A discussion with DON PRESTON
Shindig!: What attracted you to the idea of joining the Mothers? Were you aware of their music before you joined?
Don Preston: I knew Frank four years before joined the group so I was aware that he’d formed the group and was touring. Because I’d seen Frank’s record collection I knew the group had more potential than just playing rock music and that is what interested me.
SD!: What kind of band leader was Frank, compared to others you’ve worked with?
DP: Frank was very clear about how he wanted the music to sound. Although Jimmy, Roy and Ray could not read music, Frank showed them by rote how to play it.
Sometimes he would provide Bunk, Ian and myself with written music and sometimes he didn’t.
SD!: How did the theatrical stuff on stage come about, particularly Don drinking the vile foamy liquids in a Jekyll/Hyde style? Was Frank behind that or was it instigated by the band members?
DP: In our childhood Frank and I both had gravitated toward liking horror films. We were both also interested in “new” music and how it was performed. We combined the two elements for our performances.
SD!: Some ex-Mothers claim that the contributions of certain band members have not been properly recognised. Would you agree with this?
DP: Yes! But I would put us in a category along with Holst, Stravinsky and Varèse.
SD!: The Mothers were well known for polarising audiences with their music and onstage antics. Was this deliberate, do you think, just to create an impression and get the band noticed, or did all of this just grow naturally out of the music and the personalities of the band members?
DP: Sometimes when another band plays Frank’s music they try to imitate the weirdness that happened onstage with the Mothers. That never works because it’s not real.
The guys in the band were weird and they were just being natural combined with performing.
SD!: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever witnessed, on stage or off, as a member of the band?
DP: One of the weirdest was when Jeff Simmons quit the band and the lead acting part in 200 Motels because he didn’t want people to think he was “stealing the room” as his caricature was.
SD!: The Mothers came from very diverse musical backgrounds, from classically trained to more “instinctive” musicians. How did Frank cater for all of that in his writing?
DP: He worked real hard. When joined the band we rehearsed seven days a week, eight hours a day for six months.
SD!: On a personal note, how did you come to play ‘Louie Louie’ on The Royal Albert Hall organ? Whose idea was that, and was it a spontaneous occurrence?
DP: During the afternoon of the concert I played the organ (second largest in the world) for three hours. Of course I was playing atonal music but Frank saw that I knew how to play that incredible instrument and during the concert he asked me to go up there and play ‘Louie Louie’ on it.
SD!: Given that Frank “conducted” the band during the live improvisations, how much freedom were you allowed to express yourselves musically during these moments?
DP: Frank used “hand signals”. Some of the signals were specific sounds and some were telling us to improvise either solo or as a group. Sometimes this would go on for as much as 15 minutes.
SD!: Are you happy with the Mothers’ legacy? Are you proud of what you’ve left behind?
DP: I’m happy to be touring and performing at 81 and I’ll do this till I drop. Yes I am happy with the body of work I have accomplished, but I’m not done yet!
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