Zappa In San Antonio

By B. D. Tankersley

Eagle Bone Whistle, July 1970

Frank Zappa was sitting cross legged on top of a suitcase looking comfortable and a little tired. He did not look like one who is known as the musical genius behind The Mothers of Invention. I was a little scared and more than a little excited about meeting this man and learning more about his music and possibly his head. It was going to be an interesting experience.

Zappa was at once responsive to the idea of the interview. Fine! Where and when?" We decided that I would come and listen to their rehearsal and we could talk during breaks and then during dinner.

I knew nothing about Zappa's music when I walked into the auditorium Friday afternoon. I was immediately impressed! The rehearsal was good to say the least. Seven musicians on stage playing and performing comfortably together. They obviously enjoyed playing together and really dug the music they were playing! Each musician made up a separate and integral part of the whole sound. Zappa stood in front and played and directed. Each member watched him for beats and direction. He directed continuously, with conscious movements of his hands and body and almost unconscious changes in his facial expressions. Each movement definitely meant something to the group. When asked about the direction Zappa said "The music is complicated and hard to play. It helps to have someone directing even marking time. The music has to be together!"

Together is the best way to describe the Mothers' music, once you get past fantastic and incredible! This group had only been together for a week and a half before the San Antonio concert. The newest members. singers Mark Volman and Howard Kalen were with the Turtles before they joined the Mothers of Invention.

The two had obviously been singing together long a long time. I asked Zappa If they were brothers. "They might as well be. They've been friends since junior high school!" Their friendship and closeness was very real and very apparent. They sang well together and enjoyed singing together. I flashed on Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum while watching them rehearse. Their harmony was perfect and the special microphones produced a strange effect.

The blend of their voices was Incredible and the three together; Volman, Kalen and Zappa, made up a totally new vocal trip! They sounded at times like a celestial choir; at other times like the Munchkins in Oz; and at other times like bass horns! The drummer was interesting. He had taken his shirt off during rehearsal and his chest glistened with perspiration under the lights. His hair was thrown back off his face and he reminded me of a beautiful, skilled warrior who was using his drums as a creative battleground.

After the rehearsal the Touchstone group presented Zappa with a watermelon with the inscription "Ever Drop Mellon" on the side. This was the same melon that was cut (?) during the show and offered to the audience The audience never got it.

Zappa mentioned their gig with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. The Mothers of Invention played with the orchestra in a joint concert at UCLA. The concert was titled "200 Motels" and was taken from music that Zappa had written in motel rooms while on tour. According to Zappa it was a good concert; according to the critics, it wasn't.

I noticed a new piece of music begun and laying on the table. I asked Zappa about his writing habits or schedule. "Whenever I'm not eating or sleeping or playing music or drinking coffee, I write music." So much for a schedule!

Regarding the use of violence to produce necessary changes Zappa said, "If the means you use toward change breed more of the same stupidity that you're fighting against, then those are definitely not the best means." He seemed disgusted by the widespread use of violence to evoke change in the nation.

I asked Zappa if he had considered the idea that America had become a nation of fads and bandwagons: goldfish swallowing, beatniks, flower power, Viet Nam War, hippies, pollution, population, ecology etc. - most of them good causes but for all the work and publicity, nothing has really been solved. He thought about it for a minute and said, "Yes I do think that America has become a nation of fads. And I think they started long before the goldfish!"

The usual question about drugs came up. "I'd no more try to play under the influence of drugs than I would whiskey or beer. I don't think they offer any enlightenment, creative or otherwise. They're part of the fads. "I'm a coffee freak'" Surprised me too.

He doesn't have a favorite group outside of his own. "I like what the Stones have done but I can't say that I have a favorite group. I like the Mothers." I can understand why.

He wore a gold collar necklace and I asked him if it had any significance. "No, it's just an ornament. I don't like beads, they remind me of San Francisco." He also doesn't like San Francisco.

San Antonio was the first stop on a short stateside tour. From the U.S. The Mothers of Invention are going to Holland to do a television special and then on to Bath, England for a rock festival. "Then back to Hollywood to write and play more music."

From my point of view, the more music that Frank Zappa writes and the more music The Mothers of Invention play, the better the music world will be.

Note. Zappa and The Mothers had a concert in San Antonio on 12 June 1970 (together with Love and aptain Beefheart). See the ad in The Eagle Bone Whistle, June 1970.