One Size Fits All
Frank Zappa, A Sofa And References To The Universe In General
By David Fudger
"I WAS saying to a friend, just recently, that I hope nothing bad happens to Britain because the rest of Europe needs it for comic relief."
Thus spoke Frank Zappa. A back-handed compliment, but a compliment none the less, surprising considering the aggro that's attended the man's UK visits over the past four years. His last British tour, culminating in a concert at Wembley's Empire Pool, was given a fairly bad time by the critics and on a visit prior to that he was pushed into the orchestra pit at the Rainbow sustaining injuries that kept him out of action for over a year.
The main purpose of his current visit is for appearances in court. In 1971 the management of the Albert Hall cancelled a concert Zappa and the Mothers were due to play at the venue because they found some of Zappa's songs obscene. Frank and manager Herb Cohen are suing for damages.
While he's here Zappa is also getting in some plugs for his forthcoming album "One Size Fits All", the release of which is being held up due to some contractual matters. "It has some story type songs, but it's pretty much rock and roll oriented. You could actually dance to this record." Zappa emphasised the danceable quality of the material as he felt nobody ever thinks of his music with boogieing in mind.
Zappa was tired and a little irritable having spent the day in court, from which he'd rushed to his record company and then back to the Dorchester where he is staying for interviews. "One Size Fits All" is to be released by Warner Brothers and not through the Discreet label, as were his two previous records, "Over-nite Sensation" and "Apostrophe (')". Frank was careful to explain the situation.
"Basically Discreet is a company that in the past has released my records and as far as me producing things for it is concerned, I've avoided it very carefully. I figured my time was better spent working on things for the Mothers, and my efforts on behalf of other artists, producing their records, are seldom appreciated." The weariness lifted when I enquired as to the current Mothers' line-up.
"The new band is George Duke, Terry Bozzio on drums, Bruce Fowler on trombone, Tom Fowler on bass, Napoleon Murphy Brock on tenor sax and vocals, Denny Walley on slide guitar and vocals, and Captain Beefheart on vocals, harmonica and soprano sax." Slightly more than a deadpan utterance.
Well, well. So how did Cap and the Zap feel about the two Hot Rats being together again? They had fallen out previously, during disputes over the two defunct labels Bizarre and Straight. "He's happy. It's fantastic! It's probably the best way for him to perform because he's really not a band leader. He doesn't have the business sense or the self-discipline to keep a band going and this really gives him an opportunity to cavort.
"This is a different dimension of responsibility for him, too. Now he has to discipline himself in order to remember lyrics and perform things consistently so that the band can have cues to relate to."
Has there been an opportunity to see if Beefheart could do his stuff? "Yes, we did two concerts in California just before we came over." And they were quite successful. When would we see the new line-up in Britain? "I have no plans to come back to Europe this year at all. That doesn't mean we won't, but I have no plans to do so. I left the summer open because I was contemplating more work on a film project in that time. You see we have a long tour starting this Friday – a six-week tour – and then we have another long tour of the States in the Fall and the only time we could possibly come to Europe would be the summertime. I wanted to leave the summertime free to do the film."
Is the film to be a sequel to "200 Motels" or "Billy the Mountain"? "I'd rather not discuss it, as it's not ready for promoting yet." Zappa replied.
At one stage it had been mooted that the Frank Zappa mind had been toying with the idea of assembling a group of skinny degenerates with a view to presenting to an unsuspecting public the definitive drug-crazed, heavy metal rock band which was to travel under the nifty moniker XS (excess, geddit?). I asked if he still gave the project any currency?
"From the moment that Michael Des Barres started blowing his mouth off about it, I figured that it wasn't worth the trouble going forward with it. He was sort of presumptuous really, because one: I had not talked to him personally – he heard about it from his girlfriend – and two: he was making statements about an album and a tour I hadn't even discussed with him."
"It would have been a nice idea as a surprise, but you can thank him for spoiling the surprise. "There's obviously no love lost between Zappa and Des Barres. The only external project I'd be interested in is working on an album with Beefheart. I could do some stuff with him, 'cause he really needs it."
On the Mother's last tour here, particularly at Wembley, a lot of the critics remarked on the lack of audience involvement and humour. With the theme of the show being 'The hits keep comin' atcha', the Mothers ran through a tight almost totally instrumental set. Frank Z had a logical explanation.
"The was not a theatre type group. I would say that that was a pretty solemn assemblage of musicians, right there. It was my experience on that tour that in spite of everybody being a good musician and they all had super ability to do all those fantastic things they were, uh ... boring. In fact I was amazed they could even relate to each other, they were so boring.
"When you have a group that gets on a bus and plays chess; I mean when there were three separate chess tournaments going on inside the band in places where you should be out going after women, and being crazy?
You'd have these people having discrete little intellectual conversations and waving their ascots at each other and playing chess! That's not exactly what I had in mind. But it's hard to find musicians who are really skilled when they're also crazy. "That's another interesting thing about the band that we have now. Besides Beefheart; this guy Denny Walley is another person from Lancaster, the town where Beefheart and I used to go to high school. At that time, Denny lived next door to me; he was about 10 years old. Now he's all grown up and plays slide guitar real good. So him, me and Captain Beef' sit around and have some great discussions.
"It's nice to have some people in the band who are not only disinterested in chess, but who share a common interest in other forms of recreation."
Like getting wiped?
"Well no, it's more into ... I'll tell you what we do, if we're sitting round in the dressing room we just sing blues songs, as we all know the same old records."
I asked if there was to be any special marketing of the new album. "I've always marketed the things that I've done and I've always tried to have some involvement in the promotion of the albums. If you leave it to somebody in the record company you'll really get screwed over. They have no regard for your work. They have no concept of what the music is to begin with and they have no reason to promote your stuff more than the next guy. It's a time-consuming process, too.
"I figure that I spent a long time on this album. I was in the studio for four months, 10 to 14 hours a day, and by God I want people to hear the thing. I went to Warners in the States and played it to the president of the company and two or three other executives and I watched them I listen to it, so I know they heard at least one of my records."
"One Size Fits All" would seem to have a good chance of doing business, then. With a title like that, one would expect it to be about rubber contraceptive wear or an adjustable spanner but Mr. Zappa's explanation didn't seem to cover these possibilities.
"It's a very good title when you consider that the front cover shows a picture of a sofa and the back cover is references to the Universe in general. I think that it's applicable."
The pre-eunuch Germaine Greer was right when she said Frank Zappa was an odd case. But I don't think she could still call him a Grade-A-High-School-Prom-Heart-Throb. He's too much of a businessman these days.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net