ART TRIPP

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Arthur Dyer Tripp III is a retired American musician, best known for his work as a percussionist with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band during the 60s and 70s. With FZ, he can be heard on Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, Uncle Meat, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, three volumes in the You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore series, Ahead Of Their Time, The Lost Episodes, Road Tapes, Venue #1, Finer Moments, The Hot Rats Sessions and more. He can also be seen in Uncle Meat (the movie), Video From Hell and The True Story Of 200 Motels.
    On joining the Magic Band, Beefheart named him Ed Marimba. He appeared on Lick My Decals Off, Baby, The Spotlight Kid, Clear Spot, Unconditionally Guaranteed and Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller).
    Art retired from music in the 80s to work as a chiropractor in Mississippi. When I heard he would be a special guest at Zappanale this year, I thought an interview would be a good idea.
    My thanks go to Chris Garcia and Kitty Marimba for their help in hooking us up.

You met FZ through Dick Kunc. Tell me about Dick – and how he then got you the audition for Frank.
I don’t know much about Dick’s work prior to his association with Apostolic Studio. At least I don’t recall much. He evidently was already working at Apostolic in NYC by the time Zappa booked time there for Uncle Meat, Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, Lumpy Gravy, and other projects.
    Right about that time I had met Dick via our wives, who had become friends while both were employed by NYC as welfare case workers. Once Dick got wind of my background with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, John Cage, and then currently on scholarship for a master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music, he and his wife Tricia invited us over to their apartment for drinks. That must have been mid February, 1968.
    Dick was very impressed with my background, and mentioned that he was currently the recording engineer for Frank Zappa. I had just read about Zappa in the Village Voice, and I had heard Absolutely Free thanks to some kids we partied with, and I really liked it, so I told Dick to keep me in mind if they needed a percussionist or drummer for any extra studio work. About two weeks later Dick phoned me and asked if I could come down to Apostolic Studio to play. I asked what should I bring. He said, “Nothing, just come on down. We have everything here.”
    I didn’t realise until later that Frank was looking for a drummer or percussionist to replace Billy Mundi, who had just left the band. So I ‘auditioned’ for Frank without knowing what the purpose was. In fact I may have played on Billy Mundi’s drums, because he likely hadn’t picked them up yet. Anyway Frank was knocked out by my playing, and called in Roy Estrada to see how we played together in 5/4 type rhythm. Roy and I synced perfectly. He asked me to go upstate NY for two gigs that weekend starting the next day. I agreed, and off we went.

In his memoir, Jimmy Carl Black said, “Artie concentrated on the percussion stuff and I played the main beats. That was the best two-drum thing I’ve ever done and it was a fuckin’ pleasure to play with him. I learned a lot from Art. We became very close friends.” What did you learn from Jimmy?
First of all, Jimmy was an absolute delight to be around. We roomed together at my very first gig with the Mothers Of Invention. He was extremely complimentary to me, and treated me like a long time band member. In fact the whole band did. Jimmy was one of those rare people who lit up a room when he entered. He had a engaging personality, and had that Southern way of being self effacing – which made people right at home with him.
    I knew very little about most of MOI’s music repertoire, so Frank told me just to watch Jimmy. I copied the basic drum beats, then gradually started improvising. I did play mallets or percussion on a few pieces also: some xylophone at first, then vibraphone. I think what Jimmy meant by his statement is that he would play the basic rhythms, and I would stretch out quite a bit in rhythms and fills. Occasionally I did a drum solo.

What are your memories of the Royal Festival Hall show with the Mothers and the BBC Orchestra guys.
We had a ball. As a side note, I had just met a gal who worked for the BBC that I met when we did a TV show there in London. We became involved right away, and she eventually became my second wife. The orchestra guys were good players and fun to be around. It was nice to be around orchestral guys like I was accustomed to from my symphony work. We rehearsed a few times at a pub in the London suburbs during the pub’s closing hours. I’ll never forget those delicious fish & chips they provided for us!
    The show itself was a lot of fun. The first half was the music and stage play of the early version of 200 Motels. The Festival Hall was packed, and included luminaries such as Princess Margaret, Mick Jagger and Graham Nash. I believe there are some videos of it available online, e.g. YouTube. The second half was simply our regular show. The whole thing was wildly well received.
    After the show Graham Nash invited me over to his apartment to listen to some new stuff he was involved with. He gave me the impression that the material was slightly avant-garde. When he played the recordings it sounded pretty tame to me – like the Hollies. It was some of the early material from Crosby, Stills & Nash. I didn’t particularly like it. What the hell did I know about pop music?

