I’ve looked for years for evidence that Frank Zappa knew that Jaco Pastorius existed.
I have just found it astonishing that their paths never crossed or, more to the point, that Jaco never played for a Frank Zappa outfit.
I’m guessing that Jaco’s reputation as being somewhat of a showboater or his reputation for utilizing certain chemical substances preceded him. Or maybe Jaco was too busy making Joni Mitchell sound even more amazing.
However. This year, I have found a small, but reassuring, nexus. Cue drummer Chad Wackerman. Just for fun, we’ll drop in right at a drum break with Wackerman, Chester Thompson, and Terry Bozzio (this was originally broadcast via The Drum Channel, after all):
“I was a percussion major at Juilliard. I mean this was back in the times of dynasties in music. I thought that I would love it. And all of that derailed for me, it just crashed and burned, when I heard my first Frank Zappa concert. I just suddenly realized, I don’t want to be a timpanist in an orchestra. And I don’t want to be a triangle player in an orchestra, to have to sit in the back row onstage to play my three triangle notes. That was not anything that appealed to me from the moment I heard Frank’s music. And it’s not that I was inexperienced as a listener with other popular music, or music theater or any of that. Frank embodied everything, everything that showed me in that one concert that I wanted to do that. I would sit in my orchestration classes at Juilliard, in my baroch history, these classes taught by the greatest people on Earth. One day, I was in one of the piano practice rooms, and I was absolutely not even allowed to be there because that’s ‘just for the pianists.’ And there I would be trying to recall the melody or the melodic shape of ‘Oh No.’ Nobody was there, and on this fabulous grand piano, I played that piece to the best of my recollection. And I can tell you, probably within 30 seconds, an officer of the school came in, ‘what are you doing?’ I’m just playing this beautiful music. ‘It doesn’t sound like any music you are supposed to be playing here.’ And I said, it’s 20th century music, what are you talking about? It’s by a living composer. ‘Get out.’ And, if you want to hear that piece on the piano, it could live in a concert hall, it was that type of music that he could produce that was a product of everything that was in him, but you couldn’t really categorize it. You couldn’t say oh yeah, that’s rock and roll, because it wasn’t. It’s jazz, no, it really wasn’t. It’s pop music, no, not at all. Well, what the hell is it?
And I knew that it had changed my life. That’s the thing. I didn’t live my life and then look back on it and go yeah, that was the life-changing moment. I walked out of that theater and I was actually disoriented. My whole world had been shaken up.” (Ruth Underwood, in the beautiful documentary, Zappa)
For many years, I have spent some time and space at this point in the Zappadan holiday space celebrating and acknowledging the birthday of one Richard Wayne Penniman, due to his significant influence on Zappa and to rock and roll generally, and of course, his contribution of one of Zappa’s finest sonic achievements, the performance of the Penniman-penned “Directly From My Heart” from the album Weasels Ripped My Flesh, featuring the astonishing Sugarcane Harris on fiddle and lead vocal.
Here’s an early recording of the tune by its tunesmith:
It was 2013 when I came across a vital book, David Kirby’s Little Richard: The Birth of Rock â€˜nâ€™ Roll, which argues convincingly that while many casual music fans may relegate Little Richard to the novelty act bin, Little Richard was, indeed, one of the most earth-shaking forces in rock. And, Kirby is absolutely right. Before him, everybody crooned. After him, more and more they wanted to howl. Little Richard led the way; he taught everyone else what sort of energy to bring to the party. He was the Architect.
And every year I write this here, and every year, I’d fantasize that there would be a comment from the man himself. This year I don’t even have that. Because this is the first year we observe Dec. 5 without him here to make the planet prettier. Yes, Little Richard stopped refusing to die in May 2020. He was 87.
Of this he was well aware. The linked article above offers a bit of video that cracks me up: Richard at the 1988 Grammy Awards. Watch him state the obvious. Watch the audience’s reaction. Every human in that building gave up the standing O to Little Richard taking his well-deserved credit. Because sometimes the truth just rings out.
Take solace, though: Little Richard was bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1993, not to mention four Grammy Hall of Fame recognitions for “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille,” and the album Here’s Little Richard.
