RELEASES #81-94 (2007-2012)
81. The Dub Room Special! (CD, Zappa Records ZR 20006, August 24, 2007)
This is the soundtrack for a television program FZ put together in 1974 called "A Token of His Extreme." This planned show was released on DVD for the first time only recently.
However, the basic television broadcast was actually one of the very first video projects released by FZ's home label, Honker Home Video, and was entitled "The Dub Room Special." It featured FZ in a video mixing room (wearing the bizarre "stereo" helmet seen on the cover!) and moving between clips of the '74 band at KCET and the '81 band (Palladium, NYC, Halloween '81).
As stated above (#20), comparing the "Inca Roads" here with what ended up on the album is both instructive and awesome...
82. Wazoo (2CD, Vaulternative VR 2007-2, October 31, 2007)
A special document of an underappreciated and very much under-represented-by-recordings era.
FZ introduces the band:
... [Well, here we are in Boston, ladies and gentlemen. Just to fill you in on some of the zaniness that took place earlier this] ... afternoon. In the process of examining the stage to make sure that it was fit for human consumption, these large objects over here on the side with the horns on top of 'em—you know those speakers there?—they fell over backwards and completely mangled Jay Migliori's woodwind instruments. So Mr. Migliori is at a certain disadvantage this evening. We just thought we'd let you know. Fortunately, Mr. Migliori was not sitting there when the cabinets went down, so that part's okay.
Well, now that we got that over with, I'd like to introduce the rest of the lads in the band—and the ladies in the band—to all of you here.
Let's start up in the top, with trumpet number one, Malcolm McNab. And the indispensible Salvator Marquez. And on pygmy trumpet and tuba, Tom Malone. And Bruce Fowler on trombone. And Glenn "hands up, face to the wall" Ferris on trombone. And Kenny "always jovial" Shroyer on trombone. And Ruth "also jovial" Underwood on marimba. That's a jovial little marimba. And Tom "with one smashed hand" Raney on congas.
And, over here in the wind section, you already know Jay. Play something, Jay. That one works. And Mike Altschul. Ray "The Phantom" Reed. Charles "up and down" Owens. Joann Caldwell McNab. Earle Dumler. Wait, wait. Try that one again. Can you hear him? That's a little bit better, yeah. Just a minute now. Jerry Kessler on cello. Ian Underwood on keyboards, et cetera. Jim Gordon on drums. Dave Parlato on bass. And Tony Duran on slide guitar.
This reproduction of the Warners circular -- which Gail has reproduced in the liner notes herein.
83. One Shot Deal (CD, Zappa Records ZR 20007, June 13, 2008)
Here we are in 2008 and the surprises just keep on coming! Will Gail and Joe ever run out of fresh, interesting new material from the Frank Zappa Vault?
Now in 2013, the answer seems to be negative. Each new release brought its own unique sort of pleasures by this time.
This one consisted of taking great pleasure in a variety of new nuggetry:
Nine new tracks from all different eras capped with special sauce:
1. "Bathtub Man" (5:43) is from "Cosmik Debris." Smokin' guitar solo.
2. "Space Boogers" (1:24) is FZ, George Duke and Chester Thompson jammin' away.
3. "Hermitage" (2:00) is from the Royce Hall concert ('75).
4. "Trudgin' Across the Tundra" (4:01) is another rare track from the Wazoo band -- this is from a Washington, D.C. performance -- 11/11/72.
5. "Occam's Razor" (9:11) is yet another "Inca Roads" solo (two chords), which begins quite deliberately and melts into a dreamy, but razor-sharp, episode. Part of this solo was used in "On the Bus" from Joe's Garage, Act I (#28).
6. "Heidelberg" (4:46) is a guitar solo from "Yo' Mama" -- from a different show than the album version (#26).
7. "The Illinois Enema Bandit" (9:27) is a previously unreleased version from NYC Halloween '81.