Talking of pop music, tell me about your work on the Wild Man Fischer album!
Musically I really enjoyed playing on Larry’s album, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer (1969). I was able to play a lot of different percussion instruments, including a good set of boo bams, which are a percussion instrument having an arrangement of two octaves or so of membrane covered tubes laid out like a piano keyboard.
    Larry Fischer was a likable guy who I got along with very nicely. Larry had a lot of energy, and of course he had some obvious mental problems. But he loved to sing, and always gave 100%.
    What I didn’t like was that Frank had convinced Larry that he could be a major pop star, which there was no hope of; but Frank really just wanted to use him in his stable of freaks that he intended to use for his Bizarre record label. The session got to me because Larry was continually looking for validation from Frank, who kept leading him on. It was sad really. I don’t imagine the record ever did much.

What do you recall of playing Peaches En Regalia (Prototype) at TTG in July 1969, with John Balkin on bass?
I really don’t remember playing that with John. I did play with John on Tim Buckley’s album, Live At The Troubador (1969). After a bit of rehearsal we did a week at the Troubador in West Hollywood. The album was recorded probably on the last two days of the gig. Buckley had become a jazz devotee.
    We in MOI had played Peaches before it was recorded on Frank’s Hot Rats. But it was Shuggie Otis who played bass on that album. I didn’t play on that release.

Roy Estrada told me he left The Mothers, “the last part of 1969. Frank didn’t want me to quit.” We know he played the final gigs in August, but you’ve talked about the ‘power quartet’ line-up with Jeff Simmons on bass. What are you recollections of that period, and Roy’s wanting out before the axe came down on the original Mothers?
The story is news to me. I’ll have to ask Roy about that in my next letter to him. Frank broke up MOI in the Fall of ‘69. He had warned me about it as far back as the Miami Jazz Festival in June. He said he wanted to form a ‘power quartet’ with himself, Ian Underwood, me, and Jeff Simmons. He wanted good players, and four guys would be a lot cheaper to travel on the road.
    We had several rehearsals, although Frank was seldom there. We played one gig at Marshall Brevitz’s Thee Experience club on the East Sunset Strip in November. I also played with Beefheart that night. Seems to me we rehearsed some more into 1970, but by that time I’d become disillusioned, and had started going out to the ‘Trout House’ in Woodland Hills to eventually join up with Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. I skipped going to rehearsals for the gig out at UCLA with the LA Philharmonic and MOI. On reflection it’s doubtful that Frank could have been comfortable in a quartet. He needed more guys to sustain the shows and to participate in the music and antics.
    After the break up I believe Roy started playing and recording with Lowell George in the fledgling Little Feat. Lowell had played in MOI for about a year, and had become the youngest guy in the band, which I had been up until then. Roy eventually came to play with us in Captain Beefheart. Then he ultimately got out of the music biz. I’ll have to check the timeline with Roy.

