Uncle Frank sounds off: in Zappa's own words
One reason it's so difficult to get a definitive answer to the Läther question is the dearth of interviews from the crucial Spring-Summer 1977 period, when Zappa was between tours. Zappa appears to have commented on the Läther situation only in retrospect. This probably colored both his choice of words and the assumptions made by interviewers when discussing the situation. Zappa usually referred to having delivered four albums to Warner Brothers, which they did not pay him for. This is true, but it implies that the four albums were delivered all at once, rather than as one double set followed by three single albums. (See the John Bamford article in The press on Läther for an instance where Zappa evidently did mention delivering a group of three LPs.) This also suggests (to the suggestible listener) that it was the four-LP Läther box set itself that was delivered to Warners. Zappa may even have consciously perpetuated this impression, as at this point he felt it was in his own interests to promote Läther (which he still may have hoped to release) while disowning the unauthorized Warner Brothers releases. Note, however, that specific references to delivering a 4-LP set to Warners tend to come from the interviewers, not Zappa. Despite the "official" account as given in the liner notes of the Rykodisc CD, I haven't found any source in Zappa's own words specifically saying he delivered Läther itself, as opposed to the material that was used to create Läther, to Warner Brothers at any time.
From Blast ("celebrity rock magazine"), December 1976:
I asked him about his experience playing with orchestras and writing music that incorporated classical stylings. "I just did another album--Six Things," he replied and jumped up to put on his new orchestral work with enthusiasm. He told me from the other side of the room, "I don't do this kind of music to be part of that scene. Basically the setting disgusts me." As he placed the record on the phonograph we discussed classical musicians he admires. ... He told me that he hoped the orchestral album would be released soon and would be enjoyed by his regular audience.
[This interview was conducted prior to the release of Zoot Allures. It would seem that FZ had assembled an album from the Royce Hall shows as early as mid-1976, and it had gotten as far as acetates or test pressings, since the article mentions "putting a record on the phonograph." If the title Six Things refers to the number of compositions, however, this version must have had one more track than Orchestral Favorites (the Royce Hall performances featured several compositions that were left off the LP as released). Still, this strongly suggests that a "version" of Orchestral Favorites was ready before either Zappa In New York or Läther was put together.]
From Zappa's introduction to the Läther broadcast on L.A. radio station KROQ-FM, ca. December 1977:
Well, it's not very simple to explain but I'll make a stab at it, and I don't really believe that people want to listen to a bunch of legal crud on the radio, but it's kinda unavoidable. Warner Brothers does not have the rights to this material although it was delivered to them and they refused to pay me for the material. And so I claimed a breach of contract and set out to negotiate with some other record companies. And in several instances, Warner Brothers interfered with these negotiations and spoiled the possibility of releasing this material elsewhere. The first place they did it was with EMI, and the second place they did it was with Mercury/Phonogram, and Mercury/Phonogram was enough into the deal where they had made test pressings, they were ready to press the album, the cover was printed and so on and so forth. What you're listening to now is actual test pressings of the album that Mercury/Phonogram had prepared. At the last minute, Warner Brothers threatened them with legal proceedings and blah, blah, blah, and so they backed out of the deal.
And the way it stands now, my future as a recording artist is dangling in mid-air pending court procedures, which in California for civil cases can take anywhere from three to five years just to get a day in court and have your case heard. Since I don't think that anybody wants to wait three to five years to hear my wonderful music, I have taken it upon myself to come down here and advise anybody interested in the stuff that I do to get a cassette machine, and tape this album. You can have it for free, just take it right off the radio. You know--don't buy it, tape it!
Quote dated 1978, from Frank Zappa: A Visual Documentary by [Barry] Miles:
There was one track that got removed, "Punky's Whips." They [Warner Bros.] took it out. First of all they had no right to tamper with the tapes. Secondly they didn't pay me for any of the stuff that I delivered to them. I mean, they're just so far in breach of the contract and they're just so grossly unfair. For instance, that track "Punky's Whips" is 12 minutes and 37 seconds long. It's most of a side. They took it out because they didn't have permission from Punky Meadows to use it. Then they have the audacity to go ahead and release the album with 12 minutes missing. There was something in one of the papers over here complaining about how short the album was. It wasn't my fault. I didn't have any control over it. I think Herb Cohen was the one who took it out.
From Record Review Magazine, April 1979:
RRM: Warner Bros. just sent me a test pressing of something called Sleep Dirt, most of which is instrumental stuff from Läther.
FZ: I might point out that that's not the name of the album. That's just a further violation of the original contract. They don't have the right to resequence, repackage or retitle anything that I delivered to them. The original title of that album, as delivered to them, was Hot Rats III. I presume that's just another snide attempt to undermine the merchandising of it. If you saw an album sitting in the rack with the title Sleep Dirt on it, you probably wouldn't be too intrigued by it. Based on the job that they did with the cover of Studio Tan, they made it as unappealing as possible.
RRM: It's difficult to figure out what they figure at this point.
FZ: Well, they ain't doing me no favors, that's for sure. They think in terms of cost effectiveness. They have me pegged as a catalog artist. Just release it and leave it in the rack and after 15 years, it'll still sell. And if they spend extra money on advertising, they figure it's not really gonna do any good because who cares about Zappa stuff? Just stick it in the racks and those 25 freaks out there who like that shit will go out and buy it no matter what it's packaged in.
RRM: Well, we both know that there's more than 25 freaks out there.
