THE ED PALERMO BIG BAND: THE GREAT UN-AMERICAN SONGBOOK: VOLUMES I & II (Cuneiform Records, Rune 435/436)
Track list: Good Morning, Good Morning/Open Up Said The World At The Door/We Love You/Eleanor Rigby/Definitely Maybe/As You Said/Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part Two/21st Century Schizoid Man/Send Your Son To Die/Edward, The Mad Shirt Grinder/America-American Idiot/Beggar's Farm/Bitches Crystal/Wreck Of The Hesperus/Diamond Dust/The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys/Fire/The Tourist/Don't Bother Me-Nardis-Don't Bother Me (Reprise)/I Wanna Be Your Man/Good Night.
Following last year’s all-American penned One Child Left Behind and the rise and rise of ol’ Trumpy boy, Ed Palermo decided to put together this “love letter to the rockers who ruled the AM and FM airwaves in the 1960s via successive waves of the British Invasion”. And before anyone else pipes up, he addresses the inclusion of musics composed by Davis, Bernstein, Armstrong, Dirnt and Cool in his liners. As for the inclusion of a Radiohead song, it just fits OK? (Computer says, “Ho!”)
So, no Zappa this time around? Well, quotes from the maestro abound: Oh No and Aybe Sea in Cream’s As You Said; Oh No (again) in King Crimson's Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part Two; Keep It Greasy and Hot-Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel in 21st Century Schizoid Man (over a King Kong riff, no less) and Traffic’s The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys has a Chunga's Revenge backing. And just for good measure, Napoleon Murphy Brock sings Arthur Brown’s Fire.
So now you want it, right? Well you shoulda anyway as it’s a blast hearing all these old familiars interpreted so well by this fine Big Band. Producer Bruce McDaniel handles the bulk of the vocals, though half of the tunes are instrumental, amply demonstrating what a talent Ed the lone-arranger is.
Mick Starkey sings the final two ‘Ringo’ songs, and Ed would have us believe that there’s some relation there. All the way through there’s some amusing Beatle joke inbetweenies as well as a regally swinging hidden track that’ll make you chuckle as much as the very English artwork (overseen by Ed’s ailing sister in her final months - RIP Nancy).
Ed tells me he has “at least 3 CDs in the can for future release”, so let’s hope for more volumes in this series. But meantime, how about a UK tour to promote this fabtatsic album?
ORANGE CLAW HAMMER: COOKS THE BEEF (Clocktower Records, CTCD001)
Track list: Hot Head/I Love You, You Big Dummy/Click Clack/Ice Rose/Ant Man Bee/When I See Mommy, I Feel Like A Mummy/When It Blows Its Stacks/Flavor Bud Living-Veteran’s Day Poppy.
When Edinburgh based improvising quartet Ego Ergo Aggro played a one-off concert to mark the passing of Beefheart in 2010, they didn't realise they'd have so much fun. And so, Orange Claw Hammer were born.
This, their first physical release, is sub-titled ‘Takes On The Music Of Captain Beefheart’, in case there is any doubt. Yes, the band certainly cooks and, like our beloved Muffin Men, they are not a tribute act so much as interpreters of their idol’s music. The musicianship is top-notch, with Steve Kettley’s tenor and soprano saxes to the fore. There’s also some lovely clanging bass throughout, especially at the start of When It Blows Its Stacks, a song which here builds to a lovely climax. Indeed, both guitars interlock as befits the Captain’s tunes, and Kettley’s voice is the right side of gruff without being a Vliet sound-alike.
Nice to see a number of pieces not committed to disc by either Fast 'N' Bulbous or the reformed (and now sadly defunct) Magic Band, like Big Dummy, Ant Man Bee and Flavor Bud Living. And as if to prove they can play this well outside of the studio, there’s a bonus live track tagged on to the end (Flavor Bud Living-Veteran’s Day Poppy) which makes me even more excited about seeing them in action at Festival Moo-ah at the end of March.
The only gripe here is that at around 40 minutes, it’s simply not long enough. More please!
EVIL DICK: ALL THAT GLISTERS
Track list: Cat-Cat's Band/All That Glisters I/All That Glisters II/When Car Keys Go Missing/Drips And Drops/All That Glisters III/All That Glisters IV/What's Brown And Sticky?/Bicycle Repair Man (Abridged)/All That Glisters V/School Run/My Friend Tippy/Hat Nap/It's Bin Day/All That Glisters VI.
Anyone who was at Zappanale in 2011, Festival Moo-ah in 2015, or who has purchased one of the many Zappa cover CDs I have curated for Cordelia Records will know of Evil Dick. Everyone else is a total mung bean.
On this new all-instrumental album of all-original material (saxophonist Dave Jackson gets co-composer credit on three of the pieces) the schoolboy song titles of old make way for ones with more mundane domestic concerns. Except one. And another is a Monty Python character/sketch. But whatever, they're all still highly very. What larks, Dick!
Cat-Cat's Band reminds me of FZ's less abstract Jazz From Hell-era Synclavier toons, which lures you into a false sense of insecurity as you are expecting some utter madness from Evil, whose semi-serious approach to composition and improv is never boring. (Or should that be his serious approach to semi-composition?) The electronic farts, squirts, belches, odd time signatures and ambient out-there stuff come largely in the six parts that make up the album's title.
Jackson's sax honks are taken from extemporisations with Evil on a real drum set (see Car Keys, Bicycle Repair Man and School Run), and are manipulated elsewhere by Evil who otherwise plays everything - which is largely keyboard sounding gadgets, computer sequenced drums and some occasional extreme stunt guitar. Ha!
Drips And Drops and What’s Brown And Sticky? have steadily bonkers rhythms you could possibly dance to if you were that way entwined. Other tracks reminiscent of Zappa’s less-meandering Synclavier compositions include Tippy and Bin Day.
Jackson also contributes to Evil’s version of Son Of Mr. Green Genes, which is not included here but will be imminently available from Cordelia and will give you a glimpse of the dazzling sounds that lurk in All That Glisters.
Imagine if someone threw The Faust Tapes into Wolf Harbor. Hit it!
FRANK ZAPPA: THE CRUX OF THE BISCUIT (Zappa Records, ZR20020) / FRANK ZAPPA FOR PRESIDENT (Zappa Records, ZR20021)
Crux Trax: Cosmik Debris (4:21) / Uncle Remus (Mix Outtake) (3:59) / Down In De Dew (Alternate Mix) (3:16) / Apostrophe’ (Mix Outtake) (9:07) / The Story Of “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow/St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” (3:25) / Don't Eat The Yellow Snow/St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast (Live) (19:26) / Excentrifugal Forz (Mix Outtake) (1:34) / Energy Frontier (Take 4) (3:04) / Energy Frontier (Take 6 with Overdubs) (4:15) / Energy Frontier (Bridge) (8:23) / Cosmik Debris (Basic Tracks - Take 3) (5:11) / Don't Eat The Yellow Snow (Basic Tracks - Alternate Take) (2:12) / Nanook Rubs It (Basic Tracks - Outtake) (0:42) / Nanook Rubs It (Session Outtake) (0:48) / Frank's Last Words..... (0:16)
Prez: Overture To “Uncle Sam” (15:16) / Brown Shoes Don't Make It (Remix) (7:27) / Amnerika (Vocal Version) (3:10) / “If I Was President...” (2:34) / When The Lie's So Big (3:38) / Medieval Ensemble (6:31) / America The Beautiful (3:27)
“I have no idea what they even are. I’ve heard about them, but I don’t have anything to do with them. I don’t know what’s on there.” – Dweezil Zappa
The belated 4tieth anniversary of Apostrophe audio documentary features side one of that album as originally envisaged by Zappa, a live performance from Sydney ‘73 (recorded the day before Australian Yellow Snow on the One Shot Deal album), and various iterations of the piece initially titled Energy Frontier that Zappa split, edited and released as Apostrophe and Down In De Dew during his lifetime.
