Whatever Happened to All the Fun in the World?

I will say, I have accomplished what I really wanted to do this Zappadan.

It took some doing. But I wanted to be able to look at a picture of the Mothers and to be able to name them all.

Because I think those fellows deserve that level of recognition.

They were fabulous musicians and dedicated, hard workers. They created a sound that has not since been duplicated.

These are faces that have haunted me since my childhood. I used to sit and stare at the Freak Out and We’re Only In It For The Money album covers for hours. Who are these hairy freaks in dresses?

Now I can name them.

Merry Zappadan. See you next year.

Dweezil Zappa

When did Dweezil Zappa get so smart?

I don’t know, it’s weird. I’m so used to thinking of Frank’s eldest son as being rather marginal, musically and career-wise generally. Maybe it’s because he started his career in the early ’80s, impressive since he was of middle-school age at the time, but still, you can’t start up then and not have some of the age’s schlock get spewed all over you. Maybe it’s just because he was sprinting every which way to get out from under, you know, the shadow, or because he was the eldest. It just seems that everything Dweezil has done for most of his professional existence has just been so, you know, hokey.

The Fat Boys? Don Johnson? THIS?

Ugh. Why not just get that Neon Park album cover out and wipe your ass with it? Rzzzzzz!

But Mr. Zappa has a saving grace, and it is “Zappa Plays Zappa,” which this guy got to attend right here in Rochester this year.

It’s a brilliant show, it’s a brilliant story, and it’s a brilliant way for Dweezil Zappa to at last come into his own.

The show was awesome, especially for a kid like myself who never got to see the real deal. The music is expertly played and well-venerated as one might expect. It’s a fun show, and it looks like if you’re in the South, you might have a good chance of seeing it in 2013.

It’s a brilliant story to boot. If you ever see Zappa interviewed about the show, the narrative is that he had to go back into the bunker and re-learn everything he knew about being a musician in order to take on this behemoth task of learning Frank’s material. It may very well have the added benefit of being true. But it’s a great story nonetheless and an excellent way to convince us old farts that we might get something out of the gig.

Not to mention, I think this series of tours make Dweezil Zappa a darned interesting act to watch from here on out. Might he release a new album? Might it be worth a listen?

I can tell you what; I think the kid has nearly made up for what he did to “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama.”

Not so sure about this one, though, which is still burned into my head from my MTV drool days. Thanks, Moon.


I should add. Not that everything Dweezil did pre-ZPZ was shite. I always liked this one:



Non-Zappadan Content

“Four Sticks” is called “Four Sticks” because that’s how many drumsticks Bonzo used to play it. Two in each hand. #ZeppelinRules

Captain Beefheart

“Frank’s good. But Beefheart is the real thing.” (Jimmy Carl Black)

On December 17, 2010, again as we celebrated the rich mosaic of a holiday known as Zappadan, Don Van Vliet, or Don Glen Vliet, or Captain Beefheart, became among the legions of the Zappa cosmos that finally stopped refusing to die.

I must admit that I do not know enough about this Beefheart character. I know that Frank Zappa loved it when he sang. And I know where there is a good Beefheart documentary on YouTube.

I also know that watching the documentary makes me want to own and listen to more Beefheart.

Such as the Magic Band’s first album, Safe as Milk:

Check out Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing.

(Graphic embellishment was stolen from Oscars Wild Years and was not hotlinked.)

Ray Collins

I didn’t do Ray Collins yet? No? How the hell did that happen?

First of all, there’s an exercise I always have to perform when talking about this fellow.


This is Ray Collins.
This is Roy Estrada.

This is an important distinction and one I often find difficult to recall. Ray, Roy, you know. Not to mention that they both sang in kind of high voices. But Ray Collins did so rather more adroitly than did Roy Estrada. And, not to mention that Ray Collins will not be in jail until age 93 as a convicted child molester, as, sadly, will Roy Estrada.

Yeesh.

No, Ray Collins was the Original Voice. And, he had the added benefit of actual doo-wop cred. Check him out with Little Julian Herrera & the Tigers:

If you reviewed the Jimmy Carl Black interviews previously referenced, you know what the Indian of the Group thought of Ray Collins. “…in my opinion, one of the best singers I’ve ever heard in my whole life.” Hotcha. In fact, he couldn’t confirm it, but JCB’s idea about “Cruising with Ruben & the Jets” was that it was a tribute to Ray Collins “…’cuz it’s all Ray Collins’ trip, man.”