FZ: When the four albums were delivered to them, they would not even listen to 'em. Apparently, somebody had done this before--not delivered four albums--but in order to finish off a contract, had walked in with an album of the person singing, backed up with an acoustic guitar. They thought, "What is this? Just Frank and a guitar?" They said that to me. And it was weeks before they could find time, or find somebody qualified to listen to the tapes and notice it was a very elaborate thing. And then they said stuff like, "Well, what if we released these things all at once?" I said, "Yeah, that would be a great idea." They go, "It would?" They're so stupid about it. They should have released it all at once. It would have sold more units; it would have been a really exciting package. But no.
RRM: Were there any overdubs on the live material from Läther?
FZ: Of course. It varied from piece to piece. No overdubs on the orchestra stuff, except for the guitar solo on "Duke Of Prunes." There's no way you can get a feedback sound, playing at that volume, and record an orchestra at the same time. It's a nice effect, though; I love the idea of screaming feedback guitar backed up by a symphony orchestra.
RRM: Were there any legal hassles with "Punky's Whips"?
FZ: Oh yeah; there were legal hassles. I have the release from Punky Meadows saying it's okay to put it out. Warner Bros. did not, so they panicked and decided not to put it out so, against the terms of the contract, they removed 12 minutes from the album, the song, "Punky's Whips."
RRM: And they also knocked out the mention of Punky in, uh...
FZ: "Titties And Beer."
RRM: So the release is to you, not to Warners?
FZ: Right. As a matter of fact, Herb Cohen offered to pay Punky Meadows a couple of thousand dollars to sign a release, but he wouldn't do it.
RRM: So if Warners can't use it, it might end up on a future thing of yours?
FZ: That's right. In fact, there's an even better version now, that we taped and filmed last year in New York at the Halloween show. [Subsequently released on the Baby Snakes video and album.]
RRM: When you gave the 4-record set to Warners[!], were you thinking of it as any kind of summing up of your career since there are all sorts of things on there?
FZ: You have to understand that at no point am I summing up my career. At any point in time I may be working in any one of the mediums that were on the Läther album. Although, right now I'm rehearsing the band, getting ready for this tour, and we're learning a wide range of material, I'm still working on orchestra stuff. And I'm working on a film, and I'm working on a lot of different things all at the same time. So, if that Läther album would have come out with all four records on it, it wouldn't have been like a summing up. It would have just been business as usual. I wish that I could release something like that a couple of times a year because there's that much stuff going on. But it's difficult.
[Not only do the words "four albums" and "these things" imply that what Zappa first presented to Warner Brothers were the separate LPs, this account suggests that it was someone at the label who planted in Zappa's mind in the first place the idea to combine the albums into one monstrous package! Yet subsequent parts of this interview, as quoted above, constitute the best evidence I have been able to find against my own explanation of events. Could Warners' rejection of "Punky's Whips" actually have come after FZ's split with the label, rather than precipitating it?]
From Musician, Player & Listener, August 1979:
M: Could you explain your lawsuit with Warner Bros.?
Zappa: I delivered four completed albums to them almost two years ago, to fulfill my contract. I owed them four albums, so I walked in one day and said, "Here's the tapes." And they were supposed to pay me, but they never did. And I'm the one who paid to make the tapes--all the costs of the musicians, the studio time, the parts copying, the rentals of the equipment, and all the other costs of making an album. I put that all out of my bank account to produce those tapes, and they have no publishing licenses, and they haven't paid me any royalties. They left me holding the bag for quite a few bucks.
M: What do you suggest your fans do concerning the recent Warner Bros. releases? Buy them, bootleg them, tape them, or what?
Zappa: Well, that's a very difficult question to answer, because no matter what I say, it's going to have some bearing on the legal outcome of the case. If I insist that they bootleg these things, Warner Bros. will come after me with another suit. And if I tell them to go and buy the records, then I'm sticking money in Warner Bros.'s pocket, which they in turn use to finance lawyers to fight me. How about, just let your conscious [sic] be your guide?
From Music Pulse, July 1980:
MP: What happened with Warner Bros.?
Zappa: I got very pissed off at them when I delivered four albums to them and they didn't pay me. Four completed albums, on tape, ready to master. I have a contract that says, when I give them the tape, thay give me a check. I gave them the tapes, they didn't give me any money. I had paid out of my pocket to make the four albums and I was waiting to be reimbursed by them in order to pay off the expenditure that I had put into the thing. They didn't give me the money, they didn't have publishing licenses for the material, and they proceeded to, against my wishes, and in breach of the contract, release all four albums, without paying for them.
MP: Some people say you just rushed the last few albums off to get out of the quota of albums you had to do for them.
Zappa: Absolutely not.
From Society Pages (USA), April 1990:
SP: I believe that you mentioned recently that you were planning on releasing those three "ugly albums" that Warner Brothers put out, putting them out the way that they put 'em out, with the same covers...
FZ: With their covers, yeah.
SP: Right. As opposed to reverting back to your original intentions of putting out Läther as the four record set. Why did you choose to do that?
FZ: Because boxes are difficult to purchase, because they cost more, and stores are reluctant to--first of all, stores are reluctant to stock anything that I do, but they're even more reluctant to stock a box.
[Note that it is interviewer Den Simms, not Zappa, who describes the box set format as Zappa's "original intentions." But Zappa doesn't deny it.]
Läther vs. the DiscReet albums
Gail Zappa on Läther
The press on Läther
A review of Läther
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