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Groovy 1968 Frank Zappa advertisement from Marvel Comics’ Daredevil #38
03:12 pm


Frank Zappa

One of the primary reasons that the quite mind-blowing, entertaining, and enjoyable Monkees movie Head did so poorly at the box office in 1968 was that it represented such a sharp break from the family-friendly sitcom on which the group had built its following. The movie featured lots of utterly confusing footage, at times on an antiwar theme, that was mostly the kind of thing college-aged pot smokers like to see, but it amazingly garnered a G rating, at least initially. As Joseph Brannigan Lynch wrote on the occasion of the Blu-Ray release of Head:

Partly to blame was the marketing campaign that was almost as avant-garde as the film itself, but even worse was the fact that many theaters (successfully) demanded the film’s G-rating be turned into a Mature rating, simply because the film structure allegedly resembled an acid trip.

One of the many fascinating people involved with Head was, of course, Frank Zappa, who wanders through the movie with a Hereford Bull in tow and chides Davy about how “white” his music is not to forget the youth of America. One wonders if Columbia Pictures’ famously miscalculated ad campaign was in any way influenced by a similarly odd campaign for one of Zappa’s albums a few months earlier.

In March 1968, the Mothers of Invention unleashed their third mind-bending cultural intervention, known to all and sundry as We’re Only in It for the Money. In a curious move, Verve Records, no doubt directed by Zappa himself, apparently selected the pre-teen comic book audience to be one of the target demographics to promote the album to. Specifically, Daredevil #38, which came out the same month as the album, and featured a remarkable full-page ad promoting the record.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Interstellar Zappadrive: When Frank Zappa jammed with Pink Floyd
08:43 am


Frank Zappa
Pink Floyd

This post was originally published in 2012, but at that time, the actual footage of Frank Zappa jamming with Pink Floyd had yet to materialize. That changed late last year with the release of the mammoth Pink Floyd box set, The Early Years (released as individual volumes at the end of the month.)

“The Actuel Rock Festival,” sponsored by the fashionable Parisian youth culture magazine Actuel (along with the BYG record label) was to be the first ever major rock festival in France, and was heralded as Europe’s answer to Woodstock. French authorities, still smarting from the riots of May 1968, forbade it and the festival, which was originally going to take place in or near Paris, was held just a few miles beyond the French border, in Amougies, Belgium.

The festival took place over the course of five freezing cold days in late October (24-27) of 1969. The audience numbered between 15-20,000 people who were treated with performances by Pink Floyd, Ten Years After, Colosseum, Aynsley Dunbar (this is allegedly where Zappa met his future drummer), former Yardbird Keith Relf’s new group Renaissance, blues legend Alexis Korner, Don Cherry, The Nice, Caravan, Blossom Toes, Archie Shepp, Yes, The Pretty Things, Pharoah Sanders, The Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart and many more.

From the notes of the 1969 The Amougies Tapes Zappa bootleg:

Frank Zappa was present at the festival in a twofold capacity. First, as Captain Beefheart’s road manager; secondly, as M.C., assisting Pierre Lattes, a famous radio/TV presenter at the time (and the pop music editor for Actuel magazine). The latter task proved problematic given Zappa’s limited French, the prevailing language among the audience, who themselves didn’t seem to understand much English. Instead, Zappa relinquished his M.C. job for one of occasional guest guitarist. He plays with almost everybody, especially with Pink Floyd, Blossom Toes, Archie Shepp and Aynsley Dunbar, a fabulous drummer he will hire shortly thereafter. He introduces his friend Captain Beefheart and provides a powerful stimulant to all the other musicians. Most legendary, of course, is Frank Zappa’s jam with Pink Floyd on a very extended “Interstellar Overdrive”. The festival was filmed by Jerome Laperrousaz, and the film was to be called MUSIC POWER. Due to objections from various bands (most notably Pink Floyd) whose permission hadn’t been properly secured, the film was never officially released.”

