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Hungry Freaks, Daddy: Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention’s ‘Freak Out,’ a listener’s guide
06.29.2015
11:00 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Frank Zappa
Mothers Of Invention


 

These Mothers is crazy. You can tell by their clothes. One guy wears beads and they all smell bad. We were gonna get them for a dance after the basketball game but my best pal warned me you can never tell how many will show up…sometimes the guy in the fur coat doesn’t show up and sometimes he does show up only he brings a big bunch of crazy people with him and they dance all over the place. None of the kids at my school like these Mothers…specially since my teacher told us what the words to their songs meant.

Sincerely forever, Suzy Creamcheese, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Freak Out!, the 1966 debut album by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention was one of the first two-record sets of the rock era (Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde beat it by a week) and it was definitely the first two-record debut by any group. Although the album wasn’t a commercial success, making it only to #130 on the Billboard charts, it immediately established the archly intellectual Frank Zappa in the very first rank of rock musicians. In fact, Paul McCartney was said to be so impressed with Freak Out! that the album apparently provided the initial inspiration for The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album. At first there may not have been a lot of listeners, but most certainly the right people were tuning into Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s freaky vibe from the start.

Freak Out! was produced by legendary African-American record producer Tom Wilson, who also worked with Simon and Garfunkel, Sun Ra, The Velvet Underground, Eric Burdon and The Animals and Bob Dylan (Wilson produced three Dylan albums and the “Like a Rolling Stone” single). The story goes that Wilson signed The Mothers to MGM thinking that they were a white blues band. He had heard just one song. “Trouble Every Day,” when he saw them at a club on the Sunset Strip and incorrectly assumed the group was something like Al Kooper’s group, The Blues Project!
 

 
They were anything but. The Mother’s uncompromising sound was an unheard of combination of corny doo-wop (which Zappa both loved and parodied mercilessly), R&B, tape manipulations, musique concrète ala Zappa’s idol Edgard Varese, free jazz, shifting time signatures, classical music touches and trenchant satirical social observations (Zappa was nasty to both “straights” and hippies in equal measure, even his own audience had their noses tweaked by Frank Zappa, one of history’s ultimate non-conformists).

The story of the early days of the Mothers of Invention is a fascinating one, but basically, the Cliff Notes version is this: In 1965, Frank Zappa, a would-be film soundtrack composer, recording studio owner and rock guitarist living in the incredibly boring San Bernadino country city of Rancho Cucamonga, CA was invited to join a local rhythm and blues band called the Soul Giants. The band was renamed “The Mothers” (as in “motherfuckers,” indicating how good of musicians they were). The Mothers started gigging in Los Angeles and soon Frank Zappa was the “Freak king” of Hollywood. (Historical note here: LA’s “Freaks” were basically weirder hippies and they dressed differently from the way San Francisco hippies tended to dress, which in 1965-66 was far more “Edwardian” than it was tie-died. The LA vs SF, freaks vs hippies issue was a short-lived one, but a distinction that is important to note. The “Freaks” were the people (mostly Valley girls) who congregated around Carl Franzoni (“Captain Fuck”), teenage Szou and her “aging Beatnik” boyfriend (later husband) Vito Paulekas. “Vito and his Freakers” participated in sex orgies and went out to art openings and the clubs on the Sunset Strip enlivening every event they attended with their distinctive dancing. This clip, from the “mondo” film You Are What You Eat was actually shot at a Mother’s performance, but the filmmakers couldn’t get the music rights and used a song by the Electric Flag instead. It’s probably as good of a representation of Vito and his Freakers as exists).

In other words, there was a “built in” scene for Frank Zappa to take advantage of when the Mothers moved to Los Angeles. He came to town, looked around and he took it over. Quickly. By 1966, Zappa was a figure who loomed large over the Sunset Strip.
 

 
The first songs the Mothers (rechristened “The Mothers of Invention” at the insistence of MGM) recorded with Wilson were “Any Way the Wind Blows” and “Who Are the Brain Police?” In The Real Frank Zappa Book, FZ described the scene in the studio:

“I could see through the window that he was scrambling toward the phone to call his boss—probably saying: ‘Well, uh, not exactly a “white blues band,” but…sort of.’”

