“We Don’t Mess Around” was a band rehearsal—there’s no audience—for a show at the Krone Circus in Munich that a German TV station taped on September 8, 1978. At the time Zappa was touring with arguably one of the tightest bands he ever assembled—Ike Willis, Denny Walley, Arthur Barrow, Tommy Mars, Peter Wolf, Ed Mann, Vinnie Colaiuta—and you even get to see Frank playing the accordion…
With some documentary elements including a shopping trip and an interview with Zappa’s bodyguard. Some of this material overlaps with/was included in Zappa’s own Baby Snakes feature.
Songs you will hear are “Pound for a Brown on a Bus,” “Baby Snakes,” “The Deathless Horsie,” “Dancin’ Fool,” “Easy Meat,” “Honey Don’t You Want a Man Like Me?” “Keep It Greasy,” “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” “Sofa #2,” “Seal Call Fusion Music,” “Bobby Brown,” “Conehead,” “Dead Air,” “I’m On Duty,” “St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast,” “Rollo.”
Zappa’s guitar solo on “Easy Meat” is stunning and the camera stays right on his hands, building an ephemeral sculpture in the air. The interview with his limo driver/bodyguard is laugh out loud funny.
Even if the name Cal Schenkel doesn’t quite ring a bell, there is very little doubt that you’ve seen his illustrations, photography and collage work work adorning literally dozens of iconic album covers by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, The Fugs, Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. He was basically Zappa’s visual partner for longer than a decade working on the covers for Straight/Bizarre releases and rented a wing of the Zappa family home in Laurel Canyon for his live-in art studio. Schenkel is the guy who hollowed out the carp for Don Van Vliet to wear on the Trout Mask Replica cover—that stinky photo shoot was said to have taken over two hours—and he’s the fellow who realized the Sgt. Pepper‘s goof for We’re Only In It for the Money. He’s got a primitive “ragged” illustration style (which predates punk graphics) that is distinctly his own and Schenkel a master of creating humorous and strikingly surreal images that have intrigued generations of record buyers, inspiring a certain meme in recent years and even Halloween pumpkins.
Over the weekend I ended up on Cal Schenkel’s website and it occurred to me that many DM readers would probably like to know about what’s on offer there. For starters, his prices are fantastic, more in line with what an Etsy crafts-person might sell their wares for than the price tags something for sale on the wall of an art gallery would have. The work is priced to sell. Schenkel’s a working artist living in rural Pennsylvania and this is how he pays his bills without having to deal with the rigmarole of the art world—he’s had just two solo exhibitions of his art in the past 20 years. More power to him, and to you, especially if you happen to be a Zappa fan—there are rumored to be many of you among DM’s readership—who likes art and getting a damned good bargain.
Frank Zappa was fond of cheesy monster movies and sci-fi flicks. He had a record label called Barking Pumpkin and his favorite holiday was Halloween. From 1977 until he stopped performing, Zappa and whatever Mothers of Invention he was touring with at the time, made a stop at New York’s Palladium Theater on 14th Street, the same venue where The Clash’s Paul Simonon smashed up his bass (as seen on the cover of London Calling) and that was reborn as the Palladium nightclub (home of Club MTV) and later NYU student dorms…
First up, the 1977 show as recorded by radio’s King Biscuit Flower Hour:
The marathon (nearly four hours) 10/31/1978 show from that year’s Palladium run:
In 1981, MTV did a live simulcast of Zappa’s Halloween show from The Palladium:
We partly have French-American experimental, modernist, avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse to thank for The Mothers of Invention.
When Frank Zappa was a teenager, a musical prodigy living in rural Lancaster, California, he idolized Varèse. He tracked down The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume One after a year’s search (this is what life was like before on-line ordering) and studied it obsessively. Zappa was graciously permitted an expensive long-distance phone call to Varèse’s home as a fifteenth birthday present from his mother. He ended up talking to Varèse’s wife, the famed literary translator Louise McCutcheon Varèse, instead, as Varèse was out of the country.
The young Zappa eagerly sought out a correspondence with the man he considered his mentor. Varèse wrote to him, describing his current work (Déserts) and telling Zappa to visit him if he ever came to New York. Zappa wrote an earnest and impassioned letter to him at 16 while visiting relatives in Baltimore, asking to visit him. He did speak to Varèse on the phone eventually, but the two men never met.
...It might seem strange but ever since I was 13 I have been interested in your music. The whole thing stems from the time when the keeper of this little record store sold me your album “The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Vol.l .” The only reason I knew it existed was that an article in either LOOK or the POST mentioned it as being noisy and unmusical and only good for trying out the sound systems in high fidelity units (referring to your “IONISATIONS”). I don’t know how the store I got it from ever obtained it, but, after several hearings, I became curious and bought it for $5.40, which, at the time seemed awfully high and being so young, kept me broke for three weeks. Now I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I am looking around for another copy as the one I have is very worn and scratchy.
