In January of 1965 [Marcia and me] were married in a small ceremony at the Unitarian Church in Montclair, California. [...]
Frank and Kay had already split and were in divorce proceedings but Frank wanted her to be with him for the wedding. [...]
Not long after our wedding, and by then separated and undergoing the trauma of divorce, Frank moved into what would become known as "Studio Z" on Archibald Avenue in Cucamonga, California, where I would visit him often.
In order to survive while living in "STUDIO Z," I worked a weekend gig at The Village Inn (80 miles away in Sun Village). [...] The band: Johnny Franklin [bass], toby [drums], 'Frankie Zappo' [guitar], and [...] Motorhead on tenor sax.
[I moved into 'Studio Z'.] By then I had landed a weekend gig at a place called the Village Inn, in Sun Village, eighty miles away [from Cucamonga]. The pay came to fourteen dollars a week (seven bucks per night), minus gas.
If you wanted to play blues, you could go out there. If you had a few black guys in your group, they'd let you in, you know.
[...] Frank used to play out there quite a bit. I went out and recorded him one time. Wish I had THAT recording. Had it on a Norelco reel-to-reel tape.
Vice Squad investigators stilled the tape recorders of a free-swinging, a-go-go film and recording studio here Friday and arrested a self-styled movie producer and his buxom red-haired companion. Booked on suspicion of conspiracy to manufacture pornographic materials and suspicion of sex perversion, both felonies, at county jail were: Frank Vincent Zappa, 24, and Lorraine Belcher, 19, both of the studio address, 8040 N. Archibald Ave. [...] The surprise raid came after an undercover officer, following a tip from the Ontario Police Department, entered the rambling, three-room studio on the pretext of wanting to rent a stag movie. Sgt. Jim Willis, vice investigator of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office, said the raid suspect, Zappa, offered to do even better—he would film the movie for $300, according to Willis. When Zappa became convinced the detective was "allright," he played a tape recording for him. The recording was for sale and it featured, according to police, Zappa and Miss Belcher in a somewhat "blue" dialogue. More Enter Shortly after the sneak sound preview, the suspect's hope for a sale were shattered when two more sheriff's detectives and one from the Ontario Police Department entered and placed the couple under arrest. [...] Assisting Sgt. Willis in the raid were sheriff's vice investigators Jim Mayfield and Phillip Ponders, and Ontario Detective Stan McCloskey. Arraignment for Zappa and Miss Belcher next week will bring them close to home. Cucamonga Justice Court is right across the street from the studio.
Pornographic films, tapes, confiscated in Studio Raid:
Vice officers raided a Cucamonga recording studio yesterday to arrest a couple and confiscate what was alleged to be a score of pornographic tapes and movies, sheriff's officers reported.
Investigators identified the couple as Frank Vincent Zappa Jr. 24, and Lorraine Alice Belcher, 19, both of whom resided in the firm at 8040 Archibald Ave.
Lt. Edward Noon, commander of Sheriff Frank Bland's vice narcotics said the pair was held for investigation of conspiracy to manufacture pornographic tapes and films for sale and sex perversion.
Detective James Willis acting as a buying customer, allegedly purchased a lewd tape recording for 50 $, minutes before fellow officers moved in for the arrests.
Investigators said the man and the girl were taken into custody as a legitimate rock-and-roll recording session was about to begin inside the studio of Zappa productions.
Ontario police investigators joined Willis and Philip L. Pounders and James Mayfield of the sheriff's staff in the probe.
Lt. Noon said that Zappa had made an statement.
They got me for conspiracy to commit pornography back in '64, by smuggling a plainclothesman disguised as a used car salesman into my small recording studio in that very small town. The town had about 7,500 people in it and they didn't like my long hair, so they decided to get me.
The attorney was 27 years old and he got me ten days in jail by using evidence obtained from the hidden microphone in his wristwatch which was hooked up to a tape somewhere. There were 45 men in the jail cell, the toilet and shower had never been cleaned, the temperature was 110 degrees so you couldn't sleep by night or day, there were roaches in the oatmeal, sadistic guards, and everything that was nice.
One day, a policeman in duty at the club made a sincere request. Would Frank be interested in making training films for the San Bernardino Vice Squad? As it happened, Frank and 80 hours of tape recordings of assorted friends, freaks, tradesmen, local officials and girl friends, and he reckoned that these tapes with filmed actors could really show the police trainees the people they would deal with as people. He played him some tapes.
Another man turned up at Archibald Avenue. He said he wanted some "hot tapes" for a party of used car salesmen. Could Zappa help for $100? Sure, said Frank, why not? So he went into the studio with a girl friend and they grunted and groaned into a microphone and then Zappa edited out the laughs.
The man turned up again, had Frank got the tape? Yes, said Zappa. And photographers and policemen crowded into the studio: "Hands up against the wall," etc. One policeman broadcast the proceedings through a wrist radio to a van outside like Dick Tracy. Frank was led out, handcuffed. Awaiting trial in jail, Frank was visited by a bail bond man, who told him that he could spend up to 20 years in a mental institution. "That made me feel pretty sad," says Frank.
It turned out that the bond man had got the penal code number of the charge wrong: "Lewd and lascivious conduct" is one decimal point away from "rape of a child under 14." This emerged later. Eventually, Frank was given three years' probation, on the condition being that he could not be with an unmarried girl under 21 except in the presence of a "competent adult." And that is how Frank Zappa, as a convicted felon, missed the draft.
[FZ] also earned money playing cocktail music at the Club Sahara in San Bernardino, the Robin Hood in Fontana, Sinners and Saints in Ontario and several other local bars that have since closed, burned down or otherwise been forgotten.
And he once spent ten days in the San Bernardino County jail [...].
The year was 1964, and according to Zappa he was framed by a "bogus investigation" handled by the sheriff's vice squad. The reason for the action, he says, was that officials wanted to widen Archibald Avenue and evict residents in the way. Zappa's Cucamonga studio was in the way, he said.
"One day, this detective came in and told me he was a used car salesman, and that some of his friends wanted to have a party next Wednesday, and could I make them a movie for the guys.
"So I said, 'Hey, what a humorous idea. Let's get the used car salesmen off.'
"But there was no way I could make a movie for the amount of money he wanted to pay, so I said, 'How about a tape recording for the guys.'
"He said, 'Fine, I'll give you $100," and then he listed all these things he wanted to have included on this tape," Zappa said.
"I agreed to do it because I thought it was a hilarious idea. The very idea that used car salesmen would sit around listening to this tape and be amused by it was concept art as far as I was concerned.
"By the way, the tape (reportedly a mix of bed squeaks, lewd conversation and cheesy music) was no more sensuous than side four of the Freak Out album," he added.
"So he comes back the next day and gives me $50. I said, 'I thought you were going to give me $100,' and before I could say anything else, he flashes a badge, the doors open up, all these guys run in with cameras and start taking pictures of everything, then handcuffs, the whole bit.
"It was just like science fiction. I didn't know what was happening. [...]
"The whole thing was totally illegal entrapment.
"First of all I wasn't aware any laws were at stake. And secondly this man was offering to pay me money and specifically telling me what he wanted to be done, and recording it all on a wrist radio which was broadcasting to a truck parked outside," he said.
"So they took me to court, and I didn't have enough money to fight the thing. I had to plead nolo contendre.
"They were going to drop the whole thing, but there was this 26-year-old assistant district attorney who insisted that I must be punished and I must go to jail.
"So they gave me a six-month sentence with all but ten days suspended, plus three years probation," he recalled. [...]
"When I was arrested they confiscated all the tapes in my recording studio, purportedly as evidence. Then when the trial was over the detective came back to me and said, 'If you'll let the sheriff decide which of these tapes are obscene, we'll give you back all the rest of them erased.'
"I told them I was not in the position to convert a sheriff into a judge.
"And they never did give them back to me. Eighty hours of musical recordings were never returned. It was grossly unfair. I tried to get the ACLU to help me, but they told me the case wasn't big enough. They wouldn't touch it. Since that time they've come to me and asked for donations and asked me to do benefit concerts, which I have refused to do."
"I do remember that when I was in jail, I was served this bowl of Cream of Wheat. When they handed it to me, the Cream of Wheat fell out of the bowl in one big lump, and imbedded in the bottom of it was a cockroach this big," he said, spreading his thumb and forefinger two inches apart.
"So I took the cockroach out, saved it and put it in the envelope of a letter I was sending back home. The jail censors got it, and then they put me in solitary confinement."