All of the above, plus the stop/starts of Nanook, mean this collection of alternate mixes and studio outtakes is clearly not an album for newbies. Even the cover photo used here was ditched by Zappa!
A mystery flautist can be heard on takes 4 and 6 of Energy Frontier, but acoustic bass player Dave Parlato says, “I don't recall a flute live when we recorded.”
Also includes excellent sleeve notes by the semantic scrutinizer, Simon Prentis, who also wrote the liners for the Rykodisc Läther CD.
President has been issued in the run-up to the 2016 United States presidential election that sees Ahmet Zappa (now the CEO of Zappa Records and executor of the ZFT) firmly behind the Democratic Party's nominee, Hillary Clinton (whose husband FZ used to refer to as ‘Slick Willie’).
This Joe Travers compilation could be seen as a sort of companion piece to the Zappa assembled Understanding America, though it is comprised of largely unreleased performances – mostly on the Synclavier.
Uncle Sam and Medieval Ensemble are totally realised on ‘La Machine’, while Napoleon Murphy Brock sings Amnerika and Zappa tells us what he would do if he was President over its Synthesized backing.
When The Lie’s So Big and America The Beautiful (the final song Zappa would perform live on US soil) come from the ‘Broadway The Hard Way’ tour, the latter having been previously issued on 2008's download-only The Frank Zappa AAAFRNAAA Birthday Bundle.
FRANK ZAPPA: ROAD TAPES, VENUE #3 (Vaulternative Records, VR 2016-1)
Track list: Tyrone Start The Tape… (1:59) / King Kong (3:37) / Wonderful Wino (4:47) / Concentration Moon (2:34) / Mom & Dad (3:25) / The Air (3:46) / Dog Breath (2:01) / Mother People (2:06) / You Didn’t Try To Call Me (4:10) / Agon - Interlude (0:36) / Call Any Vegetable (7:59) / King Kong-Igor’s Boogie (20:25) / It Can’t Happen Here (3:05) / Sharleena (4:59) / The 23rd “Mondellos” (3:13) / Justine (1:46) / Pound For A Brown (5:07) / Sleeping In A Jar (3:37) / Sharleena (5:49) / "A Piece Of Contemporary Music” (7:03) / The Return Of The Hunchback Duke (including: Little House I Used To Live In, Holiday In Berlin) (10:00) / Cruising For Burgers (3:44) / Let’s Make The Water Turn Black (1:42) / Harry, You’re A Beast (1:29) / Oh No-Orange County Lumber Truck (11:01) / Call Any Vegetable (11:29) / Mondello’s Revenge (1:46) / The Clap (Chunga’s Revenge) (13:01)
For those reared on the original Flo & Eddie-era albums, this is a bit of an eye opener in that their parts are more constricted, allowing the musicians to fly much more. This was before Jeff Simmons quit and the groupie routines became the norm; hearing the pair sing many of the original Mothers’ songs is a real treat – especially the with-words version of Holiday In Berlin.
Like Happy Together on the Fillmore East album, Justine is a song previously performed by Volman and Kaylan (né Kaplan) – but with prototype Turtles, The Crossfires, in 1963.
The Nancy & Mary Music on the Chunga's Revenge album was pieced together from parts of the performances of King Kong/Igor's Boogie and The Clap (Chunga's Revenge), presented here in their lovely fullness.
Like Carnegie Hall before it, this album is culled from two shows recorded on the same day, so some tracks are duplicated.
FRANK ZAPPA: ROXY - THE MOVIE (SOUNDTRACK) (Zappa Records, EAGDV050/CD)
Track list: Something Terrible Has Happened... (1:19) / Cosmik Debris (9:54) / Penguin In Bondage (8:22) / T'Mershi Duween (1:56) / The Dog Breath Variations-Uncle Meat (4:14) / RDNZL (4:51) / Echidna's Arf (Of You) (3:54) / Don't You Ever Wash That Thing (7:02) / Cheepnis - Percussion (4:08) / Cheepnis (5:40) / Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzman's Church) (17:32)
The DVD came with this abridged soundtrack CD.
Having released ...By Proxy the previous year, it is surprising to see songs duplicated here – but not Village Of The Sun, meaning that Echidna’s comes in with a jolt, bereft of its traditional joyous intro/segue. The Proxy rendition of Village is though inferior without the overdubs present on the Elsewhere album, which may explain its celluloid exclusion.
The Roxy footage of Montana and Dupree's Paradise shown before ZPZ concerts in 2006 are also omitted from the movie, but never mind: this is one of Zappa’s finest ensembles and such quibbles pale into insignificance given the forty year wait.
Cosmik Debris was still slower than the studio version laid down several months previous, but this band was adept at tempo changes.
Many were surprised by drummer Ralph Humphrey’s contribution after Chester Thompson was chosen to join Genesis on the strength of these shows.
FRANK ZAPPA: 200 MOTELS – THE SUITES (Zappa Records, ZR 20019)
Track list: Overture (2:17) / Went On The Road (1:41) / Centerville (2:24) / This Town Is A Sealed Tuna Sandwich (10:15) / The Restaurant Scene (4:23) / Touring Can Make You Crazy (2:06) / What's The Name Of Your Group? (11:46) / Can I Help You With This Dummy? (2:33) / The Pleated Gazelle (21:00) / I'm Stealing The Room (13:44) / Shove It Right In (7:26) / Penis Dimension (9:58) / Finale: Strictly Genteel (11:14)
We can all argue about the inclusion (and order) of certain items in the first 100 albums of the Official Discography, but they all had some direct input by FZ. 200 Motels – The Suites however – as co-producer Frank Filipetti states in his liner notes – is entirely “as envisioned by Gail Zappa and Kurt Morgan”.
As well as Ian Underwood (keyboard 1/electric alto sax) and Scott Thunes (electric bass), the album also features Lou Anne Neill. Neill, who has been the Los Angeles Philharmonic's principal harpist since 1983, was a part of the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra that can be heard on Orchestral Favorites and QuAUDIOPHILIAc, and also contributed to Zoot Allures, Zappa In New York and Tinsel Town Rebellion.
Gail Zappa, who oversaw this production and the one by the BBC Concert Orchestra/Southbank Sinfonia at London’s Festival Hall six days later, passed away the month before the album’s release.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: ZAPPANALE #26 (2015)
Disc One: Francesco-The Treacherous Torture Never Stops (Drei vom Rhein)/Something Is Bleeding (Die Reise)/Advance Romance-Pygmy Twylyte-Dummy Up-The Message (The Peach Noise Experience feat. Napoleon Murphy Brock & Mats Öberg)/Fundal-RDNZL (Panzerpappa)/Fünfzig Arten Schmerz-Doberaner Rennbahnfantasie-Robert Braun-Strandgut-Verarscht (Yellow Snow Crystals)/Chunga’s Revenge (String Trash).
Disc Two: Voodoo Chile (Maos & Wendt)/Phobia-King Kong (Univers Zero)/Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Sexually Aroused Gas Mask-Since I’ve Been Loving You Crazy Diamond (Inventionis Mater)/Eat That Question-Crew Slut (ZAPPATiKA feat. Ike Willis, Denny Walley, Craig ’Twister’ Steward & Jeff Hollie)/I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth-Punky’s Whips (Frank Out!)/Twenty Small Cigars-King Kong (Fried Dähn & das Onomatopoeia Perturbation Consort)/Teenage Wind-Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance-Excentrifugal Forz (Z3 feat. Ed Mann).
Disc Three: Montana-Blessed Relief (Stefan Hüfners ¡ZAPPATA!)/Ugly White Folks Funk (Arf Force One)/Dupree’s Paradise-Andy-Whippin’ Post (Banned From Utopia)/Heavy Duty Judy (Goodbye Session)/Willie The Pimp-Dirty Love (Jazzprojekt Hundehagen feat. Stephen Chillemi).
You were there? Now you can re-live it all with this li'l bundle o' joy. Welcome to the first proper Zappanale CD release since the smash/flop that I compiled in 2007. After that, the Arf Society felt it wasn’t worth releasing physical discs anymore because people prefer to copy and share music so much these days. But now with Amaretto Mick firmly back in the saddle, if fans of the festival snarf this one up by the bucket-load, then they say there will be another one. Every year. It's in your hands.