I have written to Roy a few times, but to date no response. Did you ever regret leaving Frank when you saw Ruth come to the fore with the later bands?
No, I never regretted leaving Frank – although I did regret leaving LA When I threw in with CBMB we moved up to Santa Cruz, then on up to Trinidad, near Eureka. In LA I had been getting a fair amount of studio work: the Smothers Brothers’ show; offered the percussion chair in Oh!, Calcutta!, etc. So when I quit The Magic Band shortly after we dumped Don, I left California. When I returned in 1978 to re-enter the biz I had no contacts anymore, so I had to work back in with contractors, etc. Had I never left LA I would likely have flourished in the studios. Still, leaving the music business was the smartest thing I ever did. With the possible exception of the movie business, the business of pop music is the most rotten there is.
    By the way, Ruth and I remain very close friends, and we are in frequent contact. They gave her a hard time in MOI because she was the only girl, and very attractive. But Ruth was one of the best marimba players to ever pick up a set of mallets. She had never been interested in timpani, drum set, etc. She eventually retired from the music biz in order to rear her children.
    At first I played some xylophone, then later vibraphone, on the road, but most of my non drums percussion playing was in the studio. On tour the majority of my playing was on drums. To my knowledge I was the only player with Zappa to play drums and also mallets/percussion – mallets meaning xylophone, marimba, vibraphone. He rarely wrote for timpani. Ironically when we did the King Kong: John-Luc Ponty Plays the Music Of Frank Zappa album, Frank wanted me to play drums on the King Kong cut, and had Gene Estes play the vibes part. Incidentally what a group of players THAT was: Jean-Luc Ponty, Ian Underwood, Ernie Watts, George Duke, Buell Neidlinger, Gene Estes, John Guerin, and others!

Yes, a fantastic line-up. Did you ever come across Jeff Simmons again?
No, I never did. I’m sure Jeff is a great bass player, but I simply couldn’t click with him in Zappa’s ‘power quartet’. I’d been too used to Roy Estrada, and Jeff was a bit full of himself.

You lived with the Underwoods for a time. Was mention of Frank banned at that time?!
Oh, no. In fact the first day I walked into the Underwood’s beautiful Studio City home in January 1978 to live with them until I got re-started back in LA, I noticed there was a marimba, vibraphone, and piano in their living room. I walked over and started playing Uncle Meat on the marimba, at which point both Ruth and Ian joined in for an impromptu rendition and jam. Ruth and Ian were both highly accomplished musicians. In fact Ian was possibly the greatest musician I ever worked with. His talent was beyond the beyond.
    Frank had invited me up to his place on Woodrow Wilson Drive in the Hollywood Hills, which had turned into a high security bunker. I was hoping for offers for studio work. But we spent most of the evening with Frank playing me videos of recent shows, and him sharing samples of what he was working on at the time. One of the videos was of Frank literally moulding Roy’s face into contortions while Roy was singing during a live show. It was embarrassing to see. After the cut we both sat there in silence for a few minutes. I think Frank realised he had stepped over the line. But when I left, there had been no promise of work.

You told Samuel Andreyev that Frank asked you to step in for Vinnie Colaiuta – would that have been in 1980, when he ended up using David Logeman?
It could have been in 1980, so soon after. I had already left the music biz, and I was studying at the Cleveland Chiropractic College on Vermont Avenue to eventually become a Chiropractor. Vinnie had reportedly become ill, and couldn’t make the upcoming European tour. I was surprised to get the call from Frank’s manager. I told him that I wasn’t going to ditch all the science and chiropractic studies I’d done so far in order to spend a couple of months rehearsing and touring with Zappa.
    Incidentally, I’ve never met Vinnie, but he’s a fantastic drummer. I don’t know David Logeman.

When did you last have any contact with Frank and Gail?
My last personal contact with Frank was that evening at his home and studio in 1978. Later I took the occasion to email Gail when Dweezil had formed a band and was having success. I praised Dweezil, and commented about how proud she must be to have him become a successful guitarist; and also how well her other children turned out. I know she got the email, but she never responded.
    I really liked Gail from the first time we met at their apartment on Charles Street in Greenwich Village, NYC. She was very bright, and had a keen and offbeat sense of humour. Presumably she had a tough time as Frank’s wife over the years, given his habits. I imagine that she became increasingly embittered over the trials and travails they had as independent producers, distributors, and record label owners. She became steadily protective and a little paranoid over the years. I noticed that she had gained a lot of weight, which took away from her natural good looks, a la Goldie Hawn. She had a rather sad end with lung cancer, 20 years after Frank succumbed to prostate cancer.

That she did. But as Ahmet reportedly said at her funeral, she ended up where she always wanted to be: on top of Frank.
    Thanks for your time and considered answers, Art – I look forward to seeing you in Bad Doberan.

Interview conducted on 26 May 2022.

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Photo of Art (with Ian Underwood and FZ) taken by the late Pete Mackay at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen on 3 October 1968.

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