Wilson would champion Zappa’s creative vision to the label, securing him an unheard of recording budget for Freak Out! and putting his own career on the line for the ambitious young composer/bandleader. The album’s psychedelic cover art direction was a bit misleading, perhaps, but due to the freak “hot spots” map of Hollywood, the liner notes indicating all of Zappa’s “friends and family” and inspirations (David Crosby, Tiny Tim, Charles Mingus, Guitar Slim, Eric Dolphy, Igor Stravinsky and others are all there, now the subject of a documentary called The Freak Out List) and the fact that it was a two-record set gave his new fans something to immerse themselves in and obsess over (Zappa fans are an obsessive lot, trust me on that one). Zappa understood his audience well: Freak Out! was the rock music equivalent of getting into Marvel Comics and discovering that there was an entire Marvel “universe” to pour over. It was if Zappa and his freaky scene landed like Martians during the middle of the Lyndon Johnson administration. It was fortuitous timing, right as the world was about to go from B&W to vivid color.
 

 
Because Freak Out! was deleted from the MGM catalog in the early 1970s and was not in print again in the USA until Rykodisc released the Zappa catalog on CD in the late 1980s, it’s not really an album that tons of people have heard. It’s an album that should rightfully be held in the same high regard as the debut albums by the Velvets, Jefferson Airplane, Love or the Doors and is tragically less well-known than it should be (no, I’m not saying that Freak Out! is an obscure album, because it’s not, but how many people who are hip to something like, say, Forever Changes, have never heard even a single song from it?)

Although it can safely be assumed that the music on Freak Out! is indeed pretty freaky, it’s not at all inaccessible. The very first song I’d play for someone to introduce them to the album would be “Trouble Every Day,” the same song that intrigued Tom Wilson enough to sign the band on the spot. In it Zappa describes watching the Watts Riots on TV:
 

 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Frank Zappa & The Mothers live in London, 1968: The Rejected Mexican Pope Leaves the Stage


Painting of The Mothers of Invention by the great Cal Schenkel
 
This is the footage that matches much of the Ahead of Their Time live album that came out in 1993. It’s essentially a comedy “play” featuring Zappa as “The Imaginary Director” with Mothers Don Preston, Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner, Roy Estrada, Ian Underwood, Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood, Arthur Dyer Tripp III and various members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Filmed on October 25th, 1968. Part of the long out-of-print Uncle Meat VHS release from 1987.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
When Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention were Lenny Bruce’s opening act, 1966
01.07.2014
05:14 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Frank Zappa
Lenny Bruce
Mothers Of Invention


 
As regular readers of this blog know, I am a massive Mothers of Invention fan and also a huge Lenny Bruce aficionado. I’ve got a painting of the original Mothers above my desk as I type this and several pieces of rare Lenny Bruce memorabilia on the bookshelves behind me.

Last week when I found that wild recording of Lenny speaking to students at UCLA, I also found this gem. It’s had fewer than 75 plays.

What is “this” you ask? Why it’s a short live recording of Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention, who were—on June 24th and 25th,1966—the opening act for Lenny Bruce at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. This is a record of one of those nights.

Zappa later wrote of meeting the great comedian (who he named-checked on the cover of Freak Out in the “These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them” list of his influences and heroes.)

“I had seen Lenny Bruce a number of times at Canter’s Deli, where he used to sit in a front booth with Phil Spector and eat knockwurst. I didn’t really talk with him until we opened for him at the Fillmore West in 1966. I met him in the lobby between sets and asked him to sign my draft card. He said no – he didn’t want to touch it.”

The YouTube poster claims the recording to be from a soundboard source and it does sound pretty good once it gets going. Certainly it’s one of the earliest live Mothers recordings in circulation (and news to me). It starts off with “Plastic People,” then goes into “Toads Of The Short Forest” and “I’m Not Satisfied” before the group launches into the sea shanty “Handsome Cabin Boy” and turn it into a guitar rave-up of epic proportions with Zappa’s axe making a noise that was probably quite novel sounding to the ears of those in attendance.

The MOI were but a five-piece at the time with Jimmy Carl Black on drums; Ray Collins on vocals; Roy Estrada on bass, Elliot Ingber on guitar and Frank Zappa on guitar and vocals.

The performance of “The Orange County Lumber Truck” that follows the “Handsome Cabin Boy” jam is not from the same show. I don’t see how it could be without Bunk Gardner, Don Preston, Motorhead Sherwood or Ian Underwood (who all seem to be present and accounted for by the sound of things). Which is not to say that it’s not absolutely amazeballs—because it most certainly is. I just don’t know what the provenance is.
 