This one features more alums than ever: Napi! Ikey! Denny! Eddie! Bobby! Ray! Tom! Albert! Twister! Jeff! (During Inventionis Mater's performance on the Mystery Stage we get the added bonus of hearing Mr Hollie's saxamaphone from ZAPPATiKA's soundcheck on the Main Stage!)
Drei vom Rhein's auto-tuned Treacherous Torture monster-mash is a highlight of the first disc, as of course is the mighty Napi with the dynamic Peach Noise and Mats Öberg. Now I’ve been to Zappanale for the last 15 years and am slightly embarrassed to say I can barely speak a word of German. Thus it is that the Yellow Snow Crystals’ set is lost on me. While I’m assured that their amended Zappa lyrics are a hoot, their delivery of them leaves something to be desired. To these ears, anyway. The disc closes with album compiler Mick's cheez-trash bass-fest.
Many peeps were pulling one off last year over Maos & Wendt’s Hendrix tribute, but I’m afraid that also went over my head – so to speak. As an intro to the second disc, this small dose is fine. Inventionis Mater do a bit of crowd conducting during this extract from their Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Sexually Aroused Gas Mask. ZAPPATiKA's Crew Slut starts at a canter, but breaks into a glorious gallop during the solos from Denny and Twister. Frank Out! do great things with two songs not on the Zappa Spielt Für Bach 2015 CD, while Fried Dähn adds German lyrics to Twenty Small Cigars to pleasing effect. The Z3 end disc two in grand style: they really are a funky ball of teats – love the way they sashay their way so effortlessly through any song from any decade.
Stefan Hüfners’ guys and doll (the great Mara Minjoli, that is) kick off the final disc in fine big band style. Before the festival, Denny, Mats, Paul Hubweber (of The Yellow Snow Crystals) and Amaretto conspired to play a surprise set together. Unfortunately, it didn't quite pan out as planned, but Mick was able to quickly assemble an alternate jam band of musical muckers in order to fill the void. And so, Arf Force One took flight, crashed and burned, never to be heard again. But we get a mammoth 11½ mins of 'em here. They are followed by the indisputable highlight of this compilation: the fantastic Banned From Utopia, with Morgan Ågren on the drum stool this time around. They are joined by Morgan’s mate Mats on harmonica and keys on a lasciviously lengthy Dupree’s Paradise, which also contains a wondrous work-out from Tom Fowler on bass. Robbie Mangano and Ray White burn bright on Andy, and Robert Martin shows he’s still got it on Whippin’ Post. Albert Wing shines throughout. The Goodbye Session and Jazzprojekt Hundehagen round things off in traditional fashion, with me old China Stephen Chillemi helping out the fired-up ‘house band’ nicely on Dirty Love.
For those who didn’t attend last year, redeem yo’selfs by buying one of these sets. Now!
ZAPPANALE #28, BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 14-16 July 2017
ZAPPANALE #27, BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 15-17 July 2016
BRITTEN SINFONIA WITH GUEST STAR EDDIE GOMEZ (BASS), MILTON COURT, LONDON, 18 NOVEMBER 2015 (by two special guest reviewers)
Geoff Wills: As part of the London Jazz Festival, Britten Sinfonia presented a concert of Third Stream music, ie. music that blends elements of classical and jazz. Star bass player Eddie Gomez (ex-Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Steps Ahead) was a guest soloist on pieces by Claus Ogerman and Simon Bainbridge, and music by Igor Stravinsky and Darius Milhaud was also played. Of special interest in the programme were two pieces by Frank Zappa, namely Igor’s Boogie and The Perfect Stranger, and these were immaculately performed. My only complaint was that it was a pity that more Zappa wasn’t played (Igor’s Boogie only lasted a minute), but overall this was an enjoyable concert, further demonstrating Zappa’s acceptance in a jazz-related situation, and showing that, even if you can’t join the mainstream, at least you can join the Third Stream.
James Richardson: First off, I’m a huge fan of the Britten Sinfonia. Their energy and interpretation of all the compositions they perform leaves you breathless. This evening was no exception.
As part of the London Jazz Festival it was Eddie Gomez’s evening. He crafted his style of bass playing with Bill Evans in the mid-60s and through most of the 70s. I first became aware of him performing with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock in the 70s and it was thrilling to see him (now 71) laying down all those musically acrobatic bass runs in Claus Ogerman’s Symbiosis (1974) as well as featuring in the world premiere of Simon Bainbridge’s Counterpoints (2015). In my opinion, not the fitting climax to the evening. A jagged and difficult composition which never really did it for me.
However, the first half of the concert was the thing. A beautifully balanced selection of mainly Stravinsky and Zappa. The two Stravinsky pieces – Tango (for solo piano) and Ragtime (for 11 instruments) – particular favourites of mine and were both beautifully played. They were the bread to the sandwich filling of Frank’s Igor’s Boogie (1970). An elaborate new arrangement by Philip Cashian. I’m so used to the beautiful, and fairly simple Burnt Weeny recording that this new arrangement, and the breakneck speed it was played at, left me a little dazed…and thrilled. It only lasted for one minute. They should have played it twice!
And so to the main event …. Frank’s The Perfect Stranger (1984). What a brilliant performance. The great thing about the Britten Sinfonia is that they’re not shy in showing off. I mean that in a good way. The Boulez recording we know so well sounds polite and genteel compared with this performance. I loved the way the harp took centre stage and swept everything else to one side as well as bringing all the playing to a climax. A special mention should go to Jacqueline Shave who is not only the orchestra director but also first violin. In her torn black jeans and signature fetish leather boots, she played up a storm, not only in The Perfect Stranger but also for the whole evening.
I love The Perfect Stranger. This was a perfect performance.
It would be stupid not to mention Darius Milhaud’s La Creation Du Monde…again the Britten Sinfonia gave a terrific performance of it. Tucked away between the two Gomez performances in the second half, it wasn’t the star of the evening – that went to The Perfect Stranger - but it was a close second. Thrilling.
ZAPPANALE #26, HAMBURG/BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 15-19 JULY 2015
ZAPPANALE #25, BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 17-20 JULY 2014
CHARLES ULRICH: THE BIG NOTE: A GUIDE TO THE RECORDINGS OF FRANK ZAPPA (New Star Books, ISBN: 978-1-55420-146-4)
Wowie zowie – finally completed and out after Charles (aka drdork) had been posing questions and sharing his findings at affz and Zappateers for nearly 20 years! Given that there are still some unanswered questions (eg. just who was Frank’s ‘friend’ who provides the first ‘sound effect’ on The Torture Never Stops!?) this cannot be called a definitive guide to FZ’s recordings. But with Frank no longer around, this will probably be the closest we’ll ever get to it – and Ulrich even gets to correct a number of falsehoods that FZ propagated while he was around (eg. the Saints N’ Sinners was actually the Sinners & Saints). Having said that, Ulrich himself has already set up a page of Big Note corrections at http://fzpomd.net/bignote/corrections.html.
While Ben Watson chose to group the albums by label/genre/whatever in his Frank Zappa: The Complete Guide To His Music, Ulrich has opted to review them alphabetically. Though he explains the rationale behind this, it is still a little disconcerting to read first about the Mothers’ second album, and lastly about Zoot Allures – with Cruising With Ruben & The Jets nestling next to Dance Me This in between. (For those craving a straight chronological rundown, see my ‘little dots’ in the forthcoming Zappa Tour Atlas!)
Surprisingly, for such a detailed book, there is no traditional index for easy cross-referencing – though the inclusion of one would likely have doubled the already astronomical page count! Similarly, some of the track-by-track album reviews give very little insight (eg. “FZ plays a guitar solo” on Pick Me, I’m Clean from Buffalo), hence there is an assumption that most readers will be au fait completists. And I guess that’s about right.
