By Dai Davies
THERE WAS Frank Zappa in his suite at the Londonderry Hotel with a roomful of people; journalists, his publicist, someone who was getting a house in London together for him, and various other members of his group. It had been a long day of interviews for him, but with the help of countless cigarettes and cups of black coffee he was able to carry on talking. He arrived last week and will be staying here on and off until the middle of next February. In a couple of weeks time he’ll be taking the band to the continent for a three week tour before they split back to the States, until then there’ll be appearances up and down this country. He’s looking forward to playing Newcastle again, where on his last visit he got the best reception outside of London.
Apart from a single appearance at the Bath Festival earlier in the year, this tour will be the first appearance of the new band in this country. When he broke up the Mothers of Invention he said at the time that he did because people didn’t understand what he was trying to do. Various members of the old Mothers had now formed their own groups such as Geronimo Black and Raw Milk. I asked him why he thought the new band was easier to understand.
“People are more likely to understand what I’m doing now because it’s a lot nearer to rock and roll than what I was doing before. It’s got a more rock based rhythm section and a lot more vocals.”
Would he try and educate his audience and lead them back to where he was before?
“I can’t really do that because now I’m with a different set of musicians. The old Mothers were different musicians, and the musicians I’ve got now were chosen because of their suitability to what I’m doing now.”
How did the Turtles become involved with the new band?
“Well I’d been appreciating a lot of what the Turtles had been doing for some time. Mark and Howard dropped in to the concert we did with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and said how much they liked it and how much they’d like to do something. I disbanded the group I’d used on that night and they seemed a natural choice for the new one.
At the time of the release of the “Hot Rats” album there was news of a mass of unreleased Mothers material. What had happened to that?
“There is enough material for about a dozen albums from the Mothers. I suppose we’ll have to wait about five or ten years before releasing it, until sufficient interest builds up. I should think it will take that long.”
Details of Zappa’s firm project, “200 Motels”, will be released at a press conference on December 9th until then there wasn’t much he could say apart from the fact that he’d been working on it for about three years and that he had until November the 1st of next year to deliver the finished thing to the film company.
“The music is built around sketches actually done in motels whilst I was touring between 1967 and this year. I’d written all this music and it would have been a waste not to do anything with it. The performance with the L.A. Philharmonic was just a test for the music. I’ve written a plot around the music, and I’ll be recording some of the music for the film here. I expect the film to be taking up most of my energies over the next year.”
How seriously does Zappa take his music, and did he have a lot of respect for the music that he subtly ridicules on his albums, such as the heavy blues pisstakes on his new album, ‘Chunga’s Revenge’?
“I do take my music seriously, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep being grim all the time, there’s always plenty to chuckle at. When I started off as a professional musician I was a drummer in an R & B group. People would say to me, ‘Hey man, you listen to some jazz’, and I would and I always thought it sounded pretty phoney. It never seemed to have the balls of, say, a Howling Wolf record. I was only into blues in those days and my love for it has carried through. The same goes for the Fifties rock that we do, we don’t do so much of it anymore but I have a great deal of affection for it. Numerically my record collection consists of about a thousand singles from the fifties era, which I’ve been collecting since I was in High School, and then maybe two hundred albums of contemporary and classical music.”
George Duke, who now plays organ in the Zappa band, came in touch with him at a place called the Experience in L.A.
“I was working down there with Jean Luc Ponty. Jean’s producer had got together with Frank to work on the “King Kong” album, and they’d both come down to hear the band. Frank asked me to tour with them. Since then I’ve been surprised at the amount of live work that we’ve done. In the last couple of months we’ve been on three tours with only a week off. I’m quite surprised at how long Frank has kept the band together.”
“Another thing that has surprised me is the discipline of the music. It’s organised freedom within a structure, which isn’t really the kind of freedom that I’ve been used to. I used to just dose my eyes and play, now I have to keep my eyes on Frank, he might just make one of those signals in the middle of a solo. I suppose the discipline might be good for me, it’s so hard for me to explain what I’m getting out of it musically, it’s hard to say what I’m gaining.
“I do know that it’s helping me get through to a bigger audience, although it’s the same sort of audience that I was reaching when I was with Don Ellis. It’s a different trip only because it’s a different label. So long as I feel I’m contributing then I’m happy, and it is helping my pocket book as well.
For Aynsley Dunbar this visit to England is something of a triumphant return home. He split to the States about nine months ago to join Zappa after the breakup of his own band Retaliation.
“Everything seems just the same now that I’m back, it doesn’t seem to have changed at all. I haven’t really had a chance to see anybody yet, though I’m going to see John Moreshead tonight”.
Were there any comments on the rumour that the Retaliation might be reformed?
“It could happen. If everybody is sociable there’s a chance that I’ll reform the group and take it to America. I can’t really afford to go on the road again unless the bread is good. We’ll just have to see how everything is. I haven’t had a chance to see Victor yet as he’s in Manchester. Would you believe that he’s gone by train instead of hitching, things must have changed a little, in the Retaliation days he used to hitch everywhere – that’s what ‘Roamin’ and Ramblin’’ on the first album was all about.”
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