Electric Eclectic

By Gene Ferriter

Music Technology, April 1990

Note. Part of the interview with Patrick O'Hearn

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"Frank was looking to put together a new band. He asked Terry Bozzio, who he wanted to get for the other part of the anchor system. Terry suggested me, so I stopped by the Record Plant to say hello on the way home from a gig with Joe Henderson. I had my upright bass, and after a hasty introduction, Frank looked at the bass, then looked at me and said, 'You actually play that thing? Care to do some carving, sailor?' I agreed, so an engineer quickly strung up a microphone and a set of headphones and within 15 minutes I was putting a bass part on one the tracks he was working on.

"When I came in from the control room, he seemed to be genuinely pleased with the performance and asked if I played the electric bass. Since I did he said, 'This is your assignment. Take this cassette home, and tomorrow come in and put a bass guitar part down on this tune.' The tune was so incredibly abstract because it was all segments from different songs edited together. There were wild tempo changes and meter changes, but there was continuity. It was an extraordinary piece of music, but it was so complex. There would be a bar of 11, followed by a bar of 5, followed by a bar of 7/8, followed by three bars of 5, with kind of an 11/4 triplet over it. It was really wild.

"I stayed up all night listening to the cassette and wrote out what I felt would be interesting bass notes over the harmonic changes. I came back in the next day and performed it and he was suitably impressed. 'What are you doing starting tomorrow?' he responded. 'Do you want a job?' I said 'Damn right,' so he stuck his hand out and told me I was hired."

Zappa is hailed not only as a prolific musical genius, but also as quite an innovator in music technology. "He had a tremendous collection of contemporary electronic instruments for that time period," O'Hearn recalls. "He had a huge, fantastic modular E-mu system, an analog system with kind of a digital keyboard controller. That thing was just remarkable. He had sort of the Noah's Ark of electronic collections – just about two of everything with the exception of the E-mu system. He only had one of those. He had two Polymoogs, two Minimoogs, and two ARP 2600s, among other things."

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