Here is, I think, the best example of what Ray Collins was capable of.

Or this. Or basically anything off of the “Cruising” album.

From the Miles biography, Zappa had some pretty high praise for Collins:

At this time, I was working with Ray Collins, who could sing all this kind of stuff. If you’re a composer, you need a vehicle to bring your music to life. If you write for instruments, you need someone who can play it, and if you write vocals, you need somebody who can sing it. It’s fortunate that I had Ray Collins, because if I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have had any way to move into the kind of songwriting.

In other words, no Collins, no Freak Out!, and no Mothers.

A 2009 news article places Collins in Claremont, California, going kind of Rodriguez style, no fame, no riches, just a vibrant musical past. He gets enough to survive, he says, “But not enough to pick up women.”

Det. Sgt. Jim Willis

It may very well be that, more than anyone, Det. Sgt. Jim Willis created Frank Zappa. Via Kill Ugly Radio:

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Ontario Daily Report
1964, Ted Harp

2 A-Go-Go To Jail
Cucamonga – 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.

Rent Movie
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. Zappa, who recently was the subject of news story on his hopes to produce a low-budget fantasy film and thus bring a share of Hollywood’s glamour to Cucamonga, blamed financial woes for his latest venture. Inside his studio when the raid came was recording and sound equipment valued at $22,000, according to Zappa.

Musical Instruments
Also, a piano, trap drums, vibraphones and several electric guitars were stored among the Daliian litter of the main studio. On the walls, Zappa had hung such varied memorabilia as divorce papers, a picture of himself on the Steve Allen television show, a threat from the Department of Motor Vehicles to revoke his driver’s license, several song publisher’s rejection letters and works of “pop” art. Among Zappa’s completed musical scores were such titles as “Memories Of El Monte” and “Streets Of Fontana”. The latter, written before several utility companies had forsaken the budding composer, opens:

Sweeping Streets
As I was out sweeping the streets of Fontana,
As I was out sweeping Fontana one day,
I spied in the gutter a moldy banana
And with the peeling I started to play …”

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.

When asked for assistance in this case, the A.C.L.U. replied, “We can’t take it, it’s not big enough for us.”

*

From the Miles biography:

Frank was a different person when he came out. He no longer believed anything the authorities told him. As far as he was concerned the American education system had failed him; it was a lie from start to finish, the reality was America was a corrupt, grubby little fascist state. He was determined never to be duped again. Tank C [His jail area] traumatized him for life and in many ways he spent the rest of his career shoving his pornographic tape down America‘s throat, time and time again. He was determined to show Americans what their country was really like.

So. Three cheers to the narc who put Mr. Zappa on his path. Thanks, Friday!

Flo and Eddie

“I’d like to clean you guys up a bit and mold you. I believe I could make you as big as The Turtles.” (L.A. disc jockey Reb Foster, to Frank Zappa early in his career.)

Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were the heartbeat of a band that in 1968 released an album that I think was their CV for alignment with Frank Zappa and the Mothers.

The Turtles, known to most at the time for the single hit, “Happy Together,” released a concept album. On The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, the group pretended to be 11 different bands, with many different genres of songs. The album yields my favorite Turtles hit, “Elenore,” credited to “Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim & Al.” The album as a whole, as a project, as a concept, reminds me so much of “Cruising with Ruben & the Jets” that I would think it nearly impossible to discount the influence—except, perhaps, for the fact that they were released in the same year.

The album is available for listening on YouTube, and I think it is worth a listen for even the most casual Zappa fan, as it telegraphs these musicians to be the flexible, talented, and funny guys who would later play with the reconstituted Mothers.

Side One | Side Two

Kaylan and Volman were embroiled in lawsuits with their record label from 1966 to 1974, lawsuits so consequential that these guys couldn’t even use their own names. Thus, “The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie” were born (named for a couple of Turtles roadies who had previously coined the names).

