Keeper Of The Flame

By Phil Alexander

Mojo, January, 2004

Frank’s wife Gail on Zappa’s forthcoming attractions.


“IF IT MAKES me laugh then I’m fucking going for it! That’s the test Frank always used,” explains Gail Zappa, outlining her approach to dealing with the material that remains in the Zappa vault. As head of the Zappa Family Trust, she’s spent the last decade working alongside her son Dweezil (“we rely on his ear”) and “vaultmeister” Joe Travers to maintain Frank’s catalogue and oversee ‘new’ releases. The latter include landmarks such as Civilization Phaze III (1994), the Läther 3-CD set (due in ‘77, finally released in ‘97) and the recent Halloween (Live In New York 1978) DVD audio. Zappologists will glad to hear that there’s more to come.

“The fly-on-the-wall type shit we will reserve until the final hour before Bush declares doomsday, in the meantime we’re going for the gold,” states Gail. “There’s a vast wealth of
material to identify. It’s taken us 10 years to identify about 40 per cent of it.”

The problems with issuing material from the Zappa vault involves the recordings’ labelling, the age of the tapes and Frank’s own editing process. “A lot of the archive we couldn’t touch because we didn’t have the facilities. So we rebuilt the studio and bought an oven so we can bake the tapes so the material doesn’t just fall off the plastic,” laughs Gail. “Frank made albums with a razor blade, which was one of his tools as a composer. There’s a billion edits across that catalogue. It’s not like it was labelled. It lived in Frank’s head. But you do piece it together because there’s a lot of clues.”

The next FZ reissue is Baby Snakes, the 1979 “movie about people who do stuff that is not normal”, on DVD with a new multi-channel mix. By the time you read this it should be out on Eagle Rock. “We’re very proud of it. It’s the entire film, two hours and 40 minutes,” says Gail. “If you’ve got a certain bent you could spend as much as 25 minutes enjoying the stuff before you get to the film.”

Also just released on RCA is The Ensemble Modern Play The Music Of Frank Zappa: Greggary Peccary And Other Persuasions, featuring the German orchestra who collaborated with Frank on 1993’s The Yellow Shark. “They took it upon themselves to put a programme of Frank’s work together,” explains Gail. “I worked with them and Ali N Askin, who did some of the arrangements with Frank, to get the scores together. They performed it and recorded it at their own expense.”

Another classical project in the pipeline includes a documentary directed by esteemed Dutch film-maker Frank Scheffer. “He called out of the blue and said, ‘I would like to make a film about Frank but I would just like to focus on him as a composer.’ I thought, Well, great, finally,” states Gail. “We’re just trying to raise the money to finish it as a feature film. I hope we can by the end of next year.”

Further audio releases include the much mooted Trance-Fusion and Dance Me This sets featuring later period Zappa. Then there’s two CD/film projects, the first a collection of Frank’s performances of composer Edgard Varèse’s work, the second a new version of 1974’s Roxy & Elsewhere live set. “The Varèse project involved a lawsuit because these guys literally stole the film,” says Gail. “It took a long time to get it back. I’m just thinking who could put that film together. I don’t know if Dweezil will do that. He wants to do other projects, like The Roxy.

“The Roxy is archive footage with all the material that Frank remixed. There’s a whole other CD, but the problem is that there is no synchronisation. It took a lot of time and money to put it together. Now we have four hours of raw footage to deal with.” Gail’s workload now seems to mirror the punishing schedule favoured by her late husband whose very spirit seems to guide the release schedule. “We’ve just started going through [tapes of] interviews so we now have Frank telling us what we should do with certain things!” laughs Gail. “He’s still the boss.”

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)