8. "Australian Yellow Snow" (12:26). This is apparently the very first recording of "Yellow Snow" material, prior to the release of Apostrophe (') (#18). From 6/25/73 in Sydney, Australia, this band featured Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke, Sal Marquez, Ralph Humphrey, two Underwoods (Ian and Ruth) and two Fowlers (Tom and Bruce). The average Zappa fan will be startled by the differences between this early version and the final album version.
9. "Rollo" (2:57). From the '75 Royce Hall concert. Same track as the one on #73; shorter edit.
84. Joe's Menage (CD, Vaulternative Records VR 20081, September 26, 2008)
The fourth "Joe's ..." release is a live-concert release -- but a very unusual one.
Once again, a very rare gap in Zappa's recorded output occurs with this six-piece 1975 band, featuring Norma Jean Bell on vocals and sax, Brock, Lewis, Estrada and Bozzio.
Forty-five minutes of merriment from College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, November 1975.
The recording is a bit thick and distorted at places -- but quite listenable, in general.
85. The Lumpy Money Project/Object (3CD, Zappa Records ZR20008, January 21, 2009)
Like the MOFO releases (#78 and 79), celebrating the 40th anniversary of Freak Out! (#01), this release does the same for WOIIFTM (#03) and Lumpy Gravy (#04).
This 3-CD set is glorious!
When the package is unfolded, you have the booklet and pocket ("1968 was a very good year ..."); and the three discs with overflaps with the original cover artwork of both original releases. Absolutely stunning work.
Here is the detailed guide through the Lumpy Gravy portion of this history.
Disc One contains the mono mixes for both albums (#03, 04). Listening to this early, all-instrumental version of Lumpy Gravy (with titled movements, later removed by FZ) is astonishing. To imagine the young 26-year-old man who wrote this music feels like a superhuman task. If -- as Mike Keneally titled his diaries -- "1988 was a Million Years Ago" -- try to imagine 1967!
The WOIIFTM mix is "NOT a fold-down mix from stereo to Mono. [Rather, t]his is a separate discreet mono mix created by FZ with Dick Kunc in 1968. Source: 1/4" Analog Master."
You have to remember that stereo mixes were just coming into being around this time. Mono was usually preferred; but gradually consumers started buying stereos and artists routinely put out versions in both mono and stereo.
Therefore, this mix is unique; never before heard!
Disc Two begins with Zappa's own 1984 remix of Lumpy Gravy -- another new version; followed by the '84 remix of WOIIFTM, with its infamous contemporary bass and drum overdubs.
Disc Three is where the true goodies are hidden. "How Did That Get In Here?" (25:01) begins with the short vibraphone section which occurs at the very beginning of Lumpy Gravy, followed by the "Oh No" section. After a stretch with some music which never made it onto the final release, some more familiar material is heard. Other moments are "original tempo" sections which became sped up or otherwise manipulated by FZ's razor blade for the final product.
"Dense Slight" (1:42) is a fascinating "building block" which features familiar dialogue, but never-before-heard music behind it. (Echoplex?)
Tracks 4-6 are additional "builds" which include several little moments that made it onto the final mix. A fascinating musico-archeological find.
Tracks 8 and 9 are original tempo riffs; sped up on the album.
Track 10 is the "Lumpy Gravy Theme" at its original tempo. I remember how my daughter Rachel (now a concert violinist) learned this riff when she was very little.
Track 11 ("What the Fuck's Wrong with Her?" [1:07]) is one of my favorite tracks:
Frank is working on LG in his West Village apartment in late 1967. The tape recorder always seems to be on.
We hear baby Moon Unit making beautiful squeaky squealing noises. Then the sound of an old reel-to-reel tape recorder being turned on, then off -- rewind -- then back on again. Some crazy-ass, wild, loud music emerges...
GZ: Good Lord!
FZ: You like that?
GZ: Yeah. The kid too.
FZ: Scare the piss outa the baby?
GZ: No! At the end of it she went, "Keeeew."
FZ: Mm . . . She likes that stuff.
GZ: Yes, she does actually.
FZ: 'fuck's wrong with her?