So here I am living in this studio, and living there with me were two white girls and a black baby. [...] And in order for me to earn a living—since there weren't surf bands beating down my door to record yet another "Wipeout" there I worked on weekends playing guitar at this barbecue joint in Sun Village, up near Lancaster, seventy-five miles away. I got seven dollars a weekend only job I could get. Anyway, while I'm up there doing my gig, apparently, these two girls had gone out in front of the studio and were playing on the street with the black baby—which offended all parties concerned in this little village. So, the next thing I know, I got this guy knocking on my door saying he was a used-car salesman—saw the sign, they're having this party and can I make an entertaining movie for him? [...] To me, it was a fuckin' joke, okay? I mean, the minute the man started talking about "oral copulation," I should've gone, "Huh?" But, no, I didn't. Because remember, I was making seven dollars a weekend up there in Sun Village.
I was flat broke and couldn't afford a lawyer. I phoned my Dad, who had recently had a heart attack—he couldn't afford a lawyer either. He had to take out a bank loan in order to bail me out.
Once I got out, I went to see Art Laboe. He had released some of my material on his Original Sound label ("Memories of El Monte" and "Grunion Run") and got an advance on a royalty payment, which I used to bail out the girl.
In the case of "Grunion Run," although there was never a complete accounting, when I needed money, the time I got arrested in Cucamonga, I went to Art Laboe and he gave me an advance of $1,500.
An officer of the law casually asked Frank whether he'd be interested in making some training films for the San Bernardino vice squad??? "It was a great chance to do something interesting for the education of those people," said Frank. "I thought to myself, 'Now look, these guys are always going around and busting these weirdos and they treat 'em bad but that's probably because they don't understand. They don't know that these people they're arresting are really people." Frank to do the film using the real personalities themselves—hookers, dope fiends, assorted pervs—cinema verité.
The policeman presented his card and vanished.
Explains Frank: "The California penal code works it out this way: a crime is a crime. If it's a misdemeanor, it's a misdemeanor unless you talk about doing a misdemeanor with somebody else. If you discuss it with somebody else, it's a conspiracy, which means it's not a misdemeanor, it's a felony."
[...] Frank's father bailed him out by taking out a bank loan. Frank bailed out his buxom red-haired accomplice after going back to L.A. and wrangling the residue of the royalty money he'd been owed for a tune he wrote with Ray Collins called "Memories of El Monte."
[...] The trial came next . . . Frank hired an esteemed lawyer for $1,000 who "sort of sold me down the river to a twenty-seven-year-old DA who was really a prick. He just didn't like me, no matter what." Even when the evidence was thrown out, even after the charges had been reduced to nothing, the DA persisted. While the pre-trial hearings were underway, the vice squad had listened to all the tapes to determine what was obscene and what clean. Frank got back about thirty hours of tape after the hearing. The rest still sits in San Bernardino.
[...] Frank got off with ten days in jail and three years on probation—during which time he could not be with an unmarried girl under twenty-one except in the presence of a competent adult. But being a convicted felon was also his way out of the draft.
[Motorhead's] mother had given Frank a place to stay after his fall from parental grace in the Cucamonga Porn King Incident.
Frank's father had to take out a bank loan to pay for his son's bail. Once out, Frank contacted Art Laboe, owner of the Original Sound label, and obtained a $1,500 advance against the royalties for "Memories Of El Monte" and "Grunion Run." This he used to bail out Lorraine Belcher and to engage the services of an attorney.
His criminal record was erased after a year, which is why researches have found nothing in the records relating to the case, but it exempted him from military service. [...]
Frank's father was so incensed by the affair that he refused to let his son return home. Motorhead's mother took him in while he figured out what to do with his life.
Just after the bust, a photo published in what was then the Ontario Daily Report showed Zappa and [Lorraine Belcher] Chamberlain smiling, their arms draped around one another.
"If you look at it, it looks like they're posing for the picture and smiling like they're really proud of what just happened," [Derek] Miley said.
In fact, Chamberlain explained, it was just an odd coincidence. After officers had separated the couple to question them, Chamberlain insisted on being reunited with Zappa. Once back together, Zappa apologized so profusely that the two burst into laughter and embraced, she recalled.
At that moment, a news photographer kicked open the door, which turned the couple's attention toward the camera.
"It was totally not their plan to pose for the picture—it just ended up that way," Miley said.
The Buff Organization's "Happy Birthday Joyce" was devoted to Allison's friend Joyce Favrow, whose money bailed Frank Zappa out of jail in March 1965!
[...] The success of "Tijuana" enabled Buff to create more Hollywood Persuaders recordings, and back royalties from the record also helped bail Frank Zappa out of jail after he was arrested in March 1965!
This was not long after Dad's heart attack and since Frank had no money, Dad took out a loan for Frank's bail.
Frank tried to get the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] to defend him because he believe that this was a clear case of entrapment, but the ACLU said his case wasn't significant enough, so Dad had to hire a lawyer.
[...] After 10 days they got out of jail, and because they had nowhere else to go, Frank and Lorraine came to stay with Marcia and me at our apartment in Pomona.
[...] The San Bernardino Sheriff and district attorney's office wanted to charge Frank with the felony part of his indictment but when the judge heard the tape in chambers he laughed and told the prosecutor to reduce the charge to misdemeanor.
[...] Frank and Pete stayed with us for several days before they decided to go their separate ways.
The court said [FZ] would be arrested if he was found in the company of a female under the age of 21. Motorhead and his mom had to chaperone us all the time, which became burdensome, to say the least. We had no money. I couldn't find a job. Frank was very depressed and angry about his treatment at the hands of the police, and had to move out of Studio Z. We were still very much in love, but I ran away to Seattle, not wanting to be a burden. Later, when he found me, he invited me to live [with his family]. Bobby [Zappa] saw me at the house once, but never knew what I was doing there. I was very friendly, happy to see him, but [Gail] was rude. He scurried out after talking to Frank, rather than hang around.
[...] My relationship with [FZ] only "ran its course" upon his death. We saw each other, loved each other all his life. I'm sensitive about the manner in which I was depicted. [FZ's] "biography" was dictated by Gail. Frank was excited about it, and I sent him the front page of the "Two a-go-go to jail" article, so he could put it in his book. Gail destroyed it, then insisted he not use my name, nor tell the truth about our relationship. He apologized to me profusely before it came out, saying Gail didn't want me to "become famous" from being part of his story. She took control of his own biography, and he was no longer excited about it.
There's a group playing somewhere. Roy Estrada, now a Mother, is part of it. He picks up Jim Black, another present Mother. Then Ray Collins joins the bunch. Ray always has been a troublemaker. He picks a fight with the guitar player. They come to blows. Ray wins. They need another guitar player. Somebody mentions Frank Zappa.
Zappa left his studio and went to live with Motorhead and his mother. While he was there he went into a bar and met a local group called the Soul Giants—Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black, Davey Coronado and a couple of other guys. Shortly after he'd seen them, Zappa had a call saying the group had had a punch up and the guitarist had left, so he joined. "So I said 'let's stop playing other people's crappy kind of music and play our own,' and everyone approved except for Davey Coronado. He knew if you played original music in a bar in California you'd be out of a job and he was right. He knew everybody liked to hear the Stones, Ray Charles and 'High Heeled Sneakers'."
The group that was to become the Mothers was working in the Broadside, a little bar in Pomona, California.
Jim Black, the drummer, had just come to California from Kansas. He got together with Roy Estrada, the bass player. They'de been working terrible jobs in Orange County, which is a bad place to live unless you belong to the John Birch Society. They got a band together with Ray Hunt on guitar, Dave Coronado on sax and Ray Collins as lead vocalist. They called themselves the Soul Giants and they were doing straight commercial rhythm and blues "Gloria," "Louie, Louie," you got it. Then Ray Hunt decided he didn't like Ray Collins and started playing the wrong changes behind him when he was singing. A fight ensued, Ray Hunt decided to quit, the band needed a guitar player, so they called me up. I started working with them at the Broadside, I thought they sounded pretty good. I said, "Okay, you guys, I've got this plan. We're going to get rich. You probably won't believe this now, but if you just bear with me we'll go out and do it." Davie Coronado said, "No. I don't want to do it. We'd never be able to get any work if we played that kind of music. I've got a job in a bowling alley in La Puene, and I think I'm gonna split." So he did. I think he's got a band now called Davie Coronado and his Sagebrush Ramblers or something like that.
