BY GREGG KILDAY
Times Staff Writer
Before agreeing to be photographed, Frank Zappa excused himself to shave.
Frank Zappa shaves? Frank Zappa--that Rasputin of Rock, the man who gave America the Mothers of Invention, "Lumpy Gravy," "Son of Suzy Creamcheese," Hot Rats and "200 Motels"--before agreeing to be photographed, excused himself to shave?
Yes, my friends, we are speaking today of that same Frank Zappa, a man of many contradictions, a monarch of the scruffy underworld of L.A. freakdom, a sometimes colleague of Zubin Mehta, a master media-manipulator who thoroughly despises journalists, writers and pen-pushers of every ilk because journalists, writers and pen-pushers have a way of simplifying and--if you can believe it--vulgarizing the contradictions.
So why has Zappa agreed to an interview?
Because Sunday night at the Hollywood Bowl Frank Zappa is leading his latest permutation of the Mothers of Invention--a 20-man electronically amplified orchestra billed as the Grand Wazoo--into musical battle.
And since Zappa has prepared a 25-page press release in explanation of the event, we herein quote him at what might be called excessive length:
"Since the earliest days of the M.O.I. (from about 1964, roughly)," Zappa writes, "I have been interested in assembling some kind of electric orchestra, capable of performing intricate compositions at the same sound-intensity levels normally associated with other forms of pop music.
"Every 'new' group (and occasionally, a few of the older ones) will issue some kind of proclamation explaining the fantastic potential delights resultant from exposure to their impending unique material, ingenious stage-craft, and/or their groovy vibes. This is usually accompanied by descriptions of the wonderful freedom shown by the group in performance, and assorted stuff about how everybody in the group loves what they're doing . . . I make none of these claims on behalf of the Wazoo.
"To begin with, the Wazoo bears little resemblance to any previous form of rock 'n' roll band. There are 20 musicians in it who mostly sit down and read music from an array of charming little fiberboard stands. Nobody sings. Nobody dances. They just play music.
"The Wazoo may earn its niche in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame simply for being the only 'new' group in pop history that knows from in front it won't be as big as the Beatles, has a reasonable idea of what the complete span of its 'career' will pay them, and is thoroughly aware of the precise time and place designated for the 'breaking up of the group' (right after the show in the dressing room of Boston's Music Hall, Sept. 24, 1972.)
But are his audiences ready?
"Realistically," Zappa says, "I know what we do is not as appealing on an entertainment level as what other groups do. I would like to make our material more available to American audiences, but to do that you have to get exposure on AM radio and to do that you have to have a vocal record of 2 minutes and 30 seconds in length that says nothing and has four or five notes that are memorable for a period of six weeks.
"You just have to like our music before you can hear it," he asserts. "It does contain repetitive elements, but they occur over longer periods of time. A theme that appears in one song might turn up again three albums later. I deal with a larger time scale. There's continuity in my work if you have the energy to look for it.
"I have the tendency to put music together in odd ways. It's because of the musical upbringing I've had.
"I don't think anyone wants to listen to me strum a nice guitar and tell people about my life and hard times. I see things from a different corner of the room. From where I sit things look funny. I save other people the trouble of going over to that corner themselves."
In his corner, Zappa rules imperiously. He explains a diagram of the mixers and amplifiers that will magnify the sound of his music. He fiercely disavows David Walley's recently published "No Commercial Potential: The Saga of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention" as a distorted ripoff he would have preferred to see not published.
He recounts the attack upon him last year in London's Rainbow Theater, how this guy jumped him toward the end of a concert, knocked him into a 15-foot deep orchestra pit breaking Zappa's leg which, nine months later, is still not fully healed.
So what if Frank Zappa excuses himself to shave before agreeing to be photographed? He knows it will all be distorted. It's an uphill battle all the way.
As much as he might want to eliminate the element of shock and outrage that distinguished the Mothers of Invention in favor of "serious musical endeavor," Frank Zappa just can't seem to get away from it.
Sunday night it took the form of a large exodus of disgruntled folk who had come to the Hollywood Bowl expecting to see the Mothers and hear some rock 'n' roll.
Instead they got the world premiere of the Grand Wazoo, a 20-piece orchestra which performed several jazzy and contemporary classical pieces, some of which were plain dull, the best of which sparkled with the unique and inventive Zappa humor.