After I had struggled through Mr. Finklestein’s notes on the back cover (I really did struggle too, for at the time I had had no training in music other than practice at drum rudiments) I became more and more interested in you and your music. I began to go to the library and take out books on modern composers and modern music, to learn all I could about Edgard Varèse. It got to be my best subject (your life) and I began writing my reports and term papers on you at school. At one time when my history teacher asked us to write on an American that has really done something for the U.S.A. I wrote on you and the Pan American Composers League and the New Symphony. I failed. The teacher had never heard of you and said I made the whole thing up. Silly but true. That was in my Sophomore year in high school.
Throughout my life all the talents and abilities that God has left me with have been self developed, and when the time came for Frank to learn how to read and write music, Frank taught himself that too. I picked it all up from the library.
I have been composing for two years now, utilizing a strict twelve-tone technique, producing effects that are reminiscent of Anton Webern.
During those two years I have written two short woodwind quartets and a short symphony for winds, brass and percussion.
Recently I have been earning my keep at home with my blues band, the BLACKOUTS. We have done quite well and in my association with my fellow musicians I am learning to play other instruments besides drums…
I plan to go on and be a composer after college and I could really use the counsel of a veteran such as you. If you would allow me to visit with you for even a few hours it would be greatly appreciated.
It may sound strange but I think I have something to offer you in the way of new ideas. One is an elaboration on the principle of Ruth Seeger’s contrapuntal dynamics and the other is an extension of the twelve-tone technique which I call the inversion square. It enables one to compose harmonically constructed pantonal music in logical patterns and progressions while still abandoning tonality.
Varèse became involved with the New York Dadaist circle upon moving to America as a young artist in 1915. His 1931 piece, Ionisation, mentioned in Zappa’s letter, was written for percussion instruments only. Varèse met and planned to work with Soviet inventor Léon Theremin, whose invention of the electronic musical instrument of the same name fascinated Varèse. His interest in electronic music, including the revolutionary musique concrète, frustratingly overreached what was technologically available to him at the time.
Surrealist Theatre of Cruelty pioneer Antonin Artaud wrote a libretto for Varèse’s futuristic, science-fiction stage drama, L’Astronome (The Astronomer), but the project was abandoned when Varèse become distracted by a different composition, Espace. Author Henry Miller wrote the libretto for the also unfinished Espace, describing Varèse’s music as “The stratospheric Colossus of Sound”.
Varèse’s influence cast a long shadow on Zappa’s massive body of work. The Mothers of Invention’s first album, Freak Out!, includes “In Memoriam, Edgar Varèse,” the second movement of “Help, I’m A Rock.” Zappa’s final project in July 1993 was The Rage and the Fury, a recording of Varèse’s music. Zappa said, “Varèse’s music has never been given the credit it deserves and I believe it’s because the technology was never there to record the compositions properly.”
Varèse’s Offrandes conducted by Pierre Boulez, a longtime champion of his work, with Anna Steiger soloist.
This song, 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 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.
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.
But first, MGM took a radical step as an insurance policy that my next session would sound better. They sent me to an expensive vocal coach—and no doubt hoped for divine intervention. Back in 1966 they were shelling out about $1,000 a week for those lessons. That was a lot of money, more than three times what I was bringing home after working twelve hours per day in my monkey suit for an entire week. With the coach raking in that much, even I am surprised that after two weeks of training, the lady politely asked me not to come back. I’m not sure if she felt that having me as a student was damaging to her career or if listening to me sing was destroying her eardrums, or both.
In an attempt at self-preservation, the record company had me just talk on the second two sides I recorded. That I could do very well! The material for the song was a group of fan letters that had been sent to me. Frank and I edited them together to make one letter, which became the lyrics for the recording. Frank wrote a melody and an arrangement, and we titled the song, “Boy Wonder, I Love You!”
Among the lyrics was an invitation for me to come and visit an adoring pubescent fan and stay with her for the entire summer. She wrote, “I will even fix you breakfast in bed. I love you so much that I want you to stay the whole summer with me!” The lyrics ended with “I hope you know that this is a girl writing.”
In an area of Tokyo known as “Foot Town,” a G-rated entertainment neighborhood for tourists, there sits the Tokyo Tower’s Wax Museum, the world’s greatest (only?) collection of progrock and krautrock wax figurines—but not for long. On September 1, the museum will be closing due to losing its lease as the Tokyo Tower building undergoes updating.
Exhibits on display in the wax museum include the improbable figures of Ash Ra Tempel’s Manuel Göttsching, Klaus Schulze, Mother of Invention Don Preston and members of Faust, along with the better-known faces of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, ELP’s Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp and Frank Zappa. The majority of the wax figurines there have nothing to do with krautrock, prog or music in general.
