Geronimo Black

By Cameron Crowe

Door, April 27, 1972

Y'see around here at Door Music Headquarters, or DHQ, as the more hip faction refer to it, we're kinda excited about a relatively new band and their definitely new debut album, Geronimo Black (Uni Records).

Perhaps you recall the voice throughout the Mothers-of-Invention album, We're Only In It For the Money ... "Hi boys and girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black and I'm the Indian of the group." Well boys and girls, after leaving the Mothers following sixteen albums, drummer/vocalist Jimmy Carl Black is the Indian of a new band, Geronimo Black. Now he is expressing his heritage in different ways other than the Zappa-induced moronity of "Hi boys and girls, I'm Jimmy ....". Just listen to "An American National Anthem".

Last Thursday night, Black and his manager, Ward Duffy dropped by the door to talk about a variety of things. Among them, the new album, the group, Frank Zappa, the American Indian, Jimmy Reed, and more.

When I first arrived, Jim and Duffy had already been at the house for an hour or so. I was greeted upon coming in the downstairs door with a nonchalant "Jimmy Carl Black is upstairs"

"What do you think of the new Mothers album?", I asked for lack of any other dynamite conversational material.

"Well ...", he paused for a moment to choose the precise expression, "it ain't the Mothers. It's the Mother Turtles". I laughed. He didn't. Sensing a touchy subject, our conversation for the next fifteen minutes consisted mostly of talk of the new group. Perhaps I should say band.

"Geronimo Black is a band, not a group. 'Groups' stay together for about two or three years. 'Bands' stay together for as long as they feel like it. We're gonna stay together for a long time. We're a band."

"I think music is stagnant", says Black "... or at least has been for awhile. Everybody wants to sound like everybody else ... there are a few bands that aren't, but I'd say the majority of the bands are doing things that have the feeling of something you've already heard. I believe the Geronimo Black has a feeling that is unique, we have a different feeling, man."

"Are you influenced much by anything you hear?" I asked.

"Not so much by what we've heard as by our backgrounds", Black croaks his reply, "back in Kansas I was playing rhythm and blues, Jimmy Reed music, which I personally dig. Very much. Jimmy Reed is my main man."

"... Jimmy Reed's got a lotta balls. Alot of soul, man, and I dig what he's into. He's a simple cat ... I lean more towards the blues myself, man, 'cause that's where I'm at. I'm gonna do a Jimmy Reed album. My favorite tunes, of his with some new arrangements. I'm goin' to someday."

By this time Sam is close to tears in euphoria.

Also in Geronimo Black is ex-Mother Bunk Gardner, so it is quite expected that there will be a multitude of questioning concerning Zappa, throughout their careers. When the subject of Zappa is brought-up Black is extremely extroverted ...

"Bein' with Zappa was like bein' in the army again. I'll tell you, man ... about three weeks before Freak Out came out, we went up to Frenchies A Go-Go in Hayword, California to play. The day we were leaving, Elliott, Roy Estrada and myself went up to this girl's house, Elliott's friend Bonnie, to buy a quarter pound of grass to take for the trip, man. If we're gonna be up there for two weeks, six nights a week, we want some bush to smoke. A knock at the door. Who walks in? Zappa."

The word is drenched in suppressed anger. Zzzzzap Puh.

"... You, you and you, out. I was almost twenty-eight years old at the time. I had spent four years in the Air Force and I had been out for at least three or four years and ... I thought I had left all that shit behind. But, nope. It was back there again."

By this time, Jim is too far into the whole expose' to pull out.

"After bein' fucked over as heavy as I was ... I did sixteen albums with The Mothers and received a total of $3,500 artist royalties, about six or seven of them are gold albums. Zappa doesn't like to let anybody know about it, but Freak Out has sold over a million copies by itself. The first royalty check I got, and this was three years after I had been with the group ... we already had out four other albums on top of Freak Out I got $1,415.16. What I want to know is where all the money went"

But is our man-in-white, Jimmy Carl Black, just sitting in the corner sucking his thumb in quizzical shock? "Bunk Gardner and I have a law suit against Zappa and 'Herbie'. We're gonna find out"

For a few seconds there is silence as everybody re-evaluates their image of Zappa.

"Y'know you fuck over your friends, or people that think that you're friends with them. Brothers almost, since you're working with them for so long. You fuck over those cats ... it comes back down on top of you. When it does, it's like gangbusters. I'm not the only one to have anything to say. There's eighteen of us ex-Mothers that have gone through the trip. They'll tell you the same ... ".

During the time we had been talking, the new album had completed itself.

"What do you think?" Black asked us. The unanimous agreement between it's audience was that it was great. Black was extremely pleased. He nodded appreciatively, "I'm glad".

The album is an intriguing one. It opens with a Black-Tjay Contrelli composition "Low Ridin' Man". The sound is very Detroitish, the drum work is definite and consistent, and the lead guitar licks are impressive in small doses. The brass work is an essential element.

Fresh from the funky flavor of "Low Ridin' Man", we are met with a gentle string instrumental "Siesta" conjured up by Bunk Gardner.

Next is "Other Man". The brass is gone, for all purposes other then a simple underscore. Left is a simple rhythm guitar oriented number.

Definite rhythm and blues patterns are formed with the first of the album's three "message" songs, "L. A. County Jail '59". The vocals are backed only by a hesitant drum pattern, and in between vocal verses a full brass section relentlessly recreates the same lick. The result is effective in accomplishing the frustrating atmosphere of the song's subject. Following the previous is "Let us Live", somewhat of a completion of the theme suggested in it's proceeding.

Side two opens on a blues funk note, "Bullwhip", and is followed by yet another "Siesta"ish tune, "Quaker's Earthquake". The instrumentation being somewhat Victorian and off-beat which might be responsible for it's irresistibility.

"Gone" fails to deny the nonconformity of it's predecessor's. The vocal work is a cross between The Sons and Thunderclap Newman, while the arrangement is simple and complimentary to the former.

The highlight of the album is the last tune. "An American National Anthem". Black's drum work is emphasized by the bass work of Tom Leavey. The lyrics were partially those of Black's brother-in-law, P. Moreno, the theme being the exploitation and aggravation of the Indian man. A far cry from "Hi boys and girls I'm ...."

Each of the lp's nine cuts takes a different route from the other. There is a point where an effort such as this can be uneven and inconsistent. There is a point where it can be a search for a comfortable style. And then there is a point where ifs something different altogether ...

"There's no real leader to the group (band?)" comments Duffy, "it's like a company with six partners."

Says Jim, "Each individual cat gets his chance to do his own trip. Now, that's a hard trip to get into, there's not many bands that do it. Every cat in the band gets his chance to do what he wants to do. And hell be heard. We all used to be stifled as sidemen to a band leader. I'm a leader only figuratively speaking. I don't have anymore say than anyone in the band does."

Another pause in the conversation while everyone would rather think than speak. "I'm really glad you guys dug the album" Black tosses off in reflection of the two empty wine bottles lying before him, "but wait'll you hear the second album. We've already begun that one. Let me tell you, it's a killer album."

So, with a faraway look in his eye, Jimmy Carl Black contemplates his second album, his Jimmy Reed cover version album and his solo album. "They'll all be motherfuckers", he states.

And they probably will be.