The 21st-century cartoon music of "The New Brown Clouds" was an engaging opener; "Big Swifty" featured some modestly successful jazz solos, while "Approximate," a finely wrought collection of controlled randomness, was the most blatantly avant-garde selection.
The highlight of the program was by far "The Adventures of Gregory Peccary," and while one might wish that it could be presented full-scale--with narrator, chorus and dancers--its pictorial quality and adventurous textures (especially the jarring dissonances of the third movement) indicate that while Zappa is moving toward a synthesis whose chance for success is uncertain, he, if anyone, will be able to pull it off.
The spectre of Jim Morrison still hangs heavy over the Doors, and they have yet to come up with any music with enough personality to dispel it. Their set was most innocuous, until Ray Manzarek, displaying a rather odd sense of humor, dedicated "Light My Fire" to Jimbo and promised that he'll be back with the group the next time they're at the Bowl. Don't miss it.
Tim Buckley opened the show.
FRANK ZAPPA has disbanded the Mothers of Invention, and formed a new 20-piece band which he will bring to his concert at London's Oval Cricket Ground on September 16.
The only remaining Mother in his new band, Hot Rats, is Ian Underwood. Former Mothers Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman, Don Preston and Aynsley Dunbar have formed a new group, Phlorescent Leech and Eddie.
Zappa's new outfit comprises six brass, six reeds, two concert percussionists, two guitars, electric 'cello, bass, keyboards and drums. New drummer is Jim Gordon, who played with Traffic in the latter half of last year, and who played in Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominoes.
HAWKWIND will be closing the show at the Oval. Zappa will play immediately before them.
Reason for the decision to allow Hawkwind to close is their intention to use a full light show and fireworks.
Hawkwind top the bill at The Windsor Fringe Festival, a one-day event being held in a marquee in Windsor Home Park on September 23. Also appearing at the event are Quicksilver Messenger Service, MC5, Pink Fairies, Renaissance, Brewer's Droop and Home.
Also from Melody Maker, 9/2/72
FRANK ZAPPA's decision to disband the Mothers and form a 20-piece band was made several months ago. In his peculiarly methodical manner, Zappa plans ahead in almost everything he does.
He retains an almost total control over the musicians he works with: disbanding groups, forming new ones and releasing records with the precision of a stock exchange dealer.
Over a crackly transatlantic telephone link, Zappa, as methodical as ever, told the MM this week that he'd been looking forward to forming a large band for some time. Many of the musicians are Los Angeles session men, although some are from the LA Philharmonic.
"The new band consists of 20-pieces," he said. "There are six reed players but each individual player can play around seven instruments. There's six brass, two concert percussionists, one electric cello, two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. All 20 musicians will be coming to Britain."
This band, says Zappa, has been rehearsing for two months. Their first live show is at the Hollywood Bowl on September 10, and Zappa has written a considerable amount of new material for the band's debut.
Virtually all the material will be unfamiliar to followers of Zappa. His latest album "Waka/Jawaka" contains one piece the new band will play--"Big Swifty"--although Zappa informs us that a much more "grandiose" version will be served up on stage. He's keeping "Uncle Meat" as well, but it appears that the classic "Peaches En Regalia" is gone forever.
Four musicians who play on "Waka/Jawaka" appear in Hot Rats as well as Zappa. They are Sal Marquez (trumpets), Ken Shroyer (trombone), Mike Altschul (flute, clarinet and sax), and Tony Duran (slide guitar).
Ian Underwood, the only survivor from the Mothers of Invention, will be featured on synthesiser and the new drummer is Jim Gordon who came to England first with Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominoes and had a spell with Traffic last year. Bass player is Dave [Parlato].
"The music the band plays," says Zappa, "is very far reaching and includes a variety of styles. Some of the stuff is rock and roll and the rest is pretty jazzy. Some of it is kind of weird too.
"I have always wanted to have a large group and an opportunity has never presented itself in the past, but it's quite impractical to run a group of this size."
Vocals, says Zappa, will be out. "The only vocals you will hear in this band are the announcements from the stage between numbers. We are hoping to keep the band with some sort of permanency, but it's a question of economics. The concerts we are working in Europe are large dates. They are out of doors and therefore we can do a different kind of deal with the promoters."