There is also perhaps too much emphasis on
the Beat The Boots series, where most
fans are dismissive of said polished turds. But there are oodles of examples of
why this book is a must read (such as where some samples on Feeding The Monkies At Ma Maison appear
elsewhere in the canon); an astonishing amount of work and research has gone
into this that even the most hard-core will find something new. It really is
just so eye wateringly fascinating: I heartily endorse this
If you haven’t already, order your copy here.
CHARLIE FREAK: LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE: A BOOK SERIES ON THE MOST IMPORTANT ROCK ALBUMS IN MUSIC HISTORY - ALBUM #17: FRANK ZAPPA & THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION, WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY (Charlie Freak Publishing, ISBN: 978-1-387-35981-3)
While Podmeister Scott Parker’s tome, Discorporate! Frank Zappa In The Studio 1966-1967, dissects the recording sessions for We're Only In It For The Money, Charlie Freak opts to focus on how FZ’s lyrics (in conjunction with his music) attacks the carefully cultivated hippy culture of 1967. And this is where some might find this book a little challenging: like Oliver Stone, Charlie believes LBJ was involved in the plot to assassinate JFK, suggests Tom Petty was bumped off by the CIA, and is convinced that Charles Manson was a puppet of the real Nazis currently ruling the planet.
While there is undoubtedly much to be said for being suspicious of corporations, Governments, public education and the media, I’m afraid I don’t quite share Charlie’s bleak worldview. I get the feeling that – just as Frank found some of Ben Watson’s assertions in Poodle Play hysterical – he would also have been hugely entertained by some of Charlie’s interpretations of his point of view based on the first three Mothers’ albums. He would though have enjoyed this book, fer sure. It is unquestionably an essential and important read that is very far from being a typical analysis of an album. Charlie’s conviction, plus the evidence he provides to back up his assertions (including Frank's lyrics and quotes), has you questioning everything you’ve ever believed in. Given that very little has changed in corporate America since the Summer Of Love, it even makes you wonder if Frank realised his efforts to bring about change were futile and he resigned himself to writing lyrics simply because “we live in a society where instrumental music is irrelevant”. But it's not something you need wrap a hot towel around your head while reading: he quotes from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, for example!
As I have never set foot inside America, I am perhaps able to scoff from afar at the state of things there. I may be a fool, but I have a little more faith in my own country. I am also very much looking forward to seeing how Charlie addresses the almost wholly instrumental Hot Rats (album #69 in his chart) next. Bop bop bop! YEAH! WHEEE!
DANIEL SCHRÖDER: FRANK ZAPPA - THE COMPOSER (Büchner ISBN 978-3-941310-85-8)
From the get-go, Schröder is clear about the aim of this book: he hopes to plug the gap left by other scholars in analysing FZ's New Music and justifying his status as a contemporary composer. I know a number of people have waited for such a book - that looks at Frank the composer - but this is very much focused on his 'serious' orchestral work rather than the whole of his oeuvre.
Along the way, Schröder is fairly dismissive of Watson's Poodle Play while praising Currier's (sic) Dangerous Kitchen. Naturally, there's much on the output of Varese - and also Stravinsky - and the conclusion seems to be that, while Zappa revered and was inspired by the pair, his writing style did not really emulate either. Or anyone else, for that matter.
I did not appreciate that this book was first published in German some five years ago. The translation here is excellent, though the copious use of guillemets rather than English quotation marks can be a little off-putting. As someone who can't read music, no translation in the world could help me to fully appreciate some of the detailed examination on show here, but I was surprised by the emphasis placed on Music For Low-Budget Orchestra, Moggio and (in particular) Naval Aviation In Art?, which seem to be cited as prime examples of Zappa's writing style.
There are a few factual errors - Schröder states that the soundtrack to 200 Motels was recorded by the LA Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta, and Ahead Of Their Time was released posthumously - but these are minor distractions from what is otherwise a very well crafted dissertation that very much achieves its stated aim.
Perhaps the most insightful observation of all about Zappa's compositional style comes from Ali N. Askin (thanked for assisting in the preparation of this book) who in his liner notes for The Yellow Shark (quoted here) confirmed what we knew all along: Frank would jump from Louie Louie to Ligeti-like clusters simply because it sounded good - not because he was following any particular musical theory.
For those wanting to reach the outer limits of Zappa's universe, this book (together with Wills' Zappa And Jazz) carefully transports us there.
BOB ZAPPA with Diane E. Papalia: FRANKIE & BOBBY - THE REST OF OUR STORY (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, ISBN 9781544258799)
Bob's first book certainly left many of us wanting more - and now, here it is: the rest of his time with Frank and beyond.
Picking up where Frankie & Bobby: Growing Up Zappa left off, this volume initially sees Bob and his wife move to Stockholm (after his brief tenure working for Frank in New York), where Bob studies sociology – specifically deviant behavior, no less!
The first part of the book is largely about Bob's married and working life, punctuated with Frank's helpful "snarky but caring" advice to his younger brother.
Bob talks of his mother and siblings’ issues regarding their lack of contact with FZ once his career took off - which he suspects Frank regretted towards the end of his life - but also of how immensely proud they all were of his achievements.
There are some nice stories about Frank's legendary bodyguard, John Smothers, and of Frank introducing Bob to audiences in New Orleans, New York and New Jersey.
Each chapter starts with a salient quote from Frank, but it's the latter part of the book that will draw most attention where Bob talks about his poor relationship with Gail (the result perhaps of an alcohol-fuelled argument about Vietnam he had with her father around the time they first met in 1967) and speculates about her possible coercive control over Frank in his final days.
Bob also ponders the mysteries surrounding Frank's early death - such as what treatment he had undergone to fight his cancer, why there was no autopsy and why was his unembalmed body buried so speedily in an unmarked grave. Over ten years after his passing, Bob even instigated a cold case investigation by the LAPD which confirmed some irregularities but ultimately provided no concrete answers.
The current family rift is touched upon, including Bob's happy but belated reunions with Moon and Dweezil in the wake of Gail's passing.
All together, there is much of interest here and the book, together with the first installment of the Frankie & Bobby story, provides important clues for future Zappa scholars to investigate.
Once again, very enlightening and well-written, this is a book most fans (like me) will read in one sitting!
JOHN CORCELLI: FRANK ZAPPA FAQ – ALL THAT’S LEFT TO KNOW ABOUT THE FATHER OF INVENTION (Backbeat Books, ISBN 978-1-61713-603-0)
Firstly, I must declare an interest: I was approached by Robert Rodriguez (the man who conceived the FAQ Series) to write this book. My plan was to rope in my fellow ZappaCasters, Messrs Ekers and Parker, to help me put it together. Sadly, I dillied and I dallied too long - I was in the throes of finishing off my meagre-selling Beatles The Easy Way book at the time - and never submitted my proposal. So Mr Corcelli got the job. And a fine fist he has made of it too.
It's very well written indeed and touches all the right bases (though we had proposed to say more on Frank’s scatological lyrics, his forays into advertising, and the Z kids). But there's nothing here that the hard-core FZ fan won’t already know (except possibly that The Lost Episodes album, compiled before Zappa’s death, was intended as a piss-take of the Beatles' Anthology - launched two years after his passing!).
For those not in the know, this gives a solid account of the man's life and work. But citing the book as the last word on Frank (bolstered by Ed Palermo's claim in his foreword that if any facts are wrong, he'd know) wasn’t a wise move. As with most Zappa books, there are a number of factual (and a couple of spelling) errors - some minor (Corcelli erroneously states that Ahead Of Their Time was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall, and that there were no opening acts on the Broadway The Hard Way tour), and some howlers (he confuses Pamela Zarubica with Pamela Des Barres and YCDTOSA Vol. 2 is referred to as "The Stockholm Concert"). Of course there remains much more to learn about Frank, else IBS and the various Zappa fora would have shut up shop long ago. But my trifling observations aside, there is much to commend in these here pages.