The Vi-Counts were an 11-piece band that was put together by an early friend and myself, in which I played and managed. I was 17 years old at the time. The band consisted of two trumpets, four saxophones, piano, guitar, bass, drums and a singer. Later, I put together a 4-piece group named the Soul Giants. Our Vi-Count drummer did not want to do the club scene, so I was looking for a drummer, and Jimmy had an ad at a local music store. He and his family had just moved into the area, from New Mexico. We obtained a gig at a club called The Broadside, where we met Ray Collins and added him to the group—as a singer, of course.
Our guitar player was being drafted into the armed forces. Ray Collins said he knew a guitar player that was looking for a group to play with. So, Frank came during a week and sat in with us. At that time, it was like meeting another guitar player, but with original music.
After reaching the point of playing mostly original music, Frank asked for suggestions for giving the group a different name. I recall mentioning the name 'The Mothers' (referring to motherfuckers). He said, "No! It will not be accepted." We fiddled around with other names, but later, when he went into Hollywood, he settled on The Mothers. When we signed with MGM, they added 'Of Invention'.
I had a group (The Soul Giants)—I mean I was the one who took care of the management and booking and stuff. [...] We needed a drummer, so I put up an ad here at a local music store in Santa Ana (California) and Jim Black answered the ad and he joined. Then we got a gig through his wife . . . at a place called Broadside in Pomona—it was a brand-new place that was opening up. When we started performing there . . . evidently Ray Collins was working there as a carpenter. So before we started playing the (owner) asked us to take on Ray Collins as a singer and that's how we would get the gig. We said, "Of course we'll take him on." He started singing with us. (Later) we were going to lose our guitar player Roger . . . a local guy here from Orange County—he was going to get drafted.
[...] Dave Coronado—he would play two saxophones. He was . . . a Las Vegas-type of player. Then we had the drummer, which was Jim Black, and myself. Ray said, "I know of a guitar player." So, (on) a Wednesday evening, . . . Frank came over and sat in at the audition and we said, "Yeah, of course," and the rest was history.
[...] He had short hair. He was young and thin and ready to go. He had just gotten out of jail. That's what Ray said.
[...] So, we were playing Top 10 music at that time—"Gloria" and all that kind of shit. He said that he had music that he had written. He wanted to know if we were interested in learning it and looking through it, so we said, "Yeah." About that time, the sax player left, he quit—he wanted to go back to the Vegas circuit, so it was only the four of us then—Ray, Frank, Jim Black, and myself. We start rehearsing some of the music at the studio in Cucamonga. [...] The stuff that we learned was that stuff that's on Freak Out. I mean, that's the stuff that we first started learning. We rehearsed the music for months.
[Jimmy Carl] Black's brother-in-law got them an audition at a club called The Broadside in Inglewood. Roy Estrada remembers how, "It was a beer bar. The atmosphere inside was like the docks by the sea. You know, they had cork and a lot of fishing nets hanging on the side of the wall—it had some atmosphere to it. They had a fireplace in the middle. It was a nice club and it had a dancing area with a stage. So we got the job, and we opened the club."
The Soul Giants original line-up was I myself on drums, Roy Estrada on bass, Davy Coronado on sax, a guy called Larry on guitar and the singer was called Dave.
[...] Then we got this job as the house band at The Broadside club in Pomona. We played six nights a week, for about three months. We were making $90 each a week for the six nights, which wasn't that bad.
[...] The band was only going a few months when Larry the guitar player got drafted into the Army. We found a guy named Ray Hunt to replace him. Our singer Dave also got drafted so we needed to find a new front man.
A guy named Ray Collins had been coming to The Broadside all the time; he liked the band and what we were doing. [...] Skip, the owner of the club, said we could be the house band if we would hire Ray as a permanent member and front man. That was just fine with the rest of us since he sang much better than Dave.
The only problem was Ray Collins really didn't like Ray Hunt worth a shit. Before long, the two Rays got into an argument or rather a fistfight.
It was after Frank and I had recorded for a while that we actually got together, and then were apart for quite a few years, that I got hooked up with The Soul Giants at Pomona, which actually was about two blocks from where Frank and I met in the original bar. And then Frank became part of The Soul Giants.
I was living in Pomona again, Frank and I had parted after making records in Studio Z, and it was a period when I was just doing menial work as a carpenter and drinking away my paycheck every week, and I came upon some guys that were building a place called The Broadside—a great club, a great concept for a club—and he had other places and packed the people in. And I used to go there. And they hired a band called The Soul Giants, which had Roy Estrada (who became The Mothers' bass player), Jim Black, drums (The Mothers drummer), a horn player called Davy Coronado, a singer named Dave (I forgot his last name), and a guitar player named Ray Hunt. I guess his name is Ray Hunt—I had forgotten his name until I read it and what Frank said I said about him. But anyway, the club owner—I used to get up and sing. Also, another band that was there was the Three Days & A Night—Two Days—Three Days & A Night, which had Henry Vestine, guitar—
Tom Brown's book Confessions Of A Zappa Fanatic contains a chapter on The Broadside, where Tom Brown performed (and was busted by the FBI) in 1968. Broadside Skip is mentioned in the chapter, so I asked Tom about him. Tom didn't remember Broadside Skip's last name, so he asked his friend and bandmate Gene Bridgham (also mentioned in the chapter). According to Gene, Broadside Skip was Skip Meyers.
In 1964, [Ray Collins] was supporting himself by working as a carpenter, and on weekends he sang with a group called the Soul Giants at a bar in Pomona called the Broadside.
Apparently he got into a fight with their guitar player, Ray Hunt, punched him out, and the guitar player quit. They needed a substitute, so I filled in for the weekend.
The Soul Giants were a pretty decent bar band. I especially liked Jimmy Carl Black, the drummer, a Cherokee Indian from Texas with an almost unnatural interest in beer. His style reminded me of the guy with the great backbeat on the old Jimmy Reed records. Roy Estrada, who was Mexican-American and had also been part of the Los Angeles R&B scene since the fifties, was the bass player. Davy Coronado was the leader and saxophone player of the band.
I played the gig for a while, and one night I suggested that we start doing original material so we could get a record contract. Davy didn't like the idea. He was worried that if we played original material we would get fired from all the nice bars we were working in.
The only things club owners wanted bands to play then were "Wooly Bully," "Louie Louie" and "In the Midnight Hour," because if the band played anything original, nobody would dance to it, and when they don't dance, they don't drink.
The other guys in the band liked my idea about a record contract and wanted to try the original stuff. Davy departed. It turned out that Davy was absolutely right—we couldn't keep a job anyplace.
[Ray Hunt] used to play the wrong thing behind me—the wrong chord-changes or something—so finally I mentioned it to Roy and Jim, 'cause Roy and I had gotten pretty close by then—what was going on. And Roy said, "Yeah, I noticed it too." So it all came down to the fact that Ray Hunt didn't want to be part of the band, so we just got together after the show one night, and said, "OK, Ray, you're not doing it right—so don't do it." So he said, "Great, so I'm leaving." So I said, "Don't worry about it, 'cause I know a guy that I worked with before from Ontario/Cucamonga named Frank Zappa, and I think maybe he'd like to be in the band." So I called Frank and he became part of the band. But that's very strange that out of all Frank's memory-banks, he should pull out something like that, which isn't true at all, actually.
Ray said he knew a guy who played and that his name was Frank Zappa. Ray said, "I'll have him come in. He just got out of jail." Supposedly he had been there for making party tapes with this girlfriend of his.
We needed a change from Wichita. My wife's father lived in Santa Ana, near Los Angeles. California, man! Hollywood! Two weeks after we arrived, I met Roy in a music store where my name was up on the board as an available drummer. We started the Soul Giants to play R&B covers with Davy Coronado on sax and two others. We were doing OK—$90 a week, not bad for 1964. Then the singer got drafted, and we found Ray Collins. Next, the guitarist got drafted, and Ray mentioned a guy called Frank Zappa who'd just got out of jail. We auditioned Frank, who was kind of freaky-looking, but I liked him a lot. Within a month, Davy Coronado left, and Frank said, "If you guys'll learn my music, I'll make you rich and famous." He took care of half that promise. I got famous, but I damn sure didn't get rich!
C: How did you meet up with Jimmy Carl Black?
Z: He was working at a bar.
[FZ] originally joined a rock'n'roll band after getting out of jail. The band was already together but it didn't take Frank long to swing things his way and take over completely—redubbing the group the Mothers of Invention (or the Muthers—until MGM records changed it).
We were playing at the Broadside, the band was called The Soul Giants . . . The guitar player had to go in the Army and Ray Collins knew this guy FZ . . . Yes he had just come out of jail .
