Any Resemblance Is Purely Conceptual

By Miles

New Musical Express, December 4, 1976


Miles Scoops The Poop On Uncle Frank

WE HAVEN’T heard much from Frank Zappa since his law suit against the Royal Albert Hall who cancelled his concert at the last minute on the grounds of Frank’s music being too smutty for delicate English ears.

Since he came over to present his case against the Royal Albert Hall – which he lost – he has been doing a lot of touring and released “Bongo Fury”, a live album recorded with Captain Beefheart which most of us didn‘t hear, because Virgin Records issued a court order which stopped Warner Brothers from releasing the album in this country. It is available on import though, and still well worth buying.

As far as Britain is concerned, Zappa has unintentionally been presenting a very low profile.

Frank’s records have been coming out on his own DiscReet label, started by him and his manager cum business associate Herbie Cohen. Cohen has been with Zappa ever since he saw the group playing at The Whiskey A-Go-Go in LA before their first album was released. As is usual when old friends split up there has been a flurry of recriminations, confusion and misunderstanding.

RUMOURS HAD been reaching London of Frank Zappa being locked out of his own studio and of enough writs flying between him and Herbie to stuff a mattress.

Frank’s new album “Zoot Allures” is out on Warner Brothers instead of Frank’s own DiscReet label – it was obviously time to find out the poop.

He was staying at the Playboy Towers in Chicago when I phoned – part of his 1976 World Tour – two months in the US and Canada and then on to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and all through Europe in the early spring.

I asked what happened between him and Herbie. Frank says he fired him. “Law suits are, in the usual way, impending.“

It sounds as if Frank has been studying the art of English understatement. One alleged “problem” was that Frank couldn’t get the 30ips master tape of “Zoot Allures” from The Record Plant.

“Listen to this: I am the chairman of the board of DiscReet and the president of the company – also those guys are supposed to be my friends – but they wouldn’t release the master tapes to me unless Warner Brothers indemnified the studio from any legal action that Herbie might take against them.”

Warner Brothers agreed – providing Frank indemnified them. “Can you believe it? An individual artist having to indemnify one of the biggest record companies in the world so that they can bring his record out?”

So Frank mastered the album from his own 15ips safety copy of the album. He always takes l5ips safeties home with him after every recording session. “When I go home after 20 hours in the studio, what am I gonna listen to – Bob Dylan records?”

The safety copies were very good; “You can’t tell the difference, only an engineer would be able to tell that the transient response . . .”

Frank is still very mindful of technical matters; he had his own studio before forming the Mothers.

Another of the rumours to reach London mooted that the new Captain Beefheart album was being held up because of Frank and Herbie breaking up. The new album is called “Bat Chain Puller”.

“It’s his best album since ‘Trout Mask Replica’, it’s really good.” It was produced by Bcefhcart himself and Kerry McNab, who was the remix engineer on Zappa’s “One Size Fits All”. Frank has the master tapes in his studio basement at home.

Beefheart is signed to Virgin in England but Frank, though he would love to see the album released, can’t send them the tapes “because I can’t do anything until this Herbie thing is cleared up. Herbie is holding out for a settlement.” Frank is sure that both
he and Virgin would get sued if‘they tried to release the album before everything is settled, the problem here being that Herbie apparently wants the advance money paid to him and Frank thinks it should go to him since he claims it was his money that paid for the production.

Still on legal matters, Frank has decided not to pursue the Albert Hall case. “It’s cost me $50,000 so far and the lawyers want another £8,000 to appeal. It‘s not worth it.”

Frank had better luck with his two million dollar lawsuit against MGM, which began in August 1975. “We made a settlement in which we get the masters back plus $100,000. But MGM gets a 3% production over-ride on all future use of them.”

This money is all tied up with Frank’s argument with Herbie.

Things had been getting ridiculous with MGM: “Of the five LPs I recorded for them, they repackaged eleven. Since then I’ve made a further 17 albums for Warner Brothers and there are also twelve bootlegs on the market . . .” That’s more albums than most people even own.

Frank’s new group is called ‘Zappa’. He changed the name from The Mothers because “any resemblance between this group and the original Mothers Of Invention is purely conceptual. The kind of things we’re doing now are very different.”

The new band includes Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals. He’s from the San Francisco area and has been playing with Frank for about two years. He was previously in a band called Azteca.

