The Gail Zappa Variations

The following quotes are from Gail Zappa's liner notes to the Rykodisc CD issue of Läther. While the story as presented by Zappa's own wife would seem to be the definitive statement, there remains room for doubt. Even the CD's other liner essay (by Simon Prentis) acknowledges another version of the Läther saga, suggesting that the situation remains unclear.

As originally conceived by Frank, Läther was always a 4-record box set. One more time for the world: Läther was always a 4-record box set.

This is the crux of the biscuit, and Gail sounds pretty unequivocal about Läther being the original format in which this material was put together. But the evidence (as presented elsewhere in this document) suggests that Zappa put together a slightly different version of Orchestral Favorites no later than mid-1976 (before a significant amount of Läther was even recorded), and that Zappa In New York was completed and submitted to Warner Brothers before Läther was compiled.

Meanwhile, Simon Prentis in his Läther essay writes: "Others have claimed that, no, it was the other way round; the separate versions were prepared first, the Läther album being a bold attempt to get the material released elsewhere before the corporate legal machinery started to roll."

The record company didn't want to release it. FZ wanted to release it with another record company, as a special project. The record company didn't want the record company to release it.

Gail's (Or Rykodisc's? Or some lawyer's?) reluctance actually to name any of the record companies involved renders the preceding sentence unintelligible. What she means is that Warner Brothers didn't want Zappa to release material he had already delivered to them through any other label. He actually tried releasing Läther through at least two other labels (EMI/Capitol and Mercury/Phonogram).

He asked for an assignment of his contract from his production deal to the record company direct in order to advance the possibility of being able to do "special projects" (like box sets would you believe). Briefly the record company agreed (one record appeared on this label), then reneged.

What's puzzling about this comment is the timing. The album that appeared on "the record company direct" (i.e., the Warner Brothers label as opposed to DiscReet) was Zoot Allures, which was released October 29, 1976. Again, this is before many of the tracks that would go onto Läther were even recorded. I believe the reason why Zoot Allures did not appear on DiscReet is that Herb Cohen, recently fired as Zappa's manager (May 1976), and now the target of an acrimonious lawsuit, still had a financial interest in the label.

They told him that under his contract he owed them 4 more records. (They didn't want him to release it.) He reluctantly reformatted Läther and delivered it to the label. Nothing like this had ever happened before. No artist had cured his obligations by delivering all the albums required at once.

Gail refers to the delivery of four records to fulfill the Warners contract. Four discs or four albums? If the former, then Gail's story would imply that Zappa delivered more than he was obliged to, which seems extremely unlikely! And the latter interpretation is belied by the fact that Zappa In New York was almost certainly delivered to Warner Brothers separately from the other three individual LPs.

They wouldn't pay him. They wouldn't release him. He took Läther to a local radio station and asked them to play the entire program. They did and this is how it came to pass that Frank asked the listeners to get their tape recorders ready and thus delivered Läther free to the public radio audience. The rest is history.

Part of that history is an excellent quality four-LP bootleg box set on the bogus "Edison" label which appeared in the mid-'80s, and which fooled a lot of unwary consumers into thinking they had a genuine copy of Läther. Given Zappa's active retaliation in the face of the literally hundreds of bootlegs that bore his name (prosecuting at least one bootleg producer, authorizing the Beat The Boots series), it's surprising that a legitimate Läther only reached the marketplace posthumously.

Läther vs. the DiscReet albums

Frank Zappa on Läther

The press on Läther

A review of Läther

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