KRIS PETERSON

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On the back of Waka/Jawaka, one ‘Chris Peterson’ is credited with vocals on Your Mouth. But what do we know about her? Well, according to Charles Ulrich’s The Big Note, she is the daughter of big band trumpeter Chuck Peterson and vocalist Kay Foster. And I ascertained that she cut a few records in the 60s for Detroit based labels Top Dog and Pelikin that are popular on the Northern Soul circuit today – songs like Just As Much and Mama’s Little Baby. I thought I’d track her down and find out a little more.

Very little is known about you in the Zappa community, so we can perhaps rectify that now.
Sure. I met Zappa through trumpet player, Sal Marquez. Sal was with the band at the time. I had been with a horn band from Dallas, TX where all of the musicians were North Texas State Music graduates except for my husband
[i] who was from Louisville, KY and had been Brenda Lee’s trumpet player in her group, The Casuals. Sal was in this band.[ii] Of course, this band broke up but I went to LA with Sal and joined a band that didn’t work out either but, with their manager, took this material and went to New York and recorded it with Richie Haven’s label, Stormy Forest.[iii] I recorded one of Sal’s compositions on this album[iv] and later moved out to LA to be closer to MGM Records where Richie was a subsidiary. Ran into Sal again and he introduced me to Frank.
    I left New York with a little portable battery operated record player on my lap and played the first Sylvers album, the first War album, and the Shaft album
[v] all the way out to LA. When we got to the studio to meet Frank, there was this black guy who walked over to us and Sal introduced me to him as the keyboard player with War.[vi] I told him I really liked his album and that I had been playing it all the way to LA. I also told him how hot it was on the East Coast and he didn’t even know – it was a hit on the East Coast. He ran to call the rest of his bandmates. It wasn’t but a month later and that album went wild!
    Obviously, I also met Aynsley Dunbar and George Duke. And one night, Sly Stone came into the session with Billy Preston.

Wow – good times!
    Were you aware of Frank’s music before then?
Oh, yeah, I was a big fan. I had all of his albums. My favourite was Hot Rats – and Willie The Pimp. When I moved to Hollywood, I lived two blocks from The Lido Hotel.
    Later on, it was, Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me? from Zappa In New York.
    I loved Zappa.

So how did you come to record with Frank?
I just told you…through Sal Marquez. We had been in two previous groups together.
    Sal was a madman. He still lives in LA.

So Frank just presented you with this song – no audition?
No audition. He listened to my album. He knew I was capable. Your Mouth was just blues. And I had been working on a quasi scat style that wasn’t really scat, and I interjected it in there as well.
    I studied guitar solos rather than horn solos.

Did you record anything else with Frank?
I did some scatting on Big Swifty. He wanted me to learn to read music – I didn’t read – before he took me on the road. I enrolled in school and was in the middle of my second semester and I got a call from Detroit that I was needed at home, so I dropped out and came back to this area. My father was dying and my grandmother had moved in to my mother’s house and my mother needed me. I had a daughter that was already in Detroit and my sister had her family, so I came home.

Tell me about your parents.
My mother was a big band singer who sang with Alvino Rey, as well as Tony Pastor. She was the original female vocal on I Took A Trip On A Train (And I Thought About You). She was from Port Huron, MI and was Tabby with The Sophisticats on WWJ Radio.
    My father was first chair with Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra, and first chair with Artie Shaw with Billy Holiday.

Impressive stuff!
    Okay – did you ever hook up with Frank again after Waka/Jawaka?
I heard about Frank’s health through the press. I did contact him but I didn’t want to freak him out, because I knew he was dying. But I did tell him that he was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened in my career. I had so much respect for him and I wanted to convey it to him somehow without being maudlin.
    He worked a gig at The Royal Oak Music Theater
[vii] and left some tickets for me at the door. I got to say goodbye to him. That was the last time that I saw him.
    I just heard that his wife died too. I didn’t know.

Yeah, just over four years ago now.
I met her a few times when I was recording that album.

Did you have any further interaction with any of his former musicians? I see Don Preston is a mutual friend.
No, I didn’t. I don’t speak much to Don either. I was back in Detroit so I didn’t get a chance to nurture these relationships.
    I’m not real demonstrative and didn’t contact the family until years later. I just recently spoke to the oldest boy on Twitter.

Oh, Dweezil – did you know he recorded a version of Your Mouth with Macy Gray?[viii]
No, I didn’t know that. I could have done it. Now I’m mad! (laughs)

Anything you’d like to add about the sessions, the Waka/Jawaka album, Frank...?
I could say that Frank was the ultimate gentleman and one of the most intelligent men that I have ever met. He was a family man and a good man, plus he had a perception to die for. Hopefully I’ve grown up enough to be able to see half of what he saw. He is still, “MY HERO”!
    There will never be another Frank Zappa.

Amen!

***

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[i] Tom Jolly.

[ii] The Inside Track.

[iii] Kris’s album, One Child’s Dream (1972).

[iv] One Sweet Look.

[v] Music from the film, composed and performed by Isaac Hayes.

[vi] Lonnie Jordan.

[vii] There were three ‘Broadway The Hard Way’ gigs at the Royal Oak in Michigan: February 26-28, 1988.

[viii] On the download-only The Frank Zappa AAA·FNRAA·AA Birthday Bundle 21.Dec.2010.