In 1964 I moved to California, and two weeks after arriving I met up with Roy Estrada. Together we formed a band called The Soul Giants, played around for maybe a couple of months and then Ray Collins joined the band as lead singer. Right after that our guitar player, Ray Hunt, got drafted, so we were left looking for another guitarist. Ray Collins said he knew a guy that he'd done some work with before, Frank Zappa, who had been spending a little time in jail in San Bernardino County for selling pornographic tapes to the vice squad. Anyway, Frank came down and tried out with the band and liked what we did, and we liked what he did, so he joined. A month later the saxophone player, Davey Coronado, left the band which left the position of leadership wide open. Frank took over as leader, and his very words were "If you will play my music, I will make you rich and famous."
We needed a guitar player and we auditioned Zappa. He had to audition for the Soul Giants. And he passed the audition and he joined the band, and about a month after he joined the sax player, Davy Coronado, who was the leader of the band at that time, he went back to Texas and . . . he quit the band and went back to Texas and then Zappa took over. That's when he said "If you'll . . . I'll make you rich and famous . . . If you'll play my music, I'll make you rich and famous." His exact words.
The guitar player was this really weirdo guy named Ray Hunt. He wasn't even a good guitar player, but a terrible guitar player.
Well, that's what Davy [Coronado] was screaming at him about, man. "Play some rhythm and blues. You're playing some weird shit and we don' know what it is" (laughs). And Ray Collins knew this guy that had a studio, named Frank Zappa, and he called him up and asked him if he wanted to audition for the band. He came down the next day and auditioned . . . Motorhead came with him, so Motorhead was there from the beginning as well.
Davy [Coronado] didn't want to play Frank's music, really. But that's not the real reason. It's because he was tired of California, man. He wanted to go back to . . . he wanted to go back to Texas. And he did. He used to have a tex-mex band in . . . quite famous one in Texas. I mean, in the area it was, you know. Where he was, he was from around Brownsville . . . Laredo, Texas. That was where he was from.
Circa 1964, Collins joined the Soul Giants, an R&B cover band, by accident. When the band auditioned at the Broadside, the club owner insisted that Collins, his friend, would have to replace the singer if the band wanted the gig.
"I felt kind of awkward about it, someone firing someone else and giving me the job," Collins says.
The band consisted of drummer Jimmy Carl Black, bassist Roy Estrada, saxophonist Davy Coronado and guitarist Ray Hunt. Hunt, however, was incompetent or purposely messed up to be spiteful, Collins relates.
"I was new to the band but it was up to me to get rid of him," Collins says. After the deed was done—no punches were thrown, he insists—he made a fateful suggestion.
"I told them, 'I know a guitarist in Cucamonga. His name's Frank Zappa,'" Collins says.
They'd been in existence for maybe three months prior to the time that I came in as substitute guitar player. We played R&B/bar-band music.
So we asked Ray if he knew any other guitar players and he said, "Yeah, I know this guy who's just got out of jail." We said, "What was he in jail for?" and he told us, "Oh, he made some pornographic audio tapes and sold them to the vice squad but it was all a set-up." We had nothing to lose so we said, "Let's get him down for an audition, what's his name?" Ray said, "Frank Zappa."
Ray told us that Frank was running a little recording studio called Studio Z out in Cucamonga. They had recorded some stuff there together and some of it had even been released on a few small labels. Frank arrived at the audition in a car driven by a guy called Motorhead. We liked the way Frank played. He was a strong rhythm player although he wasn't a very good lead player back in those days. Little did we know what was going to happen!
Frank joined the band in April. We were playing a lot of gigs at The Broadside and Frank was very grateful to have a job that was paying $90 a week. We went over to his house a couple of times in G Street, Ontario. He was just getting ready to move out; he was getting divorced. When I met his wife Kay I thought, "God, Man! Why are you moving out of the house? She's a Babe!" I thought she was a good-looking lady but there were about nine cats in the house too! Roy's father always said to us, "Don't trust anyone that has that many cats!"
Jimmy Carl Black was hocking some cymbals so he could eat, and he ran into Roy (Estrada) at the same hock shop. They started talking and formed a group called the Soul Giants. Ray (Collins) joined them and they were appearing at a club called the Broadside in Pomona. Ray had a disagreement with the guitar player with the group and when they soon found themselves without a guitar player, they called me, asked me to substitute. I thought it was a spiffy little group and I proposed a business deal whereby we'd form a group and make some money, maybe even a little music . . . but initially it was a financial arrangement.
When you're scuffling in bars for zero to seven dollars per night per man, you think about money first.
The Soul Giants were mainly an R&B band but we played a few current hits because we were playing in bars mostly. We did do a few songs by Frank. You know we had Ray Collins as the lead singer and he is one of the best R&B singers around, in my opinion.
They were pretty good. I already knew that Ray [Collins] was a good singer; we'd recorded before that. But the thing that impressed me about the Soul Giants, being a rhythm & blues buff, was Jimmy Carl Black—the only drummer I'd ever seen who actually could sound like Jimmy Reed's drummer.
Think about it: the absolute disregard for technique, know what I mean? The total dedication to going boom-bap, boom-bap. A rare talent.
I told 'em, "Let's learn more original songs and try and get a record contract." And the sax player, a guy named Davy Coronado—it was his group—he says, "You can't do that. The minute you start playing original music you'll get fired from these clubs." And he was right. We learned original music and we got fired . . . and fired and fired and fired.
Anyway, Frank came down and tried out with the band and he liked what we did, and we liked what he did, so he joined. A month later the saxophone player Davey Coronado left the band, leaving the position of leadership wide open. Frank took over as leader, and his very words were, "If you will play my music, I will make you rich and famous."
The first time I met Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) was at The Broadside. He and Vic [Mortensen] walked in after they'd played a gig someplace. I didn't know anything about him at the time, just that he was a blues singer. [...] His band was called Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band. Vic was the drummer and they had a new guitar player, Richie Hepner, the very same guy who'd left to go back east a few months ago!
When Frank suggested that we start to play some original material and try to get a record contract, Davy Coronado said, "No, that's the end of it for me. We'll never play in The Broadside again if we play original music." Davy was very attached to The Broadside, he liked it there, but he quit the band and moved back to Texas. So The Broadside club stopped when Davy left the band because he was thick with the management. They said, "You can keep the job but you have to get a sax player and it better be one like Davy Coronado!"
We used to work in Torrance at a really wretched place called The Tom Cat, and then after The Tom Cat we go to jam-sessions at a place called Lambs, and at that time the band was known as Captain Glasspack & His Magic Mufflers, and they kept throwing us out of those jam-sessions because there's this old pig that play the piano there, it was sort of a mistress of ceremonies, and she was embarassed to introduce us when we wanted to get up and rock out, "You guys gotta be kiddin' with a name like that!"
Having begun to try out Zappa's compositions, the Soul Giants no longer seemed like an appropriate name for the band [...]. They started toying with other names, and for a brief period apparently reverted back to an old name The Blackouts [...]. For a while they even called themselves Captain Glasspack & The Magic Mufflers. "I think he [Zappa] was asking us for ideas for our name after a while," says Roy Estrada. "If memory serves, I suggested 'Muthas', and he said, 'Ahhh, I don't like that name.' (laughs) So we forgot all about it. Later on he said the Mothers was all right."
Capt. Glasspack and His Magic Mufflers . . . Roy [Estrada] said that it's one of the names that came up but he didn't think they ever played with that name . . .
We called ourselves The Blackouts at first, and then we changed our name to Captain Glasspack and his Magic Mufflers for one gig and finally settled on the name The Mothers. MGM Records, when we signed the record deal, were the people who changed our name to The Mothers of Invention.
One of the places we got fired from was the Tomcat-a-Go-Go in Torrance. [...]
A converted shoe store in Norwalk with a beer license also fired us. Of course the gig didn't pay that well: fifteen dollars per night divided by four guys.
There's always the hope held out that if you stick together long enough you'll make money and you'll get a record contract. It all sounded like science fiction then, because this was during the so-called British invasion and if you didn't sound like the Beatles or the Stones, you didn't get hired. We weren't going about it that way. We'd play something weird and we'd get fired. I'd say hang on and we'd move to another go-go bar—the Red Flame in Pomona, the Shack in Fontana, the Tom Cat in Torrance.
Sometime before this I'd had a group called the Mothers, but while all this was going on we were called Captain Glasspack and His Magic Mufflers. It was a strange time. We even got thrown out of after-hours jam sessions. Eventually we went back to the Broadside in Pomona and we called ourselves the Mothers. It just happened, by sheer accident, to be Mother's Day, although we weren't aware of it at the time. When you are nearly starving to death, you don't keep track of holidays.