In the July 2020 Rolling Stone tribute, they let Richard have the last word, as quoted from his 1971 album, King of Rock and Roll. I’ma swipe the quote and do the same here:
“We got everybody here tonight. We got black folk. We got white folk. We got red folk. We got brown folk. We got yellow folk. We got real folk. We got love folk. I want you all to know that I’m here tonight, and I’ve been talking about love for a long time. Because, honey, I’m the man that started it all. The Emancipator of Soul and the King of Rock & Roll, from Macon, Georgia. I want you to know that I’m here to be offered tonight in the fullness. That the beauty is still on duty. Let it all hang out with the beautiful Little Richard from down in Macon, Georgia. I want you all to know that I am the Georgia Peach. Let all the womenfolk say ‘Whoooooo!’ Let all the men say ‘Ugh! Oooh, my soul.’ A man walked up to me yesterday and said, ‘Little Richard, don’t you know that James Brown can beat you dancing?’ I said, ‘Beat me dancing? But have you ever thought about that he don’t look like me?’ Shut up! I am the star. And don’t you ever forget it.”
I have always thought that the most remarkable thing about Zappa’s “King Kong” is that it sounds like King Kong. It is huge and frightening and potentially deadly, but it is also lumbering and vulnerable. One of the greatest Mothers tracks. I also note that in some performances of this song, they are playing around a lot with the “plugged-in” saxophone sound. I wonder if Zappa listened to Eddie Harris.
Here is a fabulous performance of it for the BBC in 1968. Bari sax honking by Jim “Motorhead” Sherwood.
It’s weird, but I always get a little excited this time of year, this day, as if I’m actually lighting the candles on Little Richard’s birthday cake.
It is a luxury that Little Richard’s birthday falls within the Zappa Solstice. Of course, if the information I read on the Facebook today is correct, so does Louis Cole’s birthday. But that’s another matter altogether. Hi, Louis Cole!
Little Richard, 87 today, penned a song that became one of my favorite Mothers performances ever caught on tape. Track two off of Weasels Ripped My Flesh, the song is called “Directly from my Heart,” and it features Don “Sugarcane” Harris in a blistering fiddle performance. But this thing would not be half what it is without the stellar source material, the song that drags its left foot so beautifully.
This is not going to be a long, drawn-out post. I have done that previously. I do recommend on this auspicious occasion that the average humble music listener might want to take a moment away from one’s gorging diet of Zappa, and Mothers, and Beefheart, and Geronimo Black, and listen to something by Little Richard. And, if you’re curious, settle down with author Richard Kirby’s masterpiece, Little Richard: The Birth of Rock and Roll. It will change your life.
Happy birthday, Georgia Peach. Health and comfort to you.
Why, I thought today, as I watched the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing today, would Democrats add a fellow like Jonathan Turley on your panel only to have your counsel race at him with a “that’s a yes or no” question kind of question?
It just seemed like a poorly built pile of Lincoln Logs to me. Why not just make Turley try on the glove while you’re at it? “IF YOU OVERREACH, YOU CAN’T IMPEACH!”
More bizarre was Turley’s position itself. You shouldn’t be impeaching because you can’t point to a specific law broken? Or because you should go to the courts first, for some reason? I’ve seen the video of Turley in 1998, looking quite a bit squeakier than he does today, up in front of the mic goin’ YEAH, IMPEACH THAT MOTHERFUCKER. YEAH, YOU HEARD ME. WHACK HIM WITH A STICK WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, YOU’LL SEE. IN THE BUM.
Ya’ll don’t reckon Jonathan Turley would like to be a judge someday
Then there was Doug Collins of Georgia, why, here he is in a vintage commercial from like the olden days
I’m sayin’ I believe Collins’ father was a tobacco auction barker and also his mom was a tobacco auction barker too.
He talks fast.
However, he’s worried that these impeachment hearings are going toooooooo fast. It’s about the clock and the calendar, the clock and the calendar, the clock and the calendar, he kept saying. What he was subtly trying to intimate was that Democrats want this thing to hurry up because of this upcoming election deal.
Well he isn’t wrong.
As my favorite New Yorker Randi Rhodes pointed out today on her radio program, yes! Democrats would like to get this thing done well before election 2020.
Because we know that in 2016, the Russkies (is that how you spell that?) were fucking with our elections. And we have evidence sitting in our blubbery laps that Trump and his friend Edmund Jumanji have been trying to get the Ukranians on board with that particular move as well.
