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‘Dog Breath in the Year of the Plague’: A fanboy’s appreciation of Frank Zappa’s ‘Uncle Meat’
01.30.2017
03:21 pm
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It was listening to the Dr. Demento radio show at some point in the 1970s—probably 1976—where I first heard three artists I would come to love for the rest of my life. In one radio show, which I taped, the good doctor played Noel Coward’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” “Hunting Tigers Out in Indiah” by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Thinking back on it, I had damned good taste in music for a 10-year-old kid, I really did, even if it now seems rather obvious what it was about those three songs that appealed to me so much at that age. After all, I was listening to Dr. Demento at the time, of course…

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

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

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

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

More ‘Meat’ after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.30.2017
03:21 pm
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Frank Zappa & The Mothers live in London, 1968: The Rejected Mexican Pope Leaves the Stage
06.04.2014
02:19 pm
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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
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06.04.2014
02:19 pm
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Zappa and Beefheart artist Cal Schenkel’s amazingly CHEAP art sale
11.04.2013
06:17 pm
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Trout Mask Replica painting by Cal Schenkel

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.

For as little as $200 you can get a portfolio of thirteen mostly Zappa-related prints. Individual Giclée prints sell for as little as $25. You can get a signed photograph of Captain Beefheart taken by Schenkel. He does hand-painted caricatures of one of your favorite mustachioed guitarists. He does hand-painted versions of some of his famous album covers, too. And like I was saying, the prices are right. Personally I feel like he’s underselling his work, but I happen to be a big admirer of Cal Schenkel’s art.
 

 

 

 

 
See more at Cal Schenkel’s website.

Below, Frank Zappa and Cal Schenkel invent Adult Swim back in 1971 with the “Dental Hygiene Dilemma” animation from 200 Motels:

Posted by Richard Metzger
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11.04.2013
06:17 pm
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Cal Schenkel’s candid snapshots of Zappa, Beefheart and Jagger in 1968

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Frank Zappa and various GTOs
 
Say what you will about Facebook but the fact that I can befriend life long heroes such as Zappa/Beefheart LP sleeve designer / visual muse Cal Schenkel and get a glimpse of his middle-of-it-all perspective is a wonderful by-product of selling out my privacy to gawd-knows who, really. Cal was gracious and generous enough to allow me to share these marvelous snapshots he took in 1968 at Zappa’s Laurel Canyon compound, known as The Log Cabin which once stood at the corner of Canyons Laurel and Lookout. The basement jam session here was also well documented in John French’s recent book as well as Bill Harkleroad’s Lunar Notes, which I quote here in order to give a small sense of what we’re looking at:

It turns out Frank was trying to put together this Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus thing, which The Stones later put together without him. I don’t know how many Rolling Stones were there at the time, but Mick Jagger certainly was, as were The Who and Marianne Faithfull. She was so ripped she was drooling - but what a babe - I was star struck! It was funny because Jagger really didn’t mean a whole lot to me at that point. I’d played all their tunes in various bands. To me he really wasn’t a signer - he was a “star”. But when I actually met him, all I can remember thinking is, “How could you be a star? You’re too little!” ....I ended up in this jam session in a circle of people about six or seven feet apart and we’re playing Be-Bop-a-Lu-La”! Done was to my immediate left wearing his big madhatter hat and to his immediate left was Mick Jagger and right around the circle all these people were playing, Frank included. So I’m jamming with these guys almost too nervous to be able to move or breathe. I started to ease up after I noticed that Jagger seemed to be equally intimidated. Then we went into Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” and a couple of blues things and that was it. It was such a strange experience - somehow just out of nowhere I’m down in Hollywood meeting Frank Zappa and this whole entourage of famous people like Jagger, Marianne Faithful [sic] and Pete Townshend. What an audition! There I was 19 years old and I’m very taken with these big important people.

 
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Don Van Vliet and Mick Jagger
 
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Marianne Faithfull
 
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FZ and Miss Christine
 
More photos and a link to Cal’s online shop after the jump…

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Posted by Brad Laner
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02.08.2011
11:50 pm
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