We Are The Mother People
By Ian Pollock
The following extracts are from a 1968 'Rolling Stone' interview with Frank Zappa, a few lines from his self written press kit, and a recent interview by Ian Pollock who compiled the words. Unless otherwise stated, all the quotes are from Frank Zappa.
'I was born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 21, 1940.' 'My formal musical education consists of one special harmony course which I was allowed to take during my senior year in high school ... another harmony course (with required keyboard practice) ... and a composition course at Pomona College which I would sneak into and audit ... I have played band and orchestra percussion in school ensembles.' 'I wanted to play drums so I got some sticks and started beating the shit out of the furniture to the extent that my parents gave up and got me a snare drum. I hadn't heard any R and B then and was basically interested in orchestra music. Then I heard some R and B and wanted to be in an R and B band.' 'I got a guitar when I was 18 ... the strings were so high I couldn't play chords on it so I started playing lines right away. I didn't learn to play chords until after about a year.'
Frank Zappa's first group in Antelope Valley High School was called The Blackouts, which turned into The Omens after Frank left. Some of the personnel went on to join The Mothers some joined Captain Beefheart.
'Don Vliet (Captain Beefheart) was in the band ... we'd go to his house and raid his old man's bread truck and we would sit and eat pineapple buns and listen to these records until five in the morning and maybe not go to school the next day. It was the only thing that seemed to matter at the time. We listened to those records so often we could sing the guitar leads.'
'The first thing that attracted me to The Mothers' music was the fact that they played for twenty minutes and everybody was hissing and booing and falling off the dance floor and Elmer was yelling at them to get off stage and turn down their amplifiers' (Suzy Cream-cheese ... from 'Uncle Meat')
Due for release on March 1st is a nine record set entitled 'The History and Collected Improvisations of The Mothers of Invention'.
'It shows all the different groups of Mothers wherever tape exists that's of pertinent interest. I've got recordings of rehearsals, at different stages of development, candid recordings.'
'This fucking band is starving. We've been starving for 3 years. I realise it takes a long time but goddam does it take another five, ten years from now?' (Jimmy Carl Black ... from Uncle Meat)
'The first recorded performance of The Mothers is live at a bar in Pomona, California called The Broadside and the song we're playing on it is 'Louisiana Blues' by Muddy Waters.'
'The group was formed at the tail end of 1964 and I would say that the basic thrust of our musical project was rhythm and blues or pop extrapolations on r and b type concepts where you would take an r and b feel and extend on it to a raga direction for instance.'
At this time The Mothers were playing West Coast beer joints for beer money or less. They were also getting fired fairly regularly because they didn't play material by The Beatles or The Stones or any other Top 50 group. They moved to New York to take up an Easter week residency at The Garrick theatre and the management kept them on through the summer.
'We performed a couple of marriages on stage. We pulled people out of the audience and made them make speeches. One time we brought 30 people up on stage and some of them took our instruments and the rest of them sang 'Louie Louie', as we left ... Our big attraction was the soft giraffe. We had this big stuffed giraffe on stage, with a hose running up to a spot between the rear legs. Ray Collins would go up to the giraffe and massage it with a frog hand puppet ... and then the giraffe's tail would stiffen and the first three rows of the audience would get sprayed with whipped cream shooting out of the hose.'
After this period The Mothers included props in all their shows. Zappa calls them visual aids.
'MGM saw us at The Whiskey and we started recording during the pop bottle days. The first day of recording we didn't even have money to eat. If Jesse Kay hadn't given us ten dollars we'd have passed out. But he did and we didn't, and we laid down six tracks that first day. After that it was upward and onward to teenage stardom.'
Since 1964 there have been eighteen personnel changes in The Mothers. A lot a people leave and then come back. Presumably if you take them back then you didn't really want them to leave in the first place?
'No, it's like this. You know where it says in the movie (200 Motels), 'He's making us do it'. Well that's the biggest joke of all because you can't make anybody do all that stuff, you can't force them. So if somebody wants to leave, they leave, but my patience does wear thin after a little while. Ray Collins quit the group five times and joined five times and every time I would trust him to come back. He quit twice right before a European tour. It would just fuck the group up. We'd come over here and try and do a good job and we'd have to do a last minute revamp on all the material, and so I just couldn't take him back anymore.'
