FZ 1958-61

FZ graduated from High School on June 13, 1958 (see Walley, p. 21), and on March 14, 1963 he appeared in The Steve Allen Show playing bicycle. A lot of stuff happened in between, but it's hard to say exactly when.

The results of a Higher Education

After High School, FZ went to two colleges, as he says in his book (p. 39):

I had gone to Antelope Valley Junior College in Lancaster and Chaffey Junior College in Alta Loma for the express purpose of meeting girls. (...) At Chaffey, I met Kay Sherman. We dropped out of school, started living together and got married.

Don Van Vliet apparently also attended the Antelope Valley Junior College for a while, as said in Rolling Stone (Oh, it's gotta be true) #58, May 14, 1970 ("He enrolled at Antelope Valley Junior College in 1959 as an art major, and soon grew suspicious of books and dropped out."), Oui Magazine, July 1973 ("Beefheart dropped out of Antelope Valley Junior College shortly after enrolling in 1959."), and Barry Alfonso in The Dust Blows Forward booklet ("In 1959, after a semester of studies as an art major at Antelope Valley Junior College, Don left formal education behind for good."). Of course this would be the times when FZ & Don Van Vliet recorded "Lost In A Whirlpool," the song from The Lost Episodes:

Dating from 1958 or '59, this spectacular item, according to FZ, probably marks the recorded blues-singing debut of the teenaged, yet-to-be-christened Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet. It was taped in an empty classroom at Antelope Valley Jr. College in Lancaster, Calif., with FZ on lead guitar (an instrument with which he had been acquainted for only about six months), and Frank's former guitar teacher, brother Bobby, on rhythm guitar.

But anyway, another version says he didn't even graduate from High School. So who knows. Anyway, Walley claims in his book that FZ attended the Antelope Valley Junior College less than a semester, and then the Zappa family moved to Claremont, CA, "in the spring of 1959" (p. 32). Before that, on December 22, 1958, FZ wrote his "Waltz #1" for guitar.

Probably it was around the time the family lived in Claremont that FZ attended a composition course by Karl Kohn at Pomona College (located also in Claremont). Charles Ulrich (affz, May 5, 1999) heard about that:

Actually, FZ didn't even attend the whole course. The story I heard (not from Kohn but from a Pomona College English professor) was that Kohn threw him out after a disagreement about Webern.

But later Charles asked Karl Kohn himself:

Karl Kohn has told me that he did not throw FZ out of his class. Rather, FZ came to him and told him that he would no longer be able to attend the class, as he was moving away.

Sometime before the summer of 1960, FZ entered the Chaffey Junior College in Alta Loma (built in January, 1960), where he met Kay Sherman, as he's quoted to say in Walley's book (p. 32):

We shacked up for a little while and then dropped out of school . . . actually I did one semester of school with the summer vacation in between.

Thanks to Patrick Neve, here's a picture of Kay Sherman said to be from the Chaffey College year book of 1963 when she was apparently working there:

Kay Sherman

He also met there multi-instrumentist Terry Kirkman, future member of The Association. He attended Chaffey Junior College around the same time as FZ and Kay Sherman, and on The Association Admiration Aggregation page he's quoted saying:

I played with Frank Zappa long before the Mothers of Invention was formed. We were partners. Frank and I created things together . . . ethnic folk, Afro-Cuban, blues, sparse (duo) jazz, adaptations of Bach and other classics, etc.

Another attendant of the Chaffey Junior College was Warren "TresClub" Peters, who says in his own homepage:

I started out playing a tenor guitar in college back in '56, doing Kingston Trio and Four Freshmen stuff in a quartet that included Terry Kirkman, who wrote most all the songs for The Association. That summer, I got to play in a "front room" jam session with Terry and Frank Zappa. We were all in college at the same time.

Chris Darrow (later on Kaleidoscope and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) was also around those days, as he says in an autobiographic article from Discoveries (no longer available on the Internet, but formerly at http://www.madmeg.net/Discoveries_Article.html):

The Meeting Place in Claremont was my home club and we were fortunate enough to have some good acts come through to augment our local talent. Terry Kirkman later of the Association was MC and Frank Zappa would show up on Hoot Night and try to play folk music.

Ontario & the first electric guitar

FZ & Kay Sherman dropped out of school together, got married on December 28, 1960 (Greg Russo, p. 18), and moved to Ontario, California. Then he attempted a lot of different works outside the world of music. Meanwhile, around that time he rented his first electric guitar, as he said in a Guitar Player Magazine interview (January, 1977):

I didn't get my first [electric guitar] until I was 21, when I rented a Telecaster from a music store.