We changed the name of the band a few times. Right after being called the Soul Giants we were called The Batmen for a while. We played one gig as Captain Glasspack and his Magic Mufflers. We were auditioning all over the place just trying to work. In May, we changed our name to The Mothers. Actually, it was spelt Muthers in the beginning!
[...] We managed to get a gig at the Tom Cat à Go-Go in Torrance for a month. It was a real go-go joint. We had to play "Woolly Bully" and "Louie Louie" about ten times a night. We had to play what the girls wanted us to play. It was their show so they chose the numbers. We did five 45-minute sets a night, six nights a week. We were making $90 a week and believe me we fucking earned it.
All the time, we would try to put a few of the original songs in. We could play "Anyway The Wind Blows" and "I'm Not Satisfied," the girls liked those songs. Every once in a while, we would do "Memories Of El Monte" and the reason that we got away with doing that was because everybody thought it was such a joke.
[...] We played around a few other go-go joints. I remember The Red Flame in Pomona, The Shack in Fontana and the Brave New World, which wasn't a go-go club and was the first gig we did in Hollywood. Frank had met some people in the Hollywood scene and had gotten us the gig. We played a few other little gigs and occasional one-nighters.
Once Frank joined we were playing the top ten even with him. He had short hair. After a while he said he had his own songs he wanted to try out. We said, "Sure, we'll do that," so we started doing that in the studio he had. [...] Frank used to drive back and forth to Hollywood. This was when we were still in Pomona. He used to drive to Hollywood to get into the scene, to get to know people.
So we started to rehearse at Studio Z. I thought it was the strangest fuckin' place, Man, pretty small and grubby! Everything was painted black in there so you couldn't tell how grubby it really was. It had all these props and shit in there for making a movie. [...] But he had a nice little tape recorder and I think that he recorded some of the stuff that we were doing.
The first of Frank's original songs that we learnt was "Anyway The Wind Blows." Then we started to do things like "I'm Not Satisfied" and "How Could I Be Such A Fool."
[...] We only got to rehearse in the studio for about three weeks before Frank got evicted. They were going to widen the street—Archibald Avenue. This was probably about the end of May. Frank moved to Echo Park near Hollywood to be nearer to the "scene."
[...] So then we had to find someplace new to rehearse. For a while we rehearsed at my father-in-law's garage in Santa Ana.
The Mothers are formally founded on Mother's Day, 1965.
Plato made the statement that "necessity is the mother of invention" over 2,000 years ago. Thomas Edison responded with the electric light and Frank Zappa responded with The Mothers of Invention on Mothers Day, 1965.
Frank Zappa has been associated with hard rock music since he formed The Mothers of Invention in 1965.
The Mothers of Invention began on Mother's Day, 1965.
During the time since the Mothers of Invention's inauguration on Mothers' Day 1965, the band had changed constantly, both musically and in size.
[FZ] formed the Mothers on Mother's Day, 1965
I ran across Frank in July 65 playing in a bar in Pomona, CA. Got a chance to chat during a break. Can't recall the group's name but shortly thereafter he and a group called The Mothers of Invention got some serious fame.
A year later [Studio Z] was torn down to make room for a widened road, but by that time he had gotten the Mothers together. "We were playing at local beer joints for like six dollars a night. I finally decided this would not do, so I began calling up all the clubs in the area. This was in 1965, and to get work you had to sound like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. You also had to have long hair and due to an unfortunate circumstance all my hair had been cut off. I used to tell club managers that we sounded exactly like the Rolling Stones. Anyway we finally got a booking in a club in Pomona, and were something of a hit. It was more because of our act than because of our music. People used to go away and tell their friends that here was this group that insulted the audience."
Meanwhile, Frank had fallen behind with the rent on Studio Z and the landlord had padlocked the door. With the aid of some wire-cutters Frank got in and held a few rehearsals there before salvaging what he could of his possessions. [...] He was evicted and Studio Z stood empty for more than a year before it was torn down when Archibald Avenue was widened in 1966.
We went and bought a band uniform. [...] We had purple shirts and black pants and we each wore one of those Homburg hats. [...] Then we got some lime green shirts so that we could switch, so we didn't have to wear the same stuff every night. [...]
We got Loretta's brother Philip to paint "Mothers" on my bass drum skin. He was still at high school, but was becoming very interested in art. I had that skin on my drums for the whole of the time I was with the band, right up until we split.
Frank remembers inquiring for one job where the club owner asked if the band had long hair. When the answer was negative, the owner hung up. Frank told the boys they'd have to grow their hair. However, Roy Estrada and Jim Black lived at the time in Santa Ana—in the heart of Orange County, never noted for its tolerant attitudes. They were scared. They got around it by spraying their longish hair into pompadours before returning home. That helped a little, but the problem was more than hair. It was music. The group played many small joints from which they were fired for playing original material—it just wasn't done.
When we were first performing when the name was M-O-T-H-E-R-S and prior to that I had another group out in the sticks that was spelled M-U-T-H-E-R-S; once we started performing in Los Angeles, occasionally some club owner would put the 'U' up in the name, but once we were on record it was always with an O. There was a group called the Muthers but it wasn't that personnel; the personnel of that other weird group was Les Papp on drums, Paul Woods on bass and myself.
There were four original Mothers—Ray Collins, Jim Black, Roy Estrada and myself. We starved for about ten months because we were playing a type of music that was grossly unpopular in that area.
[FZ] left the studio, and the city, in August 1965.
"Lorraine [Belcher Chamberlain] said he was kind of done with Cucamonga," [Derek] Miley added.
Studio Z was torn down the following year.
IB: So Frank spent ten days in Tank C, and shortly thereafter you left Studio Z—where did you then live?
LBC: I lived in Laguna for a while. Frank closed Studio Z and moved to Echo Park, where I would stay with him sometimes. It was a chaotic time. Then I moved to Seattle for a while.
After I got out of jail I realized that they were going to tear down the studio and widen the street, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was so sad. I had to get the wire cutters and yank all my equipment out of there and evacuate 'Studio Z.' I had to leave all those sets I had painted, the rocket ship, the mad scientist's lab—everything.
I moved from Cucamonga into a little apartment at 1819 Bellevue Avenue, in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles, and got a job at Wallich's Music City, a record store in downtown L.A. I worked as a salesman in the singles department.
At the time I was living in a part of town called Echo Park [Los Angeles] which was a Mexican, Japanese, Filipino, Black neighborhood and I lived in a little two-room place, grubby little place on the side of a hill, 1819 Bellevue Avenue. In that house I wrote "Brain Police," "Oh No, I Don't Believe It," "Hungry Freaks," "Bowtie Daddy," and five or six others. A lot of the songs off the first album [Freak Out] had already been written for two or three years before the album came out. And a lot of songs wouldn't come out until the third or fourth album.
[...] "Brain Police," was a phenomena because I was just sitting in the kitchen at the Bellevue Avenue house and I was working on "Oh No, I Don't Believe It," which didn't have lyrics at the time . . . and I heard, it was just like there was somebody standing over my shoulder telling me those lyrics and it was really weird. I looked around . . . I mean, it wasn't like 'hey Frank, listen to this . . . ' but it was there. So I just wrote it down and figured the proper setting for it.
FZ: It gives me great pleasure to read the tag line to a commercial for Wallichs' Music City because I used to work for them, and before I read the rest of the hype I'll tell you a little bit about their personnel policy. You used to get fired if you were seen going to lunch with a member of staff who happened to be of the opposite sex.
LC: Did you work in the downtown store?
LC: So did I.
FZ: I had a little badge with Mr. Zappa on it, which I've still got.
We were invited to a party at the house of Carl Cohen. We get there and these very funky-looking men were there and they had "bobby" hats—not quite stovepipe hats, but because they didn't have any hair they were hiding their no hair. That was my thing with them for a long time about hair. I always encouraged them to grow their hair. Even Frank didn't have hair because he was working out in the sticks and you better not have any hair out there.
They were playing in Pomona. I went out there. I was interested in him and I let him know I liked him and I liked those guys and he came to [Canter's] and you have to understand [Canter's] is lit up. He came in there and he's a weird-looking dude among all these crazy-looking people so he fit right in and he was probably still wearing that hat and he said "I'd like to talk to you." In [Canter's] the thing was not to table hop. Because we, Vito's dancers, had come into this place and made it a hit, it was folding when we came into the door with 25 people.