The current group includes two members from the early Mothers, Ian Underwood and Don Preston, who have also had their share of exits and entrances. Ian Underwood ('the straight member of the group') has a masters in music from Yale and Berkley. After seeing the Mothers twice on stage he went along to a recording session.
'Frank Zappa was sitting in the control room. I walked up and said, 'How do you do? My name is Ian Underwood and I like your music and I'd like to play with your group.' Frank Zappa says, 'What can you do that's fantastic?' I said I can play alto saxophone and piano, and he said, 'All right whip it out.'.
Don (Dom De Wild) Preston has been credited with various talents including electric piano, electric organ, various electronic effects (mini-moog), tarot cards, brown rice and retired. Howard Kaylan (lead vocals), Mark Volman (lead vocals) and Jim Pons (bass and vocals) are all ex-Turtles. Around the time of the surfing generation they stormed up the hit parade with a bullet and 'Happy Together'. They look it.
'The event that is described (Mothers at the Fillmore East album), where a girl would not take her pants off for Howard because the girl wants Howard to sing his hit single or she's not going to do anything is a true story.'
Aynsley Dunbar survived the John Mayall band, his own Retaliation and Blue Whale before joining the Mothers He's not just there for teer, appeal and studded leather jackets.
'The fastest learner in the group is Aynsley, he's unbelievable. He's got one of the most fantastic memories for musical parts and the stuff that you hear him play on stage, aside from when he's just keeping time, the organised parts that he's playing are all things that he's been told to play. He remembers where all the breaks are and where all the different beat changes come.'
Do all The Mothers read music?
'Ian reads exceptionally well, Don Preston reads a little bit, Howards reads a little bit, Aynsley reads pretty good and Mark reads minimal. I read fair and Jim Pons doesn't read at all.'
So how do you get together numbers with the group?
'Well I usually figure out what I want to hear and then, for the ones that read, if it's a complicated part I'll write it all out. If it's not a complicated part I'll play it on the guitar or hum it to them. I'll just say play that or tell them the chords and how many beats they stay on that chord and they write out their own part. In the case of the bass player I'll give him a line ... But that does not preclude improvisation. I mean I plan pieces so that at point A, Howard will make up completely what he's going to say.'
What other music do you listen to?
'Well the only pop music that's played around the house a lot is Neil Young because my wife and kids like that and I enjoy it too. Most of the rest of the records are classical. I listen to Stravinsky and I've been listening to Mahler and Wagner lately for the first time. Wagner has some very interesting things happening there, very interesting on a psychological level.'
Future musical plans include 'another 'Hot Rats' album at the end of 1972 ... I intend to keep on writing things for orchestras and I am now getting into the electronic music field quite heavily, via synthesizers. I'm developing my own specialized electronic musical instruments to use in conjunction with synthesizers and computers for the production of elaborate and unheard of musical textures.' (gulp)
(Unless stated, the following is from an interview with Steve Bradshaw of Radio London)
What do you think about The Rainbow as Britain's first concert home for Rock?
'All I can say is it's about time. If you had to rely on the Albert Hall for your musical culture around here you'd be in trouble. (The Mothers/PRO concert at The Albert Hall last February was cancelled by the management). 'I can remember Elmer telling me that you really had a lot of talent but he couldn't see how anyone could ever make it that insisted on saying 'fuck' on stage' (Suzy Cream-cheese ... from Uncle Meat)
What do you think of London audiences?
'There are different types ... Woe be unto The Rock and Roll band that gets to play for your trendies who just sort of sit there and wait for somebody else to look at their clothes, and it doesn't make any difference who's onstage.'
And a final word from the press kit
'Somebody in that audience out there knows what we're doing, and that person is getting off on it beyond his/her wildest comprehensions.'
Discography (Albums listed in order of recording, not release)
We're Only In It For The Money
Cruising With Rueben And The Jets
Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Mothers Fillmore June 1971
Frank Zappa ........ (guitar/vocals)
Ian Underwood ....(winds/keyboards and vocals)
Don Preston ........ (keyboards/electronic effects)
Howard Kaylan ... (Lead Vocals)
Mark Volman ....... (Lead Vocals)
Aynsley Dunbar .. (drums)
Jim Pons .............. (bass)
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net