Methodical as ever, Zappa impressed the point of air transportation. "It's economically viable at this time to bring the band over but the band will only play when suitable occasions arise. The entire party will consist of 30 people and to get plane tickets for all those in the middle of the tourist season is pretty difficult."
Has Zappa's leg injury healed? "No, it's not," he replied emphatically. "I have to wear a leg brace for another two months and after that I will be able to get around using a cane."
From Melody Maker, 9/23/72
AND NOW for a complete history of the New Mothers Of Invention/Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo, brought to you by courtesy of Franz Zappa....
"Since the earliest days of the Mothers of Invention, I have been interested in assembling some kind of electric orchestra, capable of performing intricate compositions at the same sound intensity levels normally associated with other forms of pop music..."
Thus writes Frank, the original Mother, in a carefully prepared dossier, presented for the media, in typically Zapparian fashion.
Whatever else the fatal fall at London's Rainbow Theatre did to Frank last December, it failed to damage that keenly honed mind, or impair the intelligence of a musician, ever-striving for stimulus and satisfaction.
Creative people naturally build up their own environment, as their ideas and decisions lead to the surroundings in which they live and work. When an uncontrollable force bursts upon them, in this case the anonymous brutality of a physical attack, it can send tumbling attitudes and aspirations, as well as the helpless body.
When Frank Zappa returned to consciousness in the dusty orchestra pit at Finsbury Park, he was faced with months of considerable pain and a breakdown of his career.
Recalling the incident, when he was pushed from the stage and fell twenty feet, he said: "I just woke up in the orchestra pit. I don't even know what he looks like. Yes--there was a lot of pain."
For a while, it looked as if Frank would not be able to play guitar again, let alone indulge in the strenuous work of assembling bands and taking them on tour. He was hospitalised for months and had to walk on crutches. Even now he has to wear a brace. But as soon as doctors gave him the go-ahead, Frank was able to consider his biggest stage concert so far: the twenty piece Grand Wazoo.
"Grand Wazoo represents the first large-scale attempt to mount such a monstrosity, and to actually move it across a couple of continents to do concerts."
What were the long term effects of the accident, and how had Zappa changed? We met at the Oval Cricket ground in a room where portraits of Her Majesty and ancient cricketers glowered from the walls. It was cold and damp and the stage was still being erected for Saturday's concert.
Frank looked ill and subdued, although there were occa[s]ional flashes of the old smile. Much of the bite had gone out of his statements, and often it was difficult to catch what he was saying.
But he was as courteous and concerned with detail as ever. After a warm handshake, his first concern was that Grand Wazoo had "9,000 pounds of equipment in nine, seven foot containers."
Many who greeted him wondered if Frank felt worried about a return trip to England, recalling the Albert Hall ban, as well as the injury.
"No--I was quite glad to see the place again," he said quietly, a heavy overcoat draped around his shoulders.
Did he feel bitter at what happened?
"No--I feel better. Better than I did at the time. You can't hold a grudge forever. But when I woke up, I wasn't too interested in touring again. What did I do while I was locked up in hospital? I groaned a lot. You mean--did I have any revelations. Well, I've been in hospital before, and I review my career and music constantly anyway."
What were the extent of Frank's injuries and how had they affected his playing?
"Physically, I feel okay now, but it's impossible for me to work a wah-wah pedal. And also as a result of the accident, I couldn't move my hand for three weeks and I didn't think I would be able to play guitar. But gradually the feeling came back and I've practised a lot. But it really is an inconvenience not being able to work a wah-wah pedal.
"You see the bones were broken in such a [weird] place they wouldn't set in the normal fashion. So no healing took place for a few months. Then slowly it started to pick up. After six months they took off the cast and put me into a brace of leather, steel and shoe strings."
Zappa was asked if it was any consolation to know the man responsible had been imprisoned.
"No--not much, thank you."
What were the effects on his career?
"Far reaching. If it had not occurred, this group would not exist. Possibly I'd be into the production of another film right now. I had to change plans radically because the plans involved the group I had at the time. I was unable to tour and the Mothers need work to survive. I was unable to provide employment for them, and they all have wives and families to support."
Did the shock and enforced idleness have any effects on his personality?
"Oh yeah, I feel differently about a lot of things. It gives you the chance to find out who your friends really are." Frank added the last statement without any great rancour. But it seemed obvious he had been hurt by some of the statements made about him by past musical associates in recent interviews.
