The Frankness of Zappa
By Scott Hopkins
You never can be sure just what sort of a band Frank Zappa will show up with. If you figure he will bring a quartet, an orchestra will arrive. Bet it will be jazz, and rock 'n' roll will appear. In fact, the only things you can count on are that the band will be tight, that they will be super performers, and that the show will be unlike any you have ever seen.
Tampa was the third date at the beginning of a grueling tour for Zappa and his band, a tour which would eventually stretch across the U.S., Europe and Australia. The band was brand new. Drummer Terry Bozzio was the only one who had been with Zappa for any length of time (two years). Eddie Jobson, keyboard and violin wizard for Curved Air and Roxy Music, was invited to join the group, a couple of months ago. Zappa filled out the rest of the band by holding auditions. Lots of people "tried out" for the band, but initially only the bass player, Patrick O'Hearn, was picked for the upcoming tour. It was not until the middle of September that Frank discovered Ray White, a vocalist and guitarist, and Bianca, who sings and plays keys.
"First let's introduce the members of our rocking teenage combo," Zappa grinned. Fait Accompli, he proceeded directly to the business of the evening with a treatise on smelly shoes better known as "Stinkfoot." It was a good song with which to lead off, because it is taken from "Apostrophe," Zappa's most popular album. Before long, he got involved in a long discussion about the Creation story as it related to Poodles, which was a perfect preface for "Dirty Love."
Zappa then tried out three new songs, "Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station," "The Torture Never Stops" and "Tiny Is." "Wind Up" was a fun song with some very intricate time changes, abruptly falling into "The Torture Never Stops," a long blues piece about dungeons, whips, chains and other nice things with Frank on lead vocal. "Tiny Is" was an odd little tune, but the vocals by Ray White were for the most part inaudible.
After Bianca accompanied herself on electric piano, singing a soft "You Didn't Try to Call Me," Zappa put the query to Tampa.
"We have to vote on what kind of audience you are," he intonated. "We have some new stuff we want to try out. Do you want to hear tweezed poot or rock and roll?" Tweezed Poot won the vote, so the band launched into a wild event titled "[Manx] Needs Women."
"Black Napkins," a "love" song slowed the pace up a bit, featuring a melodic, slow blues guitar intro with Bianca on vocal. Zappa then dug back into his wealth of past material to knock the real fans right out of their seats with "Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink" and "Would You Go All the Way" from his brilliant "Chunga's Revenge." The readings were a little different than the originals, of course, but just as great. The hits just kept on coming, too. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy" from "200 Motels" was followed by "What Kind of Girls Do You Think We Are," a tune nobody ever really expected to hear live again.
There was more, "Dinah Moe Humm" made more sense with a lady handling half of the vocals. At its conclusion, they swung immediately into a faithful rendition of Nervous Norvus' "Stranded in the Jungle," a novelty type hit single from the fifties.  Terry Bozzio took the mike to sing "You're So Cute," a real kick-ass song which called to mind the kind of songs Don Brewer sings for Grand Funk.
"You people don't feel any discomfort at all, do you?" Zappa asked. With that, the band played a crazy avant-garde classical piece called "Discomfort" which fit its title to a "T". The vocal style especially drew from the work of Zappa's idol Edgar Varèse. Then they quickly ran through a bluesy "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" and an abbreviated "Apostrophe."
For an encore, Zappa returned again to "Chunga's Revenge" for the marvelous "Road Ladies," then turned to an adapted "Cruisin' for Burgers" from "Uncle Meat." He took plenty of time on the guitar, proving that he is one of a handful of guitar players you could consider to be "the best", jumping next into a short "Camarillo Brillo" and on to the show-ending rocker "Muffin Man."
Backstage before the concert, Zappa was characteristically generous with his time in answering questions from several interviewers. About projects and works in progress, he made these remarks. His TV special ran prime time several places in Europe, but nobody here seems to want to touch it. He has completed an orchestral album, but "Columbia Masterworks wouldn't agree to my terms," he explained, "so they aren't going to get it." Zappa is no longer associated with DiscReet and Herb Cohen, and he will make the big adios from Warner Brothers at the first available opportunity. His 12-record set is still a possibility, but Warner's wants "albums that make money"; with the implication clear that such a set would not be a million-seller. As regards his status as producer, Zappa said that lots of big groups and lots of big money want his talent at their mixing boards, but he really is not interested. He agreed with this reviewer's evaluation that on his Grand Funk project, his job involved adding to the sound less than it involved eliminating a lot of crap.
Frank Zappa is pleased with his current band, a great collection of musicians and a wonderful group of individuals. Patrick O'Hearn played one of his best moments during the afternoon sound check, executing a straightforward duet with Zappa on Miles' "So What." The backbone of the group is drummer Bozzio, the first rock drummer Zappa has had in five years. Eddie Jobson had some big shoes to fill with the departure of George Duke, but what he lacks in funk he makes up for in enthusiasm. He is relishing the chance to stretch out in ways he could not do under the tutelage of Brian Ferry.
And of course the band is pleased with Frank. In talking with Ray White, I said that if I were a musician, my ultimate would be to play with Frank. Ray said "That's exactly the way I feel." Bianca said it was the greatest opportunity. And Tampa should be pleased, because the audience was treated to a first-rate performance by one of the masters of our music today. Pleased too that in i-Blan Productions we have a new promoter interested in bringing quality entertainment to the Bay Area.
Dear Frank Zappa: Please don't wait another two years before you come back!
2. Charles Ulrich:
The author has his 1956 novelty hits mixed up.
Three different versions of "Stranded In The Jungle" charted in 1956:
Jayhawks (released May 1956, reached #9 R&B, #18 Pop)
Cadets (released June 1956, reached #4 R&B, #15 Pop)
Gadabouts (released June or July 1956, reached #39 Pop)
The Jayhawks version was the original, but it was the Cadets who added "Great googa mooga!" FZ usually cited both.
Nervous Norvus had two novelty hits that summer, "Transfusion" (released May 1956, reached #8 Pop) and "Ape Call" (released June 1956, reached #24 Pop). But he did not record a version of "Stranded In The Jungle".
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net