BOB ZAPPA with Bob Stannard: FRANKIE & BOBBY - GROWING UP ZAPPA (CRZ Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9964779-0-1)
“We shared unique experiences that will disappear with me unless I make these stories public,” says Bob in his introduction to this truly enlightening, well written and revealing tome about the early life of our fave composer.
We all know about the Zappa family's nomadic existence, and this book strives to demonstrate the affect this had on shaping Frank's later life. Bob believes the constant moves caused the pair to grow up as misfits and led to them becoming fiercely independent. Having said that, they were clearly very close and protective of one another and, after they both fled the nest and went their separate ways, Bob talks of the anger he felt at not being around to support his brother in Montreux and London in December 1971. He also speculates whether his father's constant job changes were entirely down to his desire to better the family’s existence and his career or were enforced by his various employers. Francis certainly never fully explained the reasons for so many moves, and also would never show any shortcomings in his make up - either as a father or employee.
Despite their shared experiences growing up together, Bob sheds some light on how the pair turned out so differently and on what drove Frank to become the super-creative person he was.
With siblings Candy and Carl being that much younger than Frankie and Bobby, the constant moves during the first two decades of Frank's life don't appear to have had quite the same impact on them.
During the family’s time in Lancaster (a particluarly bad period for the pair, with troubles at school and an unsympathetic father), FZ became interested in UFOs and necromancy, and later told Bobby mysteriously that he'd made a bargain with the devil. We also learn that Frank never met his half-sister Ann from their father's first marriage, and that he was to have produced an album by Richie Havens but the singer-songwriter objected to his plan to name the album The Mad Gummer (Cal Schenkel mentioned this in an interview a few years back, and Bob describes Cal's planned artwork for the record).
After Frank became a Mother, he invited Bob to join him during the run of shows at the Garrick to act as his personal assistant. It was hoped he would wind up with a more permanaent role in his entourage. Frank was happy for Bob to drive up to New York with a couple of his old Claremont friends, one of whom was Dick Barber. Of course, it was Dick rather than Bob who wound-up securing a job with Frank.
The book is illustrated with many rare snaps of the family's early years as well as Frank's painting of an urn (as seen on the History Detectives - see here) and Edward Bearsley's companion piece to the painting used on the cover of Alice Cooper's Pretties For You.
There are so many stories you won't find anywhere else about Frank's formative years and I won't spoil things by detailing them all here: instead, grab a copy and read them for yourself - you won't regret it.
GEOFF WILLS: ZAPPA AND JAZZ – DID IT REALLY SMELL FUNNY, FRANK? (Matador Books, ISBN 978-1-78462-391-3)
The basic premise of this book is to disprove Charles Shaar Murray’s assertion (in his otherwise excellent BBC radio programme, Jazz From Hell) that Zappa wasn’t a jazz fan. Many of us already know that Frank was a chronic fibber-teller who would often belittle things he clearly admired (ie. The Beatles), and Wills sets out his case with aplomb, successfully pooh-poohing Zappa’s Duke Ellington begging for $10 story along the way.
Whereas the book might get the casual FZ fan (are there any?) running to their Zappa collection, it caused this casual jazz fan to Google-a-go-go and riffle through his meagre jazz records wanting to learn more about the likes of Bird, Dizzy, Mingus, Rollins and Kenton. With his undeniable knowledge on such matters, Wills’ is able to provide some incredible insights into the copious Third Stream/Bebop/jazz waltz references in Frank’s canon, as well as detailing how his music influenced 70s jazz-rock.
So Zappa’s universe continues to expand as Wills adds another dimension – all in an unpretentious and readable way. Highly recommended.
Order your copy direct from the publisher here.
DENNIS DUNAWAY and Chris Hodenfield: SNAKES! GUILLOTINES! ELECTRIC CHAIRS! MY ADVENTURES IN THE ALICE COOPER GROUP (Omnibus Press, ISBN 978-1-78305-993-5)
Having been a huge fan of the Alice Cooper group since 1971’s Killer album, I couldn’t wait to read this bio by bassist Dunaway. The fact that Alice Cooper got its first big break from FZ of course added to my interest in the band who, at one time, gave the mighty Zep a run for their money in my teenage affections.
While this book focuses very much on the close-knit unit’s early struggles and eventual rise to fame (there’s no mention of No More Mr. Nice Guy in the all too brief section on the recording of the platinum Billion Dollar Babies LP, for example), FZ’s involvement doesn’t merit too many pages. But it’s an interesting and entertaining read nevertheless. Dunaway has a nice turn of phrase (on sexual awakenings, he describes how “Sharon galvanised the gonads of guys up and down school halls,”) as well as a great eye/memory for detail - possibly because, unlike Alice and guitarist Glen Buxton, he didn’t dive so deeply into the drugs and alcohol that became readily available the higher the band climbed.
While influenced by UK bands like the Yardbirds and The Who, Alice Cooper started as a psychedelic rock band with a theatrical bent and Dada aspirations that would invent glitter rock and slowly morph into the shock rockers the world knew and loved. When Zappa took them under his wing, he wanted the group to change its name to ‘Alice Cookies’ and have each track on their first album as a separate biscuit-sized record, housed in a sealed can...until manager Herb Cohen pointed out the likely costs. After the Pretties For You and Easy Action albums, Zappa’s interest dwindled and the band knew they had to break away if they were to become a success. Hooking up with managers Shep Gordon and Joe Greenberg, they survived for a time by selling copies of Dylan’s Great White Wonder bootleg. Then they were introduced to the still teen-aged producer Bob Ezrin, who loved what they were trying to do and helped mould them into the mega-selling band they quickly became. Their first collaboration (for Ezrin truly was their George Martin), Love It To Death, was initially issued on the Straight label until Warner Bros steamed and the band really took off. Warners would release the subsequent albums, the next three (for me and many others) representing the band’s finest hour – well, two years actually. There’s mention of Cohen reappearing during this period, but Dunaway omits to explain that the group continued to have business ties with Straight up until the School’s Out album.
Some while after singer Vincent Furnier assumed the Alice name and mainstream acceptance became an inevitability, the song writing credits started to be divvied up, management and media started to home in on the front man, and the rot started to set in. In 1974, with talks of solo albums and a ‘marriage Sabbatical’, Alice would slope off with Ezrin and return with what is generally accepted to still be his greatest solo offering, Welcome To My Nightmare. And then it was “goodbye guys, maybe I'll see you around some time.”
In spite of this, Dunaway remained friends with his old school and track buddy, and he talks with great affection about the original group’s reunion in 2011 for its induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame - sadly, nearly fifteen years after guitarist Buxton had literally wasted away.
So, a bittersweet tale, but one worth checking out if you have an interest in the original (and best) AC group and tales of Seventies rock and roll excess. I think Miss Axelrod would be much impressed.
JIMMY CARL BLACK: FOR MOTHER’S SAKE - THE MEMOIRS AND RECOLLECTIONS OF JIMMY CARL BLACK 1938-2008 (Inkanish Publications, ISBN 9781493588725)
Coming five years after his passing, the autobiography of the original Mothers Of Invention drummer reveals his Native American heritage (though posthumous research by the editors casts some doubts on the accuracy of this), disparages FZ’s abilities as a driver, and contemplates how ‘the Indian of the group’ managed to father five children with all the marital strife and philandering that occurred as he pursued a career in music. The ‘memoirs’ part of the book comprises a chronological series of vignettes as told to Muffin Man Roddie Gilliard in the back of a tour bus as they gigged their way around Europe between 1994 and 1997. Aside from playing in one of the best American rock bands of the 1960s, JCB also got to jam with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughan, appear in a film with Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, paint houses with Arthur Brown, make doughnuts out in the west Texas town of El Paso, and play Knebworth with Captain Beefheart as part of his Magic Band with Elliot Ingber and Bruce Fowler. These adventures are all relayed in Jimmy’s own inimitable way.
