Grand Mother

By Chris Lloyd

Melody Maker, July 20, 1974


OTTAWA, CANADA: One way or another, Frank Zappa is keeping busy.

The Mothers are on a North American tour, constantly being hassled for interviews now "Apostrophe" is making it big here, and Zappa is due to finish a TV special as soon as he gets back to LA.

Hectic or not, he was taking time out to think about his schedule for when all this was over – his European tour coming up in September. And that brought him onto the subject of England.

"Well," he recalled with a sigh, " sometimes it's fun, and sometimes you end up in hospital."

Apparently, he didn't rate the National Health Service.

"I spent a month in the hospital at the Harley Street clinic, which wasn't too bad. The first hospital I went to was the absolute pits. It was a regular public hospital. It was just ... eughhhh ... I can still remember how it smelled, folks.

"No I don't think your National Health Service is such a good deal. You get what you pay for."

With that subject dispensed like a dirty swab, he got onto the other matter in England – the ban by the Albert Hall.

"We're involved in a law suit with them still. Y'know what happens in the courts. They f--- you off for three years and then somebody calls you up and says 'You now have a court date. You appear, When that happens I'll go over."

The touring line-up of the current Mothers consists of Ruth Underwood on percussion, George Duke on keyboards, rhythm guitarist Jeff Simmons, Chester Thompson behind the drums, bassist Tom Fowler, and Napoleon Murphy Brock on lead vocals and tenor sax.

He met Ruth in '67 when she recorded on "Uncle Meat," and Tom Fowler is the brother of Bruce Fowler, former trombone player with The Mothers.

"We had another bass player for a while, and he couldn't cut it, so Bruce said, "my brother can do it. He brought him in from Salt Lake City."

He's worked with George on and off for five years, although he quit for a two year period to work with Cannonball.

Jeff was in the group before, touring with them for about a year. He split just before the filming of 200 Hotels and came back to The Mothers about March.

A sense of humour must be one of the basics to be a Mother: "It's at least as important as being able to play. Because if ya don't have a sense of humour ya can't play the music correctly. No matter how many of the right notes ya hit, ya still can't play correctly."

As for toning down, hadn't I heard something about him re-enacting "Dinah-Moe Hum" in public.

"No. It was a situation that happened in Australia where a girl requested that we act out "Dinah-Moe Hum" while the song was played on a cassette machine, and I just announced to the audience listening you'd be surprised how fast you have to go to make the events happen as fast as they're being described on he record, ya know."

How did he overcome the problem of censors, especially since the lyrics appeared in full on the sleeve of the "Over-Nite Sensation" album. "Well, what's wrong with "Dinah-Moe Hum?" I think its a very wholesome, conservative sort of appraisal of what was really going on."

He gave a sly look: "I think the Stones get away with far more than we do – because they can afford it."

How about other lyrics? What was this fixation on the same album with zircon encrusted tweezers.

"I first discovered the zircon in 1957. When the piano player in this band I had in high school decided that in order to really play like Fats Domino he had to have the same amount of weight on his hands that Fats Domino had. You know, Fats had that big diamond ring on his finger.

"Well, Wimberly couldn't afford a diamond, so he saw an ad in a comic book said he could get a zircon as big as yer fist for 10." Between laughter, he went on: "So the zircon has always seemed to me the symbol of complete cheapness."

To me, "Apostrophe" seemed a logical continuation of "Over-Nite Sensation." What direction would the next album take?

"We got another album finished. It's ready for September. It's called  Zappa, Mothers, Roxy And Elsewhere." It's mostly a live album. Two-thirds of it was recorded at the Roxy in Los Angeles and some
other tracks were recorded at The Auditorium Theatre in Chicago and at a gymnasium in Edinburgh, Pennsylvania."

It would contain a lot of the material he was playing on his tour. (The gig I'd been at smacked of nostalgia – a trip back to rock and roll.)

At the same show, Zappa had taken it easy on vocals, leaving most of the singing to Napoleon.

He explained: "I'm just gettin' into playing guitar a little more now. So when we play instrumental things I like to construct vehicles that will give me the chance to play in the style I like. It just depends on the mood."

It was clear Zappa was going through a musical change. Apostrophe had featured 24 other musicians, including sidesmen like Jack Bruce and Aynsley Dunbar.

"I like variety and I like all different kinds of music. Not every musician can play every style of music so if I want to do a song in a certain style I'll get people who are good for that style."

Some names, though, cropped up almost as if they were Zappa fixtures – Jean-Luc Ponty, Sugar Cane Harris and Ian and Ruth Underwood.

"As a matter of fact, I haven't worked with Ian for over a year and Jean-Luc has been out of the group for six or eight months. And Sugar Cane never did tour with us. He worked a couple of local jobs in Los Angeles.

"Y'know, some of those people are good to use on record sometimes. But er ... they're not exactly what I want to build my future out of."

So who else would he like to work with? "Well, let's see ... I like Joe Farrell. I like the way he plays but I wouldn't go out of a my way to make an album with him. I'd probably get in his way."

Was there anyone he would go out of his way to record with? "No, not really." But after a second thought he quickly added: "Oh, wait a minute. Howlin' Wolf."

What about the future then? "I sure can't say. That's another one of my anomalies. We're working on a television special which we're gonna film as soon as we get back to Los Angeles. It'll be something you never say before. That's all I'm gonna say. I don't wanna give away the surprise," he smiled.


Other version of this article appeared in Beetle as "Frank Zappa – Funny Mother".

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net