It is not known what will happen to the wax figures, which are owned by Gen Fujita, the son of Den Fujita, the multi-gazillionaire who originally brought McDonald’s to Japan.
Okay, okay, perhaps that title is just a little bit disingenuous, but it’s still “close enough for government work,” as the saying goes.
So no, Frank Zappa didn’t actually bring his rockin’ teen combo to fictional Riverdale High School, and no, this isn’t from Archie Comics either, it’s a National Lampoon parody by Michel Choquette from the September 1970 issue. But it’s probably exactly what would have happened had The Mothers of Invention roared into town.
Betty and Veronica probably would have gotten VD, too.
“To those who’ve followed the latter-day activities of the Zappa estate executrix, this latest move may seem a bit worrisome.”
Perhaps it does. Don Van Vliet died in December of 2010 and is survived by his wife Jan. If Gail Zappa is working on behalf of the widow Beefheart—and maybe she is—well, that’s one thing. If she’s not, that would be quite another. At this point no one seems to know exactly what’s going on.
Gail Zappa filed for the Captain Beefheart trademark in August of 2012. The Zappa Family Trust released the “original” 1976 version of his Bat Chain Puller album earlier that year. The tapes had gotten caught up in a legal dispute between Frank Zappa and his former business partner/manager Herb Cohen and Zappa refused to allow it to be released, causing Beefheart to rerecord the album as Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) for Warner Bros. Records in 1978.
The description provided to the USPTO for CAPTAIN BEEFHEART is Audio and video recordings featuring music and concerts; musical sound recordings; musical video recordings; phonograph records featuring music; pre-recorded CDs, DVDs, audio tapes, video tapes, audio discs, video discs, audio cartridges, and video cartridges featuring music and concerts; downloadable audio recordings, downloadable video recordings, and downloadable MP3 files all featuring music and concerts; downloadable motion picture films, downloadable television shows and downloadable radio shows all featuring music and concerts; downloadable multimedia files featuring music and concerts; electronic publications, namely, books, magazines, manuals, journals, catalogs, brochures, newsletters, featuring music and concerts recorded on computer media; interactive multimedia computer game programs; music-composition software; software for creating music; software featuring musical sound recordings and musical video recordings; multimedia software recorded on CD-ROM featuring music and concerts; electronic game software; downloadable ring tones for mobile phones; downloadable graphics for mobile phones; sunglasses.
There’s bound to be more to this story… Stay tuned.
UPDATE: I found this on the GZ sez section of Zappa.com:
Re: Trout Mask Replica -Jan Van Vliet
Added: April 29th, 2013 in Questions
On Apr 11, 2013, at 2:11 AM, Odd Magnus Grimeland wrote:
I would think Jan Van Vliet has an interest in the estate of Don, similar to your own interest in the estate of Frank. I wonder how she is involved in the new issue of Trout Mask Replica and how her interests are taken care of?
O. M. Grimeland
GZ: There really isn’t a cordial way of not minding your own business and answering for anyone other than myself is not my business.
Eagle Rock Entertainment and the Zappa Family Trust are releasing another audio visual goodie from “The Vault,” the widely-bootlegged A Token of His Extreme TV special.
A Token of His Extreme was taped on August 27, 1974 at KCET studios in Hollywood. The line-up is Zappa on guitar and vocals; George Duke—keyboards and vocals; Napoleon Murphy Brock—sax, vocals; Ruth Underwood—percussion; Tom Fowler—bass; Chester Thompson—drums. The striking claymation of Bruce Bickford was featured in the program.
“This was put together with my own money and my own time and it’s been offered to television networks and to syndication and it has been steadfastly rejected by the American television industry. It has been shown in primetime in France and Switzerland, with marvelous results. It’s probably one of the finest pieces of video work that any human being has ever done. I did it myself. And the animation that you’re gonna see in this was done by a guy named Bruce Bickford, and I hope he is watching the show, because it’s probably the first time that a lot of people in America got a chance to see it.”
Set list: “The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat,” “Montana,” “Florentine Pogen,” “Stink-Foot,” “Pygmy Twylyte,” “Room Service,” “Inca Roads,” “Oh No,” “Son Of Orange County,” “More Trouble Every Day,” “A Token Of My Extreme.”
The new DVD’s stereo audio tracks were mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering and it sounds really good. The video quality is the best we’re ever going to see as it was taken directly from the 2” inch Quad video master (how many working 2” Quad machines—they were the same size as a Fiat—still even exist in these United States of America? One? Two?). If you’re a Zappa fan, A Token of His Extreme, which comes out next Tuesday, is a must-have.