Simpsons creator Matt Groening asked Zappa about the festival in a 1992 interview, but oddly he doesn’t even mention sitting in with Pink Floyd:

Frank Zappa: I was supposed to be MC for the first big rock festival in France, at a time when the French government was very right-wing, and they didn’t want to have large-scale rock and roll in the country. and so at the last minute, this festival was moved from France to Belgium, right across the border, into a turnip field. They constructed a tent, which was held up by these enormous girders. They had 15,000 people in a big circus tent. This was in November, I think. The weather was really not very nice. It’s cold, and it’s damp, and it was in the middle of a turnip field. I mean mondo turnips. And all the acts, and all the people who wished to see these acts, were urged to find this location in the turnip field, and show up for this festival. And they’d hired me to be the MC and also to bring over Captain Beefheart. It was his first appearance over there. and it was a nightmare, because nobody could speak English, and I couldn’t speak French, or anything else for that matter, so my function was really rather limited. I felt a little bit like Linda McCartney. I’d stand there and go wave, wave, wave. I sat in with a few of the groups during the three days of the festival, but it was so miserable because all these European hippies had brought their sleeping bags, and they had the bags laid out on the ground in this tent, and they basically froze and slept through the entire festival, which went on 24 hours a day, around the clock. One of the highlights of the event was the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which went on at 5:00 a.m. to an audience of slumbering euro-hippies.

More (including video footage) after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Fantastic flashback: Travel back to the word of 70s rock with ‘Phonograph Record Magazine’

Slade on the cover of ‘Phonograph Record Magazine’ November 1972.
During its eight-year run Phonograph Record Magazine served up sweet pictorials and articles written by some of the best music journalists around during the 70s, such as John Mendelsohn who was already contributing to Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Times while still in his teens; the hugely influential Jonh Ingham and Lester Bangs, and several other notable rock and roll word slingers.

Started by one of the true kings of the hustle, journalist and sometimes song writer Marty Cerf when he was only 21, Phonograph Record Magazine (or PRM) was known for digging deep with their articles on popular as well as unsung musical acts. One of Cerf’s editors was Ken Barnes—another prominent rock writer who credits Cerf for helping him get his start. Here’s more from Barnes on his old boss, who says one of his many jobs at PRM was general hanger-on:

Marty was around 5’ 10” in height, skinny, always bubbling over with more ideas than he could spit out (he tended to spit a bit when excited, which was most of the time). I’ve always been grateful to Marty, who was pretty much running the entire PRM show at that time, for getting me started.

In addition to the magazine’s artful covers, Cerf allowed his writing staff to really bring their voice and personality into their pieces. Though he wasn’t part of PRM‘s staff, a great example of this was an article written by Frank Zappa in PRM, “Hypothetical Interview With Frank Zappa by Frank Zappa As Told To Suzie Creamcheese & Rodney Bingenheimer.” The article itself is a fascinating and hysterically indulgent promotion for Zappa’s bizarro 1971 film, 200 Motels and letting Zappa run wild like this is as close to genius as it gets for a rock mag. I highly encourage you to read it (while you are high if at all possible) here in its entirety.

As someone who has always aspired to do what I’m currently doing for a living, I find the ethos embodied by PRM truly inspiring and worthy of reminiscing about. Not just because of the memories the photographs conjure up—but for the dedication by the young team of writers who cultivated their craft within its pages, and would go on to create the standard for music journalism that can’t be achieved without passion and genuine enthusiasm. Copies of PRM are rather rare but can be found from time to time on auction sites like eBay or on Etsy. Image of the covers and content from inside PRM follow.

October 1972.


David Bowie and guitarist Mark Ronson glamming it up on stage in a photo from the October 1972 issue of ‘Phonograph Record Magazine.’


A scan of the first page of an article written by Frank Zappa for PNR, “Hypothetical Interview With Frank Zappa by Frank Zappa As Told To Suzie Creamcheese & Rodney Bingenheimer.”
More after the jump…

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‘Dog Breath in the Year of the Plague’: A fanboy’s appreciation of Frank Zappa’s ‘Uncle Meat’
03:21 pm


Frank Zappa
Cal Schenkel

It was listening to the Dr. Demento radio show at some point in the 1970s—probably 1976—where I first heard three artists I would come to love for the rest of my life. In one radio show, which I taped, the good doctor played Noel Coward’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” “Hunting Tigers Out in Indiah” by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Thinking back on it, I had damned good taste in music for a 10-year-old kid, I really did, even if it now seems rather obvious what it was about those three songs that appealed to me so much at that age. After all, I was listening to Dr. Demento at the time, of course…