So right after that [Mondo Hollywood] party we stopped wearing our uniforms. Frank told us they would have to go but sometimes we'd wear the hats. Frank punched his up from the inside and wore it like that for a while, and the rest of us did so too. That's when we started wearing "freaky" stuff. Frank told us to go to the Salvation Army Used Clothing Store and start buying the freakiest clothes we could find. I couldn't wear that stuff around the house in Santa Ana, so I had to change when I got into Hollywood. It was a dual life I was leading, like James Bond or Superman.
Franzoni met Zappa at Ben Frank's, a Jetsons-esque coffee shop on the Strip soon to become one of L.A. freakdom s stations of the cross. "Frank was looking for the key to get into Hollywood," Franzoni says. "He says, 'I want to get into Hollywood. What do I do?' I spent at least three months talking to him in his orange car, his house. I said, Okay, I'm trying to get away from the Byrds. You're next. I'll help you if you want."
[Mark Cheka] brought in a guy named Herb Cohen, who was managing some folk and folk-rock groups and was looking for another act to pick up. Eventually they became joint managers of our band, with a contract negotiated 'on behalf of the group' by Herb's brother, an attorney named Martin (Mutt) Cohen.
"I saw Frank," [Herb Cohen] told Mick Watts. "It was basically r'n'b, but original Zappa r'n'b material, which was a little different. And then I spoke with Frank the next day and then we had a couple of meetings and he sat down and explained to me what he wanted to do in terms of music. I didn't quite understand at the time what he was talking about. Because no one had used those frames of reference—at all—so it was a little hard to explain.
"But it was obvious that he knew what he was talking about—and that was hard to find. Not only did he know what he was talking about but he had a good background and was an excellent musician."
The Mothers is a nice little band
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Then we decided we were going to the big city—Los Angeles—which was about thirty miles away. We had added a girl to the group, Alice Stuart. She played guitar very well and sang well. I had an idea for combining certain modal influences into our basically country blues sound. We were playing a lot of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf-type stuff. Alice played good finger-style guitar, but she-couldn't play "Louie, Louie," so I fired her.
Frank was starting a group. He had nothing to his name but a very good guitar and a very beat-up old car—yet he knew exactly what he wanted to do. We got a group together that consisted of Jimmy Carl Black, Ray Collins, Roy Estrada, Frank and myself, playing great beaters like "Midnight Hour." I went beserk after about three months with Frank doing his Chicano rap, so I split . . .
Actually, Frank and I met in Los Angeles in a coffeehouse. Seems we were both waiting to meet the same person, a great guitarist named Steve Mann. We were about the only people there and we got to talking and when we finally gave up waiting for Steve, ended up leaving together. We had a fast and furious love affair and tried to incorporate music into the equation. His music was so much different than mine that it was destined to end in disappointment. We loved and cared about each other though. That was when I was trying to go from a folkie to a rocker.
When I met Frank, I was just becoming interested in playing the electric guitar. I really didn't have a clue about how to do it. I'm figuring this was 1965, and I had been playing acoustic guitar for 5 years or so, a lot of Delta Blues and Dylan songs (what a combination) and was firmly rooted in the folk club and festival scene. I was very excited about the possibility of playing in a ROCK band.....wow. So, because of my insistent whining, Frank got me this silly little red fender with terrible action that was almost impossible to play. I think he just wanted to squelch my ideas of playing electric; he really wanted me to play acoustically. Believe it or not, we did 'Hey, You Get Off of My Cloud'—that and some Muddy Waters' stuff. I only played a couple cheesy venues in East L.A. and somewhere else I can't recall.
As far as the way I was treated goes, I don't know that anyone in the band actually took me seriously. I mean, Frank had this wild hair idea about how this would just be so cool—this fusing of my delta guitar playing and his electric thing. The band was pretty much a blues band at the time. He hadn't figured out exactly what he wanted to do; he was experimenting too. Women in the music business are always judged more harshly than men. And it was worse back then. I do think it was especially true at that time that a woman had to be a little better than her male counterpart to get much credit. But, I always figured I would earn respect and didn't want it unless I could deliver.
I'd like to tell you the strange story of how Frank and I met. We had come into this coffee house in Hollywood, separately, called the 5th Estate, I think. We were both in there for a couple of hours and we were the only people in there. Finally, he introduced himself and asked me why I was hanging around so long. I told him I was there to meet a friend, Steve Mann (a fabulous guitar player). Well, it turns out that's why HE was there, too. We got to talking and waited another hour or so, and finally gave up on Steve. We spent the next few months together, both musically and personally. If I hadn't been such a mess at the time emotionally, I might have never left.
We met at a coffeehouse in Santa Monica in 1964. We had come in separately and had both been there for about 2 hours. We got to talking and found out we were both waiting to meet the same person, Steve Mann, a great guitar player who had been a major influence on many guitar players. We left together after about 3 hours (and a LOT of coffee).
We immediately fell into a warm and comfortable relationship and were inseparable for a few months. I was drawn to his energy and sense of ambition. He knew what he wanted and was a good communicator.
He had a blues band when I met him, just 4 people and the Turtles sang with him occasionally. I was looking to move from acoustic guitar to electric, but he wanted to incorporate my acoustic delta style with his electric leads.
It was just a blues band, but Frank had been working on some new songs with these strange, complicated chords that went right over my head.
We were playing "Get Off of my Cloud" and straight blues tunes. But his new songs that he was working on (that ended up on Freak Out) stood apart from anything I'd ever heard before. (By the way, he spelled my name wrong on Freak Out, the bum).
I left right before the first recording session.
[I didn't tour with his band], it was a very short time, a matter of months.
[I was playing a] Martin D-18 that I still have. Frank bought me a little red Fender electric and it was a real dog, like a 3/4 size or something. Really hard to play. I didn't have my own electric guitar yet.
There was a girl guitar player called Alice Stuart on the scene. I think she and Frank had a little thing going. She was a good player, but very much a folkie-type player. However, she became quite a blues player. I think Alice only played at the Brave New World and a couple of those little one-off gigs. It was a nice idea and she was a nice woman, but I didn't think that she fitted in that well and ultimately, I don't think Frank did either.
Then we got Henry Vestine who is one of the most outstanding blues guitarists on any coast. He's really a monster. He was part of the group for quite some time. But our music kept getting progressively stranger and he couldn't identify with what we were doing and he wanted his freedom, so we said, "'Goodbye, Henry" and he split. He's in Canned Heat now.
We met a blues guitarist called Henry Vestine. Henry's band had also being playing out at The Broadside, a trio. I think Larry Taylor had been playing bass with him. They'd done very well there. I don't know how we talked Henry into joining, but we did. So now we had two guitar players, Henry was playing all the lead stuff. Frank played lead on very few things—he concentrated on the rhythm stuff.
We got The Broadside back because we hired Henry. We were only allowed to play cover versions but we would always try to sneak an original song in.
I don't know when he joined exactly. [...] I think he joined us at The Broadside. This was before he went with the blues. What was cool about Henry was, at the time there was no wah-wahs or volume pedals at all, so he'd do it right there with his finger. He was one of the first guys I saw who would 'mmmyeow' (mimics wah-wah) and get that sound. There was no pedal, he did it with his hand.
I write around the musicians, so the repertoire that we were playing when Henry Vestine was in the group certainly took advantage of the things that he was able to do on the guitar. He's a blues player, and so we were playing a lot of funky stuff at that time.
[...] Personal Management Contract entered into between each member of The Mothers of Invention and Herbert L. Cohen on October 1, 1965
We were lucky enough to land a residency at a new club on Santa Monica Boulevard called the Action. It opened with a great flourish—loads of publicity and capacity audiences . . . and that was when Hollywood, especially Sunset Strip, was just beginning to change from its old cocktail lounge image to a more rock'n'roll-oriented scene. We got a good thing going at the Action, because we knew so many of the local musicians, and they were always coming along to jam with us. We were resident there for a while, making good money—and on our night off, every Monday, they'd put on this other group called The Mothers—with Frank Zappa and Henry Vestine.
[Herb Cohen] got us an audition at The Action club on Melrose Ave. in Hollywood. Finally, we had hit the big time!
At that audition, we played Herb some original songs and then we played the cover stuff for the club owners. They liked us they hired us [...]. We still weren't up on the "Strip" yet—we were only on Santa Monica Boulevard—but we were closer. We got a month long gig there, six nights a week. The money didn't change. In fact, it might have even been less because we had to pay Herb 15% right off the top of anything we earned. [...]