GZ: Ha ha, ha ha . . .
The remainder of the disc is filled with little tidbits from the Money sessions, interview segments, instrumental tracks sans vocals -- always fascinating ... and the "Lonely Little Girl" single (Gail: "Curiously, FZ considered this thoroughly discrete construct [yes, that's right, this is a collage] potentially commercial.")
Eric Clapton wraps things up on the last track.
86. Philly '76 (2CD, Vaulternative Records VR 20091, December 15, 2009)
Another terrific full-length (two CDs) concert featuring one of the least-recorded bands in Zappa's output:
Bianca Odin -- vocals, keyboards
Ray White -- vocals, rhythm guitar, cowbell
Eddie Jobson -- keyboards, violin
Patrick O'Hearn -- bass, vocals
Terry Bozzio -- drums, vocals
Right away, you can tell that Frank is on! From "Stink-Foot":
Fido, my faithful friend of the canine world
I asked you to bring me the slippers
You didn't bring the slippers
Every night is the same problem
Why do you not bring me the slippers?
"Arf-arf, arf-arf-arf-arf, arf-arf-arf, arf-arf, arf-arf-arf-arf, arf, arf-arf-arf-arf!"
Literally translated this means,
"Oh, Frank, I was so stoned I couldn't keep them in my mouth."
And once again I have to inform you, Fido, my charming little canine friend
That you must be punished, so take your punishment, here it comes . . .
And there we have it, a thoroughly punished poodle, live on stage in Philadelphia, goddamn!
"Manx Needs Women" (1:45) is a premiere recording, chronologically speaking. (The ZINY [#23] version comes exactly two months after the date of this recording.) Check out this lick which begins around the 0:40 mark (this is FZ's handwriting):
"Chrissy Puked Twice" (6:49) is likewise exactly 60 days prior to the New York performance. Interesting how the form of this changed, basically eliminating this first section.
Tracks 4-7 were probably specifically included as vehicles for Flo & Eddie who had to cancel this gig at the last moment. The rest of the band, especially Bianca, compensate nicely ...
Would you go all the way
For the U.S.O.?
Would you go all the way
For the U.S.A.?
Would you go all the way
For the U.S.O.?
Lift up your dress, if the answer is "no" ...
"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy" (2:05) is always a pleasure to hear performed live!
"What Kind of Girl ..." (4:58) -- a long, extended blues -- is a nice duet with Bianca and Frank.
"Stranded in the Jungle" (3:10) was written in 1956. Here's everything you need to know.
A seven-minute "Muffin Man" closes things out nicely. This three-chord jam always provided Zappa with a terrific launching pad for his instantaneous compositional fibers.
87. Greasy Love Songs (CD, Zappa Records ZR20010, April 19, 2010)
The third in the series of "Anniversary FZ Audio Documentaries," this one continues the tradition of beautiful and imaginative packaging -- reflecting both the ideas and buzz of the original "Cruising with Ruben & the Jets" (#05).
The entire package is coated in a shiny, metallic sheen. The original cover and inserts are nicely reproduced, along with a great booklet (notes by Cheech Marin; see below) and a wallet-sized photo of FZ (from his high school yearbook) with the Mothers lineup printed on the back.
Tracks 1-13 presents the original vinyl release; something the fans had been clamoring for for decades (the CD has the overdubbed bass and drums from '84)...
I finally could retire my old CD-R of a poppy, clicky, scratchy copy of the ancient vinyl.
This is the real thing -- freed from the memories of 80's bass and drum additions -- free of pops and clicks; and with even a few extra goodies!
These would include alternate mixes; longer versions ("No. No. No." -- 2:29 and 3:06); interview segments; a hilarious cut, "'Secret Greasing'" (3:36), Zappa reading the Ruben text over some dirty sax blues; and -- best of all -- a fantastic "Love of My Life" (2:06) from sometime between '62 - '64. The basic track is from Studio Z and sometime later vocal overdubs were added.
88. “Congress Shall Make No Law . . . " (CD, Zappa Records ZR 20011, September 19, 2010)
Don't be too hesitant, dear friends -- at least once you've made it through the first 60 or so albums -- the real essential stuff -- then you can begin to dig into obscure gems such as this one, regarding FZ's 1985 senate testimony in the "Porn Rock" hearings.
The thing is, though -- this is essential stuff!
Zappa devoted a long period of time and diverted a lot of assets to this. He even cut his hair, man!
This is an important side to Frank Zappa's musical career (remember, we got the amazing #44 because of all this).
On this disc, you get Zappa's entire senate testimony -- including the hilarious back and forth between the senators:
Well, I might tell you that if you were to go in a toy store -- which is very educational for fathers, by the way; it is not a maternal responsibility to buy toys for children -- that you may look on the box and the box says, this is suitable for 5 to 7 years of age, or 8 to 15, or 15 and above, to give you some guidance for a toy for a child. Do you object to that?
In a way I do, because that means that somebody in an office someplace is making a decision about how smart my child is.
I'd be interested to see what toys your kids ever had.
Why would you be interested?
Just as a point of interest in this ...
Well, come on over to the house. I'll show 'em to you.
I might do that.
Additional tracks include his testimony before the Maryland State Legislature and some on-topic interviews. Each track's spoken words are preceded by Synclavier music (beautiful, a bit sadly astonished, at times) and/or Burp Art (by Jade Teta) [he "pronounces" the title, for example] ... the accompanying booklet is terrific, as usual -- stuffed with pertinent documents; perhaps the scariest of which is an ugly typewritten list of "The Filthy Fifteen" -- the 15 songs given labels by the PMRC like "V" for violence; "O" for references to the occult; "D/A" for overuse of drugs/alcohol; and "X" for harsh sexual content.
These ladies wanted to ban a Cyndi Lauper song for shit's sake -- "She Bop" rated X ... here are the lyrics -- you tell me: are our children in grave danger?
There's also a wonderful picture of the FZ bust in Vilnius, Lithuania, taken by Diva.
I'd like to briefly praise Gail Zappa:
She deserves a lot of credit for putting out releases like this, which have a lot less commercial appeal than a good live concert or collection of guitar solos: this is obviously important to her; as it was to Frank -- so I commend her for turning around hard-earned "Dinah-Moe Humm dollars" into product like this. Mmmpphh ... big smoochie, Gail.
89. Hammersmith Odeon (3CD, Vaulternative Records VR 20101, November 6, 2010)
Gail gave Frank a nice surprise party for his 70th birthday (if only Frank could have been there!) ... this release!
THIS SPECIAL PARTY PACK EDITION CONTAINS USEFUL INFORMATION AND EVERYTHING YOU MIGHT NEED FOR AN FZ BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION. ENJOY.
2. 3 Discs
3. Party Hat
5. Print Material
1. Hold balloon in mouth, seal lips, blow.
2. The discs are not for throwing.
3. Place on head.
4. Do not try to eat this at home.
5. Avoid entrapment, fondle as necessary.
The white balloon has Frank's (trademarked) moustache on it. I'm sure it looks really cool if you blow it up, but I've never detached it from its hole in the cardboard.
The hat, especially, is not to be investigated unless you don't care about messing it up. It is very thin tissue paper, that -- I suppose -- folds into some sort of a happy birthday party hat. Hooray.
The cupcake is only a photograph -- but a very cool one -- looks like a Zappa concert's about to start...
This is where Sheik Yerbouti (#26) came from, but there is nothing on these three discs that was ever released before. This three-hour concert -- culled from four separate shows, and put together faithfully by Joe, is just a thrilling, amazing experience!
Highlights of this tight seven-piece band: an energetic "Pound" (20:39) with much blowing time / "Punky" (10:26) had been on the set list for over a year by now -- this is a terrific, driving performance with great playing by all./ "Little House" (7:13) is a beautiful new arrangement of Ian Underwood's opening piano solo, followed by some wonderful soloing / "Watermelon" (3:55) is presented in its very first recording here. Everything -- including the fast tempo -- is different than the Joe's Garage version.
Like all great Zappa concerts, this one rocks out with four or five amazing closing "encores."
90. Feeding The Monkies At Ma Maison (CD, Zappa Records ZR20012, September 22, 2011)
If my love of Frank's compositions on the Synclavier is not evident by now, it will become so presently.
This long-awaited all-Synclavier disc presents the opportunity to hear the complete versions of two works from Civilization Phaze III (#63) [("Buffalo Voice" (11:35) and "Secular Humanism" (6:37)].
"Worms From Hell" (5:31) is heard in the opening credit sequence of FZ's video "Video From Hell" and the other two tracks -- "Feeding the Monkies at Ma Maison" (20:12) and "Samba Funk" (11:29) are previously unreleased.
Zappa's assistant -- Todd Yvega -- writes the liner notes here -- quite helpful as a general guide to this extremely complex music.
These are Frank Zappa's finest compositions of his lifetime!
As I'm completely aware that nearly 95% of you will disagree with me -- nevertheless if I can get even one of you guys to listen to this stuff -- actually give it a chance! -- these 35,000 words will have been worthwhile!
"Feeding" is a sprawling, full-length composition -- filled with such unusual timbre textures, weaved together in a sort of "fantasia" that keeps moving from one idea to the next ~ until the whole thing just crumples upon itself ... almost stops (listen at 19:42 where there is a guitar/tenor sax unison ... the sax vibratos) and with percussive col legno in exquisite dissonance, a cymbal crash -- mezzo-piano -- brings things to a close.
"Buffalo Voice" complete. Imagine your poster, happy in Zappa heaven. This is glorious music.
Gail is cute:
"Composer's Featured Vocalist: Moon Zappa." (She whispers "buffalo voice" at 1:51 and again at the very end ~ the only words on this release!)
The album is dedicated to Maestros Pierre Boulez and Elliott Carter & Halo Zappa (Gail's latest grandchild, Ahmet's daughter).
The cover is a beautiful 3-D-type rendering of colored popsicles.
91. Carnegie Hall (4CD, Vaulternative Records VR 2011-1, November 17, 2011)
A 4-CD set!
And how cool that Gail actually reproduced an orange ticket keepsake.
It might be difficult for you youngsters to understand that there was a period in our fairly recent history where musicians or bands that had long hair were pretty much barred from playing at the nice, clean "classical" venues like Carnegie Hall.
Zappa's promoter convinced the booking manager of Carnegie Hall that "Francis" Zappa was a very accomplished classical musician of several wind instruments like the "cello, viola and harp."
Two shows (7:30 and 11:00; ticket prices $3.50 to $6.00 [oh those expensive $6 seats!!] on Monday, October 11, 1971.)
Many people don't know that Zappa "discovered" The Persuasions -- at least, he produced their first album, "Acappella" (1970).
Here, they open for FZ. (They would return the tribute in 2000 with "Frankly a Cappella" -- a gorgeous tribute album to Frank's music.)
This "alternative" take of "Call Any Vegetable" (10:36) is a real pleasure -- especially the Holst quote into guitar solo -- one of the greatest FZ moments, methinx. Always hilarious, the improv section later on gets pretty funny:
Questions, questions, questions. Flooding into the mind of the concerned young person today. Oh, but it is a wonderful time to be alive, and I doubt that there is one person in this audience tonight that wouldn't agree with the concept that it's really great to be alive when you can consider the alternatives. (BURP) And there's one of them now. But I think there's one thing that we should all remember here in this ... marvelous ... CARNEGIE HALL ... Ladies and gentlemen, what the fuck are we doing here? And there are other great questions to consider. The origins of various things that have been important to the development of civilization as we know it.
Mark: I almost cut my hair.
FZ: So few people know that "I Almost Cut My Hair" was co-authored by Elliot Roberts. But there's even fewer people who know the real mythical importance of the next few things that I'm going to explain to you ...
and so on. Some wonderful "alternate versions" and some very unique performances like "Who Are The Brain Police?" (7:07).
The first sign of massive historical importance shows up on Disc Three with the DIVAN (19:45) suite -- something eagerly anticipated by every Zappa fan since the introduction of the German text in the original "Sofa" on #20, followed by the tantalizing taste on #51, combined with all the other "sofa" related material over the years ... here, Zappa tells us "... the story is about how the good Lord has created a sofa, his interest in home movies, and the relationship between his girlfriend and a hot, magic pig."
Gib zu mir etwas Fußbodenbelag
Unter diesen fetten, fließenden Sofa
Continuing in German, the music segues into "Sofa."
A person in that position has got to have a hobby, so the first thing he did was get a D major chord and a choir of heavenly angels sang along with him:
Bring her zu mir
Das kurze Maedchen
"Stick it Out" (4:54) is a real surprise -- most fans only know the Joe's Garage version -- both Howard and Mark seem to be really stretching their voices to the ultimate limit here. Still, this is amazing music from this "comedy group." 'Divan Ends Here" (4:17) ends the suite -- this music was previously heard on Playground Psychotics (#60).
Disc Four is the third (#14, 60) version of "Billy the Mountain." -- YES!
BILLY THE MOUNTAIN was RICH! Oh, yes, and his eyeball-caves, they widened in amazement, and his cliff, well, it was a jaw, it dropped thirty feet!
Volman really fucked up the line that time!
However, with this third version, I am now thoroughly convinced that Zappa purposefully uses exactly six bars of pounding 5/8 to represent the thirty feet (6x5) (@ 4:25) ...
-- and winds up with the $600 encore and "The Mud Shark" (13:35) ...
92. Understanding America (2CD, Zappa Records/UMe ZR3892, October 30, 2012)
Not just a posthumous compilation (which would have landed it in the same category as other non-officially-numbered releases such as Strictly Commercial or Strictly Genteel) -- this was an actual pre-1993 project for FZ -- as proven by the photograph in the booklet of a piece of notebook paper with most of Disc Two written in Zappa's own handwriting -- including this new version of Porn Wars -- "Porn Wars Deluxe" (25:51).
Everything else is a re-release (no new mixes) -- but as this is a Zappa-approved "Biggest Hits," it is worth experiencing these songs in this particular sequence.
93. Road Tapes, Venue #1 (2CD, Vaulternative Records VR 20122, November 7, 2012)
It's August 25, 1968. Frank Zappa is in Vancouver, B.C. at the Kerrisdale Arena, the "local electric ice box." The Mothers are performing their big alternative hit, "Help, I'm a Rock."
Oh, it's a drag being a rock
I wish I was anything but a rock
I'd even like to be a policeman
Help, I'm a cop!
Help, I'm a cop!
Help, I'm a cop!
Help, I'm a cop!
You know, as a matter of fact it's a drag being a cop
I think I'd rather be the mayor
And offer the hippies ten dollars to cut their hair
Ten dollars to any hippie who'll cut his hair right here on stage tonight. Do we have any desperate hippies who wanna take it off?
Well, that's good. You just keep growing your hair till it gets down to your buns. Just don't try to get a job with IBM or one of the state agencies with long hair because they just don't go for it. It's unsanitary, it's unclean, it means that you probably have leftist tendencies. It means that you're probably a whole bunch of things that the establishment doesn't want you to be. It means that you're a potential danger to every old person in your country. Boy, you better watch out if you have long hair.
Those were the days, huh?
"Hungry Freaks" (3:59) gets unusual treatment, quite different than other versions. It is quite a treat to hear a live guitar solo from this era, especially one this good (albeit short).
"Orange County" (20:57) is quite slick and beautiful -- this early eight-piece band actually had some amazing musicians in it: Preston, Ian Underwood, Bunk Gardner and Tripp. Zappa's solo above a 5/4 vamp here is quite interesting. He quickly ventures into weirdness territory playing with the rhythm, messing around with strange chromatic movements around the tonic, etc. Parts of this track ended up on Weasels (#10). A real gem.
The shiniest jewelry in this set, however -- is without a doubt (Gail's liner notes are about only this) this 7:40 version of "the first ten bars or so" of Edgard Varèse's "Octandre."
(One of Frank Zappa's final projects was a recording of Varèse music entitled "The Rage and the Fury." The music was performed by the Ensemble Modern, conducted by Peter Eötvös and produced by FZ -- but has not been released to date.)
94. Finer Moments (2CD, Zappa Records/UMe ZR3894, December 12, 2012)
Frank Zappa's most recent release, a double-CD, is a terrific package of the late 60's/early 70's period, with little previously released material included.
The first four tracks are from the 6/6/69 Albert Hall concert. The "Mozart Piano Sonata in Bb" is a slightly longer version than the one on #58.
"The Old Curiosity Shoppe" -- from '71 -- consists of a burning alto sax solo by Ian Underwood, followed by a cleverly deconstructive solo by Frank.
From The Ark, a bootleg from Boston, the next two tracks -- "You Never Know..." (previously released on #68 -- a bit more madness is unleashed here) and "Uncle Rhebus" -- a "King Kong" jam that begins at 8:24 on the Ark bootleg track.
Compared to the legally issued bootleg, the sound here is fantastic!
Disc Two begins with "Music from 'The Big Squeeze'" -- 41 seconds of celesta, kazoos, snorks and a sped-up wordless vocal all to the video images of a Luden's Cough Drop commercial. See it here! Frank made certain that Ed Seeman got credit when this was released on #64. Ed wasn't so lucky here.
Gun-to-my-head Top Ten Official Frank Zappa Releases (because they're all so good! ~ and no picking "Old Masters," etc. as one pick!):
- #03. We're Only In It For The Money (1968)
- #08. Hot Rats (1969)
- #15. Waka/Jawaka (1972)
- #19. Roxy & Elsewhere (1974)
- #20. One Size Fits All (1975)
- #38/48. London Symphony Orchestra, Volumes I and II (1983/87) (on one CD today)
- #39. Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger (1984)
- #47. Jazz From Hell (1986)
- #62. The Yellow Shark (1993)
- #63. Civilization, Phaze III (1994)
Román's lyric site (but oh so much more than just lyrics!)
Vlad the Siberian's vast website; one of the originals
FZ Shows (live biz)
The Zappa Patio (CD vs. LP, etc.)
My interview with Cal Schenkel
Other important links (Pat Buzby's '88 pages, for example) are referenced throughout these posts.
As a classically-trained musician, I didn't have much use for "rock & roll" when I was a youngster -- I much preferred Shostakovich and Stockhausen.
I enjoyed The Beatles without too much of a fuss, but everything else bored me to tears.
Then one day a friend was playing We're Only In It For The Money -- as I passed his room I heard Ian Underwood's piano arpeggios in "Harry, You're a Beast." I asked him to play the entire record.
Since then, my life has never been the same.
Over the years, I began to "study" Zappa much in the same manner as I had been taught to analyze the music of classical composers. I began to "transcribe" his music (writing it down on manuscript paper, note-for-note, for all the instruments!) -- a massive challenge!
I devoured the published scores of his orchestral works and began to organize my thoughts, hoping to put all my ideas into one giant website on the internet.
Although I only got as far as the first four or five albums in such detail (my own musical composition got in the way!), I am proud of my work on these important, early works.
I saw Zappa live probably 10 to 12 times over the years -- mostly in New York in the mid- to late-80's. My favorite concert of all of them was the 12/73 Roxy show.
In May of 1989, FZ was promoting The Real Frank Zappa Book on radio and television. He was a guest on Larry King's Mutual radio show one evening, and I called up an hour before broadcast to secure a place in the phone queue.
In my 45 seconds on the air with Larry and Frank, I pointed out the one typo in the book which I had found (the word it should have been if on Page 331!) and told Frank the story about how I once played "It Must Be a Camel" for my teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Frank seemed genuinely tickled, and after Larry cut us off, I was inspired to shoot off a letter to FZ about how much I would enjoy becoming his musical "slave" or some such stupid thing.