As luck would have it, later that very week I was able to pick up a copy of Uncle Meat for just $1.99 in the cut-out bin of the local branch of the long defunct mid-western chain, National Record Mart. The 1968 double album—the prolific Frank Zappa’s second two-record set in less than three years—is the first one that I bought and still to this day my favorite Mothers of Invention album overall. I think it’s the very best introduction to the music of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. At least it was mine and with the excuse of the new expanded Meat Light three CD box set (not really getting the “Meat Light” title or the crappy cover art—why not get the great Cal Schenkel to do it?—but whatever) from the Zappa Family Trust’s Project/Object “documentary” series, I’m more than happy to extol its virtues for our readers. You know those lists of 1001 records you absolutely must hear before you die? I’d rank Uncle Meat in the top 100. Maybe top 50. No, definitely top 50.

I’m not going to lie to you, and tell you that I completely understood what I was listening to, but since when would “understanding” music mean much anyway or stand in the way of the enjoyment of a work of art? Besides, I was a child. I just knew that I loved it and that it took me somewhere that I’d never been to before. It was a revelation to me that such music even existed. Furthermore, that some freak had gotten major corporate money behind his artistic vision, that was another eye-opening thing for me to grok, and an inspiration for my own career…

Uncle Meat documents the original Mothers at the telepathic height of their musical powers. Recorded over five months in late 1967, early 1968, the album’s aural collage of short, sharp shocks of avant garde musical interludes, doo-wop, free jazz, spoken word bits, cartoony music and far-out concert recordings were the fullest expression at that point of the young composer’s genius. Over the course of its four sides, a first time listener (like I was) could get lost in the album moving from initial confusion to musical mental orgasms in the space of about an hour. It goes from being strange and seemingly impenetrable, then suddenly it sort of dawns on you “Holy shit, this is music unlike anything I’ve ever heard before” and you realize how amazing, exotic, complex and how unexpectedly beautiful Frank Zappa’s music truly is.

The Mothers of Invention, at the time of the recording were Don Preston on keyboards, “Motorhead” Sherwood (tambourine, noises, bad sax playing), Roy Estrada on bass and vocals, Art Tripp and Jimmy Carl Black on drums, Ian Underwood on clarinet and Bunk Gardner on soprano sax. (Ruth Underwood, who plays vibes on Uncle Meat, made a tremendous contribution to the album’s sound. Additionally drummer Billy Mundi, who’d already left the group to join Rhinoceros is heard on some pieces).

More ‘Meat’ after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Holy freakout Batman! Frank Zappa and ‘The Boy Wonder Sessions’
03:39 pm


Frank Zappa
Burt Ward

The song embedded below, believe it or not, is actually a collaboration between Burt Ward, better known as “Robin” on the 60s Batman TV series, and Frank Zappa. Long circulated on variously titled bootlegs, “The Boy Wonder Sessions” were recorded in 1966 with Mothers of Invention (and Velvet Underground) producer Tom Wilson at the mixing desk. Mothers Jimmy Carl Black, Elliot Ingber and Roy Estrada are present, however Zappa himself doesn’t actually play on these sessions, although he arranged and wrote most of the material recorded. Note the bit that sounds like Zappa’s later “Duke of Prunes” composition near the end. This has Zappa written all over it in so many ways.

From Burt Ward’s autobiography, Boy Wonder, My Life In Tights:

I should have had the wisdom I now have when I signed a recording contract with MGM Records- I wouldn’t have signed it. MGM staffer Tom Scott [I think he means WIlson] was assigned as my producer. He brought in one of the visually wildest groups imaginable as my backup band, the Mothers of Invention. What a sight! Neanderthal. They had incredibly long, scraggly hair, and clothes that appeared not to have been washed in this century if ever. These were musicians who became famous for tearing up furniture, their speakers, their microphones and even their expensive guitars onstage. They were maniacs!

Of all the people in the world to team with this wild and crazy bunch, I can’t believe I was the one. The image of the Boy Wonder is all American and apple pie, while the image of the Mothers of Invention was so revolutionary that they made the Hell’s Angels look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Even I had to laugh seeing a photo of myself with those animals.

