One Too Many Motels With Frank Zappa
By Alan B. Milman
"Frank Zappa is leader composer for The Mothers of Invention and an oracle philosopher of the rock scene. An iconoclast and a satirist, Zappa specializes in deliberately outrageous statements in order to expose what he sees as society's hangups."
So wrote Life magazine in 1968, making a vague attempt at capsulizing the musical entity of Frank Zappa. Eight years later that task remains equally difficult. The Mothers of Invention broke up in 1969 only to return less than a year later. 1971 saw the release of Zappa's movie 200 Motels and 1973 saw him attain an album in Top Ten status (Apostrophe).
Throughout the years, Frank Zappa has utilized both the visual and audio aspects of media. Zappa seems to be transfixed by the potential of television, film, and recordings, and he's had his hand in all three during the past twelve years. His successes have been many and his failures few.
Zappa's recording career could best be summed up in three stages: the first stage, 1965-1969 was his satire period, and that '68 Life quote would stand as being fairly accurate. From the social parodies of Freak Out to the fifties' burlesque of Reuben & The Jets, Zappa pointed his accusing finger many a time, but always with a sardonic smile gracing his face. The second period, 1970-72 was the Flo & Eddie period of the Mothers. Mark Volman and Howie Kaylan, both singers, helped push the visual aspects of the band, and the film revolved mostly around their talents, with Zappa gradually taking a back seat as musical conductor, choosing to let Flo & Eddie lead the onstage show.
But after F&E's departure in 1972 to embark on their own recording ventures, Frank Z. re-took the onstage spotlight. This last period has been his most musical, with musicians of the stature of George Duke numbering among his players. This past stage has been his most successful commercially, too, but that's not due to any compromises made on the part of Frank Zappa. It seems that perhaps the rest of the world has finally caught up to FZ.
But by the time they probably are able to catch their breath, Frank Zappa will already be far, far out of reach. The following interview was conducted in a Buffalo Holiday Inn in late October:
AM: What are your children's given names?
FZ: Moon Unit, Dweezil, and Ahmet Rhodan.
AM: Do their given names affect their social intercourse?
FZ: No, they are the envy of all the other kids in class.
AM: How did the original Mothers get started?
FZ: I joined saxist Dave Coranado's band, whose lineup consisted of Ray Collins on harmonica and vocals, Jimmy Carl Black on drums, Roy Estrada on bass, and me on lead guitar, which resulted in the release of the album Freak Out in 1965.
AM: What's the real story behind "Mondo Hollywood"?
FZ: It was a movie made by a guy in
AM: Were you ever involved in the making of porno movies as previously rumored in print?
AM: Was there any rivalry between the Velvet Underground and the Mothers at the Velvet's debut at Fillmore West in 1967?
FZ: It was actually the managers who did not like each other, and Lou Reed never said good things about me; he said, "He (Zappa) should die."
AM: Will the Magic Mufflors' album (Zappa and Captain Beefheart's recordings in 1965) and the 13 record set ever be released?
FZ: What Magic Mufflor's? There is no album. I will submit the finished product, when Warner Brothers makes up their minds what to do about it. (13 record set).
(Despite Zappa's curious denial concerning the existence of the Magic Mufflor's album, a result of recording sessions with Captain Beefheart in 1956, there is a bootleg recording of this album available. Zappa seemed very perturbed about its actual existence and requested the order form in Rolling Stone for bootleg LP's which listed it as one of their selections. It includes the notorious "Black Napkins.")
AM: Are you aware that Lumpy Gravy is deleted from the MGM Verve catalogue?
FZ: Yes, I know and will re-release it on whatever new label I switch to.
AM: Is Lumpy Gravy selling well on MGM in
FZ: I have no way of telling. I haven't seen any royalties on it.
AM: What was the original concept of Lumpy Gravy, was it originally a ballet?
FZ: It was a piece of music put on record, in the old days a bunch of freaks used to dance to it.
AM: Is there any particular reason why you aren't remaining with Warner/Discreet records?
FZ: I'd like to get away as fast as I can. I would like to be away from them. They are not to be trusted. I'm no longer on Discreet Records because I fired my old manager and partner Herbie Cohen and hired a new one, Bennet Glotzer.
AM: How many gold records have you accumulated over the years?
AM: When did you first become interested in producing Grand Funk?
FZ: They called me late last year and I happened to have some time off between tours and it turned out to be a good record.
AM: Will you produce any other groups in the future?
FZ: No, no time to do it. Grand Funk caught me at a good time.
AM: What was your involvement with the Monkees?
FZ: On TV, I conducted Mike Nesmith whipping a '45 Chevy with a chain. In the movie Head, I led a cow around with a bell around its neck.
AM: What do you think about the disco craze?
FZ: Great for people who like it.
AM: How do you feel about the Andy Warhol factory and its side effects in general? Iggie,
FZ: Fine for people who like it. No feelings.
AM: Will you be recording any disco records?
AM: Isn't there a song, "Disco Boy" on your new album (Zoot Allures)? Is that a satire on disco?
AM: What is the new album done live going to be like?
FZ: Wait and see.
AM: Will this year's wardrobe deviate from last year's Women's Wear Daily type fashion splash you made with tie pants.
FZ: Tie pants will always be in.
AM: Will your television special made for the purpose of syndication ever be shown?
FZ: Yes, it's finished and in a suitcase over there. I received an offer from Don Kirshner to use one half hour in the context of his show Rock Concert.
AM: Do you watch Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?
FZ: Yes, sometimes I do.
AM: Do you think it has any sociological significance?
FZ: Not really. Everything on TV does.
AM: Why did you take out ads for your early stuff in comic books?
FZ: Because I read them and I figure the kind of people who read them are the kind I want to reach. They appeared in ten different titles of Marvel Comics. No one ever used that type of advertising medium for rock albums before.
AM: Which songs have been released as singles?
FZ: That Watts Riot song, "Trouble Comin' Every Day," "My Guitar wants to Kill Your Mama," "Don't Eat Yellow Snow," and "Deseree." My new single (from Zoot Allures) will be "Find Her Finer."
AM: Do you think your career is on the upswing commercially?
We shake hands and exit from the bleak Holiday Inn motel room.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net