Frank Zappa's Basement Tapes

By Salley Rayl

Rolling Stone, July 26, 1979

“I know the world isn't ready for me, so I'll just stay in my basement,” said Frank Zappa. “But the world may be ready for Joe’s Garage.” Zappa, who had been up all night working in the basement studio of his L.A. home, was talking about his latest project, a three-record opera that will be called either Joe’s Garage or Arrogant Mop. The album, which Zappa is producing, will follow Sheik Yerbouti and is scheduled for release in early September.

“It started out to be just a bunch of songs,” Zappa said. “But together, they looked like they had continuity. So I went home one night midway through recording, wrote the story and changed it into an opera. It’s probably the first opera that you can really tap your feet to and get a couple of good laughs along the way.”

The scenario, set in the near future “when the government is about to outlaw music,” follows the “downward path” of the lead character, Joe. The songs are held together, Zappa said, by the Central Scrutinizer, a narrator who speaks on behalf of the government and tries to alert people to the evil effects of music. During the course of the opera, Joe learns to play guitar, has a run-in with the police for performing too loudly and falls in love with a Catholic girl named Mary, who leaves him to become a “crew slut.” It’s all downhill from there, and by the end of the fifth side, Zappa said, “We know Joe is totally fried.” On the last side of the record, however, Joe has one last “guitar-solo” dream before the climactic ending.

The cast includes Ike Willis as Joe and Zappa as the Central Scrutinizer. Musicians include Zappa on guitar, Warren Cuccurullo on rhythm guitar, Peter Wolf on keyboards, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Arthur Barrow on bass, Ed Mann on percussion, Denny Walley on slide guitar and Craig Stewart on harmonica. Among the album's twenty tunes are “Joe’s Garage,” “Catholic Girls,” “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”, “Keep It Greasy so It Goes Down Easy,” “Packard Goose” and “Watermelon in Easter Hay.”

Zappa is scheduled to tour the U.S. beginning in late September after the completion of the album.