Their fearless leader and king of grubbiness was the late Frank Zappa. (The full name of the band was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.) After recording with me, Frank became an internationally recognized cult superstar, which was understandable; after working with me, the only place Frank could go was up.

Although he looked like the others, Frank had an intelligence and education that elevated him beyond brilliance to sheer genius. I spent a considerable amount of time talking with him, and his rough, abrupt exterior concealed an intellectual, creative and sensitive interior.

For my records, the plan was to record four sides and then release two singles prior to producing an album. After listening to me sing, Frank got a wild idea to make use of my hideous voice to do a hilarious recording with a song that had some of the Batman feel to it. He picked “Orange Colored Sky.”

I can’t bear to think of this song. The memories are too embarrassing. Though the intent was to create comedy by putting my lousy singing to good use, the actual result was so disastrous that the studio thought the tape had been left out in the sun and warped. They insisted on re-recording.

More after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘They Saved Zappa’s Moustache’: Negativland do Frank Zappa
08:53 am


Frank Zappa
Over the Edge

It seems like only yesterday I was at a double feature of 200 Motels and Baby Snakes in Santa Monica and Gail Zappa was taking questions from the audience between movies. A scruffy guy sitting in front of me wanted to know: like, what did it mean that Frank’s birthday was December 21? With commendable equanimity and poise, she replied that her late husband had been a Sag, for sure.

Has it really been seven years since those innocent, care- and money-free days? No picnic, but I’ll say this for the Great Recession: at least it was more “Cheap Thrills” than “Concentration Moon.” Gail Zappa was then breathing air, as was Negativland’s Don Joyce, whose KPFA radio show “Over the Edge” became my first podcast subscription right around that time. But look at Don now, resting in that plastic baggie on my shelf. A picture of health he is not.

In March of ‘95, a little over a year after Frank Zappa’s death, Joyce and Phineas Narco devoted an episode of “Over the Edge” to the composer’s life and work. After playing a tape of Zappa’s 1963 appearance on The Steve Allen Show—the whole thing, with a minimum of manipulation—the pair then go full Negativland on a treasury of primary and secondary sources. For five hours, everything Zappa goes into the blender, from Lumpy Gravy and the Synclavier to interviews and glib, stupid obituaries delivered by 1993 media personalities.

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Frank Zappa wants you to ‘vote like a beast’
01:50 pm


Frank Zappa

Vote suppression is in the news again. In August, Donald Trump, likely recognizing that he was going to lose the election, started talking about the need to prevent voter shenanigans in “certain sections” of Pennsylvania—“you know the ones,” he told them—clear code to his supporters that black people in Pennsylvania’s urban areas were plotting to steal the vote on behalf of “Crooked” Hillary Clinton.

The truth is something like the opposite. Acutely aware that it has a purchase on a dwindling minority of voters, the Republican Party has for some years used the specter of vote fraud to enact legislative measures that would require increased documentation at polling places, measures that are likely to have the effect of limiting the turnout of low-income and/or minority voters, both of which are reliable Democratic constituencies. The “voter fraud” scare is now widely seen as itself to be a voter suppression gambit, as some high-level Republicans are sometimes unwise enough to actuallly admit to in public.

The crucial importance of the vote can be seen in the centuries-long struggles over who gets to vote and who does not. In a sense, artificial or scarcely justified limits on the franchise are as American as apple pie, as Your Vote, a 1991 program for The Learning Channel hosted by none other than Frank Zappa, explains.

Frank Zappa was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990, after the disease had progressed unnoticed for roughly a decade. Obviously, as he neared his untimely death, which eventually occurred in December 1993, Zappa’s illness restricted his ability to travel or undertake arduous projects. Zappa is hardly the vigorous figure here that he had once been, but his commitment to the cause of participatory democracy was such that he did the project anyway.