A musician for all of his adult life, his first love was R&B but he also tried his hand at black gospel, disco and jazz. Inevitably his time with Frank takes up the bulk of the book, but he also had an eventful life away from the Mothers. And he’s very candid about the people he despised as well as those he had more time for. Despite the way in which the Mothers were disbanded and the subsequent ‘Old Masters’ lawsuit, Jimmy always retained a fondness for Frank and tells of the tears he shed with Don Preston and Bunk Gardner mid-tour in December 1993.
Married three times, Jimmy’s second wife died in 1995 after which the ‘recollections’ are skilfully stitched together from interviews, album sleeve notes and the autobiographical digest he wrote for his website. These are all Jimmy’s words, and his story is one you’ll have a ball reading.
Available in print or Kindle editions. Visit www.jimmycarlblack.com for more.
HOWARD KAYLAN: SHELL SHOCKED - MY LIFE WITH THE TURTLES, FLO AND EDDIE, AND FRANK ZAPPA, ETC... (Backbeat Books, ISBN 978-1617808463)
Howard relays his life story with great wit and aplomb. The tale about how he and Mark Volman avoided the draft, with cousin Herbie Cohen’s help, is trouser-wettingly hilarious. He’s honest and open about the drug use, his myriad infidelities and the bad business decisions that conspired to split the Turtles up - and the fact that turning down Becker and Fagen’s offer to join their new band might have been an error! Where else might you find out that Tom Jones named his penis Wendell? And if you didn’t already know who the ‘The Fabulous Musician’ was that released a torrent of purple spew from an appealing blonde from the clues in Champagne Lecture and The Real Frank Zappa Book, Howard lays it out for ya. He’s also explicit about Nigey Lennon’s party piece, and he clarifies why Mark started out as Eddie before becoming Flo when the photo on the duo’s first album got reversed. (I was always a little confused as to why, in interviews, Howard said he was the Phlorescent Leech in the Mothers. Now I know.) After many years of lawsuits, Flo & Eddie won the right to use the Turtles name and gained control over the band’s recorded output. This enabled them to set the legal hounds on De La Soul when they used a sample from You Showed Me on Transmitting Live From Mars (Interlude) without permission (in what was very much a test case; many others therefore have the dynamic duo to thank for the credit that automatically ensues from such nefarious activity nowadays).
Given the book’s sub-title, I was a little surprised Howie didn’t mention the abortive rehearsals with Frank in 1987, but then he did help me cover that comprehensively in Zappa The Hard Way. Nor is there that much on the legendary Hollywood Vampires, but that’s maybe because none of them can remember too much about that ‘lost’ period!
Towards the end of the book, Howard ruminates on the demise of his father, FZ and close friend Harry Nilsson, but ends on how he’s now happy, content and clean. Very clean. Despite the many ups and downs, it’s fair to say that, career wise, Howard has led a somewhat charmed life.
Penn Jillette’s humourous foreword essentially articulates Zappa’s view about high and low art all just being entertainment, and kicks things off in fine style. All in all, one of the best rock bios I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a few!). But on a point of order, there’s no way you could have read Sounds on your first transatlantic flight, Howard: it didn’t commence publication until 1970. Sorry!
SUMMER '82: WHEN ZAPPA CAME TO SICILY (MVD Visual MVD0256D)
Finally readily available to all and sundry, Salvo Cuccia’s four-year old film had only previously been seen in this country at the Bangor Music Festival in 2015.
The travails of Frank’s 1982 tour (as previously commemorated on disc 2 of YCDTOSA Vol. 5) is told through copious Thomas Nordegg video footage and the reminiscences of Massimo Bassoli, Steve Vai, Tanino Liberatore (of The Man From Utopia/FrankXerox fame) and members of the audience at the fateful “last show of the last European tour” in Palermo. The ZFT has also sanctioned the use of clips from both its official film and music catalogues. All of this - plus the reflections of Gail, Moon, Diva, Dweezil & Megan and Joe Travers - really make for a charming little film. Cuccia’s story of his father driving him from Germany to Palermo to see the final concert is a small but poignant part of it all.
We see the Z kids seek out their Sicilian roots, visiting their grandfather’s home in Partinico (#13 Via Zammata’) and meeting long-lost Zappas, with Massimo reprising his role as tour guide from 30 years ago.
Footage of Frank arriving at the sound check after his own visit to Partinico sees him describe the town as “total trash” and possibly where the mafiosi conducted all of its business from (at that time, Palermo was the Cosa Nostra’s main battlefield and Sicily was in the grips of its Second Mafia War). Three days before the gig, Italy had beaten West Germany 3-1 in the 12th FIFA World Cup final and emotions on the island were running high. Coupled with the concurrent festival of Santa Rosalia and the authorities' ineptitude in hosting a rock concert, this all conspired to ensure the gig ended disastrously, after just 65 minutes. As the riot continued, we see Frank donning a bullet proof vest while searching for his cigarettes in the bunker below the stadium.
Massimo was to have performed Tengo Na Minchia Tanta with the band, and we do see footage of him rehearsing the song with the band, but of course his role that night was limited to simply an appeal for calm.
Jumping back to the present, we see Via Zammata’ renamed Via Frank Zappa, Dweezil (and Moon’s daughter, Mathilda) conducting the Orchestra di Fiati e Percussioni during an improvised section of their FZ medley, Dear Mr. Frank Zappa, and Dweezil playing Treacherous Cretins with local musicians. My sole criticism of this Blu-ray is the constant repeating of Dweezil’s 38 second Partinico Feedback over the bonus feature of previously unpublished behind the scenes photos: I had to press the mute button. (Why couldn’t they have had Dweezil prepare a seamless loop from his Palermo Stream Of Consciousness instead?) Anyway, Cuccia has done an excellent job piecing this ‘homecoming story’ together, and the film itself is thoroughly engaging.
Seeing how emotional Dweezil, Diva and Moon get when meeting relatives and talking about their dad gives us hope that all four siblings will one day kiss and make up. In the meantime, enjoy watching this footage of a family united in celebrating its ancestry.
FRANK ZAPPA & THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION: THE LOST BROADCAST – THE FULL PERFORMANCE (Gonzo Multimedia DUKE101DVD)
Track list: Improvisations/Boogie Shuffle/King Kong/The String Quartet/Instrumental/Uncle Meat/Afternoon Of A Sexually Aroused Gas Mask/Lohengrin/Let's Make The Water Turn Black/Octandre.
Released in conjunction with Radio Bremen, this is as-official-a-release-as-we'll-ever-get-without-it-being-ZFT-authorised of the full unedited performance of the Mothers at the Beat Club in Bremen on 6 October 1968 - and in better quality than that touted by Zappateers. There is a warning that, for a small portion of the full rehearsal footage, there are some sound dropouts and imbalances. These are a little annoying but occur near the start and get ironed out while the band is playing King Kong - just after Motorhead has finished abusing a child's doll with a German sausage and a bottle of Beck's (the local beer). The footage (which is in black and white) starts with the band - FZ, Ian Underwood, Bunk Gardner, Don Preston, Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black, Art Tripp, Motorhead Sherwood - setting up and eating from a trolley of food wheeled out by the Beat Club folk. After that, you can see Motorhead having make-up applied, having his hair brushed and wearing grapes and a face mask. Frank plays a little one-fingered piano on the instrumental track (just before Uncle Meat). And you can marvel at the best effects the late sixties had to offer! Music promoter Fritz Rau can also be seen, as well as four, er, go-go dancers (during Boogie Shuffle).
Also included is the 'Original Broadcast' - only it's not the version shown on TV: it's merely the end portion of the main feature (from around the 47 minute mark onwards), also in black and white and with no screen credits or interview.
Definitely a worthwhile purchase, despite some imperfections.
