I spent some time last evening cleaning up the wrapping paper on Zappadan. You know how it is, just because the holiday is over doesn’t mean there’s not work to do. I considerably expanded the Zappadan 2010 blogroll in my sidebar, and I intend to keep it there through the year as a reminder to visit those sites regularly. For those bloggers who observe it, there is a community worth maintaining. And, by the by, if you blogged regarding Zappadan and I don’t have you in the sidebar, please add to the comments here or shoot an e-mail to bradybonk at gmail dot com. Thank you.
I also added some excellent posts to the “Greasy Love Songs” page, so please, peruse it. It is a good resource for Zappadan 2010 I think. Also, all of the KIAV posts may be accessed via the “Zappadan 2010” category.
It is sad to see the Zappadan holiday season come to an end. I always enjoy it so.
As you’ve seen, this year, I chose to create a book report of sorts on Barry Miles’ Zappa: A Biography. It has been the third time I have read the book. From what others have written about the book, it does have somewhat of a mixed review. Some feel that Miles didn’t really unearth anything new, that he cribbed everything in the book from other sources. Others—and I am a bit more in this camp—think that Miles was kind of hard on his subject. Then, on the other hand, if you’re writing a biography, you can’t very well be a sycophant, now can ya?
If this year’s Zappadan project wasn’t some indication, I shall say it here: I find the book to be an extremely valuable resource. I likely could have gone on for another Zappadan, using nothing but the Miles for my source material. I may actually do that…next year. Who knows. Yeah, the book sometimes pisses ya off if you’re a true Frank fan. But some of the reference I was able to track down from it…I adore the obscurity. I mean, who would have thunk you could get Zappadan mileage out of this?
A few years ago, I wrote for Zappadan that “Zappa got me through.” I meant that. It was my freshmeat year of college, a year that gave me the most wonderful awesome living situation of my entire life: Living in an 8 x 25 dorm room with two meathead jock assholes (Crawford Hall, Ohio University). I despised them and they thought I was weird (I was). I would not have made it through that year without Freak Out, Lumpy Gravy, and Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch. It might not have been the healthiest way to cope. But tossing on my headphones and experiencing such a surge of creativity and such a scorn for stupidity really served as a crutch when trying to live in such close quarters with these lunkheads. Without “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” I would have been lost. Utterly.
Anyway. Some fellow Zappadan bloggers have expressed that they think I have done a good job here. Thank you. It was a lot of fun and as it happens I’m between assignments right now, so I had time and it was fun.
[Zappa’s record label] Bizarre did a deal with Warner/Seven Arts to distribute their records on Reprise. …Now all they needed was some ‘product’ to release. …Warners must have had severe misgivings about their involvement with Bizarre. The distribution deal meant that Warners had to pay Zappa each time he delivered some product, but some people at Warners thought he was abusing the terms of the agreement by coming up with any old thing to release. Zappa had known about Wild Man Fischer for some time (there is even a brief quote from one of his songs, ‘Merry-Go-Round’, on Lumpy Gravy.
Live street recordings appealed to Zappa, and An Evening With Wild Man Fischer can be seen as an extension of his use of voice collages on the Mothers albums. Wild Man Fischer became the first release on the new Bizarre label when the single ‘The Circle’ came out in October 1968.
Zappa was responsible for Fischer’s initial foray into the business of music, an album called An Evening with Wild Man Fischer, contains 36 tracks of “something not exactly musical.” Zappa and Fischer remained close â€” until Fischer threw a jar at Zappa’s daughter Moon Unit Zappa, barely missing her. Due to this falling out, Zappa’s widow Gail Zappa has chosen to not release An Evening with Wild Man Fischer on CD, to the ire of the small but dedicated Wild Man Fischer fan club.
My parents and my brothers each had their own pile of albums. My dad was a sucker for the Columbia House record deals and he’d send away for opera and big-band stuff. He loved Tommy Dorsey and Harry James, and would try to teach me the differences between musicians. My mom played Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday, her favorite. Everything she sang brought me down. Years later I learned that Billie Holiday suffered from depression, too.
[My brother] Anthony was on the edge of what was radical. I remember he came home with the Frank Zappa record Freak Out!, which had some psychedelic images of Zappa surrounded by other washed-out-looking musicians. To me it looked scary and dangerous. When my dad listened to it he went into his “What the hell is this?” routine.