The show begins with footage of George Herbert Walker Bush and Michael Dukakis, the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees for the most recent national election in 1988. It would be easy to frame the story of franchisement in the United States as an optimistic one, with the vote being granted to ever more groups, but that is not the tone adopted here. In this program, the emphasis is squarely on the unjustifiable shenanigans that prevent people from exercising one of the most basic human rights.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Everything you need to know about the Frank Zappa auction
09:52 am


Frank Zappa
Bruce Bickford

“Auction House to the Stars” Julien’s has announced a large sale of items from the estate of the late cult rocker/social provocateur Frank Zappa and his wife Gail, the trustee of his legacy who herself passed away a year ago this week. Besides revealing a surprisingly gaudy decorating sensibility, the auction is typical rock star fare—paintings of and by the deceased musician, gold and platinum records and other sales awards, clothing, jewelry, and other ephemera that for some reason people want to possess. And of course there are some pretty tasty guitars in the offing—including an Acoustic Control Corporation Black Widow, a very rare guitar that made news about a year ago when Jimi Hendrix’s was the object of a lawsuit. But the items that make this auction truly noteworthy in our opinion are the original assemblage sculpture that served as the cover art of Burnt Weeny Sandwich, the set of apparently one-of-a-kind Zappa portrait matryoshka dolls

I kinda REALLY WANT these.

…and the dozen lots (324-335) of Bruce Bickford claymation figures used to make the brain-eatingly lysergic animated sequences in the classic Baby Snakes concert film.


More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Rare photos of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Frank Zappa & more from Japanese magazine ‘Music Life’

A beaming Hoshika Rumiko with The Beatles on the cover of issue number eight of ‘Music Life,’ 1965.
According to fans the Japanese magazine Music Life (published by Shinko Music Entertainment) is considered the greatest music publication in Japan. The magazine got its real start sometime in 1951 after a failed launch five-years earlier in 1946. When a former member of the magazine’s editorial staff, Hoshika Rumiko, took over as the magazine’s editor in 1964, she also became the first Japanese journalist to interview The Beatles in London and then once again when the band came to Japan in 1966. Rumiko even appeared on the cover of Music Life in 1965 along with John, Paul, George and Ringo dressed in traditional Japanese attire. When her interview with the Fab Four was published the magazine sold 250,000 copies—a far cry from their usual distribution of 50,000-70,000 copies per issue.

Known for its high-quality photographs printed on thick glossy paper Music Life was reportedly one of Japan’s best selling magazines during the 60’s and 70s and featured photos and interviews with EVERYONE that was anyone especially musical acts that were “big in Japan” like David Sylvian (of the band Japan), Queen, The Runways, David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Frank Zappa, and of course KISS. Most of the images I’ve included here I’ve never laid eyes on myself, like one of an eighteen-year-old Peter Frampton with a brown Beatle-esque haircut from 1968 and another of Iron Maiden posing the cover of Music Life in 1981 with a heavy metal-looking Kabuki entertainer instead of their faithful mascot Eddie.

The magazine called it a day in 1998 and Rumiko is currently working to complete her biography detailing her life as a pioneering female journalist in Japan (something I will absolutely be reading when it comes out in English) sometime late this year. As I know many of our Dangerous Minds readers enjoy collecting vintage music magazines, copies of Music Life are fairly easy to come by and will run you anywhere from $20 to about $75 bucks an issue on eBay. If you dig what you see in this post, you can also see more of the magazine’s cool covers that date back to 1968 at this archival site.

Marc Bolan of T.Rex on the cover of issue number twelve of ‘Music Life,’ 1972.

Adam Ant, 1981.

Frank Zappa, 1969.

Much more ‘Music Life’ after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Little Feat’s Lowell George makes a cameo appearance on TV’s ‘F Troop,’ 1967
02:53 pm


Frank Zappa
Lowell George
F Troop

File this one under “I did not know that” (said like Johnny Carson): If you look him up on IMDB (which I did recently, although I can’t exactly recall why) you will see that rocker Lowell George, he of Little Feat fame, made a cameo appearance on the sixties TV sitcom F Troop. In 1967 George portrayed a long-haired member of an anachronistic teen combo called The Bedbugs, the joke (one F Troop used more than once) being that you have a rock group right after the Civil War. Har!

Along with George, the other members of the Bedbugs were played by guitarists Warren S. Klein (who was in the Stooges circa 1973) and Martin F. Kibbee; and future Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward. At the time, the four of them were collectively known as The Factory. Frank Zappa would produce two songs for the group, which remained unreleased until 1993’s Lightning-Rod Man anthology.

After the Factory disbanded, Lowell would briefly join The Standells before becoming (again briefly) a member of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, appearing on the Weasels Ripped My Flesh album on rhythm guitar. The teetotal Zappa either fired him, or George left voluntarily, over Lowell’s penchant for partying and pot.

