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…
1968 was a year of great political unrest across Europe. The psychedelic summer of love had quickly faded—replaced by angry students hurling cobblestones at police in Paris or instigating loud and bloody demonstrations against the Vietnam War in London. It was against this background that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention paid their first visit to Germany on the band’s second tour of Europe. The trip to Germany was to prove memorable for two very different reasons.
Firstly on October 6th, 1968: Zappa and co. appeared on Beat-Club where they jammed through a superb set of tracks including “King Kong,” “A Pound For A Brown On The Bus,” “Sleeping In A Jar” and “Uncle Meat”—all of which would appear on the band’s next album Uncle Meat. There was also an instrumental version of “Let’s Make The Water Turn Black”—from We’re Only in It for the Money; an early attempt at “Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Sexually Aroused Gas Mask” and some interesting takes on Richard Wagner’s prelude to act three of Lohengrin and Edgard Varese’s piece for a small orchestra Octandre. All jolly stuff and very agreeable too.
However, any youngsters catching the Mothers on tour at this time may have been fooled into thinking Zappa was the ringleader of some revolutionary collective—which leads us dear reader on to our second reason this was such an interesting occasion..
A week after their appearance on Beat-Club Zappa and the Mothers played one of Hitler’s old stomping grounds, the Sportpalast in Berlin. It was here Zappa was approached by a group of young German radical students who—depending on which book you read or version you hear—either wanted their pop idol to demand the release of Fritz Teufel—founder of the radical group Kommune 1 who was currently under arrest; or to denounce capitalism from the stage that very night; or show his support for the imminent glorious socialist revolution or wanted they wanted Zappa’s help with their plans to riot for a “socialist education policy.” Take your pick.
Having witnessed the Civil Rights movement in America, Zappa was none too impressed by these grievance hungry students, who had mistakenly taken their cue from the length of the Mothers’ hair and Zappa’s subversive songs that he and they would willingly sign on to the student demands. Understandably, Zappa said “nope” or perhaps he said “nein.”
Undeterred, the students demanded Zappa to order the audience at that night’s concert to go out and set fire to the Allied Command Building on Potsdamer Strasse. Again and none too surprisingly Zappa said “no.” The students felt doubly betrayed.
They soon made their disappointment known at the gig that night when these red kerchiefed malcontents bombarded the stage with vegetables and blasted air horns. The Mothers carried on regardless, as Zappa later recalled:
We had to play a two hour show in the middle of all this bullshit. And these guys were out there stomping around and throwing stuff and the people on the bandstand are getting hit with hard vegetables, you know, cucumbers [laughter]. Squash. you know they really hit you like a rock up there. And they were throwing eggs, and cherry bombs. And then they grabbed this big fence, like a restraining device to keep the audience away from the performers at those events. It was made out of pipes this big around with a chain link fence in between and concrete feet. And about thirty of them picked it up and tried to throw it on stage, which would have killed both of our drummers by pinning them against the amplifiers, you see.
So our manager Herbie [Cohen] and this German promoter Fritz Rau caught it in mid air and threw it back on them. And then this other guy charged the stage and Herbie put his foot through his face. And then they kept on throwing things, and then they kept on trying to get up onto the stage. We kept pushing these guys back—and we’re up there humming and strumming…[laughter] and it was really a very unusual situation.
So then we had to take an intermission, see. We left the stage after an hour of fun and merriment. And during that time the ordinaries, that the local promoter had hired to keep everything under control at the hop thought that we had run off, so they ran away. And when they ran away, about a hundred of these kids went up onto the stage and started stomping all over our equipment.
So we come back from intermission, and here’s all these people milling around on stage. They don’t even know why they’re there. They look like cows. They’re standing there like this. But they’re standing, you know, on drums, and they’re knocking things over, and a few of the guys had stolen small pieces of equipment and disappeared into the audience. They were just making a lot of noise and standing around. Just completely blank. They don’t even know what their revolution is about.
So we started pushing them off the stage. We started putting our equipment back together. We got the PA system working. And I gave them a speech for about 15 minutes, wherein I discussed the possibility that they were acting more like Americans than anything I’ve ever seen. And that pissed them off. And they’re out there yelling “Revolution, Revolution”—and I’m saying “You people need evolution, not revolution.”
And they said, “No take it back you’re the Mothers of Reaction.” And I told them they were [beeped], and they understand English. I told them whether they liked it or not we were going to continued to play the second half of the program. So gradually they shut up, and they sat down. The only thing that happened during the second hour was one cherry bomb on stage.
