Lancaster were in sort of a dream world, the Desert Rat Dream World Syndrome, I call it.

And we were the only rhythm & blues band that was in that area, and consequently we had a lot of trouble with the police department. The reason for that was that in 1955 or '56, a woman named Elsie Page who ran the record store where I used to work had the unmitigated audacity to try and promote a real live rock 'n' roll show, there, in the Antelope Valley. And I think she brought Joe Houston and, uh, Marvin & Johnny and a few of the other big R&B people at that time—brought them to the Antelope Valley, and with them came DOPE PUSHERS.

Several people were caught possessing mysterious red pills. And they passed out and everything. So the police and the civic leaders swore that this dreadful music should never be allowed into the area again. Well, I didn't know this; this had happened before I got there.

So I had this band and the day [before] we were going to play our first concert, at six o'clock in the afternoon, I was arrested for vagrancy walking down the street. And I didn't understand what was going on. They kept me overnight, gave me some really terrible pancakes, and let me out just in time to play the show.

After Captain Glasspack And His Magic Mufflers had ravaged Torrance, California, we decided that it was time to get a record contract. We were striving toward this goal. It wasn't easy because Los Angeles in those days was pestering with folk rock music. Everytime you turned around there was some schmuck with a tambourine and a 12-string guitar going, "Tan-ta-da, ran-tan-ta-da, tan-ta-da." They were all very sensitive, they had neat haircuts, they had [...] clothes, [...] clothes, were sort of old English Robin Hoodish looking cape type, maybe tiny glasses, something, you know, anything like was good. Other stuff was NOT GOOD.

And we were— We had a lot of the other stuff, so we were not good—it was not good to have anything to do with our band then. And this resulted in a number of trials and tribulations trying to interest a record company in our sound, as we called it in those days. Finally, by subterfuge, we managed to get a record company called Verve, blue Verve, a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a subsidiary, and, uh, today we're still making records—we've been doing it for about 11 years.

I suppose this is quite enough information as taken to one little slot on a [...] sort of a program, and, uh, in conclusion let me say this: We'll be in your area soon, please come and see us live in person so you don't have to watch these things on television. Good bye.


Site maintained by Román García Albertos
Ttranscription by Román with corrections by Charles Ulrich
This page updated: 2014-04-06