The Mothers Of Invention
By Phil McMullen
Few bands down the years have attracted as much media attention in one way or another as Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention, and another potted history of the band is about as redundant as replicating reissue album sleeve notes in a glossy magazine and calling it a headline feature. That's not our style; and it would be insulting the intelligence of our readership to suggest that they don't know the broad details of the band and their history already. However, the recent news that Billy James of the band Ant Bee was working with several ex-Mothers and Grandmothers caused a flurry of interest at Terrascope Towers on two counts, initially that such a fascinating current-day artist (and the subject already of a feature in the magazine) should have linked arms with such legendary figures as Bunk Gardner, Don Preston and Jimmy Carl Black with a view to creating new music very much in the freeform avant-garde Mothers-day way, and secondly that here was a chance to chat to each one of them in an informal way and perhaps bring out a few points that the historians had missed in their endless reworkings of features, books, articles and magazines.
We're going to start the series by hearing from the affable Jimmy Carl Black, a.k.a. Jimmy Inkinish, drummer on every one of the Mothers of Invention LPs from 1964 to 1971 (as well as Frank Zappa's 1980 album You Are What You Is) and subsequently leader of his own band, Geronimo Black, as well as being a founder member of that loose yet tight aggregation of former Zappa sidesmen The Grandmothers, a band that continues playing to discerning audiences to this day. His own recording career started in 1962 with a band called The Keys in
PORNOGRAPHIC SOUL GIANTS
My musical career started in 1958 in
In 1964 I moved to
Well, he made us famous.
FREAK OUT WITH CAPTAIN GLASSPACK – THE ALBUMS
We called ourselves The Blackouts at first, and then we changed our name to Captain Glasspack and his Magic Mufflers for one gig and finally settled on the name The Mothers. MGM Records, when we signed the record deal, were the people who changed our name to The Mothers of Invention.
Our first album was 'Freak Out'. I have fond memories of that record. We recorded it at TTG Studios, and I think we recorded the whole thing in three days, which shows how well rehearsed the band was. Tom Wilson, the producer, had never really met the band and was quite shocked with the material we were playing. 'Who Are The Brain Police' and 'You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here' were the type of songs that he wasn't exactly ready for. On the last night of recording we had $500 worth of rented percussion equipment, went into the studios and invited the freaks down to record with us. That's when we recorded sides three and four. Mac Rebannac, who later became Dr. John, played keyboards on the album although he didn't get credited on the sleeve; Paul Butterfield came down and played with us; Kim Fowley sang 'Help I'm A Rock' – it was a fun trip.
'Absolutely Free', our second album, was also done at TTG, about five months after 'Freak Out' came out. Just before that happened Don Preston, Bunk Gardner and Billy Mundi joined the band, and Elliot Ingber left. Also, Jim Fielder, subsequently in the Buffalo Springfield, joined as second guitarist for 'Absolutely Free'. 'Brown Shoes Don't Make It' and 'Call Any Vegetable' were written while we were in Hawaii just before 'Freak Out' came out, and we finished the album in New York. The band moved to
'Burnt Weeny Sandwich' was recorded in various places, including a lot of live recordings, as was 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh'. For the last two years of the band, we recorded every show that we played and recently Frank has put out those 'You Can't Do That On Stage Any More' samplers, one of which I understand from a friend of mine has about thirty minutes of the original Mothers of Invention live stuff on.