 
And to keep the Frank Zappa/Lenny Bruce connection going, here’s The Berkeley Concert (recorded on December 12th of 1965) as originally released on Zappa and Herb Cohen’s Bizarre record label in 1969.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Today is your LAST DAY to enter the Dangerous Minds ‘12 Days of Zappa’ give-away!
12.17.2012
01:56 pm

Topics:
Heroes
Music

Tags:
Frank Zappa
Mothers Of Invention


Gif via The Gypsy Astronaut

UPDATE: The winner is Richard Swanson! Congratulations! 

Thanks to the kind folks at the Universal Music Group, Dangerous Minds will be giving away TWELVE, that’s right, TWELVE Frank Zappa CDs, personally selected by yours truly, the arch Zappa freak who is sitting beneath a painting of Frank and the Mothers of Invention above my desk as I type this.

Did I say twelve? I meant THIRTEEN Zappa albums (and some selections contain multiple discs)!

My selection concentrates on my favorite era of Zappa’s vast oeuvre, the early years when he worked with his best collaborators, in my opinion at least, the original Mothers.

“These Mothers is crazy. One guy wears beads & they all smell bad.”—Suzy Creamcheese

The lucky winner will receive:

Freak Out!
Absolutely Free
Lumpy Gravy
We’re Only in It for the Money
Uncle Meat
Hot Rats
Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Ahead of Their Time
You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 5
The Lost Episodes
Mystery Disc

Plus one glorious example of Zappa’s admittedly sketchier, mid-period: the sprawling 3-CD set, Läther, making this prize a BAKER’S DOZEN of Zappa goodies for one lucky reader!

To enter, it’s simple: First you must be signed up to receive the Dangerous Minds Daily Newsletter via email (look for the sign-up widget in the top toolbar of this page) and “like” the official Frank Zappa Facebook fanpage. Then you have to leave a comment below, telling us why you deserve to win.

One newsletter subscriber will be chosen by the editors of Dangerous Minds to receive this musical bounty. The winner will be picked later today, December 17th, 2012. Good luck!

Frank Zappa discusses the absurdity of sin, guilt and four-letter words on Canadian television in 1969:
 

 
Big thanks to UMe’s Adam Starr!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Just three more days to enter the Dangerous Minds ‘12 Days of Zappa’ Xmas giveaway!!!
12.15.2012
08:57 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music

Tags:
Frank Zappa
Mothers Of Invention


 

UPDATE: The winner is Richard Swanson! Congratulations!

Thanks to the kind folks at the Universal Music Group, Dangerous Minds will be giving away TWELVE, that’s right, TWELVE Frank Zappa CDs, personally selected by yours truly, the arch Zappa freak who is sitting beneath a painting of Frank and the Mothers of Invention above my desk as I type this.

Did I say twelve? I meant THIRTEEN Zappa albums (and some selections contain multiple discs)!

My selection concentrates on my favorite era of Zappa’s vast oeuvre, the early years when he worked with his best collaborators, in my opinion at least, the original Mothers.

“These Mothers is crazy. One guy wears beads & they all smell bad.”—Suzy Creamcheese

The lucky winner will receive:

Freak Out!
Absolutely Free
Lumpy Gravy
We’re Only in It for the Money
Uncle Meat
Hot Rats
Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Ahead of Their Time
You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 5
The Lost Episodes
Mystery Disc

Plus one glorious example of Zappa’s admittedly sketchier, mid-period: the sprawling 3-CD set, Läther, making this prize a BAKER’S DOZEN of Zappa goodies for one lucky reader!

To enter, it’s simple: First you must be signed up to receive the Dangerous Minds Daily Newsletter via email (look for the sign-up widget in the top toolbar of this page) and “like” the official Frank Zappa Facebook fanpage. Then you have to leave a comment below, telling us why you deserve to win. (If you’ve already commented on the earlier post, it’s not necessary to do it twice).

One newsletter subscriber will be chosen by the editors of Dangerous Minds to receive this musical bounty. The winner will be picked on Monday, December 17th, 2012. Good luck!

Below, a fantastic 1971 Dutch documentary that spends a day with Frank Zappa from Holland’s VPRO.
 

 
Big thanks to UMe’s Adam Starr!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Enter the Dangerous Minds ‘Twelve Days of Zappa’ Christmas Give Away!
12.13.2012
08:16 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music

Tags:
Frank Zappa
Mothers Of Invention


 

UPDATE: The winner is Richard Swanson! Congratulations!

Thanks to the kind folks at the Universal Music Group, Dangerous Minds will be giving away TWELVE, that’s right, TWELVE Frank Zappa CDs, personally selected by yours truly, the arch Zappa freak who is sitting beneath a painting of Frank and the Mothers of Invention above my desk as I type this.

Did I say twelve? I meant THIRTEEN Zappa albums (and some selections contain multiple discs)!

My selection concentrates on my favorite era of Zappa’s vast oeuvre, the early years when he worked with his best collaborators, in my opinion at least, the original Mothers.

“These Mothers is crazy. One guy wears beads & they all smell bad.”—Suzy Creamcheese

The lucky winner will receive:

Freak Out!
Absolutely Free
Lumpy Gravy
We’re Only in It for the Money
Uncle Meat
Hot Rats
Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Ahead of Their Time
You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 5
The Lost Episodes
Mystery Disc

Plus one glorious example of Zappa’s admittedly sketchier, mid-period: the sprawling 3-CD set, Läther, making this prize a BAKER’S DOZEN of Zappa goodies for one lucky reader!

To enter, it’s simple: First you must be signed up to receive the Dangerous Minds Daily Newsletter via email (look for the sign-up widget in the top toolbar of this page) and “like” the official Frank Zappa Facebook fanpage. Then you have to leave a comment below, telling us why you deserve to win.

One newsletter subscriber will be chosen by the editors of Dangerous Minds to receive this musical bounty. The winner will be picked on Monday, December 16th, 2012. Good luck!

Below, an incredible hour and twenty minutes of some of the best footage of Frank Zappa and the original Mothers of Invention that you will ever see—high quality, too—shot in various places along their 1968 European tour:
 

 
Big thanks to UMe’s Adam Starr!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Mother of Invention Jim ‘Motorhead’ Sherwood, RIP


Jim “Motorhead” Sherwood, standing, top left

Sad to hear that Jim “Motorhead” Sherwood, one of the original Mothers of Invention (atonal saxes, nasal noises, tambourine, vocals), died on Christmas day, at the age of 69.

As reported in The Guardian, Sherwood:

... was a member of Frank Zappa’s original Mothers of Invention. He appeared on all the group’s early albums, up to and including Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970), as well as on Zappa’s solo disc Lumpy Gravy. He later performed with the Grandmothers, a group of musicians who had accompanied Zappa during different phases of his career.

Born in Arkansas City, Kansas, Sherwood first met Zappa in 1956 when both of them were attending Antelope Valley high school in California. Sherwood was in the same class as Frank’s brother: “Bobby found out that I collected blues records and he introduced me to Frank, and Frank and I sort of got together and swapped records.”

At the time, Zappa was already in a band called the Blackouts, but this soon disintegrated. Then the brothers moved to Ontario, California, and started a new band, the Omens, which also included Sherwood. He would regularly jam with Zappa in a string of different groups, and eventually, in 1964, the Mothers. The following year, the band signed a recording contract with MGM records, and set about the lengthy process of recording their first album, Freak Out!, with producer Tom Wilson. At the time, Sherwood was not a fully fledged member of the band, which changed its name to the Mothers of Invention. He described his role on Freak Out! as “just making sound effects on some of the songs”.

After the album’s release in June 1966 on MGM’s Verve label, the band went on tour, then in November that year took up a six-month residency at the Garrick theatre in New York, during which they played 14 shows a week. Sherwood was working for the band as equipment manager and roadie, and sometimes operated the lighting during the Garrick shows. These were a bizarre mix of music and performance art, featuring puppet shows and interludes when the band would pelt the audience with fruit.

It was when the Mothers made their first trip to England, in mid-1967, that Sherwood was finally hired as a full-time musician. It was the band’s vocalist and percussionist Ray Collins who gave Sherwood the nickname “Motorhead”, through his love of working on cars and trucks and motorcycles: “He said ‘it sounds like you’ve got a little motor in your head’, so they just called me Motorhead and that seemed to stick.”

Sherwood contributed on baritone and/or tenor saxophone, and sometimes percussion and vocals, to Absolutely Free, We’re Only in It for the Money, and the doo-wop album Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, taking in the Zappa solo album Lumpy Gravy en route. Zappa disbanded the original Mothers of Invention in 1969 for financial reasons and what he perceived as public apathy, but Sherwood appears on the albums Uncle Meat, Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh, recorded before the split but released subsequently.

Jim Sherwood obituary (The Guardian)
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Rare German Documentary On Hippies And Acid Rock : Trippy, Man

image
 
Documentary with performances by The Dead, Mothers Of Invention, Big Brother, The Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and lots of hippies dancing and getting stoned. It was directed by Stefan Morawietz for German TV. It’s in German, but you’ll get the idea.

 
part two after the jump

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment