Roy Estrada was born in Santa Ana, California in April 1943. He was a founding member of the Soul Giants, who Zappa took over and renamed The Mothers in 1965.
Estrada played bass with the Mothers until 1969, then co-founded Little Feat with Lowell George, playing on the albums Little Feat (1971) and Sailin' Shoes (1972). He then joined Captain Beefheart's Magic Band for the Clear Spot album (1972), earning the nickname Orejón (or 'big ears').
He rejoined Zappa and toured with the Mothers throughout 1975 and 1976. In 1977, he was a special guest at Zappa's Halloween shows in New York – as can be seen in the film, Baby Snakes.
Estrada performed on stage with Zappa more than any other musician, with their last appearance together coming in Los Angeles on 31 December 1977. He continued to record with Zappa in the early 1980s and his voice can be heard on the albums Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (1982), The Man From Utopia (1983), Them Or Us (1984) and Thing-Fish (1984). He can also be found on the posthumous live releases FZ:OZ (2002), Road Tapes, Venue #1 (2012), Joe's Camouflage (2014) and The Hot Rats Sessions (2019).
In 2002, Estrada joined the Grandmothers with Don Preston and Napoleon Murphy Brock (who insisted on rebranding them the ‘Grande Mothers’) and a year later he reunited with Jimmy Carl Black for the album Hamburger Midnight (credited to B.E.P. – Black, Estrada and English guitarist Mick Pini).
I hit upon the idea of setting up an interview with Estrada while chatting with Black before a Muffin Men concert at the Manor, Biggin Hill in November 2002. It helped that I’d just gotten the Hamburger Midnight CD from Black, which includes Estrada’s email address.
I knew from our earlier discussions at Zappanale that Estrada would be staying in Germany with Black for a couple of weeks in the summer, but I thought they would be taking it easy rather than going into the studio. I’m glad they did; they produced a fine album. Black told me that it was just like old times – as if the intervening 30 odd years since they’d last hung together had evaporated – and they had tremendous fun together, as they always had. When I first introduced myself to Estrada and suggested an interview, he warned, “I have to tell you, I don’t like beating around the old bush… I like telling what it is.”
Not widely known at this time was the fact that Estrada had been convicted for committing a sex assault on a child in 1977, spending six years in jail.
In 1994, he was again charged with committing a lewd and lascivious act with a child under 14.
It was while touring with the Grandmothers that rumours of some past misdeeds started to circulate.
Then at the Zappa Forum on 23rd February 2009, Gail Zappa posted, "Roy has his nerve complaining about FZ in interviews now and if I catch another example I will officially go on record for what he has never taken responsibility for and remind him that we did not report him to the police all those years ago."
Three years later, after pleading guilty to a charge of repeatedly molesting a child under the age of 14, Estrada was imprisoned for 25 years without parole.
He will be 93 years old before he is released from prison.
First of all, tell me a little about The Vi-Counts and how Jimmy Carl Black became their drummer.
Jimmy Carl Black was never the Vi-Counts drummer.
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 four-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.
Can you remember your first meeting with Frank?
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.
Didn’t you first suggest the name ‘Muthas’?
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 read in Billy James’s book that you have a penchant for dismantling hotel rooms but, unlike Led Zeppelin, you put them back together again afterwards<![if !supportFootnotes]>[i]<![endif]>!
When the window air conditioner was not operating, I could not wait for their maintenance person…
Aside from the sex and drugs, what are your fondest memories of those early days?
The fun we had on stage, especially when we made Frank laugh – to the point of falling over. Then his eyes would get glassy and he would go into the realms of uncharted music.
What was your reaction when you first heard Arthur Barrow’s overdubs on We’re Only In It For The Money and Cruising With Ruben & The Jets?
What can I say; Arthur Barrow is a great bass player.
True. What is your favourite of the early Mothers albums?
One is Freak Out!…
Any idea why Frank never released Oh, In The Sky?<![if !supportFootnotes]>[ii]<![endif]>
You are generally regarded as the funny one; tell us a joke.
You have the Queen – we have our Bush.
Why did you follow Lowell George into Little Feat<![if !supportFootnotes]>[iii]<![endif]>, before Frank disbanded the Mothers?