They did not necessarily include his ex-vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, although Frank said of them: "They have some group together of their own now and they have recorded an album. I just got the feeling that when they came to visit me in hospital, it was the last time I would see them."
But how did he feel about the kind of critical remarks made about him by artists he had produced?
"You mean, how do I feel about opportunists? All that stuff could be prevented if all the acts we had produced were forced to sign a management contract. But we don't do that. And all the acts I have produced--well their managements never do me any favours. They just exploit these things and everybody believes it."
There have been press releases from acts that had been motivated by their managements. The thing that annoys me about acts that complain they have been mistreated by me, is that the reports are not ethical or good journalism. Somebody says--'Zappa did this to me'--and it looks like sensational copy. Then the report goes into a clip file and it[']s down forever. It's happened four or five times with four or five artists."
Specifically--how did he feel [about] the criticism levelled at him by Capt. Beefheart, the singer he discovered and produced?
"I feel upset about an artist I had known a long time and considered to be a friend, turning out to be something different. I felt I had lost a lot of respect for him. I found it particularly annoying as it was a premeditated effort to gain publicity."
Incidentally--what happened to Wild Man Fischer, who made an album of disturbed yelling when Frank put him in a studio?
"He was the only artist we ever managed--and he's just wandering around the streets of L.A. But he WAS mad." Frank laughed, and for the first time, he looked less strained.
At that moment, there came an interruption, as a girl rushed forward and thrust a bouquet of flowers into Zappa's lap. He looked slightly startled as she said it was to make up for his last visit to England. It was quickly ascertained that she was the girl friend of Zappa's assailant.
"I've seen some peculiar instances--that was one right there," said Frank. "Perhaps that too is something that could only happen in England."
He looked pleased, but there was an immediate investigation to see if it had been a stunt, as darkly suspected by Herb Cohen, affable master of Bizarre Business, Zappa's production company.
"This is getting a bit deep for me," said Frank, and he obviously preferred to think it was a genuine gesture.
Meanwhile we referred back to the History of the Grand Wazoo, which Frank had written with loving care and was most disturbed to know it had not been copied and distributed. In fact he had the only edition and had to read me aloud extracts.
"If this initial season proves itself to be anything less than a financial disaster (as production and travel costs are extremely high for a group of this size), the Wazoo will reorganise for another concert tour next summer. In any event the Wazoo will be ceremoniously disbanded after a concert in Boston. Immediately upon return to L.A. rehearsals will begin for still another kind of Mothers Of Invention--a ten piece group playing a completely different repertoire, with its own concert tour booked for the end of October."
"Go on," I said. Frank cleared his throat and turned over a page. This dealt with the usual fanfares accorded new bands.
"Every new group will issue some kind of proclamation explaining the fantastic potential delights resultant from exposure to their impending unique material, ingenious stage craft, and/or their groovy vibes. This is accompanied by descriptions of the wonderful freedom shown by the group in performance and assorted stuff about how everybody in the group loves what they're doing, and what a nice wholesome bunch of lads they are... or maybe they're not wholesome... maybe they're tough and degenerate. (But of course, beneath it all, each fellow is exquisitely talented and in possession of a golden heart with matching soul, as indicated by the painted, innocent, troubled, searching facial expression in the group photo). I make none of these claims on behalf of the WAZOO."
Zappa went on to say... "To begin with, the Wazoo bears little resemblance to any previous form of rock and roll band. There are twenty musicians in it who mostly sit down and read music from an array of charming little fibre board stands. Nobody sings. Nobody dances. They just play music.
"Those in the audience who make a fetish of close-range seats in order to scrutinize a group's soul-squint/grimace potential (to see if they're really getting into it), may be disappointed to discover the generalised WAZOO eyeball heavily oriented to the printed page and conductor's baton."
Frank got the WAZOO together with the help of trombone player Kenny Shroyer, with whom he worked on the "Lumpy Gravy" album. Frank says it's the only new group in pop history that knows it won't be as big as the Beatles, is thoroughly aware of the precise time and place designated for a break-up.
It was getting colder, and Frank wanted to split. Besides, it was his wedding anniversary and sitting around in the draughty bar of the Oval Cricket Ground was not the best way to ENJOY such an event
"Would you like some flowers?" He smiled and presented the MM with a bouquet.