I suspect that these guys were Mr. Zappa’s very favorite voices, right up until the reign of one Ike Willis. It’s why there was so much live material in that era: Because he had the voices. Why not showcase what they can do in an arena? That is all speculation, of course. But their voices, what Volman calls the “Incredi-Voice,” may be why you like a number of songs. T-Rex’s “Bang a Gong.” Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way.” Or, perhaps most obviously, with David Cassidy on “Darlin’.” These two, perhaps the most venerable hams of the Zappa pantheon, have made a career of providing background vocals.

From the Miles:

Mark and Howard had known Zappa for years — the Turtles had appeared on the same bill with the Mothers at the Trip and the Whiskey and they saw the Mothers play the Garrick on several occasions and visited Frank at the Charles Street apartment in New York. Jim Pons, bass player with the Turtles (also shortly to joining the Mothers) was a friend of Gail’s from her pre-Zappa days on the strip. Not only that, but Kaylan was Herb Cohen’s cousin…

Zappa saw them backstage at a Zubin Mehta concert and hired them on the spot.

Along with being some darned prolific background vocalists, I think it’s interesting to note that it’s because of Kaylan and Volman that hip-hop artists have to clear samples with the original artists. Sadly, they did so by suing one of my favorite hip-hop artists ever, De La Soul, who had sampled from “You Showed Me”

to create “Transmitting Live from Mars.”

A recent interview:

And, a little something from the Gary Shandling show thing:

Sorry, if you’re Gary Shandling, that’s a boner moment right there.

Finally, here’s a timely blog entry I’ve just found: Musical Appreciation ► Flo and Eddie and Mark and Howard.

Terry Bozzio

Speaking of Zappa drummers, I guess what I really want to know about Terry Bozzio is, how did he go from this

To this

in the span of less than a decade?

Yeah. One of these things is not like the other.

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The fact is, though, that Missing Persons, one of the most oddly iconic acts of the 1980s, is a band that was drenched in Zappa credibility. Lead singer Dale Bozzio was a longtime Zappa associate, with integral parts in both the Joe’s Garage and Thing-Fish albums. Terry Bozzio of course was a long-time Zappa drummer and the one Zappa chose first to throw “The Black Page” to.

Zappa guitarist Warren Cuccurullo rounds out the Missing Persons lineup. Isn’t that something?

Jimmy Carl Black

So I’m trying to figure out why Geronimo Black never caught on. They were really good.

The record debuted in 1972 and went nowhere. The leader of that band chalks it up to “promotion wasn’t what it should have been.” After that, he became a doughnut maker in his home town of Anthony, Texas, then went on to front many other bands. He toured Europe. He had a full musical life, certainly.

But we all know why he’s actually famous.

You know it.

Say it with me:

“Hi, boys and girls. I’m Jimmy Carl Black, and I’m the Indian of the group.”

I have often wondered why this line has such staying power. It’s a weird throwback, isn’t it? A dig to the music industry, certainly, and one that blends with the album and its intent, or perhaps, just plainly, that it doesn’t. Or is it just that goofy laugh after? Or is it what follows, “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” Why-ever. It is certainly the “Baba Booey” of the Zappa cosmos.

I think he was more than that mere one line, however. Much more. Matter of fact, I think Black’s solid, distinctive drumming contributed largely to the Mothers’ sound. As Black used to say, when he got to play next to a virtuoso like Art Tripp, ferget it.

But Jimmy Carl Black I think has a perceived lack of gravitas. Perhaps it’s the line, or the character he portrayed in his Mothers career (see 200 Motels), or perhaps just because Frank really kind of screwed those guys. I don’t know. But let me ask you this. Who is the one musician that Steely Dan’s Walter Becker went out of his way to name-check at their Rock Hall of Fame induction speech in 2001?

Yuh-huh. Gravitas.

Jimmy Carl Black died on November 1, 2008. Before his death, he gave an interview that I found to be rather enlightening. There are similar interviews of other mothers such as Don Preston and Bunk Gardner. All of these interviews are excellent, but JCB’s is the first one to watch.

Sadly, it is split up into 14 parts on YouTube. I think the best way to navigate it is to follow it at YouTube itself, so have at it. It is a wonderful interview, and we’re lucky to have it.