Monday morning next, I pick up the telephone.
"Hi, this is Gail Zappa, is this Lewis? ... can you hold for Frank?"
He invited me to "c'mon on up to the house" and within 48 hours I was doing just that, as his driver wound his way up the zig-zag route to the house high in the Hollywood hills.
I was interviewing for a position as "Chief Slave" for Frank -- okay, "personal assistant" -- someone who could load the appropriate patches into the Synclavier when he was ready to go to work -- in addition, he was also in need of a good actual secretary who could help him with business matters, something actually on my resumé.
After six hours of wondrous happenings (I played for him; observed him mixing the CD version of Broadway the Hard Way (#53), drank tons of coffee, listened to several fascinating phone conversations, including one with Cheech Marin), reality began to set in. Did I really want to leave my beloved Sonoran Desert for the grind of Los Angeles? And -- much more to the point -- I had recently had to take medical leave from my secretarial job because of a back condition which had been continuing to worsen prior to this interview.
What if I took the job and collapsed after a week? (This had happened to me at the law firm where I worked.) Could I handle Zappa's demands for 12-14 days -- usually beginning after dinner and lasting until noon the next day!
Zappa probably did not know about his cancer at this particular time. But it would be less than a year before he found out, and just a bit more than four years after I sat there with him in his Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, that he would pass away.
So much happened in that six hours, but I suppose three memorable things have always stayed with me:
1. After meeting Gail, I was ushered into a room where I was to wait for Frank. As he walked in, I stood up, he shook my hand, and said, "Lewis, I apologize -- but I've gotta take this phone call" (the above-mentioned Cheech Marin. I had no idea at the time that they were old friends [see #87]) ... it lasted about five minutes (it had to do with some new project about the redevelopment of the downtown L.A. area!). After he hung up, he sat down on the couch next to me, and looked me right in the eyes and said something pretty close to this:
" ... You seem like a pretty nice guy ... I don't have time to deal with assholes, and there are a lot of them out there, ya know? -- so I usually give everybody about 60 seconds to prove that they are not an asshole! -- (short astonished pause) -- I think you're good!" [Peter Wolf verifies that FZ said this to everyone in the liner notes to #89!]
2. We were sitting on another couch in the actual studio. He was looking at my resumé and asking me questions. Eventually, the conversation turned towards contemporary "classical" music and we were suddenly in a wonderful comfort zone, talking like old friends, discussing obscure old LPs on the "Avant Garde" label (a subsidiary label of DGG) ... the Lutoslawski string quartet, etc.
Bob Stone was sitting at the mixing console, perhaps 20 feet away from our couch, mixing the CD. As Zappa and I were yapping, every few moments Frank would interrupt himself (or me) and yell something at Bob, like -- "sweeten that bari!" (translation: make the baritone sax track a little more prominent). This continued for about 30 minutes and seven cups of coffee, Zappa multi-tasking like mad!
3. He asked me to play something. I regret to this day not simply improvising something bizarre (of course!) -- but instead I played a little jazzy, 3/4 waltz which is somewhat chromatic. As I stumbled around the keys when it came time to blow on the changes (improvise), I finally stopped and said something like, "Shit, Frank -- my chops really suck" (which they do).
He again looked me right in the eye and with his own eyes draining me into that infinite hidden compassion of his, holding up his outstretched hands, said something like -- "Look at my fingertips! Look at those melted callouses! I haven't played guitar since the tour ended and my chops certainly suck worse than yours!"
I nearly broke down in tears, it was obvious he was trying to let me know that my pianistic technique had nothing to do with the job requirements! I only wish I had done better.
He more or less offered me the job -- I said I had to think about it -- eventually he disappeared into the "upstairs" (living quarters) and I told his assistant -- the guy I'd have replaced -- that I needed Frank to be told that I couldn't take the position.
The ride to the Burbank airport was one of the longest of my life.