Perfect Partner: The Lost Broadcasts: Zappa On Zappa (Gonzo Multimedia, 2012)
FRANK ZAPPA 1969-1973: FREAK JAZZ, MOVIE MADNESS & ANOTHER MOTHERS (Chrome Dreams, SIDVD580)
Largely a Hot Rats classic album slash analysis of the Flo & Eddie years, this new film by Tom O’Dell does though touch on the Grand Wazoo and Roxy bands - with George Duke describing Chester Thompson as “a grumpy old man”! In addition to George, there are ‘new’ interviews with Aynsley Dunbar, Don Preston, Jeff Simmons, Mark Volman, Max Bennett, Sal Marquez, Ian Underwood and Tony Palmer (as well as writers Ben Watson, Billy James and Mark Paytress); these are what really make this documentary extra-special. Bennett tells how Frank placed no real restrictions on the musicians during the recording of Hot Rats – he was given just the chord changes, but no notes to play. He also tells the tale of how a strung–out “Sugarcane” Harris turned up late for a session and started playing his violin with a hairless bow. Underwood tells how Frank’s new post-Mothers jazz-rock direction suited him just fine, with Watson weighing in to describe Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way as soporific while Frank was all about waking you up.
The film states that the Vaudeville band came together by chance, with both Simmons and Dunbar expressing dismay at Frank’s decision to involve Volman and Kaylan. They were both won over of course, because the pair were “funny as hell”. Paytress finds the seedy and salacious lyrics of this period a little too much to stomach and infers that many at the time were similarly dismissive - though Simmons says that everywhere they went everyone seemed to love it.
Regarding 200 Motels, Palmer says he had to keep pressing to see a script, and a few days before taping commenced Frank brought in a huge trunk full of paper, proclaiming “There it is!” Presumably because of Palmer’s association with Gonzo Multimedia, there are clips aplenty from both this motion picture and The Lost Broadcasts/Zappa On Zappa. Chrome Dreams has also fearlessly included many other visual and audio clips, with most of the latter being credited to Ryko. They have though commissioned Chris Ingham to compose some Zappalike music.
After the movie came out, Volman repeats the notion that Frank may have felt performing Divan brought on the problems that culminated in the disbandment of this version of the Mothers in December 1971. With Frank now recuperating and preparing for his next musical adventures, Sal Marquez relays the story of how he came to work for him transcribing the music for Waka/Jawaka, and before you know it, it’s all over. After a mere 157 minutes! But that’s not it, no siree. We also get a short extra titled On The Road: Mother Memories, with outtakes from the interviews with Dunbar, Simmons, Duke (on ‘the booger bear war’) and Volman (saying how he wasn’t proud of the band’s off-stage excesses). For anyone who’s seen Christopher Guest’s hilarious mockumentary, A Mighty Wind, it’s uncanny how much Flo now resembles Eugene Levy’s character, Mitch Cohen. A coincidence? I don’t think so!
Anyway, if Chrome Dreams keep coming up with the goods like this, I can’t wait till they get to the Broadway tour! A must-see.
MORGAN ÅGREN’S CONUNDRUM: A PERCUSSIVE MISADVENTURE (Bend Bars/Lift Gates Films, 8-84501-99144-5)
As well as being a supremely gifted drummer, Morgan is also a very likeable person. Thus a documentary was obviously a great idea, so kudos to Carl King for making it a reality. As well as numerous examples of Morgan’s prowess, we also get to hear Mike Keneally say that after the 1988 Broadway The Hard Way tour, FZ wanted to form a six-piece band comprising: FZ, MK, Ray White, Scott Thunes and Mats & Morgan. Wouldn’t that have been something (though Joe Travers strangely qualifies this by saying that it may only have happened had Chad Wackerman been otherwise engaged)?
What else? We see that Marco Minnemann is probably a better guitarist than a tennis player, that Simon Phillips cares almost as much about coffee as his recording equipment, we get fashion tips from Tosin Abasi (wow, I hope the sessions shown with he, Morgan and Janek Gwizdala result in an album) and Morgan visits the Trout Mask house.
As a non-musician, I am always impressed by seeing the time, effort and thought that goes into musicians like Morgan’s art - like how much of it is memorised rather than improvised. But when it’s stuck behind a bunch of other musicians, all that hard work can either go unnoticed or the music on top may just be rancid. Happily, Morgan invariably plays behind other great musicians and when he’s in front of you it’s hard to keep your eyes off him.
In spite of a couple of poncey talking heads you’d like to smash together (and I’m most certainly not talking about Dweezil or Devin Townsend here), this documentary will at the very least make you want to go out and try some fermented herring. But more than likely it will leave you wondering why the hell Morgan isn’t a household name.
THE LOST BROADCASTS: ZAPPA ON ZAPPA (Gonzo Multimedia, HST109DVD)
Here is the full, unedited, uncoloured, un-subtitled interview Horst Königstein (who did the translations for the two Peter Gabriel German albums) conducted with Frank in Bremen for the Beat-Club. In glorious living black and white, it's more like a surreal version of the Beeb's old Face To Face interrogations than a normal 'pop' TV interview. Frank is asked how he thinks people perceive him (a political rebel) and how he thinks of himself (composer). Königstein makes notes as they go along on a large blackboard behind them; when he runs out of room, FZ hands him his cap to rub off some of the earlier chalkings. By the end, it's quite a collage! Frank talks about how the Government and big businesses control TV and how it impacts on the minds of young America; he urges youths to stop demonstrating and become part of the media, military, police, etc. to bring about change from within and to reach larger numbers of people. Horst has Frank recite the lyrics to Concentration Moon, and Frank in turn has Königstein read out the words to a Republican pop song (see here). Also discussed are Bizarre Records, the GTOs, Rolling Stone magazine, film editing, MGM's censorship of Absolutely Free & WOIIFTM, the ‘Berlin Survival’ story, and the members of the new ‘swinging’ Vaudeville band that had been together just a fortnight at time of filming. Horst asks a few overly complex questions, which FZ handles good-naturedly. Frank clearly enjoyed this interview, as he asks for copy to show in the US. Your darling Harold Wilson and Edward Heath also make brief cameos, the former having just lost the June 1970 General Election to the latter. FZ asks rhetorically, “What's he gonna do now?” Well, he came back four years later, Frank. In the eight minute sub-titled broadcasted interview (also included), it looks like Coy leaves the green gels in the truss. But the full 86 minute thing is a joy to behold: Frank, as you’d expect, comes across as witty and erudite – and Königstein manages to hold his own really well. Kudos to Voiceprint for another great archive release.
THE LOST BROADCASTS: CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND (Gonzo Multimedia, HST112DVD)
Track list: Mascara Snake (Bass Solo)/Click Clack 1/Click Clack 2/Golden Birdies/Band Intros/I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 1/I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 2/Steal Softly Thru The Snow/I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 3.
Recorded in a TV studio in Bremen (for the Beat-Club, with no audience) in 1972, mid-tour between The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot albums. The Mascara Snake (aka Hair Pie) bass solo starts with a blue screen before Rockette Morton (aka Mark Boston, looking like Dr. Jacoby from Twin Peaks) appears - or rather, primarily it’s his hands and bass we see. A portly Captain then strolls on to impishly announce, “And this is the mascara fake!” Once the solo ends, the camera switches to a monocled Ed Marimba (Art Tripp), who appears to be wearing a small pair of psychedelic underpants on his head, with a very animated and behatted Boston now on six string and Roy Estrada out on parole. I mean bass. Click Clack 1 is largely focussed on the Captain, his taped together mics and harp. And it seems we’re getting everything that was filmed here, so a bit of a second stab of that one too - which collapses shortly after the harp solo. Golden Birdies signals some visual effects so beloved of 70s TV producers whereby Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) is superimposed on the rest of the band, etc. Tripp appears to emit a short fart during Band Intros, as the lens fails to actually capture exactly who’s who. Never mind. There’s a fair bit of feedback during I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 1, and Beefheart seems a little distracted by a studio technician. So he stops the song and walks off. The band start version 2 without him, but he returns in time to warble as only he (and Howlin’ Wolf, and possibly some others) can. Or could. Steal Softly Thru The Snow is played as an instrumental (with two basses), and sees Tripp and Beefheart - on soprano sax - duetting for the song’s thrilling denouement. I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 3 signals some more FX and is the only part of this performance that was actually shown on the Beat-Club. Now, thanks to Gonzo and Voiceprint, it’s readily available for all to marvel at. And well worth the wait it was too. Great sound and picture quality throughout. Oh, and by the way: the hirsute other former Mother, Winged Eel Fingerling (Elliot Ingber), is fairly anonymous behind his shades, with the camera really only dwelling on him occasionally, and most notably when he’s not actually playing (when the miffed Beefheart walks off).
