"Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Mothers of Invention's work is the 'conceptual continuity' of the group's 'output macrostructure'. There is and always has been, a conscious control of thematic and structural elements flowing through each album, live performance and interview," says Mother Superior Frank Zappa.
Without delving into time consuming analogies, let's put everything into perspective, starting from the beginning. The following information is gleaned from a radio show Frank is putting together for distribution.
Born December 21, 1940 in Baltimore, Frank began playing guitar in 1958. He graduated from high school the same year and attended one semester of Jr. College before "finding someone to live with and dropping out." During 1962-63 he executed the blueprints for his life's work, began preliminary experimentation in early and mid 1964 and began construction of the project/object in late 1964. That year he also began work on a project with old high school buddy, Don van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart. Slated for the CBS Repertoire workshop and called "I Was A Teenage Maltshop", it was intended as the first rock and roll operetta. Needless to say, it was immediately rejected by the show's shortsighted producer.
Next, Frank and Don tried to form a group called the Scots [Soots]. It didn't last long. Finally Frank (on his own) put together a band called the Muthers and worked local joints around Cucamonga for sandwich money. The act got signed to "another record company", changed the spelling of its name and released five albums (see discography).
Reprise Records signed a distribution deal with the Mothers of Invention a few years later with their own label, Bizarre. Since then, Frank and/or the group have recorded 11 more gems, all but one on Bizarre/ Reprise.
In 1968 the Mothers began dealing with music in terms of textures and spatial placement. It was also the year that the original Mothers (even though members had been replaced occasionally) disbanded, giving way to the live Fillmore East album and then a constantly evolving assortment of Mothers. Somewhere along the way, this was said about Frank: "He has a habit of pushing everyone beyond the limits of what they're capable of doing – therefore you have to grow if you're going to be in the group."
Someone else made this observation: "Aside from at rehearsals, Frank's a wonderful person. He has the unique qualities of being a strong leader and still being able to remain humble ... it's very strange."
Now, having just finished a tour with the 20 piece Grand Wazoo and some concerts with his ten piece group, Frank is on the road again with the "new improved" Mothers of Invention. Here's how it looks. Frank Zappa, guitar; Jean-Luc Ponty, violin; George Duke, piano; Ian Underwood, woodwinds; Ruth Underwood, marimba, tympani and small percussion; Bruce Fowler, trombone; Tom Fowler, bass; Ralph Humphrey, drums; and Sal Marquez, trumpet.
"The new band doesn't sound like anything you've ever heard before," says Frank. "The instrumental combinations, the sonority of it is so strange." Frank tried to explain again: "The way the tunes are voiced out, the violins will either be on the top or bottom of the chord, the clarinet is in the middle sometimes alternating with the trombone and the upper edge is usually outlined by a marimba or vibes line. The drums often play the melody along with everybody else. All of this is accompanied by a harmony line or the duplication of the marimba line on a synthesizer. As you can see, there's a lot of complicated lines being doubled all over the place – rhythmically and otherwise."
While it may sound confusing, the music is not to be maligned – and the above is a wonderful key to understanding when you give the new music a listen. Call it educational aid. It should have dawned on you by now that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's history cannot be adequately taken care of briefly. Remember he still has nine records (going on ten) for release chock full of goodies that will either help the public understand him or hopelessly confuse them.
If nothing else, he will continue to dazzle them. "I was never a hippie. Always a freak, but never a hippie."
The Mothers will be appearing:
Thursday June 21 – Brisbane – Festival Hall
Monday 25th – Sydney – Horden Pavilion
Tuesday 26th – Sydney – Horden Pavilion
Thursday 28th – Melbourne – Festival Hall
Friday 29th – Melbourne – Festival Hall
Wednesday 4th July – Adelaide – Apollo Stadium.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net