And we had played about 45-50 minutes, and we were into a long instrumental piece, which was going to be our closing number, and I’d reduced the volume of the tune so that I could say goodnight to the nice German people. At which point the student leader with the red rag around his neck comes running up on stage and grabs the microphone and starts raving in German. I just knew he was telling these people, “I’ve got the matches come with me.”
So we played real loud so nobody could hear what he was saying. Two people were taking the instruments off the stage, you know piece by piece pulling things away until it was just me and the organist left on stage playing one full-volume fuzztone loud ugly note that was just going BLAAAAAH.
And it was the only thing that kept people back off the stage, ‘cause they kept trying to get up onto the stage and this noise would hit them and they’d go ...
Finally, when they got all the drums and all the rest of the stuff out of the way, we just unplugged and split off the stage. And they all came milling back up there. And they looked around and they didn’t know why they were on stage again. That’s Germany today.
Zappa later wrote about it all in the song “Holiday In Berlin”:
Look at all the Germans
Watch them follow orders
See them think they´re doing
Something groovy in the street.
See the student leader,
He´s a rebel prophet
He´s fucked up
He´s still a Nazi
Like his Mom and Dad.
Cheap shot, maybe. That’s what happened in Berlin.
After the jump Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention perform a fantastic improvisational set on ‘Beat-Club’...
There was a point back in the 1970s that whenever you went into a guitar store there was always some dude flicking his locks and playing the familiar plodding riff from Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Well, either that or “Stairway to Heaven” depending on the taste of who was playing. These guys were either shop staff or some kid dreaming of a future rock career. When I bought my first and only guitar the assistant did in fact strum out a few blasts of “Smoke on the Water” to show me just how it was done. That kinda ruined it for me, I have to admit. I was more the Bonzo-Django-Benny Hill kinda player, which might explain my taste in music but doesn’t excuse my lack of any musical talent whatsoever. Least played, soonest mended. I eventually traded my guitar for a portable typewriter from a Bowie fan who had slavishly typed “I Love David” all over its ribbon.
If you hung around long enough listening to that dude riff on “Smoke on the Water” he would also probably tell you why Deep Purple were better than Led Zeppelin—because they were “proper” musicians who had performed “your actual” Concerto for Group and Orchestra with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hal, London in 1969. And why the recent incarnation of the band was better than the first—because (again) they were “proper” musicians not just pop stars, musicians who had honed themselves to the pursuit of musical excellence. Or something like that.
He would also undoubtedly tell you how “Smoke on the Water” was based on a very real fire at the Montreux Casino during a Frank Zappa concert in 1971, where the venue was burnt to the ground. Depending on which version you heard, the fire was caused by either a flaregun fired by a member of the audience, or possibly a firework, or possibly by a “boy throwing lighted matches in the air, and one of them got stuck on the very low ceiling.” Whichever, the fire started and quickly engulfed the building.
Founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs was at the venue that fateful night and helped rescue quite a few of the audience from death. He was also key in persuading Deep Purple not to “scrap” “Smoke on the Water” from inclusion on their mighty album Machine Head. As Nobs recalled:
Deep Purple were watching the whole fire from their hotel window, and they said, “Oh my God, look what happened. Poor Claude and there’s no casino anymore!” They were supposed to do a live gig [at the Casino] and record the new album there. Finally I found a place in a little abandoned hotel next to my house and we made a temporary studio for them.
One day they were coming up for dinner at my house and they said, “Claude we did a little surprise for you, but it’s not going to be on the album. It’s a tune called ‘Smoke On The Water.’” So I listened to it. I said, “You’re crazy. It’s going to be a huge thing.” Now there’s no guitar player in the world who doesn’t know [he hums the riff]. They said, “Oh if you believe so we’ll put it on the album.”
It’s actually the very precise description of the fire in the casino, of Frank Zappa getting the kids out of the casino, and every detail in the song is true. It’s what really happened. In the middle of the song, it says “Funky Claude was getting people out of the building,” and actually when I meet a lot of rock musicians, they still say, “Oh here comes Funky Claude.”
Deep Purple were originally called Roundabout—when the band was just a concept conjured up by Searchers drummer Chris Curtis in 1967. Curtis shared a low rent apartment with young musician Jon Lord, who was earning his spurs playing with many different bands—including a tour with the Flowerpot Men (best known for the song “Let’s Go to San Francisco”). Curtis explained his idea of the Roundabout being a group of three people—Curtis, Lord and a guitarist named Ritchie Blackmore—around which other band members would hop on and off when required. Not much happened. Lord toured. And Blackmore never turned up for a meeting about this “concept band.” That is, until Curtis took way too many drugs, covered the apartment in aluminum foil—reasoning it stopped all the good vibes escaping, and upped and left Lord with rent due, no band, and not much of a future.