Zappa and Lowell George
The Factory would also appear in an episode of Gomer Pyle USMC but whatever song they were playing got removed from the eventual DVD release.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
DIY models kits (apparently) of Lou Reed, Frank Zappa, ‘Diamond Dog’ Bowie, Marc Bolan & more

Now who does this rock ‘n’ roll animal resin kit look like to you?
Monsters in Motion, the self-described “one-stop monster shop” based in Placentia, California sells many strange things. Things like a replica of the bloody shirt that Bruce Willis’ character wore in Pulp Fiction. There’s so much strange ephemera to sift through on their website that I decided to go directly for the “Rock & Roll Collectables” category to see what kind of weirdness was being offered up there.

If you came into this world at a certain time period you remember building models of hot rods because that was where it was at. While you won’t find a kit that helps you build a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 (my vintage getaway car of choice) you will find several DIY kits that allow you to create your own tiny versions of (allegededly) Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger-there’s even a resin facsimile of David Bowie as rendered by artist Guy Peellaert on the cover of his 1974 album Diamond Dogs.

The images are a bit tatty, but see if you can make out who they’re supposed to be.


The Lizard King
More after the jump…

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Freaky French comic from the 70s that tells the far-out story of Frank Zappa’s ‘Stink-Foot’

Frank Zappa ‘Stink-Foot’ illustration.
The strange French comic featured in this post based on Frank Zappa’s song “Stink-Foot” from his 1974 album, Apostrophe (’) was done by French illustrator Jean Solé back in 1975 when appeared in the French satire magazine Fluide Glacial in a special comic layout called Pop & Rock & Colegram.

An illustration from ‘Pop & Rock & Colegram’ riffing on the RCA Victor (among others) canine spokesperson ‘Nipper’ featuring Jean Solé, Gotlieb, and Alain Dister.
In the comics (that were published in Fluide Glacial from 1975-1978) by French illustrators Marcel Gotlieb (known as “Gotlib”) and Jean Solé the task was to create parody-style illustrations based on popular songs from bands like the Beatles, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd and in this case Solé‘s fantastic four-page take on Zappa’s “Stink-Foot.” Translated by renowned French music journalist Alain Dister, Solé‘s illustrations of Zappa’s jazzy six-minute jam about stinky feet is pretty spot on right down to an illustration of Zappa struggling to get his smelly python boots off. Here’s a samplings of the funky lyrics from “Stink-Foot:

You know
My python boot is too tight
I couldn’t get it off last night
A week went by
And now it’s July
I finally got it off
And my girlfriend cried, YOU GOT STINK-FOOT!
Stink-foot, darlin’

Your Stink-foot
Puts a hurt on my nose
Stink-foot, stink-foot, I ain’t lyin’
Can you rinse it off, do you suppose?

Though it’s rather difficult to find, the magazine has been reprinted since 1975 and if you dig what you are about to see, it’s well worth trying to track down.

More “Stink-Foot” after the jump…

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Frank Zappa performs all of ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow’ live in 1978
04:46 pm


Frank Zappa

Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow’ Zappa Utility Muffins complete with ‘deadly yellow snow crystals’

The juvenile humor that crept into Frank Zappa’s work from the early 70s onward is difficult for me to defend. Even as an admitted Zappa freak, I tend to steer clear of anything not mostly instrumental after a certain point. It was an obvious decision that Frank Zappa made, not only as an artist, but as a businessman and a touring bandleader operating his own record label, to go there with the silly, goofy sexual and scatological subject matter that would endear him to pimply-faced teenage boys the world over, and sell more records and concert tickets to be sure, but most of it just makes me wince.

I’ve heard a tape of Genesis P-Orridge and a music journalist named Sandy Robertson interviewing Zappa in a London hotel around the time that Zoot Allures came out. Genesis pursues a (polite) line of questioning about Zappa’s “old style” with the more “serious” sound of the original Mothers evolving into the “comedy” material of the 70s around the time of Over-Nite Sensation and Roxy & Elsewhere and gets a flat-out denial from Zappa that there was ever any change whatsoever in his work, which is obviously just not true.