And we also know that Trump just telegraphed, in his subtle, clever manner, that he’d be okay if these Untied States of ‘Merka didn’t have a trade agreement with China until after the election. Which, if you run it through a sieve, sounds an awful lot like “we’d like you to do us a favor though.”
Yeah, there’s a reason to get this done soon. And if you like to vote, you should be rooting for it, too.
Today is Bummernacht 2019, a day signifying the last day that the great man himself, Frank Zappa, stopped refusing to die. Or, as they teach today in the finest classrooms:
“On this day ’93, we all stopped jivin’ with that cosmic debris”
So I often write up a buncha stuff for this blog space here in outer space for the occasion, and I do not know how much I will have to share here. As I am the Zappadan tumblr man and the Twitter Captain as well, plus as a person who has one of those “job” things, I hope the best I can do in this time is to listen to music, to reflect, and to maybe learn more things.
First, the boilerplate: Zappadan began as a blogswarm many years ago, I think in 1972 or so, back when people were still “blogging.” It is from Dec. 4, the day of Frank Zappa’s permanent discorporation, until Dec. 21, which is that day that my brother was born. And also Frank Zappa was born that day too, yes. Since then it has reached beyond the blogosphere, celebrated today with a modified maypole dance, some rye whiskey, and feats of strength.
And pigs and ponies.
And so today, as I ponder my first discussion of the Zappadan of 2019, I am listening to the svelte shasta sounds of Harry Wayne Casey, who is extorting an audience to “blow yo whistle” and to “let him hear it.” And I wonder what Frank Zappa thought of Casey, known better to all ya’ll as “KC,” of KC and the Sunshine band, if he ever really thought of them at all. I thought of them this evening when I came home and sat down on my toilet. And so I picked up the remote control I keep nearby, and I said into the remote, I says, ALEXA. PLAY KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND ON SPOTIFY. And it played a song by KC and the Sunshine band.
And I wondered what Frank thought of this musical marvel, built in the solid Caribbean musical tradition of Junkanoo, which will sit beside you all night at a party and swear it has nothing to do with the Indian tradition of New Orleans but holy crap you just keep squinting and thinking you canNOT tell the difference, maybe there’s more whistles or something. But knowing this, that this young man who worked at the time in a record store in Hialeah, Florida, witnessed this cultural touchstone centuries old, perhaps even grew up with it, and thought enough of it to want to try bringing some variant of it into the recording studio, and that that is how you got “I’m Your Boogie Man,” I can tell you that it has made me reach for this previously considered guilty pleasure with more gusto and insight than I had before. Seriously, put on the album “Do It Good” sometime and listen from gavel to gavel, and apply a truly critical ear. You may leave the experience gushing.
I only wish I knew if Frank ever gave ol’ KC and his Sunshine Band any thought. Like, perhaps, he’d named an album in parodied tribute, ever.
But hey, enough of my yakkinâ€™. What do you say? Letâ€™s boogie!
I didn’t do as much here as I had thought I would. I haven’t in recent years. It’s difficult to blog about a single topic for 17 days straight and to do it with a new angle.
But, Zappadan these days is not so much about the blogging. I spent some time watching some really great kids doing some serious vlogging, and they managed to make it to pretty much every blessed night. I learned much from these vlog sessions and will probably revisit them. You should note that these two sometimes got chat from some weird old guy. They were extremely nice to their party crasher.
Lot of activity over at the @zappadan Twitter. And, I tried to document the activity over at zappadan.com. I will be adding more stuff and cleaning it up as I have time, and I think I’m going to try to blog over there year-round.
I like the Zappadan thing. It’s weird. But it makes me expand my appreciation. I ended up taking on a few more albums, including Sleep Dirt, which I managed to find on vinyl; The Roxy Performances, Chicago ’78, Little Dots, the Road Tapes albums, Finer Moments. All highly recommended listens, and all brand new to me this year.
And I think if I realized something about Frank this year, it’s that yeah, he was a great musician, a spouter of various wisdom, a brave stalwart versus authority’s fists, and just plain altogether an attitude.
I think the greatest thing about Zappa was that he was the ultimate music fan.
And I think that’s what makes Frank Zappa so undeniable to those of us who revere him.