Zappa's band of band leaders!

By Caroline Boucher

Disc and Music Echo, July 4, 1970

"IF YOU like repression, America is a great place." Frank Zappa is making his usually pointed and apt political and social observations. He doesn't need much coaxing. In fact, it is hard to stop him once he gets going.

Zappa – genuine hippy or financial whiz-kid? Possibly both, especially the latter. But so what! When he plays it sounds good; when he talks he talks sense; what he writes is clever and individual.

Zappa is talking. A day has been set aside for him to talk to the press. The reporter-laden coach is late arriving at the Clymping, Sussex, hotel. And, anyway, Zappa is nowhere to be seen.

When he does appear he frequently disappeans – herded around carefully like a priceless gem, or for that matter a champion bull.

Zappa takes it all in his cool, confident stride.

Liking America depends on how sensitive you are, he says. Protests don't really do much good. About the "youth revolution" he feels that the overall trend suggests that both "sides" will neutralise each other. He says that we have to get rid of the whole concept of "winning the revolution," and the whole idea of "them" and "us."

"If all you want is free dope, legal dope and free rock in the streets, you have won the revolution when you get there."

But, he reflects, there is much more in between the two "sides" – a situation that will have something for everybody. "You might frown at somebody being a plumber, just because you'd go mad if you were one. But you need him – to flush your toilet. And he's entitled to be alive and be paid for what he does. And he's got no right to criticise you if you want to grow your hair long, and play in a band."

Zappa is just as worried about the end of the Vietnam war as its continuation. He doesn't think that its ending will solve any of America's domestic problems.

He fears that coloured soldiers returning home from Vietnam could become "guerillas in the ghettoes. In their minds they'll still have their guns. Once you've trained someone to kill and said 'it's O.K., go ahead and kill,' it's hard to untrain them. How can you tell people who have been fighting in the jungle to go home, drink beer and watch television?"

On the subject of leading the Mothers of Invention at Bath festival, Zappa is equally eloquent. The Mothers are not a permanent band. "Nothing's permanent. The thing is that all the guys in the band are leaders of their own bands. So I just phone them up and ask them if they want to do this tour for this amount of money.

"We're still doing some of the older material – but you might not be able to recognise it. We're doing 'Call Me Vegetable' and 'King Kong' and numbers from Jeff Simmons' album."

But if the Mothers are not permanent, what is, for Frank? For the past year or so he has been mainly tied up with making the "Uncle Meat" film about the Mothers, for which he has 18 hours of film to be cut down to one. And he's been writing the music for it.

He does not intend to spend much time producing other people's albums in the future. "It takes me half a year to produce two albums for other people, and those projects don't make any money."

... plus two turtles!

ONE DAY last week a Bear came up to a Turtle, slapped him on the back and proceeded to dance with him. It was not a film of Alice In Wonderland, it was an encounter between Bob Hite and ex-Turtle Mark Volman. "Aha" cried Hite, "a Turtle," and humming strains of old Turtle tunes began to dance.

Mark and Howard Kaylan are the two Turtles who have now become Mothers of Invention. The present Mothers, with the exception of Ian Underwood, is a very new line-up: Mark, Howard, George Duke, Jeff Simmonds and Aynsley Dunbar.

"Frank's left the whole thing very open," says Mark. "How long it will last I don't know. Sure, I was a little apprehensive at first joining the Mothers, but not for long: Frank doesn't make things too binding – you don't sign anything, it's pretty indefinite. He may want to break it up soon, he may not – it's very much his show. That's why we're here."

Mark seems pretty bemused about the whole thing. So far the Mothers have done four gigs – two in America, one in Amsterdam and Bath. Before that they had about 10 days rehearsing, but despite the rush seem to be very together.

"I don't know quite why I'm here," he says vaguely., "It's defineiy not a money move because we're not making that much money. As a career move it might do some good, but it's certainly not what I want to do for a long time. It's going to be a stop-over for me.

"The Turtles are in retirement. The name has retired and there's no plans to resurrect it, but we'll see. The way things are happening nowadays groups can change all the time – it's becoming a beautiful thing going around and mixing."

The impermanence of the whole set up doesn't seem to bother an of them. Most of the new Mothers have other things going for them concurrently. Jeff Simmonds has his own album, recently released here – "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up" – Aynsley plans another solo album, and George Duke (keyboards) is very into jazz and does a lot of gigs and session work.

"Playing with the Mothers is fun," says George. "But evertbing with Frank is very concentrated. It's sort of like freedom within a structure. It's not as loose as in all the jazz groups I've been in."

The music they're doing is a selection of old Mothers things – mostly off the "Reuben and the Jets" and "We're Only In It For The Money" albums – and some new things. But with such a different line up even the old things sound new, says George.