Probably he was not still 21, but it was in Ontario anyway, as he says in the Picture Disc interview (c. 1984):

I rented a Telecaster from a music store in Ontario, California.

And of course, he was living there, as he says in Guitarist Magazine (June, 1993):

There was a music store not far from my house, and I rented this Telecaster for $15 a month. Eventually I had to give it back, because I couldn't make the repayments on it.

The Boogie Men

There's a picture dated in May, 1961, in which FZ is playing a white Telecaster. It's the picture of the Boogie Men that appears on the Mystery Disc booklet, and which also appeared in the Ten Years On The Road With Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention book that Calvin Schenkel prepared back in 1974. In that book the picture was accompanied by a caption written by FZ himself:

The Boogie Men

"The Boogie Men" rehearse Nite Owl for high school weekend job.
F.Z.'s garage, Ontario, California. Al Surratt—Drums, Kenny Burgan—Sax, Doug Rost—Rhythm Guitar, F.Z.—Lead, no bass player because we couldn't afford one.

Ronnie Williams and the new Blackouts

During those Ontario days FZ also met guitarist Ronnie Williams, with whom he formed a band. Dwight Bement (supposedly one of the original Blackouts from Lancaster 1957-58, which doesn't seem very likely, as Bement was living in San Diego at the time) tells the story on his correspondance with Patrick Neve:

Our first band was called the Fydallions, started in 1957 and ran to 1959, (approx). I played tenor and Ronnie [Williams] played lead guitar. (...) I didn't play in the Ramblers but I was in the Nomads for a while.

Sometime after the Nomads, I moved to Sacramento (1960) and teamed with Steve Baptiste, Dave Erwin, Ross Owen and Denny (?). We called this band the Fydallions. After I went back to San Diego in 1961, the Fydallions went though several changes, eventually becoming the Spiral Staircase.

I think I was in San Diego about two days when Ronnie called and asked me to come up to Ontario and join his band. I didn't hesitate. He was living with his parents at the time so I moved in. This is when the infamous 'Green Window' project was launched. You can read about it elsewhere.

His band, the Blackouts, included Frank Zappa, Joe Perrino (piano), Al Surratt (drums) and possibly, a large guitarist/blues singer/harmonica player by the name of 'Restless' Rex Jakabowski, (I wonder where he is, he was wonderful). I was in that band in 1961 and 1962. During that time, we were ocassionally joined by Jim Sherwood and others to play up in Lancaster at the community center. The photo of me on one of your sites and the photo of me in The Real Frank Zappa Book (page 45), were taken at that time, during a rehearsal, possibly at the Franklin home east of Lancaster.

The end of 1962 or the beginning of 1963, Tommy Kendall came up to Ontario and 'shanghied' me back to San Diego to start another band, the Gentrys, not the band with a hit record. Ronnie either joined at the same time or shortly thereafter.

So here we have the new Blackouts from c. 1961. This is the picture on page 45 of The Real Frank Zappa Book:

The Black-Outs, TRFZB p.45

I've always thought that they were, from left to right, Jim Sherwood on baritone sax, Dwight Bement on tenor sax, FZ with the white Telecaster (the one rented), Johnny Franklin on bass, an unknown drummer in the back (possibly Al Surratt), and Ronnie Williams on guitar. But, recently there have appeared some photos from FZ's 1962 band on stage on an online auction at Allcollectors.com. The band is a six piece band, with drums, baritone sax, tenor sax, and three guitars. No keyboards. Here's a fragment of one of the pictures (corrected, as they're reversed on the auction site):

Ronnie Williams & FZ

The guy in the back is obviously FZ with his Jazzmaster, and the guy in the front (the same one in the center of the picture on The Real Frank Zappa Book) is non other than Ron "Ronnie" Williams, with a white Telecaster, the same one he has in the Gentrys picture:

The Gentrys

The rest of the people on that 1962 band is hard to identify in the pictures:

The Blackouts '62

Drummer can be Al Surratt, tenor sax player is probably Dwight Bement, baritone looks like Johnny Franklin, and the other guitarist I don't know who he is.

Unknown, Franklin & Bement

Anyway, going back to the picture on page 45 of FZ's book, the funny thing is finally FZ doesn't appear in that picture, unless he's playing drums (which I doubt). Here's the picture again:

The Black-Outs, TRFZB p.45

So, from left to right, they are Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood on baritone sax, Dwight Bement on tenor sax, Ron Williams on guitar, probably Johnny Franklin on guitar (now I don't think that's a bass guitar), and an unidentified drummer on the back. The guitarist on the right has finally been identified by Sharva Maynard as Alex "Butch" Snouffer, who later played in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band as Alex St. Claire.