THREE MARINES, A VOLLEY OF PEARS AND A TALL GIRAFFE – LIVE, ON STAGE
The Mothers of Invention played the Garrick Theatre in
One time we had three marines up on stage. This was at the height of the Vietnam war. There were these three marines who didn't want to go to
The European tour of 1968 was probably the most memorable of all the tours that the Mothers ever did. One thing that happened, and it was actually quite frightening at the time, was in
We were about 15 minutes into the show when we started to get showered with eggs. Then came these green pears that were like baseballs hitting us all and we didn't know where they were coming from. There was 10,000 people in that hall, and it was jam-packed. After the pears came a can of green paint; it went all over my drums, all over me, and Roy Estrada had this pair of white pants on which immediately turned green: It was then that they started ripping the iron railings from around the balconies, ready to throw those down onto the band. At this point Herb Cohen kicked the thing out of the way just as they threw it and instead of dropping onto us, it took out the first few rows of people. I mean, this thing came crashing down on a lot of people. We got off the stage pretty fast and went back to the dressing room but we couldn't get in because all the seventy or eighty security guards were hiding in there. Pretty soon a message came down that if we didn't get out on stage to finish the concert, they were going to come and get us. So we went. And we played the last part of the show with about 200 S.D.S. members up on stage with us – we couldn't even see each other to play. We eventually finished the show – and got the hell out of
FEETS DON'T FAIL ME NOW –
Concerning the break up of the original Mothers; we had just got back from an East Coast tour, we'd been back about a week when I called Frank to ask him some question or another. We talked for a while and pretty soon he said "oh, by the way – I've decided to break up the band. You guys are now unemployed." I thought that was really cold, but that's the way Frank was. It wasn't a very pleasant experience at the time – we felt we were being very successful and didn't think that was called for, but hey ...
I think that Frank considered that the Mothers of Invention weren't good enough musicians to do the things that he wanted to do at that particular point. I don't think that was true, but then again I wasn't writing the songs. I still think that if we had stayed together we could still be there just like the Rolling Stones, and made a lot of very, very good records along the way. In fact, the Mothers of Invention were really the only band that Frank Zappa ever had. All the rest of the guys have just been sidesmen. We weren't sidesmen – we were partners.
Ray Collins quit in
PRESIDENT REAGAN AND GERONIMO – A LOVE STORY
When the Mothers broke up, I formed a band called Geronimo Black. The band was named after my youngest son, whose name is Geronimo – Geronimo Black. Bunk Gardner and Tjay Cantrelli were in the band, also Denny Walley who went on to play with Frank for three or four years. We did our first record in 1972 with Uni Records which is part of MCA. I thought it was an excellent album and the reason it didn't happen was that three weeks after the record was released, they fired the President of Uni, Russ Reagan. He was the guy that signed Geronimo Black and was actually in charge of us – it was too bad, because we could have gone a long way had he not been fired. The second album, 'Welcome Back Geronimo Black', I put out in 1980 – it was lifted from tapes that we had done in the studio prior to signing to MCA, actually it was the tapes that had got us the deal with the record company and I always thought that they were even better produced and played on than the record that we did in the studio. Plus, part of that album is recordings that Denny Walley did of me on vocals, three songs that we did before I left
In 1975, Frank Zappa was on tour. One of the people on the tour was Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet, who I've known since I met him in 1964 with Frank. They passed through
PAINTING HOUSES BROWN, BLACK AND BLUE
When I first moved to
THE SIX-PIECE GRANDMOTHER
In 1980, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, myself, Tom and Walt Fowler and Tony Duran took on tour to
About a month and a half ago I got a call from Bunk Gardner saying that a guy called Billy James was interested in me doing a little recording on one of his songs for an upcoming album that he's working on. I of course said that I'd do it, and Billy sent me a tape that he wanted me to do a talking part on, a song called 'Lunar Egg Clips Runs Amuck'. I did the recording and sent it back to him, and I was very, very impressed with the type of music that he's doing. It was very Mothers oriented, and the fact that he uses some of the best musicians that I've ever heard and that the material is definitely avant-garde – I enjoyed doing this very much and I'm looking forward to doing several other recording projects with him, possibly playing on tour with him and the Grandmothers.
Jimmy Carl Black is moving to northern
Written, produced and directed by Phil – with thanks to Jimmy himself of course, and to Billy James for helping to set it all up. up.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net