Ray White is on guitar and lead vocals and Patrick O’Hearn is on bass and vocals. “He comes to us from the world of Jazz . . .” They are both from the Bay Area like Terry.

Eddie Jobson is on multiple keyboards, violin and vocals. It must be quite a bit different for him, having Zappa there instead of Ferry.

There was also a lady called Bianca on lead vocals and keyboards but “she’s no longer with us. I let her go.” Thus thousands of group pix and bios are rendered out of date overnight.

He‘s very pleased with the group and so, apparently, are the public. At Cobo Hall in Detroit, Zappa drew the biggest crowd since the Stones played there 18 months ago. Flo and Eddie appeared as the opening act and then came back onstage to jam with Zappa. Also in the jam were Ralph Armstrong of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Don Brewer from Grand Funk Railroad whose last album “Good Singin’ Good Playin’” was a Zappa production.

Grand Funk broke up shortly after its release, which was a surprise to Frank. “I just found out about it four days ago. Three of the group, Craig Frost, Mel Schacher and Don Brewer came backstage in Detroit.

“I immediately offered Brewer a job since he wasn’t doing anything.” Frank has a high regard for his playing. “He’s terribly nervous and insecure but he’s a really good rock ‘n’ roll drummer . . . Every once in a while he grows a full beard to hide behind.” Brewer is thinking about the offer.

Flo and Eddie auditioned for Frank’s new group – they said that they couldn’t stand paying out for their own group all the time – and Frank wanted them, but Columbia Records pressured them to take their own group on the road to promote their new album “Moving Targets”.

During the tour, their guitarist Phil Reed fell from a hotel window and was killed. Flo and Eddie called Frank and asked if they could tag onto his tour. They did.

Flo and Eddie are very much a Zappa spin-off group. Bruce and Walt Fowler – ex-Zappa horn players – are in the group, and when they played The Roxy, Ian Underwood joined the lineup.

Another ex-Mother, Don Preston, is playing with Leo Sayer. This brought up a sore point with Frank because Warner Brothers is paying all the freight costs and subsidising club appearances for the Sayer tour, whereas for his tour he claims he has received minimal support. Normally a touris used to promote a new album.

“They’ve been giving me the shits on this new album. Normally you come into town and there’s the local Warners representative to take you to the local radio station. Well so far on this tour I’ve only seen five guys . . . In New York we sold out three nights a the Felt Forum. Warner Brothers bought 15 tickets for the press.”

Warners are worried about the breakup of Frank’s DiscReet label and don’t know how to promote his new album without getting entangled.

Despite no promotion to speak of, “Zoot Allures” did 117,000 in the first week, which ain’t bad. I had been expecting the US radio stations to censor the album but apparently not.

“It’s getting played everywhere, except oddly enough in Toronto, Canada. I was doing an interview on what used to be one of the most progressive stations there when I noticed that the album had white stickers on two of the tracks: on ‘Black Napkins‘ and ‘The Torture Never Stops’.”

Frank immediately began to criticise the station over the air and in the end, the station manager came in and he and Frank had an on-the-air discussion about censorship. I bet Frank loved it.

“What it amounted to was that he didn‘t understand the lyrics. All he knew was that they made him hot so he thought they must be bad!”

The band is doing a 15 minute live set on “The Saturday Night Live Show” on December 11. This is the biggest satirical show on US TV, with its rock spot, thereby reaching untold millions of viewers. There are also plans for a Christmas extravaganza.

Between Christmas and the New Year, 26 December until the 29th, Zappa is doing a theatre show at the Palladium in New York City (the old Academy of Music). It’s a 3,500 seater and Frank is arriving in NYC on December 5 to interview dancers and choreographers. For the show he is expanding the lineup. He hopes it will include Ralph Armstrong, Ruth Underwood and Don Preston – doing his mad scientist bit. Beefheart is also interested. Sounds a great show.

Frank also has plans to learn three of Black Sabbath’s numbers and to jam onstage with them at their December 6 Madison Square Garden gig – something cooked up between Zappa and one of the Sabs at Zappa’s Third Annual Thanksgiving Banquet.

The World Tour will play England and Scotland sometime in early Spring. No dates have yet been fixed but Frank wants to play both Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as London. Frank chuckled:

“I have made statements in the past that I would not come back to England until I got a personal apology from the Queen. Well – one has not been forthcoming – and I figured I couldn’t wait forever. But there is still time. She can repent. I’ll even give her a backstage pass!”

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