The Action club was really the first place we could play some of our stuff. They didn't seem to care; it was OK. By this time, we'd learnt a bunch of other stuff like "Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder" but we were still playing mostly R&B and not many original songs.
While we were at the Action, they would let us rehearse there of a daytime between about 3 and 7 pm and then we would have to stop. We'd go to Pink's and get a hot dog or something that was cheap, for a quarter or something like that.
That was our first step into the Hollywood scene. That's when Herb latched onto us and from then on, he booked us into some clubs. We wound up doing the Whisky A Go go. They were all mafia clubs; there was one off the strip on Santa Monica Boulevard (probably The Action). We saw a lot of (celebrities). The Yardbirds would come into the club. Sonny and Cher would come in. One time, John Wayne came in, he was all drunk [...] and had a bodyguard. You know how Frank would always start riding on somebody, so we did it on stage, we started doing that and the bodyguard came up and said, "Hey, cut that out!"
One Halloween Eve the unknown Mothers played to Soupy Sales, Lorne Greene of Bonanza and Frank's fellow Lancasterite, John Wayne.
Then Vito let us use his dance studio (or dungeon of sin!) in Hollywood to rehearse in. It was a studio/gallery/workshop down in the basement of the place he shared with Carl Franzoni. Getting that place to rehearse made it a lot easier for everybody except me and Roy, as we still had to come from Santa Ana.
By this time, [FZ] and Henry Vestine had moved into a 'ginger-bread' cottage on Formosa Avenue, just south of Sunset. It was one in a complex of four that fronted onto a central courtyard. Another was occupied by singer Victoria Winston, who'd attended the same high school as Phil Spector and dated fellow Teddy Bear Marshall Lieb. "At the time, the area was filled with musicians. Members of Steppenwolf lived across the street and there were country players down the block."
[...] In the few months that he lived there, Frank wrote several songs for Winston and her partner Curt Boettcher, who as Simon's Children had a contract with Columbia Records. "I liked what he was writing, I wanted to do something that had a political message or statement in it. But our producer didn't like the material, so we didn't record it."
Dick Clark: Incidentally, for those of you who don't live in the Los Angeles area, there's a very, very— the most succesful club in the whole world, I guess right now. It's a place called The Whisky à Go-Go, and this is where Johnny appears. How long have you been there?
Johnny Rivers: Well, I was there since it opened. We opened the club January 15 .
Every once in a while, we would get to go up and play at the Whisky a Go Go when Johnny Rivers wasn't playing. [...] So we started playing the occasional night there and we were starting to get a following around Hollywood. [...]
By now, we were playing "Motherly Love," "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" and "I Ain't Got No Heart."
"How Could I Be Such A Fool" was the first thing that we ever played in waltz time. Frank called it 'Motown 6/8.' It also later became the backbeat to "Help, I'm A Rock."
We were starting to do "Trouble Comin' Every Day" about the summer of '65. Frank wrote that when the Watts riots started to happen. [...]
I was still doing a few Jimmy Reed songs at the Whisky a Go Go. I would get out in the front and sing and Frank would go back and play the drums. [...]
Finally, Johnny Rivers decided to go out on the road so they gave the job to us. [...] We had that job for 22 weeks, playing six nights a week.
Then we moved west on Sunset Boulevard more to the Whiskey because the Whiskey was starting to open up [...] There was this little tiny club where I told you the Doors played for three months—nobody even thought about them. Somebody from the Whiskey came over and said uh—'cause the Whiskey was turning. The Whiskey was this straight club, it was just a dance club. It was women in the box . . . Frank Zappa played there and he had to play a straight number to get in there. They would yell at him if he played something crazy. He had to play straight music in there. [...] The Whiskey had a high stage and Ciro's had a low stage so you could see right into the band. [...]
Now what started, I repeated that thing forever at all the places—Whiskey A-Go-Go I was always the first one up there—they sold tickets over me. They never gave me any money! They'd only say "go in Carl, go on up there." I would give them a fucking show where movie stars would come in and be like this (makes open-mouthed astonished expression), just look at me like "what the fuck is this? Where in the hell did he come from?"
[...] I hung out with Frank and he needed us because we were famous as dancers in Hollywood. He started working at the Whiskey and that's when the Whiskey had to make a turn because right up to then they didn't even have rhythm and blues in the place, they had these surfer bands. [...] The Whiskey was giving Frank Zappa a bad time about what music he's gonna play and they didn't have a stage yet. The Whiskey had no stage—it was built later. It was built after. Here's what it was: you walked in the door, there was go-go girl in a cage and underneath her was the band. And then there were cages all around the room, maybe four cages around the room, and other women were working those cages. So it was like they were in jail or something.
Rasputin says: The Mothers is a nice little band . . . I suppose.
It was a long time ago, it was on the way to the airport. Henry Vestine, who went on to make Canned Heat, was in our band at the time. He and Frank and I smoked a joint on the way to the airport, I think the first time we were going to San Francisco. And Frank was, if I remember right, a bit giddy, and maybe paranoid. You know, I was probably giddy and paranoid, too! Maybe we all were.
In November, we went up to San Francisco for the first time and played at the Longshoreman's Hall for the Family dog. It was a co-production between Chet Helms and Bill Graham. We played with the Charlatans—Dan Hicks was the drummer with them at the time. I think it was the last gig ever to be played there. One of the songs we were playing was "Rumble," the old Link Wray song. While we were playing it, we could see Herb at the side of the stage in some sort of fight with the promoters—probably about money—and the place got a bit trashed.
[Pamela Zarubica] first saw Frank Zappa while she and Julia were waiting to get into the Trip. The guest guitarist came in from the back. "He used to wear this big fur coat that looked like it was made out of dead cat. . . . I thought he looked like Omar Sharif. I always called him Omar. He played a tune with the Grass Roots." After that, she saw him around with Vito and Carl Franzoni.
September 26-30, 1965: Barry McGuire/The Grass Roots
[PF] Sloan and his partner, Steve Barri, recorded and released "Where Were You When I Needed You" under the name The Grass Roots, and it became a "turntable hit" (maning airplay without sales). They needed a group to promote the record, so they found a San Mateo, CA group called The Bedouins and made them The Grass Roots. Bedouins lead singer Bill Fulton re-recorded the vocal to the single, and the re-release was a hit. The Grass Roots started to play around California, playing the same covers they had played as The Bedouins plus their new hit.
October 1, 1965: The Byrds/Barry McGuire/Grass Roots
October 2-3, 1965: Barry McGuire/The Grass Roots
October 4-17, 1965: The Byrds/Grass Roots/Skip Battyn Trio
October ? 1965: The Leaves/The Grass Roots
[...] The Grass Roots played The Trip for most or all of October.
[Pamela Zarubica] first saw Frank at The Trip when he sat in one night with the Grass Roots, who would soon change their name to Love in order not to clash with the pop singles band created by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. Pam nicknamed him Omar, since Frank was wearing a fur coat making him resemble Omar Sharif's character in the recently released film Doctor Zhivago.
Arthur Lee's band didn't play The Trip until after they had changed their name from the Grass Roots to Love, and guitarist Johnny Echols and other surviving band members have stated that FZ never played with them.
The Grass Roots were living in an apartment on Santa Monica Boulevard, just South of the Sunset Strip and The Trip. It was a typical band crash pad. No real food, clothes in every corner, and generally not enough room to keep us out of each other's hair. It was so close to The Trip that people would stop by regularly. Frank Zappa, Henry Vestine, Fang and Smitty, Jim Pons, Gene Clark, Mike Clarke, Bill Rinehart, etc. It was a kick.
Prior to [Tom Wilson hearing the Mothers at the Whisky], we had made some demos at Original Sound, had sent them to MGM and a bunch of other companies. And we had been turned down by everybody in the business. And so MGM was sort of like a last resort.
With Zappa's connections with Art Laboe still in place, The Mothers laid down some tracks at Original Sound Studios. These recordings, sent to the MGM and Columbia labels among others, included an early version of "Plastic People". MGM did not reply, but Columbia vice president and general manager Clive Davis (now Arista honcho) said that The Mothers "had no commercial potential."
Zappa never recorded at Original Sound, with one exception: The Run Home Slow movie theme.
Anything done at Original Sound was done by me—nobody else ever engineered there until I moved to Nashville in 1972.
David Anderle was a young talent scout for MGM/Verve in Los Angeles in 1965. [...] Anderle saw the Mothers at the Red Velvet club and was smitten. He was having a hard time getting anyone at the label to take Zappa seriously when Wilson was hired as head of East Coast A&R. Anderle coaxed Wilson out from New York to see the band, and to Anderle's amazement, Wilson "got them" right away and the band was signed, launching the careers of both Zappa and Anderle.