I quit The Mothers, the last part of 1969. Frank didn't want me to quit. Towards the middle of 1970, I got together with Lowell, Richie and Billy, forming Little Feat.
Why did you then quit Little Feat?
I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle and pollution of the Los Angeles area. So when Don Van Vliet found out, he asked me to join their group, who lived in Northern California by the ocean and in the Redwoods.
Artie Tripp didn’t have many nice things to say about Frank after his stint as a Mother. Did you agree to disagree, or just not talk about it?
Art Tripp’s musical ability was not given any appreciation by Frank. The original members were not either, after all the struggles we went through playing Frank's music. We all respected Frank's musical abilities but, evidently, Frank was on his own time frame.
What do you think about FZ:OZ<![if !supportFootnotes]>[iv]<![endif]> being the first release from Vaulternative Records?
We were showcasing some new material; they are showcasing the Vault contents.
What was that band like in 1976 compared to the original Mothers?
The members were all great – they were in a different musical area.
You must be the only person to have performed with Frank in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Did you remain friends up till his death?
Yes! I hoped I could have been with him towards the end.
Does your asthma contribute in any way to your distinctive ‘weasel’ vocal stylings? And does it limit your number of performances? I guess what I’m trying to say is: why don’t you sing more often – I like it? We only got one song at Zappanale and one lead vocal on Hamburger Midnight<![if !supportFootnotes]>[v]<![endif]>.
I get short winded. It's hard to hold long vocal notes with any strength.
How was going into the studio again with Jimmy Carl Black after all these years?
Hamburger Midnight was an all together other reuniting party. For Jimmy and myself, it’s been since 1969… no one knows that I had quit The Mothers before Frank disbanded the group. Anyway, we had fun recording this CD. Mick Pini is a great guitar player and thee Indian? Well, need I say more?
What version of the Grandmothers will be playing these gigs next year with the Dresden Philharmonic?
Bunk Gardner, Don Preston, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Ken Rosser, Chris Garcia and myself. The Classic-Jazz division of Warner Bros. Records will be recording the whole crust of the matter<![if !supportFootnotes]>[vi]<![endif]>. It will be a H-Mungus party!
Interview conducted on Monday 17th November 2002. The complete interview with Roy can be found in Andrew's book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa's Other People (Wymer UK, 2017).
Photo of Roy on stage with Napoleon Murphy Brock at the Borderline on 31 January 2004 taken by the Idiot Bastard.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>[i]<![endif]> In James's book, Necessity Is... The Early Years Of Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention, Bunk Gardner recounts how Estrada’s fondness for speed and Coca-Cola meant he never slept: "One night in Toronto, Roy took the air conditioning system in his hotel room completely apart. He then cleaned it and put it back together again."
<![if !supportFootnotes]>[ii]<![endif]> The song featured a painfully high Estrada falsetto and was performed live a dozen or so times by the Mothers between 1967 and 1969. Estrada performed a version of it with the Grandmothers West at Zappanale in 2002. A recording by the Mothers appeared on Zappa’s posthumous album Road Tapes, Venue #1 in 2012.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>[iii]<![endif]> George and Estrada met keyboard player Bill Payne when they were both still members of the Mothers: Payne had auditioned for Zappa, but had not joined. The three later formed Little Feat with drummer Richie Hayward from George's previous band, The Factory. Zappa was instrumental in getting the group a contract with Warner Bros. Records.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>[iv]<![endif]> FZ:OZ was recorded live in Australia in January 1976 by the Mothers featuring Zappa (guitar), Brock (tenor sax), André Lewis (keyboards), Estrada (bass) and Bozzio (drums).
<![if !supportFootnotes]>[v]<![endif]> Estrada sings on BEP’s version of Cream's Politician.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>[vi]<![endif]> An album titled A Grandmothers Night At The Gewandhaus, recorded live in Leipzig, Germany by The Grandmothers and The Chamber Orchestra Of Invention, was released in 2003. A 'bonus track', Of No Consequence, penned by Don Preston and recorded at the same concert, can be found on Preston's Works album issued in 2007.