From International Times, 10/4-18/72
Promoting rock is always fraught with danger, as the brothers Foulk found out (yet again) last Saturday afternoon. Few people expected them to lose money on a line up like Jeff Beck, Zappa and Hawkwind, but they certainly did--the factors being poor weather and expensive tickets--with the result that the green was never more than half full and the raised seating round the periphery hardly used. But, as well as being a good tax loss, it was also the best music I have seen at a one-day event for a long time, and what's more you didn't have to queue for anything. I got there half way through Man's set, complete with a blue blazered male voice choir from the valleys, and their relaxed but insistent set got things off to a good start.
Jeff Beck in a leery white suit made his first British appearance with the ex-Vanilla Fudge [rhythm] section, Tim Bogart on bass, and drummer Carmine Appice, a line-up he first mentioned several years ago, and together they ripped out a set of fast, funky and impeccable rock 'n roll. Beck was in good form, and ranged as far back as 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' and 'Over Under Sideways Down', and these brought a cheer from the shivering crowd beneath the grey gas works, but all the same I thought the sound was a bit thin in places, places where a bit of Max Middleton and good ol' Cozy Powell wouldn't have gone amiss. After a quick encore they were gone, and we settled down to wait for nightfall and the coming of the Grand Wazoo.
After a lot of messing about, mainly because the lighting was making the giant p.a. hum, the Machiavelli of rock limped forth and introduced the members of his 20 piece jazz orchestra by means of an elaborate and prolonged balance check. The crowd got interested as the 10 minute mix went on, and when they finally came together and burst into 'Big Swifty' from the 'Waka/Jawaka' album, they had the inexorable power of a musical express-train. There is something awesome about a loud medium-size jazz orchestra roaring out into the night, and the small scruffy Zappa stood in the middle and beat out time with his Wazoo's wand like an infant-school music teacher. There was nothing infantile about the music though, he handled the complicated score and made it swing as only the composer could, particularly on a new piece 'The Adventures of Gregory Peccary' (a species of small wild pig native to South California, and how he avoids being made into a pair of ladies' pigskin gloves) and added between movements that in case anyone was getting restless there'd be a shuffle along real soon. This appearance was a lot different from the ad-libbing insanity of Mark and Howie, but we got a flash of Mr Zappa's serious side, particularly in the passages when he played guitar. We got a rendering of what he chose to call 'Dog Meat', a medley of the King Kong theme from Uncle Meat and the 'Dog Breath Variations', one of his most evocative and haunting compositions, but sadly no 'Peaches en Regalia', which I had hoped would be an ideal choice for this current medium. At the end, he hung around the stage and seemed to be disappointed at his reception, which was a shame after what happened at the Rainbow last year.
By this time, the thing was running well late but little Linda Lewis did a quick set while the Sonic Assassins set up. It was a bad place to squeeze her in, between strong stuff like Zappa and Hawkwind and she didn't come over half so well as at Bickershaw, the last big crowd I saw her facing.
Then the lights darkened, the boggies leapt to their feet as they heard Del and Dikmik's oscillators speeding up, and we all faced our private crises on Spaceship Earth, while the giant words 'Life Supply' and 'Functional' winked on and off in the heavens. These boys are no longer Ladbroke Grove aristocracy but genuine wasted Sergio Leone-type pop-stars and the act has tightened up enough to keep this together. There was a strong feeling of deja vu about the Wind's set, a strong echo of the early Floyd, not musically but in the incredible vibes built up between an audience and the sounds they identify strongly with. It was a shame Mr Brock and the boys' piece de resistance, the firework display, had to be cancelled due to lack of time and increasing charyness by the genteel cricket club officials already narked by the bonfires blazing away the sacred turf. A shame 'cos a bonfire and fireworks scene would have been a good lift at the end of a good Oval.
From The Road Goes On For Ever by Philip Norman (Elm Tree Books, 1982):
...One publicity stunt involving Frank Zappa had already badly misfired. This was to be Zappa's first concert in Britain since being pulled by a girl fan's enraged fiancé from the stage of the Rainbow Theatre, and sustaining a broken leg. Peter Harrigan had arranged for Zappa, still on crutches, to give a press conference at which his attacker's girl friend was propelled forward to hand him a consoling bunch of flowers. Zappa's manager was currently looking for Peter Harrigan in order to break his back....
This concert, for a piffling 15,000, was being put on largely to introduce another two weeks later, but Ronnie was still worried by it. In a Rock show, he has learned, one must offer "a legend and something current". Frank Zappa, for all his disabled leg, and the supporting band, Hawkwind, did not seem to Ronnie's eye to be sufficient of either; although, as is the way of musicians, they had impressed themselves exceedingly. Both at the same time were demanding the privilege of playing last on the programme....
The dispute had been settled as to which act played last. Frank Zappa had agreed to go onstage first, thus appeasing the vanity of Hawkwind and enabling the whole concert to finish, as prescribed by the GLC [Greater London Council] licence, at 10 p.m. The Foulks could feel confident of being able to present their second Oval concert in a fortnight's time.
Zappa's fee was £12,000. Of this, half had been paid in advance; the remainder would be handed to him before he struck a note, in cash. But Ronnie's doubts as to his drawing-power had been realised. The day's gate-takings were not sufficient for the balance to be paid in cash: such a matter must therefore be broached as will make any promoter fearful. Would Zappa take a cheque?...
Since Zappa's manager had threatened to break his back, Peter Harrigan took no part in the negotiations now proceeding--indeed, he could only approach the backstage area by ducking along car-bodies like a Resistance fighter. Zappa would accept a cheque, but the meeting was not cordial. With Ray was the Foulks' company solicitor, who happened to be wearing plimsolls. This led Zappa's manager brusquely to question his powers-of-attorney. Ray returned from the meeting pale with anger....
The money counted, the incarnation might become complete. Yet the coming of Frank Zappa was of a vividness unequal to the bargaining for it. He was, after all, a man of normal size, with a prominent nose, swinging on a crutch. The nose was visible from time to time over the parapet of the stage while Zappa delivered an electronic symphony, like the disputing of many xylophones, to a largely expressionless night. By the time he had finished, it was 10 o'clock. The GLC licence had expired. Hawkwind were still to play....
As Zappa left the backstage enclosure, a girl shrieked something at him and was pushed aside by his black bodyguard. An admirer of the girl started to attack the roof of Zappa's limousine with a wooden post. He was laid senseless by the black man. The same black man had also dealt with one of the West Ken Mob who now leaned at a drainpipe with a diagram in red where his lips ought to have been....
Additional reviews of the 9/16/72 London show can be found at the UK Rock Festivals site.
An eye-witness account of the Hague show, 9/17/72, from PaulB:
My first Frank Zappa show was 09-17 1972 Houtrusthallen The Hague Holland. A weird venue not at all intended to have concerts there. The Hot Rats Orchestra was in the middle of the hall so the other half of the hall, behind the orchestra, was empty. Frank came on stage with help from some assistants because his leg was in plaster. He was sitting the whole concert on a barstool conducting the concert with his back to the audience. He would only stand up for guitar solos. The first thing he said was: "This hall sounds like a cave."
During intermission the orchestra played improvisations while the audience was getting beer. I recorded the concert but lost the tape and have no idea where it is now. Probably gave it to a friend to listen... that was more then 30 years ago.
From Oor magazine, 9/27/72
translated from Dutch by Jillis Stada (edited by Charles Ulrich)
You can ask yourself what the Grand Wazoo project means in the plans of Frank Zappa. In his own words: "If this tour (which starts with a series of eight Wazoo Concerts) is something less than a financial disaster, then the Wazoo will tour again next summer."
His suspicions about a financial disaster were obvious: a band with 20 musicians, traveling by charter plane, costs a fortune. He can forget Europe next time.
"If he comes with such a group, playing such music, there is no dog in the whole of England who will organize a concert." Vic Harrigan from Foulk Brothers (Wight, Wembley Rock & Roll Show etc; big events only) shares the hangover with organizers in West Germany and Holland.
Zappa played last Saturday in "Rock at The Oval". Other groups were Hawkwind, Jeff Beck, Linda Lewis, Man, Biggles, and Sam Apple Pie. Hawkwind, big in England, closed the show with lights and loud music for about 25,000 people, of whom an untold number came for Zappa's new adventure.
"Less people, because the pre-publicity was a wash-out. There was also a plan to let the fiancée of the guy who pushed Frank from the stage last year at the Rainbow offer flowers. Herb Cohen was pissed and Frank said no also. He hates London like the plague."