In 1964, [David Anderle] became West Coast talent director at MGM, which owned Verve Records at the time. After seeing Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in 1965, Anderle pushed to get the act signed to the label, but met considerable resistance within Verve. Anderle convinced Tom Wilson to sign the Mothers and produce their album.
Reportedly taken by Zappa's Watts riot song, "Trouble Every Day," [Tom] Wilson investigated further, liked demos of "Any Way the Wind Blows" and "Who Are the Brain Police," and got Verve Records (MGM subsidiary) to put the Mothers of Invention (MGM made them add "of Invention") under what Zappa calls "contractual bondage."
The Mothers of Invention, riding the crest of Los Angeles freakdom, were signed to MGM-Verve in November of 1965
Our manager Herb Cohen dragged him away from a girl that he had sitting on his lap at a Hollywood club down the street from where we were working at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. We have to be appreciative of Tom. He's passed away now but he was visionary. He signed the Velvet Underground and a number of other really obscure groups at that time. And we were just another of his obscure groups that he was producing.
Herbie knew Tom Wilson, and sort of dragged him away from fun and merriment at this— He was at this club down the street from the Whisky A-Go-Go, he was at the Trip. And we were working a replacement job or something at the Whisky A-Go-Go. And Herbie got Wilson to come down and listen to us.
Prior to that, we had made some demos at Original Sound, had sent them to MGM and a bunch of other companies. And we had been turned down by everybody in the business. And so MGM was sort of like a last resort. And we hadn't received any word as to the acceptance of our demos from MGM. So Herbie knew that Wilson was the guy to talk to, saw Wilson in this club, and made him come down and listen to us at the Whisky A-Go-Go.
Chris August: How were you able to get a recording contract, how were you able to get on Verve?
Frank Zappa: That was an accident. We had gone around to all the record companies, shopped our demos around and done all the things that a new group does in Hollywood to get somebody at a record company to listen to them, and been turned down by everybody. And finally this guy, Tom Wilson, who was the producer at MGM, was down the street at one club while we were working at the Whiskey a Go-go, and he was induced to be dragged away from his lady friend and come down and see us play just for a moment. And he walked in while we were playing the Watts Riot Song.
Synapse: "Trouble Coming Every Day."
Zappa: Right. That was a rhythm and blues kind of number. He walks in and he sees the band, sees us play that. We finish the set, I come out and shake hands with him, he said he liked it. He said that he thought we could make a deal, and he walked away thinking that he had signed a white rhythm and blues band. And they gave us the astounding sum of $2500.00 to sign the contract, and we went in and started making the record the first song we recorded was "Any Way the Wind Blows," and the second song we recorded was "Who are the Brain Police;" and that's when the phone calls started going out to New York, You know, uh, oh, what happened?
Synapse: Were they committed to manufacturing the first one?
Zappa: That's right, yeah it was already signed, the money was spent and they didn't really know what they had bought. So, like I said, It was an accident. If he hadn't been there and we hadn't been there and we hadn't been playing that one particular song when he came in; if it hadn't been a certain hour of the night where the crowd at the Whiskey a Go-go was up dancing and looking like they were having a good time to this particular number, well, it might not have happened.
Not long after [Halloween at the Action], Johnny Rivers went on tour and we were hired as a temporary replacement at the Whisky-a-Go-Go. By chance, Tom Wilson, a staff producer for MGM Records, was in town. He was up the street, at the Trip, watching a 'big group.' Herb Cohen talked him into a quick visit to the Whisky. He walked in while we were playing our 'BIG BOOGIE NUMBER'—the only one we knew, totally unrepresentative of the rest of our material.
He liked it and aoffered us a record deal (thinking he had acquired the ugliest-looking white blues band in Southern California), and an advance of twenty-five hundred dollars.
Wilson found Zappa, seeing The Mothers for the first time at the Whiskey at the end of November '65. He only watched and listened to them for a few minutes on that first occasion. [...]
There may have been a few record company execs hanging around who didn't know what they were in for at that point, but Tom Wilson certainly did. He saw them a number of times before he signed them, and the go-ahead for Frank to prepare material for an album didn't come until 1 March 1966. At least, that's the chronology as Pam Zarubica recalls it.
In January 1966 [Tom] Wilson visited the [West] Coast. One evening at the Trip he met Herb Cohen and accompanied him to the Whiskey to catch the Mothers.
[Sterling] Morrison: "[...] We made the album ourselves and then took it around because we knew that no one was going to sign us off the streets. And we didn't want any A&R department telling us what songs we should record. We took it to Ahmet Ertegun and he said, 'No drug songs.' We took it to Elektra, and they said, 'No violas.' Finally we took it to Tom Wilson, who was at Columbia, and he said to wait until he moved to MGM and we could do whatever we wanted with on their Verve label, which turned out to be true and MGM did sign us. They signed The Mothers of Invention at the same time, trying to revamp Verve and go psychedelic, or something." [...]
Warhol: "[Tom Wilson] was a friend of Nico's. When they went with MGM, Tom Wilson was the person there."
This agreement will be given the same force and effect (as of the date of this agreement) as if he had originally signed the AGREEMENT FOR ASSOCIATION WITH A MUSICAL GROUP of November 15, 1965 between the members of The Mothers of Invention and Frank Zappa as leader.
[Henry Vestine] was contracted as a member of The Mothers on Nov. 15, 1965. (Source: photocopy of contract).
During about late 1965, I hadn't seen Zappa for year and a half or so and he suddenly turned up at my house looking just the way he did on those early Mothers albums, which was kind of shocking to me because I hadn't seen a lot of long hair at that time. I didn't know who it was at first. He started telling me about this band he had, telling me that they were touring a little bit, and I asked if I could audition for them—which I did, but he just said "sorry, Don—but you don't know anything about rock & roll so you can't be in the band right now . . . " which was true.
Right after that I started getting work in rock bands though, even went to Hawaii with one band called The Forerunners and a year or so later I asked again to audition for Zappa's band, went down and did it and got the job.
I didn't see him for awhile after that. One day he showed up at my door, looking like [what we think of as] "Frank Zappa"—because he didn't look like that in the early days—and I didn't even recognize him. He looked like Rasputin or something! He started telling me about his band.
So then I auditioned for them. And he said, "Don, you don't know anything about rock'n'roll." Which I didn't; I had never played rock'n'roll before.
Late '65 was the first time I met Don Preston. We went over to his little studio. Frank took us all over there for a jam. He wanted all of us to go. Frank had met Don Preston at the Unicorn club that Herbie used to run right next to the Whisky. [...]
This was around the time that Frank was thinking about extending the band. But he thought at that time that Don was too much of a jazz player and didn't understand the Blues or Rock stuff we were doing—he couldn't play "Louie Louie"! It was probably nine months later that Don auditioned for the band again.
At the time though, Don was working with Bunk Gardner. They were active within the avant-garde scene—experimenting with music and film. [...] It was neat to see that place, I think it was in Echo Park or Silver Lake—it was actually quite close to where Frank was living.
"We consider ourselves therapeutic workers massaging the brains of people dancing to our music with the lyrics to our songs. We sing songs with feeling like they were done in the late Fifties in El Monte Legion Stadium, not the commercial noise that is being put out today," said Frank.
"Bob Dylan is the only guy who really feels what he is saying, Barry McGuire is a phony—he doesn't mean what he says," continued Frank.
Some examples of lyrics from the Mothers songs are: "Take your little white plastic boots and melt them down and send them back to the shoe store . . . Take your little white plastic hat and crumple it up and send it back to the hat store . . . "
"We get so tired of playing for these phony people in blue Velour sweatshirts and Poor Boy sweaters. They are trying so hard to be cool and think they are so in. And of course they go to the Go Go Clubs to be discovered," said Frank.
The other Mothers are Cherokee Jim Black, drums; Roy Estrada, bass; Ray Collins, harmonica-singer; Henry Vestine, guitar.
THE MOTHERS serenade "plastic people" every night at Whisky A Go Go. They are (l-r) Ray Collins, Henry Vestine, Frank Zappa and Roy Estrada.
The Enemys were one of the hottest acts in Los Angeles and from June 65 to Feb 67 they were the house band at The Whisky A-Go-Go. (Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention often played the Enemys off nights.)
The Leaves and The Mothers played together at The Trip in late December 1965, during Christmas time, because I've the flyer with not exact dates but with the billed "The Happy Xmas Beat."
Additional informant: Javier Al FrescoResearch, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos