On November 13th, 1967, Frank Zappa was interviewed by two radio DJs at a head shop in Detroit. The conversation aired on the 18th and was promptly forgotten about. Recently, one of the DJs found the recording, which has been digitized and uploaded for the world to hear.
At the time, Zappa was promoting the upcoming Mothers of Invention gigs in the area. The band were scheduled to perform on December 1st at Ford Auditorium in Detroit, and on the 2nd and 3rd at the Fifth Dimension in Ann Arbor. The interviewers, Joe Doll and Dave Pierce, were involved with the University of Michigan’s student-run community radio station, WCBN. Their 30-minute chat with Zappa aired on Doll’s program, Strobe.
Topics include the holdup of the release of the next Mothers album, We’re Only In It For The Money; why rock music is the best means to express his beliefs; questioning societal conventions; and lighter fare like Frank’s thoughts on the Beatles, and his pending appearance on The Monkees. I especially enjoyed hearing FZ talk about marketing, advertising, and sales figures related to the Mothers’ output, partly due to those subjects being taboo for most ‘60s counter-culture acts. The interview does get a bit quarrelsome at times, which makes for stimulating listening, that’s for sure! Mixed Media, the bookstore/head shop where the chat took place, was located in the area of Detroit now called Midtown.
It was Joe Doll who found the tape not long ago, and the recording recently aired on WCBN once again. The audio sounds fantastic, especially when considering it’s nearly 50 years old and was previously thought to have been lost. Listen via Doll’s website, where the digital file is also available to be downloaded for free.
Audio from the Mothers of Invention’s performance in Ann Arbor on December 3rd, 1967:
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’...
Although she barely rates a mention in most Frank Zappa bios, Pauline Butcher was Zappa’s secretary during a crucial era of his early career. Butcher was a model and a stenographer in London, when a chance meeting with Zappa in 1967 led to a job offer in America, helping him to prepare a book he’d been contracted to write. Not only was she his employee, she was also a resident of the infamous “Log Cabin” in Laurel Canyon where the Zappa family and several people in their entourage lived.
Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa is, beyond a doubt, the single most revealing book ever written about the private life of one of the giants of 20th century music and the “inner circle” who surrounded him. If you are a Zappa fan—I’ve noticed that quite a lot of DM readers are (I, myself, am typing this sitting below a diptych painting of the original Mothers of Invention wearing dresses that hangs above my desk)—then you will want to run, not walk to grab a copy of this book. I drank it down like a cold beer on a hot day. Freak Out! is a well-observed and well-written memoir that never forgets who the reader is there for. First-time author Butcher has a novelist’s eye for detail, seems to be blessed with an elephant’s memory and had the extreme good fortune that her mother kept all of her letters from 40 years ago so that she could draw from them.
It’s a great read. Zappa fans will love this book.
I posed a few questions for Pauline Butcher over email.
How would you describe your role in the life of Frank Zappa?
My role in the life of Frank Zappa was restricted to a five-year period, 1967 to 1972. During that time I was originally employed to help Frank write a political book for Stein & Day who’d given him carte-blanche to write whatever he wished. In the event, the book was never written partly because Frank developed other interests in setting up his own record companies, Bizarre and Straight, but also because he had a sneaking suspicion the FBI or CIA would use its contents against him.
As a result, I was left with secretarial work, running the fan club United Mutations, road-managing the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) an all-girl singing group which one might say was the predecessor to the Spice Girls, and helping to set up the record companies. I also think Frank used me, in the beginning, as a sort of therapist, unburdening his worries about the Mothers of Invention. I think he felt I was someone he could trust.
What was the impetus to write this book? Why now and not, say, twenty years ago?
If only I had written the book 20 years ago! Book sales would be greater not only because Frank had just died and more people knew who he was, but also because the book market was healthier then.
So why now? I had always wanted to be a journalist/writer, but after I returned to England from America and went to Cambridge University, I met my husband and our son was born. I spent the next 18 years devoted to looking after him as well as teaching A-level psychology. But when our son went to university and I had given up teaching, I no longer had any excuses. I began writing radio plays for Radio 4, had them rejected, wrote again, got encouragement, wrote again until a producer told me, ‘the only way you’ll break through is if you write something that no one else can write,’ and I thought the only story that no one else could write is my experience living and working with Frank Zappa.
It began as a five-part radio serial for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 but half-way through the first draft, I was told Germaine Greer had been commissioned to do a documentary programme on Zappa and the BBC wouldn’t consider two in one year. I was so angry I wrote off to every publisher and twelve wrote back asking for chapters. Of course, I hadn’t written anything but I knew I had a marketable product. It took nine months to type up the letters I’d written home which my mother kept in a shoe box for forty years, two years to write the book, another year almost to find a publisher, and one year to get it published. Hey, ho, ten years after my son went to university, my book, Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa was born.
Gail Zappa is known for being a fierce protector of her late husband’s legacy. This book is certainly the most intimate book written about Frank Zappa to date, and it’s very revealing about their marriage. I didn’t feel that she was portrayed unfairly or unsympathetically at all, but I’m wondering how Gail has reacted to your book? I would imagine that you might have been a little apprehensive about her opinion.
I’m wondering how Gail has reacted to my book. I have no idea. Many people have asked me this question, but no one it seems has asked any of the Family Trust members directly.
I was hoping that Moon might read it as she has written her own thinly disguised portrait of her parents in America The Beautiful which I think is brilliant, but neither she nor any of her siblings have spoken publicly about it. I visited Gail in Hollywood in 2007. She gave me her e-mail address and I wrote to her but she didn’t reply. Therefore, I have not written to her about the book. I hoped Dweezil, Ahmet, Moon or Diva would be interested in reading it to find out about their parents’ early married life. I personally would love to read a fly-on-the-wall portrait of my own parents when they were first married, painful though some of it might be.
Are you back in touch with any of the Mothers or GTOs on Facebook?
Four of the GTOs, Lucy, Cinderella, Christine and Sandra have died. I contacted the three remaining girls, Sparkie, Mercy and Pamela. I sent copies of my book to each of them and have had a favourable but short comment on Facebook from Sparkie, none from Mercy, and Pamela wrote on FB, ‘lurved your book darlink.’
I am in constant contact with Art Tripp who in turn has been in touch with Roy Estrada. I was in contact with Jimmy Carl Black before he died because he was writing his own book; I have spoken to Bunk Gardner who told me he was sued by Gail twice for wanting to play Frank’s music, and to never write to her again after he wrote condolences following Frank’s death. I am also in touch with Ray Collins whose song I have used on the soundtrack of my video which is posted on You Tube and FB. I failed to trace Motorhead before he died, nor have I had communication with Don Preston. Ian Underwood wrote a brief message on FB that he was pleased to hear from me but made no further reply. I failed to find Ruth Underwood until just recently and have not as yet contacted her.
What becomes apparent is that one documentary is not enough to cover the life, times and creative career of Frank Zappa. This one, recorded the year of his sad and untimely death, tries very hard and does capture much of what was best loved about the great man.
Originally shown on BBC 2’s The Late Show (now there was a pretty funky arts series, one that’s still missed) on July 23 1993, it contains one of Zappa’s last (lengthy) interviews (full meat and gravy), as well as contributions from a host of diverse supporting players - The Mothers to The Dubliners to Matt Groening, plus full pics and story.
Three clips of John and Yoko onstage with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore East in NYC, June 5, 1971. For whatever reason, Lennon re-titled the Mothers’ song “King Kong”—the centerpiece of their live act for years and one that took up an entire side of the Uncle Meat album—as “Jamrag” and credited it to “Lennon/Ono” on their 1972 Sometime in New York City live album. Zappa’s own mix of this material—radically different from the Phil Spector produced tracks on John and Yoko’s album—came out on his Playground Psychotics album in 1992.
The Mothers at this time were comprised of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on vocals, Bob Harris—keyboards, Don Preston—Minimoog, Ian Underwood—keyboards, alto sax, Jim Pons—bass, vocals and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. If you’re a Yoko fan, towards the end of the third clip, Lennon starts doing some feedback stuff with his guitar as she wails over it. It’s a fine Yoko moment, albeit brief.
This is either a fan-shot film that was synced up with soundboard audio or else something that came via Bill Graham’s archives or a mixture of both. The audio quality is quite good and the video quality is certainly watchable, although there are dropouts to black at times. Still, this is an amazing, historic concert to have footage of, I’ll take what I can get. This probably got onto YouTube by way of the amazing Zappateers fansite (truly one of the greatest fan communities on the Internet).
Below “Scumbag.” I love Don Preston’s Mini-Moog improvisations here: