Zappa

By Mike Gold

The Seed, August 1970


About a year ago, rock's nastiest man, Frank Zappa, disbanded his Mothers of Invention, vowing never to return until the cretonic bubble-gum record buying public improved its taste.

During the previous four years, Zappa produced eight records of mind-staggering music. When Jimi Hendrix became popular, everybody started coming up with super-loud guitar riffs drowned out in their own feedback. It was very mind-staggering, but commercially convertional. Kooper, Bloomfield and Stills jammed for a while and discovered mind-staggering blues jams (the naive children never heard of the real blues, because black blues was deemed "uncommercial"). Because they weren't drastically different from all the current AM radio jive, they recieved the large-scale exposure needed to become successful.

Zappa threw away the rule book when he started recording. His music kept changing tempo, and he sang about groupies and vegetables and plastic america and stuff which today is considered "political." He used two drummers and lots of brass and a straight orchestra and grunted and snorked and produced totally demented, insane music which never was exposed to the rockn 'roll public. The Mothers went broke because nobody bought their records or went to their concerts.

Zappa moved on, recording other demented, uncommercial acts like Alice Cooper, Captain Beefheart and the GTOs. Because everyone was so original, the major labels wouldn't touch it, calling it "uncommercial." Therefore, Zappa started his own labels – Bizarre and Straight (on the Bizarre record envelope: "Just what the world needs – another record company.").

(It is for this very reason the music business has recently been in a hell of a jam, releasing the same old stuff, looking for a new commercial trend while ignoring the creative music being produced every day.)

Zappa also made a record "on his own" (with fellow Mothers Ian Underwood and Sugar Cane Harris, with Jean Luc Ponty, Shuggy Otis and Captain Beefheart). The record, Hot Rats, played around with jazz-rock (eat shit, Blood Sweat and Tears) and, for some reason, people took notice. And they went back and looked at the earlier Mothers records.

People started listening to complex,biting "rockn 'roll" – something really original, not Bhudda bubble-gum mass produced Monkee music, and found shit made years ago that was still, in 1969, futuristic.

Not to be made a culture hero, Zappa went back to Bizarre and whipped out a new Mothers record even less commercially acceptable than his earlier grime, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, after the non-movie, starts off with some Ruben and the Jets – 1950s rock – and moves straight into a collage of classical-type music, performed with rock instruments. On the other side, the Mothers whip out a 22 minute classical-rock piece, complete with two piano solos and a violin solo. Finishing off the record was another Ruben and the Jets ditty, "Valerie," in which vocalist Ray Collins switches from singing the lyrics in English to singing in Spanish. Not very commercial, not for the rock field.

However, jocks like ol' Ron Britain on good old WCFL teeny-bopper radio played one of the classical tracks. Shocking. The Mothers never received much airplay before, especially on the AM stations. Burnt Weeny Sandwich hit the charts, zooming all the way up to the big number 114 spot. The Mothers, which really no longer existed, became popular.

Zappa, faced with playing a gig at the Los Angeles Philharmonic (on Mother's Day, get it?), drew in his breath, got the Mothers back together, and went out on a warm-up tour.

Some of the Mothers had split, drummer Jimmy Carl Black (the Indian of the group) and sax player Bunk Gardner formed a new group called "Geronimo Black" ("to play Bar Mitzvahs," according to a Reprise records hype), and second drummer Artie Tripp decided to trade in whatever sanity he had left to play bass marimba for Captain Beefheart on his new Straight record, Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Zappa got former Mother Billy Mundi back for the gig to play lead drums, but needed a number two man. He found Ansley Dunbar, a Britisher who played with Jeff Beck and John Mayall (but then, who hasn't played with Jeff Beck and John Mayall) and had his own group for a while. Bass player Roy Estrada also split, so Zappa brought in Jeff Simmons, who had just recorded an album on Bizarre called Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up, in which Zappa plays guitar and messes Clapton/Hendrix freaks' minds up. Armed with veteran Mothers Ian Underwood on sax, piano and organ, Don Preston on organ and nausea, Motorhead Sherwood on sax, tambourine, snorks and theatrics, and Ray Collins on mouth, chickens and dolls-foot; Zappa and, the Mothers of Invention hit Chicago for their "Farewell Appearance."

Three days after the Kent State killings, the Mothers played a benefit concert for somebody who optimistically thought they could put on free concerts in Chicago by first charging $5.50 a head; the Auditorium Theatre was about 25% full.

The concert started off with "Trouble Every Day" from Freak Out, a song written about the 1965 Watts Riot ("You know, People, I'm not Black but there's a whole lotsa times I wish I could say I'm not white! ") and went into some Burnt Weeny stuff and some Ruben and the Jets stuff and some shit from We're Only In It for the Money and finished up with a boogie, which somehow evolved into a parody of the Door's song The End" :

Follow the snake to the lake ...
Follow the snake to the lake ...
The killer awoke before dawn, he put his hoots on and he walked down the hall to a room where his father lay ...
beating his meat to the latest copy of Playboy magazine.
"Father,
I Want to Kill You!"
"Not now, son!"

Yeah, Zappa's concerts aren't too commercial, either. Two months later, Zappa and the Mothers returned, following their Farewell Appearance up with a Ravinia gig, probably to promote the newest Mothers record, Weasels Ripped My Flesh. A few more changes in the group: former Turtle Edgar Winters – the fat obnoxious one – is on hand for on-stage goofing-off and grossing-out, Zappa and Simmons handle the vocals (Ray Collins split, and Don Preston formed a new group, called Aha.) Ansley Dunbar was the only drummer on hand, and his performance blew everyone's mind out, including several hard-core Ginger Baker freaks. One important difference – the crowd was Standing Room Only.

Now a bunch of big-time superstars, the Mothers have returned to recording. Their latest, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, consists of tracks recorded by the original group between 1967 and 1970 for twelve unreleased records. It's a sort of "Best of ..." record, but the original records were never marketed. Most of the record is free-form, improvisational stuff; the most "conventional" cut is a Zappa vocal called "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama." The first time you hear the record, you'll think you plugged your stereo into your dope stash, but after a short while you'll begin to get into it.

A follow-up to Hot Rats is supposed to be completed for release on the next full moon. A brand-new record featuring Ansley Dunbar and Jeff Simmons and the rest of the current bunch of Mothers is also supposed to he in the works. Zappa, Underwood and Trip also appear on Jean-Luc Ponty's new record, Kiny Kong, after Zappa's immortal piece of the same name in Uncle Meat. The record sounds a lot like Hot Rats.

Zappa has come out against drugs, although not very publicly. This is easy to understand; you can get completely wrecked on Zappa, if you'll only open your mind to it.