That very day, the fabled Ritchie Blackmore turned up at the door to discuss Roundabout with Curtis. Instead, he and Lord discussed forming their own band, which eventually became Deep Purple. The name came from the song “Deep Purple”—a favorite of Blackmore’s aunt. Other possible band names were Concrete God, Orpheus and Zephyr.
More after the jump, plus Deep Purple live in New York…
A massive mural of Frank Zappa under a bridge in London by artists James Mayle and Leigh Drummond.
I recently came across images of some beautiful street murals of both the sadly recently departed Lemmy Kilmister and David Bowie—which is what got me cooking up this post chock full of graffiti and street art homages to notable musicians and rock stars who are no longer with us.
Of the many public pieces, photographed at places all around the globe, I’m especially fond of the Lemmy/Bowie hybrid that popped up on a utility box in front of a restaurant in Denver, Colorado shortly after Bowie passed on January 10th, 2016, as well as a haunting image of Joe Strummer that was painted on the side of a rusted old van.
Lemmy/Bowie street art mashup in Denver, Colorado.
Joe Strummer mural painted on the side of a van by French artist, Jef Aerosol.
Inspired street art dedicated to everyone from Joy Division’s Ian Curtis to James Brown, after the jump…
Long time ago on British TV there was what I guess you might call a talent show titled Opportunity Knocks. Each week host Hughie Greene offered young hopeful singers, comedians, magicians, variety acts, you know the kinda thing, the opportunity to make it big.
Among those who did make it big were the likes of Mary Hopkins who sang “Those Were the Days” and was quickly signed to The Beatles record label Apple. There were quite a few others who are better known over here than over in the US.
And of the many people who did take part but never made it big, there was always some kind of novelty act—a bodybuilder who flexed his muscles and inflated hot water bottles with his mighty breath; impressionists whose speciality was imitating the sound of railway engines and planes taking-off; belly dancers; bird-handlers who pushed little budgerigars on rope swings then made them hop thru flaming hoops; and last but certainly not least, those hobbyists who made music out of everyday objects such as kettles, washboards, radiators, hoover attachments and alike.
These freaks reminded me of Frank Zappa’s appearance on The Steve Allen Show in 1960, when the precocious young musician impressed with his ability to play a bicycle.
At the time, Zappa was earning a living playing cocktail lounges and writing a score for a film called The World’s Greatest Sinner. As he explained to Steve Allen during his appearance he had also written a “bicycle concerto.”
I suppose I have to ask, what kind of twenty-year old goes on national TV to promote himself as a player of the bicycle other than one who is utterly desperate for recognition? Not just any kind of recognition but one that highlights an interest in the avant garde, some serious musical intent and (you guessed it) a zany sense of humor.
That Zappa pulls off all three says much for his talent, ego, and ambition.
It’s the ultimate Frank Zappa fan’s stickiest wet dream. Buy—and live—in the great man’s former five-bedroom, 8000 sq ft home in the Hollywood Hills. The Zappa house is for sale on eBay for $9,000,000. Part of the proceeds of the sale will go towards preserving “The Vault” of Zappa’s immense tape, film and library (kept under the house) and funding the Frank Zappa documentary slated to be directed by Alex Winter later this year.
This is the house in which legendary musician FRANK ZAPPA lived from 1968 until his death in 1993. It has been inhabited by the Zappa family since.
THIS IS FRANK ZAPPA’S
The historic Zappa Estate, nestled on a secluded drive in the Hollywood Hills, is 8,000 square feet of California rockstar paradise. The property includes a rooftop tennis court, backyard swimming pool, guest cottage, beautiful mosaic art amidst the landscaping, and the space that was once the infamous Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, where musicians including Frank have recorded since the 1980s. Beneath the house is a storage chamber that, during the Zappas’ ownership of the home, was known as ‘The Vault,’ where he kept his private archives under lock and key.
The price of this house INCLUDES ALL KICKSTARTER REWARDS listed at whoisfrankzappa.com, as well as an EXECUTIVE PRODUCER CREDIT on the forthcoming definitive documentary about Frank Zappa’s life by filmmaker Alex Winter. Learn more about Alex Winter’s crowdfunding campaign to make the first-ever fully-authorized, all-access Zappa movie and to save Frank’s private archives. SAVE THE VAULT. TELL THE STORY.
Grace Jones and Rick James at the Grammy Awards, 1983
One of my really awful guilty pleasures (I also love the band Rush, but I don’t judge and neither should you), is watching awards shows. I know, I know, they’re stupid, and that my street cred just went out to the dumpster to smoke cigarettes with Milli Vanilli. I’m okay with that.
Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith of the Monkees at the Grammy Awards, 1968. The band was up for two awards for “I’m a Believer” (Group Vocal Performance and Contemporary Vocal Group), but lost both times to The Fifth Dimension’s “Up Up and Away.”
It does not get much cooler than this: Alice Cooper and Stevie Wonder at the Grammy Awards, 1974
Plenty more classic Grammy moments after the jump…
During the 80s, Shelley Duvall hosted a Showtime series for children called Faerie Tale Theatre. It attracted what we call in Hollywood “quality-ass talent.” Jeff Bridges and Gena Rowlands joined Duvall for “Rapunzel,” Paul Reubens played Pinocchio, Susan Sarandon and Klaus Kinski starred in “Beauty and the Beast,” and, perhaps most extraordinary of all, Mick Jagger underwent the showbiz Caucasian-to-Asian transformation (local stylists call this dangerous procedure the “Mickey Rooney”) for the series’ adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale,” in which Mick portrayed the Emperor of China. What the fuck.
Mick Jagger as the Emperor of China on ‘Faerie Tale Theatre’
But the 1983 episode “The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About The Shivers,” based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm, is remarkable because it’s got Frank Zappa playing a Transylvanian hunchback named Attilla and Vincent Price narrating, not to mention performances by Christopher Lee and David Warner. Here’s the plot, as summarized on the back of the old Betamax box:
Overcoming fear is a problem for most people. But there once was a boy whose problem was his complete lack of fear! Peter MacNicol stars as that boy in this amusing production narrated by Vincent Price. The King, played by Christopher Lee, promises the boy treasure and a beautiful Princess, Dana Hill, if he can defeat an Evil Sorcerer who has haunted the King’s castle. The boy meets an ominous mute hunchback, a headless man, and finally, in a duel to the death, the Evil Sorcerer himself! Yet still he knows no fear—until the surprising conclusion. Featuring production design inspired by the work of Breughel and Durer and marvelous performances from a superior cast, this is a tale you should be afraid… to miss!
As I learn from Román García Albertos’ detailed Zappa videography, Frank discussed the role on Australian TV a few days after the shoot:
FZ: Recently, just for a laugh, I did a role of a hunchback in a fairy tale that was completed about three days ago, in a show called Faerie Tale Theatre, which was produced by Shelley Duvall and airs on Showtime cable network here in the United States. I don’t know whether they have distribution outside the US.
Interviewer: Don’t think we get it, no.
FZ: Well, I think that they’re probably going to be trying to export the thing, but it’s a whole series of fairy tales. The first one that they did was “The Frog Prince” and it starred Robin Williams as the frog. He was really great. And things are all done on video, they use a lot of video effects. Mick Jagger did the last one that was on the air, he played a mandarin in “The Nightingale.” And so I got to be a hunchback in a story called “The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About The Shivers.”
Interviewer: Did he?
FZ: Eventually, yes, he found out about the shivers in one of the more humorous scenes in the thing.
Interviewer: Did you have lines in it?
FZ: Yes. Here are my lines: “Uh uh uh!” and “Oooh, heh heh!”
Watch’s Zappa’s appearance as the “ominous mute hunchback” on ‘Faerie Tale Theatre’ after the jump…
Uriel Valentin is the talented Argentinian-based doll maker and artist behind a massive line of plush, hand-painted dolls that are about to send you running for your credit card. I often blog about these kinds of collectibles here on Dangerous Minds but didn’t know until today how much I needed a plush Robert Smith doll clad in look-alike pajamas like the ones that he wore in the 1989 video for “Lullaby.” Did you?
Robert Smith of The Cure in his “Lullaby” PJs
Frank Zappa in his iconic “PIPCO” shirt.
Among the illustrious and eclectic inhabitants of Valentin’s cool world are plush versions of everyone from famous punks like Elvis Costello, director Jim Jarmusch, Charlotte Gainsbourg (covered in blood clutching the disemboweled fox from Antichrist), Andy Warhol and Jean Basquiat (wearing boxing gloves and attire no less, as in the poster for their 1985 collaboration), Iron Maiden’s “Eddie” (as well as Maiden bassist Steve Harris, squeee!), two delightful versions of Robert Smith of The Cure and every member of fucking KRAFTWERK.
Valentin’s figures stand about fourteen inches tall, are hand-painted and sealed with a transparent acrylic varnish, and have wire inside of them so they are able to be put into posed positions. I’ve included over 40 (!) images of Valentin’s dolls for you to digest after the jump that will run you around $100 (including international shipping). The talented Argentinian also does custom orders (which are $115) - contact him via his Flickr page for more information.