Nevertheless, there were still some pretty incredible gems he was turning out, like the Raymond Scott-esque song suite that takes up side one of Apostrophe (’), beginning with “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.” Yes, it’s about “doggie wee-wee” and a leprechaun who is masturbating into a sock, but Zappa does the cartoon music thing really, really well—helped out immensely by his percussionist Ruth Underwood on marimba and trombonist Bruce Fowler—and this material was super well-recorded, so on a good stereo, certain things really jump out at you.

When Apostrophe (’) came out in 1974 a disc jockey in Pittsburgh made an edited version of “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” and “Nanook Rubs It” and the song became a local hit. Zappa liked the idea and made his own edit, incorporating a part of the third number, “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast.” It reached #86 on the Billboard singles chart and Apostrophe (’) became his biggest commercial success, hitting the top ten in the US for the only time in his career.

More “yellow snow” after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Some stupid with a flare gun’: Frank Zappa & the true story of Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’

Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” amirite?

Although it is among the most popular guitar riffs in history (if not the #1 most popular riff of all time, because virtually anyone, including your mom, can probably play it) and certainly a song that will never, ever fall out of the classic rock canon, the meaning of the song’s lyrics—once well-known—are becoming increasingly cryptic. It would just be confusing to most people hearing it for the first time playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band:

We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn’t have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground

On December 4, 1971 Deep Purple were in Montreux, Switzerland. The plan was to record their next album—what would become their 1972 classic, Machine Head—in the theater of the cavernous Montreux Casino, which was closing down for renovations after a matinee show by the Mothers of Invention.

As the members of Deep Purple watched, the rockin’ teen combo led by Frank Zappa laid into their concert showstopper of the time “King Kong,” when an idiot in the audience fired a flare gun (or more likely a bottle rocket) into the venue’s rattan-covered ceiling during Don Preston’s MiniMoog solo. Although no one was badly injured, the huge casino, along with its theater, restaurants and other entertainment facilities was burned to the ground and the Mothers’ gear was toast. There was an apparently easy and orderly exit for the crowd as the fire was slow at first, but as Deep Purple’s bass guitarist Roger Glover later said “when it caught, it went up like a fireworks display.” Two of Zappa’s roadies, the last to leave, were blown out of a window, but sustained only minor injuries.

A postcard of the fire

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground

Even if you don’t know what it means, it sounds good, right?

“Funky Claude” who was “running in and out” refers to Claude Nobs, the casino’s owner and the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival—and as luck would have it, a volunteer fireman—who helped some of the audience members escape to safety and to whom Machine Head was dedicated. He later told

Frank Zappa took his guitar–a Gibson, a very strong one–and he smashed the big window down with his guitar. Then a lot of people could go out through there. The people went out through that exit, and within about five minutes, the 2,000 kids were out. And the people were watching the fire thinking, “Oh, you know, Frank Zappa is just doing an incredible ending to his show.”

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Suzy Speedfreak, this is the voice of your conscience, baby’: Frank Zappa’s anti drugs PSAs
04:56 pm


Frank Zappa
Lowell George

Frank Zappa was a well-known teetotaler for such a supposedly “far out” rock star. Although he chain-smoked cigarettes like they were food and pounded coffee, the head Mother frowned on drug use and actively discouraged it in his sidemen to the point of allegedly even firing future Little Feat leader Lowell George (who was on Weasels Ripped My Flesh) just for smoking pot—that per Pamela Des Barres—or it might have been for composing a pro-pot song that he wanted the Mothers to play. As George himself revealed to a Rochester, New York audience onstage in 1975 right before playing “Willin’”:

“I was in a group called the Mothers of Invention, but I got fired for writing a song about dope. How ‘bout that shit?”

Perhaps he should have taken his mentor’s advice. Later Zappa was alleged also to have fired Ike Willis for enjoying the high life.

Zappa was so anti-drug that he did something few other rock stars (especially ones with as weird a reputation as he had) would have done (at least convincingly) at the time: He recorded several improvised anti speed PSA radio spots for the Do It Now Foundation. In one of them he claims that using speed will turn you “into your mother and father.” He also tells the listener not to “use smack or downers.”

In the first one, Zappa addresses someone who will be familiar to all Mothers fans and wonders what’s gotten into her…

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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