Just for shits and giggles—Howard Stern interviews Frank Zappa:
P.S. Congratulations to Howard for re-upping for another five years. Geh kak afen yam.
By this time there were a number of people living at Kirkwood, including a groupie called Pepper, whom Frank had introduced to the house, but who was now running after Arthur Lee. There was also a singer called Bobby Jameson whom Frank was working with. He arranged Jameson’s song ‘Gotta Find My Roogalator’, making the session musicians on the backing track sound very like the Mothers.
From Barry Miles’ Zappa: A Biography, regarding the Freak Out! sessions:
The session musicians were shocked to find out they had to play from charts: Frank set up a podium in the middle of the studio and showed up wearing a swallow-tailed conductor’s dinnner jacket, a red and yellow striped shirt and an Iron Cross. He whipped out his baton from under his coat and rapped on the music stand. ‘Hey, we’re really going to have to play,’ said one of the cello players. ‘This beatnik has written some music here!’ According to Tom Wilson: ‘Frank gave it the full Toscanini and conducted their asses off.’ Everything went smoothly as the arrangements were relatively easy.
Too easy for some people. There had been a new addition to the line-up before recording: pianist Marc Rebennak left Sonny and Cher to join the Mothers. He showed up at rehearsals with a joint in his mouth and his friend Elliot Ingber signalled to him behind Frank’s back to get rid of it. Rebennak had asssumed from Frank’s appearance thhat he was into drugs. He played on a couple of tracks, including ‘Return of Monster Magnet.’
Rebennak: ‘Everybody in the studio but Frank was wanderinng around high on acid. Frank had written me this part to play, five or six notes on the piano ovver and over—not much different thhan sonny and Cher. In the background, a twenty-voice choir croaked out monster sound effects, something like “Gggrrrrrrhhhhrrr!” When I had had about all I could take, Les McCann walked in and I asked him to hold down my chair, telling him I had to go to the bathroom. I walked out of there and never came back.’ Rebennak later reinvented himself as Dr. John the night Tripper, a musical voodoo shaman.
Don Vliet (later known as Captain Beefheart) was in Frank’s year at AVHS, but they didn’t become friends until 1958, when Vliet saw Zappa hitch-hiking one day and gave him a lift. ‘I couldn’t help it,” said Vliet, ‘he looked so wobegone.’ They were almost the same age (Zappa was three weeks older) and shared musical tastes. It was a friendship of great mutual significance: Vliet gave Zappa innumerable ideas and Frank not only produced Beefheart’s greatest album Trout Mask Replica, but pretty much forced him to sing in the first place.
Don Vliet lived on Carolside Avenue, a short ride due south of Zappa’s place, in a virtually identical house. Mr and Mrs Vliet, known to everyone as Sue and Glen, shared the house with Don’s Uncle Alan and Aunt Ione. Unusually for the time, Don’s girlfriend Laurie lived in the house with him. Across the street lived his grandmother Anne Warfield, known as Granny Annie. Don’s father was a Helms bread man with a route that took him from Lancaster up to Rosemond and Mojave.
Don and Frank would get together after school, usually at Frank’s house, and they would listen to records for three or four hours. Then they would get something to eat and try to pick up girls in Vleit’s car—a powder-blue ’49 Oldsmobile with a clay werewolf head attached to the steering wheel. Having failed in this objective, they would go back to Don’s house and listen to more records: obscure Doo Wop cuts by the Spaniels, the Paragons, the Orchids, the Penguins or the great blues masters: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Guitar Slim or Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. They would eat pineapple buns and sweet rolls left over from Don’s father’s bread route and periodically Don would scream at his mother, ‘Sue! Get me a Pepsi!’ She would bustle in, dressed as always in a blue chenille bathrobe and slippers, to wait on her adored only child. Many years later Zappa used this refrain as the basis for his song ‘Why Doesn’t Somebody Get Him A Pepsi?’
Sometimes these record sessions would go on until 5 a.m. and they would skip school the next day. Zappa: ‘It was the only thing that seemed to matter at the time. We listened to those records so often we could sing the guitar leads. We’d quiz each other about how many records does tis guy have out, what was his last record, who wrote it, what is the record number.’
Today it was announced that Don Vliet, also known as Don Van Vliet and Captain Beefheart, died from complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 69.
GT: That guy’s crazy! He’s crazier than I am. I made the mistake of mentioning Frank Zappa’s tune “Trouble Everyday.” He said ‘we’re going to record that thing.’ I said ‘we’re not going to record that. That’s Frank’s. That’s “Like A Rolling Stone” to Dylan. That’s Frank’s.’ Waddy comes back with ‘you’re not leaving here without recording it.’ I said ‘it won’t be easy.’ Waddy says ‘I don’t care. And he made me do it.’
SR: It’s my favorite song on the album for me.
GT: Then it was worth it to get Sheila Rene’ to come speak to me this afternoon.
As you will see below, it is interesting that Thorogood chose to compare “Trouble” to “Like A Rolling Stone.”
Later, same interview, Thorogood offers a fitting tribute quote while discussing legendary producer Bill Graham, who died in 1991:
Bill and Frank are probably hanging together. While we were messing around with “Trouble Everyday” I’d mention Frank Zappa and people were really cheering and happy about Frank. I said ‘You know Frank, he just split because he was done with this. He had turned us on to everything we could possibly be turned on to. Now, he’s waiting for us.’
Waiting for us to get our shit together like he told us to, I think.
“Trouble Every Day” is a unique Zappa product. It may be the only song he ever wrote that wasn’t a doo-wop send-up and that didn’t bend over backwards with satire to make his point. This was a straight-ahead editorial statement by the man about some insanity. You don’t get that often from Frank Zappa’s music. Funny he didn’t write more like it since it was this song that got the Mothers a recording contract.
From Barry Miles’ Zappa: A Biography:
MGM-Verve had just hired a new A&R man and in-house producer called Tom Wilson. In the late fifties and early sixties he had produced avant-garde jazz artists such as Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane. In 1963 Columbia Records made him Bob Dylan’s producer after Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, pressured them to replace John Hammond. Wilson produced Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home (1965) and converted Dylan to rock ‘n’ roll by overdubbing three of his 1961-2 tracks with electric instruments to demonstrate how his folk music would sound with a rock ‘n’ roll beat. He also produced Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ single, of which Zappa said ‘When I Heard “Like A Rolling Stone” I wanted to quit the music business, because I felt “If this wins and does what it’s suppossed to do, I don’t need to do anything else.”…but it didn’t do anything. It sold, but nobody responded to it the way they should have.’
Wilson, who disliked folk music, applied the same technique to Simon and Garfunkel, overdubbing electric insturments on the previously acoustic ‘Sounds of Silence’ and giving them a Number One hit. On the strength of this he was hired by Verve as head of East Coast A&R. His first move was to sign the Velvet Underground, producing their first two albums (though the first is credited to Andy Warhol who, in reality, only sat and watched).
In January 1966 Wilson visited the Coast. One evening at the Trip he met Herb Cohen and accompanied him to the Whiskey to catch the Mothers. He arrived while they were doing an extended boogie workout of the ‘Watts Riot Song’. Wilson was black and probbably appreciated the anti-racist sentiments of the song; at any rate, according to Zappa ‘He heard us sing “The Watts Riot Song (Trouble Every Day)”. He stayed for five minutes, said “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” slapped me on the back, shook my hand and said, “Wonderful. We’re gonna make a record of you. Goodbye.”
Here’s audio of a performance of it at a little place that happens to be a home beacon of sorts for us Bonks: Edinboro State College, 1974.
There is a newsworthy note worth mentioning regarding the song: Dick Turpin died last week at 91. Turpin, real estate editor for the LA Times, was part of a team that won a Pulitzer for its coverage of the Watts riots.
Paul Buff [of Pal Recording Studio] was still cutting tracks, one of which was the instrumental ‘Tijuana Surf.’
Buff wrote it and played all the instruments, and Frank did the same for the B-side, ‘Grunion Run’. (A grunion is a small fish the size of a sardine. Late at night on Los Angeles’ beaches millions of grunions bury themselves in the sand to lay their eggs. Young people gather to watch this spectacle and to go on a Grunion Run is a fifties’ LA euphemism for a hot date.) As Zappa and Buff had received no royalties from Bob Keane—and never did—the Hollywood Persuaders (as they now called themselves) took their new record to Art Laboe who put it out on Original Sound. He leased it to the Mexican label Gamma, shortening their name to the Persuaders, and it spent 17 weeks at Number One in the Mexican charts. Zappa had his first hit, albeit a B-side.