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford from the 1962 film, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Hedwig as played by actor James Cameron Mitchell from Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
Way more of these amazing handmade dolls after the jump…
Here’s another installment of a series of posts I’ve become “known” for doing here on Dangerous Minds that features photos of famous folks hanging out and doing mundane things like we all do. This time your eyes will be treated to images of writers, artist, celebrities and musicians that were taken in, well, the bathroom.
Pablo Picasso, 1956
In this massive post, I’ve got over 30 pictures of famous faces (and their bodies in varying stages of undress) such as Serge Gainsbourg, Toni Iommi of Black Sabbath (as well as his pal Ozzy), Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (snapped in the loo of Thin Lizzy vocalist Phil Lynott) and Pablo Picasso taking baths, spending time in a bathroom stall, or seated on the toilet. Some of the images date back to the late 30s, and others appear to have been snapped under somewhat candid circumstances. Go figure.
I mean, did you ever think you’d see a photo of one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Robert Plant chilling out on the crapper? Well, if you didn’t (and as I often say in my posts), today is your lucky day! As always, I’ve tried to nail down dates and places whenever possible. Also, since we’re talking about images that were taken in the bathroom, it’s likely that some of what you’re about to see after the jump could be considered NSFW. But that’s why you clicked this link in the first place, now isn’t it? Enjoy!
Nirvana (L-R Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and Kurt Cobain)
Prince in the bathtub (from the 1986 film, Under a Cherry Moon)
Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, AKA Flo & Eddie, are two of the most unlikely pop stars on the planet. Neither one was ever what you’d call a “dreamboat” and Volman was unashamedly fat and took great pains to point out that fact. They were also funny at a time when rock musicians took themselves way too seriously.
That could never be said of Flo & Eddie.
They started, of course, as the magic voices of The Turtles, to my mind one of the greatest 60s groups, even if they don’t really get their due today. “Happy Together,” “Elenore”, “Lady-O”—The Turtles were simply an amazing band.
Check out this clip of their hit, “She’d Rather Be With Me”—pure pop perfection. The harmonies, the melody, these guys were tight.
Frank Zappa fans have clamored for the release of Roxy: The Movie for about 40 years now. I’m one of the lucky ducks who saw its world premiere at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre on Wednesday, and I am here to tell you that it is good.
About halfway through the screening, I noticed that my face hurt because my mouth had twisted up and frozen in the stupidest grin of which it is capable—the kind of grin that could destroy a family, or end a career. As I type this, some twenty-four hours later, my face is still ruined. The Roxy shows, represented on disc by 1974’s Roxy & Elsewhere and last year’s Roxy by Proxy, are among the most joyful presentations of Zappa’s music. The songs are celebratory, the performances are exuberant, the musicianship is virtuosic but not stiff or fussy, the sound is totally bitchen, and Zappa himself seems more relaxed and cheerful than (or at least not as sour as) he appeared at other points in his career. Biographer Neil Slaven attributes the light mood and spirit of camaraderie prevailing at the Roxy shows to the recent addition of Napoleon Murphy Brock, the outstanding tenor saxophonist and singer who belts “Cheepnis”:
Brock’s arrival brought important changes to the context of the group. He had a distinctive and flexible voice and struck up an immediate and overtly warm rapport with George Duke, sharing the broad and quick sense of humour that Frank had drawn out of the keyboard player. Their on-stage badinage, which both celebrated and satirised black consciousness, contrasted with Frank’s own studied bizarre humour and there were moments when one sensed that he was happy and relieved to become a sideman in his own group.
The woman with her hand down Zappa’s pants is named Joan, we learn
Before I saw Roxy, my favorite Zappa concert video was A Token of His Extreme, the 1974 special taped for public TV that features many of the same personnel: keyboardist and singer George Duke (a great artist in his own right), percussionist Ruth Underwood, bassist Tom Fowler, drummer Chester Thompson, and Brock—the One Size Fits All band, whose praises I sing. But Roxy trashes it. I just drove by the Goodwill and threw my Extreme DVD out the window. Roxy gives you one more drummer in addition to Thompson (Ralph Humphrey), trombonist Bruce Fowler playing impossible parts, and one of Zappa’s best-ever bands playing in a hot club rather than a cold TV studio. And there is so much to see at a Zappa show, and so much of the visual information is funny. Hearing Napoleon Murphy Brock and Bruce Fowler argue with their horns is bracing; watching it is hilarious.