FROM STRAIGHT TO BIZARRE: ZAPPA, BEEFHEART, ALICE COOPER AND LA’s LUNATIC FRINGE (Chrome Dreams, SIDVD568)
The most professional and well put together documentary film from these guys yet takes an in-depth look at Frankie and Herb’s twin record labels. It features some exclusive new interviews, with: Sandy Hurvitz (aka Essra Mohawk, on her bizarre relationship with FZ); Kim Fowley (making, um, prophesies about the future of Wild Man Fischer); GTOs Mercy (the original Scary Spice) and Pamela (on Permanent Damage); a modest Jeff Simmons (who expresses gratitude for people’s appreciation of his Lucille album, which he is more dismissive of); Drumbo and Zoot Horn Rollo (on Decals, and the genesis, recording and release of Trout Mask). One recurring theme throughout is how the future of many of the Straight/Bizarre releases hinged on FZ’s reaction to different ‘incidents’ – eg. the Alice Cooper group and the GTOs getting stoned/busted; Wild Man Fischer lobbing a bottle at Moon Unit; Sandy Hurvitz asserting herself in the studio. There’s many a nice quote - eg. Jerry Lawson asking “Who the fuck is Zappa?” on being told of Frank’s interest in the Persuasions - and some insightful ones, too (eg. Ben Watson’s comment that looking at all of the Straight/Bizarre releases is to see Frank’s many influences). Some nice extras also: Lawson chatting about yellow snow, skinny chickens and listening to Frankly A Cappella (released in 2000) with FZ! (if you think that’s odd, he also attributes Hot-Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel to the Carnegie-era Mothers); and Harkleroad and French reminiscing about the Magic Band’s arrest for shoplifting while living at the Trout House. Well worth a peek.
CHAD WACKERMAN TRIO: HITS LIVE (Drum Channel DVD, DV10003801-H01)
This live performance was filmed in the Drum Channel studio, with no audience - and, more importantly, no electronic explosions triggered by clumsy stage hands! The 'concert' footage is interspersed with brief chats with the Trio (seems these guys all met through FZ: Doug Lunn met Chad when he auditioned for Frank in the early 80s; and Mike Miller was invited to play with Chad in the Banned From Utopia by The Fowler Brothers), with separate introductions to each song by a solo Chad. He describes Balancing Acts as almost prog-rock, and indeed it is. Tell Me starts with a nice drum solo, as per the version on the Zappanale #18 CD. Bang. The gentle Holland is so gorgeous, I could wear it as a scrunchie. The City also opens with a CW solo, as he channels his first NY visit, then builds to a great McLaughlin-esque guitar solo. Twang. This must be a great gig for MM, who gets to shape the tunes and play oodles of solos, though he also has the job of replicating the missing vibe parts from Chad's compositions. Throughout you see what fine, fine players these are. And unlike Bozzio, Chad actually uses every bit of his kit, and Doug plays all five strings on his fretless bass. Talk to me. Although this is played totally live, with no studio trickery, some clips of Chad appear to have been sped-up. But really, he's just super fast. Wow. The bonus material consists of Mike's The Good Guys, played as a tribute to the late Mark Craney. It rocks. And Introduction, which has possibly been relegated from the main feature because MM has to sight read for most of it. I think the intimate studio setting suits them a lot better than a field in Germany.
FRANK ZAPPA: THE FREAK-OUT LIST (Chrome Dreams, SIDVD555)
The first 30 minutes of this documentary focus on FZ's classical/orchestral influences, then it looks at his R&B likes (some of the stuff that's featured on Chrome Dreams' excellent Frank Zappa's Jukebox CD), emphasising Johnny "Guitar" Watson's impact on Frank's guitar playing. It's then on to doo-wop (including a present day interview with The Cadillacs) and, finally, jazz. We are guided through these by an insightful Ben Watson (who, God bless him, bigs up Jimmy Carl Black), various music professors, Don Preston (who boasts that he introduced many of the classical remnants incorporated into Zappa's oeuvre), author Greg Russo (who has his own extra, talking us through ‘Frank Zappa's Record Collection’), GZ’s new best friend, Alan Clayson, and (scooptastically) George Duke and Ian Underwood – really nice to see them involved. Significant other things: crystal clear snippets of one of the Saturday Night Live performances (unlike those countless DVDs that flooded the marketplace a year or so back) and Ensemble Modern rehearsing stuff for The Rage And The Fury. One of the nice other touches is the Zappa-referencing excerpts from: Wagner's Valkyrie, performed by the RPO; Schoenberg and Rite Of Spring, conducted by Boulez; Holst's Jupiter by the LSO; and Once, At A Border (Tony Palmer's film about Stravinsky). It uses the list on the inside cover of Freak Out! as a touchstone, rather than taking us through it name by name – which would’ve been deadly boring to watch. If you enjoyed Chrome Dream’s previous FZ & The MOI In The 60s DVD, you’ll love this.
TONY PALMER’S FILM OF FRANK ZAPPA’S 200 MOTELS (Voiceprint Records, TPDVD127)
I guess we can forgive Palmer's lack of Zappa knowledge (for example, he doesn't know who Motorhead is, can't remember Jeff Simmons' surname, and thinks Herb Cohen was Frank's only manager and they never had a cross word), but not sure about his dismissal of Frank's orchestral works - especially when he adds some thing about McCartney being able to get away with it because he's a genius. Palmer does though point out some things you may not have noticed before (his nod to his pal, Kubrick; how some of the effects were achieved) and relays many interesting anecdotes from the making of the film. And it's really his commentary that makes this a must-buy DVD - you wouldn't get this on a ZFT-approved product, that's for sure. The quality of the film is maybe a little better than my old Warner Bros VHS videotape, but there's no discernible improvement in the sound. Shame. Also, the 16:9 aspect ratio appears to mean they've squeezed the image throughout so that little is chopped from the screen - so the camera adds more than 10lbs.
THE DRUMMERS OF FRANK ZAPPA: ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION AND PERFORMANCE (Drum Channel DVD Collection: Vol. One, DV10005801-H01)
Track list: Terry’s Intro And Ralph’s Audition/How Chester Got In The Band/Ruth’s Story Meeting Frank/More Stories And Chad’s Audition/Discussion Of Other Player’s Audition/The Black Page Of Frank’s Music/Playing In The Band/Performance. Total time: 140 min.
I imagine most folks have seen some of this online, but it's wonderful to have the complete thing collected together on one DVD - something I actually prayed would happen; thank you, Drum Channel! In the roundtable discussion, Ruth Underwood is easily the most endearing, and she brings along some of Frank’s sheet music for the others to marvel at. Chester Thompson and Chad Wackerman are both pretty modest, but have great tales to tell. Ralph Humphrey and Terry Bozzio come across as very eloquent (which is not to say that the others are dummies – far from it), and Terry keeps things moving apace. It's a real nice mix of informal reminisces - about: the 'clash of the titans' (the Mothers Vs Mahavishnu); scary in-concert auditions; learning Kung Fu and Approximate; hanging with Frank; Ruth's cocktail version of Freak Out!; playing quintuplets LOUD; Phil Collins trying to learn More Trouble Everyday; and lots of other really entertaining stuff. Terry reveals that the intro to The Black Page was ripped off of Tony Williams on the Stanley Clarke album. One of the highlights is undoubtedly when Ruth calls Chad “dear” (Chad told me, “Ruth is great. That's the first time I had a chance to speak with her.”)! The 42 minute ‘performance’ part (featuring all but Ruthie, sadly) is pretty cool: obviously Chester & Ralph built up a great rapport back in the day, and Chad & Terry have done many duet concerts together since; seeing all four men-in-black improvising together is sure fine looking, man.