Joe Perrino & The Mellotones

Asked by Splat if Joe Perrino was actually part of the 1961-62 Blackouts, Dwight Bement said this:

When I first joined FZ, with Ronnie [Williams], Joe [Perrino] and Al [Surratt], we played in a bar in Pomona. 7 nites a week, for 3 months. $9 a nite each. I guess I'm not sure of the band's name, but ocassionally, we would drive up to Lancaster and play a battle against some other bands that FZ knew. We would add some different players and this band was the Blackouts. The old photos of me were taken at these rehearsals in Lancaster, possibly out east at the Franklin home in Sun Valley or Sun something...

Of course he refers to Sun Village, of "Village Of The Sun" fame. The interesting thing is the stuff about the gig in Pomona, the town where Ray Collins was living at the time. We'll talk about him later. Now, let's get back to Joe Perrino. FZ mentions him in his book (p. 41):

I was working weekends with a four-piece lounge band called Joe Perrino and the Mellotones, at Tommy Sandi's Club Sahara in San Bernardino. (...) I wore a white dinner jacket and bow tie and black pants and sat on a bar stool and played the electric guitar. I got so sick of it that I quit, put the guitar in the case, stuck it behind the sofa and didn't touch it for eight months.

Greg Russo says in his book (p. 18) that the band known as Joe Perrino & The Mellotones lasted from November, 1961 to early 1962. Gray says in his book (p. 34) that it was "a tenth month stint." Anyway, here's a picture of the band from the Mystery Disc booklet:

Joe Perrino & The Mellotones

Joe Perrino and The Mellotones, are rockin' the town from the band stand of TOMMY SANDI'S CLUB SAHARA on E. St. in San Bernardino . . . They're a real action group . . . . . .

Here we see FZ with a Jazzmaster, Mike Dineri on sax, Joe Perrino on bass and Tommy Hernandez on drums.

As for the Jazzmaster, it was FZ's first own guitar. From Down Beat (February, 1983):

After [renting the Telecaster] I bought a Jazzmaster, which I used for about a year-and-a-half while playing lounge gigs at places like Tommy Sandy's Club Sahara in San Bernadino.

And from Guitar Player (January, 1977):

I bought a Jazzmaster which I used for about a year and a half. I used to play, like, lounge jobs—you know, sit on the stool, strum four chords to a bar, "Anniversary Waltz," "Happy birthday," one twist number per night, don't turn it up. All that kind of crap. Nobody else in the band really knew what the chord changes were to these dumb songs; they were all trying to figure out what was going on. I played places like Tommy Sandy's Club Sahara in San Bernardino, some clubs around West Covina. Really boring, miserable places. I worked with a group called Joe Perrino and the Mellow Tones.

Don Preston

Another lounge gig in Santa Ana (Roy Estrada's hometown) which didn't happen led FZ to meet one of his future greatest collaborators, Don Preston, as he explains in Billy James' book, Necessity Is . . . The Early Years Of Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention (p. 30):

One day around 1962 or '63, I don't remember exactly when, I received a call from Frank Zappa. He was holding an audition at a club in Santa Ana and he needed a keyboard player, it was typical of the organ/tenor-sax/guitar trios that were popular at the time. So I went over to Frank's house and talked and then later we auditioned for this club. Well, we didn't get the job. We actually played "Oh No" at the audition, which I thought was kind of bizarre because it wasn't that kind of club. During the rehearsals though, I happened to browse through Zappa's record collection and saw that he liked a lot of the same composers as I did, and that we had similar musical tastes.

The date seems to be more likely 1961. I asked Don Preston about the days in Ontario, the World's Greatest Sinner movie, and FZ's wife. Here's what he said:

I met Zappa in the middle of 1961 but I remember Zappa telling me about the movie later and I saw it when it came out. Even though I went to Zappa's house several times in 1961 I never met Kay [Sherman] or was aware that she existed.

I also asked him if Ronnie Williams, Al Surratt, Dwight Bement, Joe Perrino or even Jim Sherwood were involved in the lounge band audition, and also how FZ got in contact with him:

I never knew of any of those people at that time. I don't think the lounge band had a name. The band consisted of myself, Zappa and a drummer who I don't remember. I do remember playing "Oh No" during the audition. People were always calling me at that time to play these kinds of jobs. I think another keyboard player referred me to Zappa but I don't know who.


Original article & compilation by Román García Albertos © 2003
This page updated: 2015-09-03