I’m just old enough to remember when going to the Roxy was like this. People sat comfortably at tables, smoking, while waiters circulated with their backs to the stage, taking drink orders. (This is one of those rare cases where the past was actually better than the present.) However, I am nowhere near old enough to remember the denim-clad innocents and aging weirdos who apparently peopled the Sunset Strip during the early 70s. The audience participation, one of Roxy’s big treats, builds to an orgiastic climax on “Be-Bop Tango,” during which a “professional harlot” who has just entertained some of our boys at Edwards Air Force Base and original Hollywood freak Carl “Captain Fuck” Franzoni shake what the good Lord gave them (though He probably had other uses in mind).
Alex Winter, who is working on an authorized Zappa documentary, moderated the post-screening Q&A. Ralph Humphrey and Bruce Fowler came down from their seats to join the panel. Editor John Albarian, archivist (or “Vaultmeister”) Joe Travers and producer Jeff Stein explained that the over 40-year delay in the movie’s release was due to technical problems. A malfunction that took place four minutes into the first of the filmed concerts meant that the footage and sound could not be synced until the advent of digital technology; another glitch took out the crew’s intercom, with the result that much of what they shot bore no relationship to what was happening onstage (e.g., the camera is on Zappa’s foot while George Duke takes a solo). Albarian consequently had to do a lot of “cheating” in the editing room, which he said was made easier by the band’s wardrobe (black T-shirts and blue jeans every night). I couldn’t tell; more importantly, Humphrey, who like actually played these shows, told us he couldn’t tell either.
Ahmet Zappa introduced the film and joined the panel afterwards, and when he wasn’t fantasizing about sodomizing the Vaultmeister, he was sharing valuable information. He told us about a tape he’d recently heard of his father jamming with Eric Clapton in 1967 (“bonkers”); that his uncle says his late mother, Gail, saved America in her capacity as a CIA agent; and that Captain Beefheart once ended an argument with Frank by plunging his hands into an ice chest, letting the cubes slip between his fingers, and declaring “Diamonds!”
The conceptual continuity continues after the jump…
Before Ali G, Borat and Keith Lemon, “Norman Gunston” was trolling celebrities with his bogus interviews for Australian television. Gunston was the madcap creation of actor-comedian Garry McDonald, who ambushed celebrities and probed them with his microphone and excruciatingly dumb questions.
Gunston made his first (brief) appearances on the Pythonesque Aunty Jack Show in 1972, before becoming the “legendary un-personality” on spin-off series Wollongong the Brave in 1974. With his shiny blue suit and his face covered with blood-spotted pieces of tissue paper, the beautifully observed Gunston was an instant hit.
Gunston excited to be probing a Beatle.
Over the years, Norman Gunston interviewed Paul and Linda McCartney, Cheech and Chong (who he mistakes as comedy duo Morecambe and Wise), and Lee Marvin (caught in a airport terminal). Sometimes the stars played along—like a flirtatious Karen Black or Frank Zappa, who happily jammed with the harmonica-playing Gunston, or Muhammed Ali who said to Gunston “I’m punchy, what’s your excuse?”
Occasionally, the celebs didn’t know how to handle Gunston—like an eyeballing Elliott Gould, or a confused Warren Beatty, but their desperate responses only add to the comedy.
One of the nice things about editing this blog is when fun—and unexpected—things arrive in your inbox, like this delightful tale from grand guitarist Gary Lucas, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the live Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart album, Bongo Fury, which was released on October 2, 1975:
I’d originally met Don Van Vliet at Yale when I was an undergraduate there in the early 70’s. I was music director of their radio station WYBC in the fall of 1971, when he and his band came up to play a show at Yale around the release of The Spotlight Kid album, and I got the task to interview him and then do a hospitality meet-n-greet when the band arrived to play at Woolsey Hall (with performing monkeys as the opening act, I kid you not).
I had previously seen his NYC debut the previous year at a little club on the Upper West Side called Ungano’s in January 1971, and it changed my life. I vowed to myself that night: “If I ever do anything in music, I want to play with this guy”—it was that life-affirming and radical of a show/presentation.
I always made a point after that to hang out with him backstage when he came around the NYC area to tour—I saw him at Town Hall several times with Bob Seger and Larry Coryell opening, also at the Academy of Music on 14th sandwiched between a then-fledgling Billy Joel and The J. Geils Band.
Don eventually gave me his phone number and we drew closer, with marathon phone conversations that would last an hour. We lost touch when he did his “Tragic Band” thing on Mercury. I didn’t have the heart to go see it live, having loved the old band and songs but in 1975 I was home in Syracuse NY when I saw in the newspaper that Don would be the special guest of Frank Zappa at the Syracuse War Memorial.
I had to see that—especially as his last words to me about Frank hadn’t been too favorable. He came out in the show and did the great cameos which are featured on Bongo Fury which came out later that year. He was still great!