Below, Zappa plays “Black Napkins” on The Mike Douglas Show promoting the Zoot Allures album in 1976 (the full clip of this and the interview is included as a DVD extra):
One of Frank Zappa’s personal heroes, name-checked in the famous “Freak Out” list of his formative influences (“These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them”) is the legendary R&B singer, bandleader, promoter and DJ, Johnny Otis. As most Zappaphiles are also aware, Zappa copied the “Imperial”-style mustache Otis sported, a crucial bit of iconic borrowing that!
At one point during the recording sessions for Zappa’s 1969 solo album Hot Rats, Zappa called the bandleader, then doing a popular R&B radio show on KPPC in Pasadena, for some help in tracking down violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris, who was then, it was discovered, currently sitting in the county jail (apparently Zappa bailed him out). Zappa invited Otis to the sessions in Hollywood and he brought along his musical protege son, Shuggie, who had been playing with his father’s band since he was twelve.
Otis the younger, credited incorrectly as “Shuggy” on Hot Rats, played bass on “Peaches en Regalia,” one of Zappa’s most famous numbers and on November 2nd, 1970 the two brought out their acoustic guitars for a delicious nine-minute-long jam session on-air during “The Johnny Otis Show.” There was also a blues jam with Ray Agee during that same radio show.
Shuggie Otis would later turn down an offer to join the Rolling Stones. His new album, Wings of Love, has recently come out and the seldom-seen Otis is currently touring the world in support of the slow-baked long-player that has some songs dating as far back as 1975.
“A lot of the kids who are walking around the street with long hair.. a lot of the kids that you see from time to time—and retch over—are going to be running your government for you.” —Frank Zappa
For a while now, tantalizing bit and pieces of Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, a 1967 CBS News special presented by the great Leonard Bernstein have popped up on YouTube but this is the best version I’ve seen.
This program marked the first time that pop music was presented as a legitimate art form, with sympathetic host Bernstein lending an intellectual gravitas to the proceedings that only he could bestow upon the “strange and compelling scene called pop music.” It’s fascinating to watch the famous composer/conductor look straight at the audience as he tries to make sense of what rock music was becoming, one would presume, for a “square” middle-aged audience. The second part of the show goes into the field and was mostly shot in 1966.
One of the ultimate time capsules of the moment when the world went from black and white to vivid color in the space of one year. This must have been riveting television in its time, because it still is.
With great bits from Frank Zappa, Graham Nash, Tim Buckley, Herman’s Hermits, Reger McQuinn and the legendary performance of Brian Wilson’s “Surf’s Up” that will cause your mind to explode into a million pieces if you are a Beach Boys fan. Inside Pop also includes 15-year-old Janis Ian performing “Society’s Child,” a then highly controversial song about interracial romance. It was Bernstein’s championing of the song that saw it become a hit. Before Inside Pop aired, radio programmers were still skittish about the number.
Grace Slick wanted Frank Zappa to produce the Jefferson Airplane’s fourth album, Crown of Creation, but he was too busy at the time doing his own thing. They must’ve gotten beyond the discussion phase, however, because one number was put on tape at RCA Studios in Hollywood, the avant garde oddity, “Would You Like A Snack” a freeform freakout with a multi-tracked Slick singing about getting her period and oral sex.
Zappa was credited at the June 5, 1968 session at RCA Studios in Hollywood as the “leader” and shares songwriting credit with Slick. Also present were Mothers Ian Underwood on piano & woodwinds, Don Preston on keyboards and Art Tripp on drums & percussion.
The complete orchestral score of Frank Zappa’s notoriously difficult to play200 Motels will be premiered in the composer’s hometown of Los Angeles, when the L.A. Philharmonic reconvenes for their tenth year at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on October 23rd.
“I believe in my heart of hearts that someone on the board (of the L.A. Philharmonic) said it’s about time,” Gail Zappa told Billboard:
The Zappa family and its representatives have had ongoing conversations with the L.A. Philharmonic about presenting Zappa’s orchestral music, which is heard far more often in Europe than in the area he lived his entire life, Southern California.
“Musicians now are very familiar with the composers of their time, which I am glad about,” Zappa added. “Frank wrote music that challenges your playing ability and I think musicians embrace that.”
On October 29th, just six days after the LA premiere, the BBC Concert Orchestra, with Jurjen Hempel conducting, will perform 200 Motels at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Below, Ringo Starr introduces Frank and the boys:
“The power of pop music to corrupt and putrefy the minds of world youth are virtually limitless.”
Filling in for an AWOL Keith Richards (who had visa problems at the time, stemming a then-recent drug bust in Toronto), Frank Zappa reads “The Talking Asshole” routine from William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. The occasion was the Nova Convention, a three-day celebration of Burroughs’s work that took place in New York City in early December of 1978.
Others on the bill at the Nova Convention included Patti Smith, Robert Anton Wilson, Brion Gysin, Laurie Anderson, poet John Giorno, Timothy Leary, Philip Glass, John Cage and author Terry Southern, who can be heard at the beginning of the clip, introducing Zappa.