When the show was over and they were packing up, I approached the stage and there he was, looking lost amidst the chaos, clutching a paper grocery bag filled with sketch books, harmonicas, cigarettes. I called his name and he yelled my name: “Gary!”—and came over and hugged me.
He was hungry and wanted to eat barbecue, so me and a pal drove him to a midnight barbecue pit known as “Tobe’s” that this old black guy Tobe Erwing ran after hours in his backyard in the ghetto of Syracuse,
you had to drive up a gravel road to get there. Amidst the midnight ribs chowdown, after Don, delighted by this scene, sang some a cappella blues while Tobe sat around looking bemused packing heat in his apron,
I revealed to Don that if he ever wanted to put his band back together I’d love to audition for it.
“You play the guitar?!?” he asked incredulously.
I’d never revealed this to him before as I was a) shy and b) didn’t want to offer my services until I was convinced I could handle his music, which I’d been secretly wood-shedding on.
“Come on up to Boston where I’m playing with Frank on Friday night, and bring your guitar” he instructed.
We caroused around some more in downtown Syracuse, eventually Don and myself bringing Frank back a bag of Tobe’s ribs (we found him in his bathrobe watching some cheesy Skiles and Henderson-like comedy duo in the top floor revolving restaurant of the Holiday Inn where they were staying).
I went home to crash about 6am, and got up around 10am to race back downtown to Syracuse University’s Crouse College Auditorium for the press conference of Frank and Don for invited students—the Soundcloud clip is just one excerpt from a fairly hilarious hour.
Later that week I duly took the Greyhound bus up to Boston with my ‘64 Stratocaster in tow… crashed with my Yale pal Bill Moseley (whom I ran a successful midnight horror film society with—Things That Go Bump in the Night—at Yale; Bill is now worldwide horror icon as Texas Chainsaw Massacre II‘s “Choptop” character, and has starred in a couple of Rob Zombie’s films). We went to see Frank’s Boston show with Don and then I went back to Don’s hotel room, where I proceeded to play for him.
“Great!! We’ll do it!”
But when? He was vague… and I had a ticket to go to Taiwan in a few weeks to start work for my uncle (my parents attempt at shipping me off overseas to free me from the clutches of a 56-year-old Italian-American shaman-ess whom I’d been living with…)
We parted as friends—and I knew I was destined to play with him.
It did take a few years, but in 1980 things fell into place with Doc at the Radar Station …but that’s another story.
Below, a brief excerpt from a Bongo Fury-related press conference at Crouse College of Music auditorium, Syracuse University, 4/23/75. My late friend Jamie Cohen (A&R maven for EMI, Columbia Records, and Private Music) was a student at Syracuse University back in 1975 when he asked Don Van Vliet this question at a press conference I also attended the morning after Frank Zappa and the Mothers—with special guest Captain Beefheart—performed at the Syracuse War Memorial:
Ozzy Osbourne backstage at the 1974 California Jam
Frank Zappa gave “Supernaut,” the ur-metal monster that ends the first side of Black Sabbath Vol. 4, the number one spot in his list of “faves, raves, and composers in their graves,” published in the June 1975 issue of Let It Rock:
‘Supernaut’: Black Sabbath. I think it’s from Paranoid. I like it because I think it’s prototypical of a certain musical style, and I think it’s well done. Also, I happen to like the guitar lick that’s being played in the background.
Eventually, Neil Slaven’s Zappa biography Electric Don Quixote reports, “Iron Man”—the Sabbath song Zappa chose to play in his DJ set on BBC Radio One in 1980—replaced “Supernaut” in the maestro’s affections:
A couple of years later, he’d changed his mind. He told Hugh Fielder, “‘Iron Man’. Are you kidding me? ‘Iron Man’! That’s a work of art. I used to like ‘Supernaut’ but I think ‘Iron Man’ is the one now.”
But in the mid-70s, it was strictly “Supernaut,” and the Sabs benefited from Zappa’s enthusiasm. Sabbath bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler, a Zappa fanatic who says his “musical life completely changed” when he first heard the Mothers of Invention at the age of fifteen, credits Zappa’s endorsement of “Supernaut” with changing critics’ attitudes toward the band:
I think some of them got an inkling when Frank Zappa did this interview in one of the big English music papers. They were asking him what music he was listening to at the time, and he said, “Black Sabbath.” And at the time, Frank Zappa was really well thought of critically. And I thought he was joking! (Laughs.) But he thought “Supernaut” [from 1972’s Black Sabbath, Vol. 4] was the best riff he’d ever heard. And a lot of critics went, “Well, if Zappa likes Black Sabbath, maybe we should give them another listen.”
Frank Zappa talking to Let It Rock magazine, 1975
On the strength of “Supernaut,” Zappa invited Black Sabbath to dinner, a Rashomon-like encounter that Ozzy and Tony Iommi recall differently in their memoirs. Everyone seems to agree that there was a party in an American city around 1974. Ozzy gives the short version of the story in Barney Hoskyns’ Into the Void:
Frank Zappa – who was a very techno guy – invited us to a restaurant once where he was having a party. He said, ‘The song “Supernaut” is my favourite track of all time.’ I couldn’t believe it – I thought, ‘This guy’s taking the piss: there’s got to be a camera here somewhere…’
The singer expanded on these remarks in I Am Ozzy, adding a lot of colorful detail:
Another crazy thing that happened around that time  was getting to know Frank Zappa in Chicago. We were doing a gig there, and it turned out that he was staying at our hotel. All of us looked up to Zappa – especially Geezer – because he seemed like he was from another planet. At the time he’d just released this quadraphonic album called Apostrophe (’), which had a track on it called ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.’ Fucking classic.
Anyway, so there we were at this hotel, and we ended up hanging out with his band in the bar. Then the next day we got word that Frank wanted us to come to his Independence Day party, which was going to be held that night at a restaurant around the corner.
We could hardly wait.
So come eight o’clock, off we went to meet Frank. When we arrived at the restaurant, there he was, sitting at this massive table, surrounded by his band. We introduced ourselves, then we all started to get pissed. But it was really weird, because the guys in his band kept coming up to me and saying, ‘You got any blow? Don’t tell Frank I asked you. He’s straight. Hates that stuff. But have you got any? Just a toot, to keep me going.’
I didn’t want to get involved, so I just went, ‘Nah,’ even though I had a big bag of the stuff in my pocket.
Later, after we’d finished eating, I was sitting next to Frank when two waiters burst out of the kitchen, wheeling a massive cake in front of them. The whole restaurant went quiet. You should have seen that cake, man. It was made into the shape of a naked chick with two big, icing-covered tits – and her legs were spread wide apart. But the craziest thing about it was that they’d rigged up a little pump, so champagne was squirting out of her vagina. You could have heard a pin drop in that place until the band finally started to sing ‘America the Beautiful’. Then everyone had to have a ceremonial drink of the champagne, starting with Frank.
When it was my turn, I took a long gulp, screwed up my face, and said, ‘Ugh, tastes like piss.’
Everyone thought that was hilarious.
Then Frank leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Got any blow? It’s not for me – it’s for my bodyguard.’
‘Are you serious?’ I asked him.
‘Sure. But don’t tell the band. They’re straight.’
In Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, Iommi records different memories of the first meeting with Zappa, including which song he singled out for praise. In his account, Iommi rushes through the dinner to get to the 1976 Madison Square Garden show where Zappa had planned to play with Sabbath:
We had met Frank Zappa at a party in New York a couple of years before. He took us all out to a restaurant, telling us how much he liked ‘Snowblind’. It was very kind of him and we became friends. On 6 December  we played Madison Square Garden, with Frank introducing the band. He wanted to play as well. We’d put his stuff on stage but we had a really bad night. Frank was waiting to walk on and I thought, he can’t, it’s disastrous, everything is going wrong, my guitar is going out of tune, there’s noise and crackles and God knows what. So I said to him: ‘It would be best if you don’t play, really.’
Zappa, for his part, said that he had been prepared to play with Sabbath but declined because he didn’t get a soundcheck. Instead, he “introduced them and then sat by the side of the stage over by Ozzy’s orange juice.” (You can hear almost unintelligible audio of Zappa introducing “the rocking teenage combo known to the universe as Black Sabbath” on YouTube.) But this missed opportunity was not the final musical meeting between FZ and the Sabs. Iommi:
When I went to see [Zappa] once in Birmingham, he said: ‘I’ve got a surprise for you tonight.’
They played ‘Iron Man’. I was in the bar and I heard them play it and I thought, bloody hell! I went back out and I thought, I’ll thank him after the show. But he had such a bad night that he stormed off stage, really pissed off. So I thought, hmm, I don’t think I’m going to go back. Even so, it was a nice surprise.
It was announced this very morning that Frank Zappa’s Roxy: The Movie, which fans have waited patiently to see for decades, is finally getting released on DVD & Blu-Ray on October 30th by Eagle Rock Entertainment and the Zappa Family Trust.
Below, hear Sabbath’s outstanding 1975 set from Asbury Park, NJ. “Supernaut” begins at the 1:00:30 mark, followed immediately by “Iron Man.”