In England the public was very pleased with the instrumental music by the new Mothers/Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo band. The critics almost without exception dipped their quills in sweet ink. That also happened in Holland and Germany.
Lieberberg from the German Mama Productions: "We had to pull out to West Berlin, because there was nothing to get in Frankfurt. 4,000 people in the Deutschlandhalle, which can hold 12. Those 4,000 were very enthusiastic and could boost their gladness the next morning with fine reviews. "Zappa is not big yet in Germany"--Mama Productions.
"Frank is no superstar at this moment. Grand Wazoo belongs in a good hall with diehard fans. With the costs of this 20-piece band that doesn't work. We won't burn our fingers again"--Ark Concert Presentations (Ron and Ray Foulk).
Paul Acket--after fierce competition with Mojo [another promoter]--in charge of the ice cold Houtrust Hallen: "7 to 8,000 people at the last moment, still more than we had expected. The setback might have been worse. But will this music attract more people?"
Anyone that heard the applause in the Houtrust Hallen wouldn't be surprised about the reports in the newspapers: Zappa and the Grand Wazoo Orchestra did a fine job. Doubts about a possible repeat cannot be drawn from the result of the first encounter with this new project.
There appeared only one middle-aged Mother on the stage in the Houtrust Hallen: Ian Underwood, and he got a roaring applause. Most members of the band formed for this occasion are session musicians from L.A., some from the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. Drummer Jim Gordon (once with Clapton and the Dominos and Traffic) was also no stranger, and there were four musicians in the "ring" who worked on the Waka/Jawaka LP: Sal Marquez (trumpet), Kenny Shroyer (trombone), Mike Altschul (several reed instruments), and slide guitarist Tony Duran. There was a brass section of six people, a reed section of six, percussion including Tom Raney (vibes and amplified percussion), Ruth Underwood (marimba and amplified percussion), and Jim Gordon (electronic drums), bass player David Parlato, and Underwood with his piano and synthesizer.
Zappa, who still has a brace on his leg and moved with great difficulty (according to the English, he was nervous in London, nearly exploding), appeared to be pleased with the attendance in The Hague, the best in proportion after Berlin and London.
The miserable set-up (Acket had to close one hall) resulted in the orchestra playing in an empty space. "It sounds like a cave," burped Zappa into the microphone. What mostly gave some boom to the ensemble passages, but seldom got annoying.
Zappa--he rehearsed two months with the Grand Wazoo before the premiere on September 10th in the Hollywood Bowl--followed the same order in his program in all cities. Opening: "The New Brown Clouds", in fact the closing of "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary", one of the brain flowers that will never grow due to a money shortage.
The Hot Rats piece "Big Swifty", which fills side one of the Waka/Jawaka album, paved the way for the rest of two and a half hours of rock-jazz and weird music. With a tickling solo from Marquez, at the end joined beautifully by his trumpet-mates Malcolm [McNab] and Tom Malone and by Zappa himself, who, better than ever before in Holland, made sounds on his guitar. Shortbitten tones, never singing (also not later on in other compositions like "Think It Over"), but transporting the listener far away in their sequence.
There is not much humor in the music that Zappa is making now. "Approximate", in his own words the most "far-out" work on the program, did contain that humor through fierce oppositions, seeming chaos, and grumbling duets. "For Calvin And His Next Two Hitch-hikers", dedicated to his album designer, Cal Schenkel, normally has sung text parts.On the Grand Wazoo album, which Zappa has planned for the coming months, Kaylan and Volman will help out.
"Huchentoot" is a science fiction musical, which Zappa has just finished. "Think It Over (Grand Wazoo)" came from that work and became the nicest part of the evening. Again with a concentrated Zappa on guitar, and very relaxed horns.
"Uncle Meat", loudly greeted, got a pompous performance from the screeching and whipping orchestra, which got a lot of applause like the other pieces in the encore, but wasn't such a mindblower as the previous pieces.
Grand Wazoo is obviously a prestige project for Zappa, now that his musicians Aynsley Dunbar, Don Preston, and Jim Pons are working with the Turtles. The Grand Wazoo tour may not have attracted a big audience (everybody old bitches about the conformist Zappa has become, but even before he had put his stiff leg on the stage of the Deutschlandhalle they were sighing here about the "too far-out" music), but it brought music full of ecstasy. It will never come back, except on a record. And for the rest you can only guess what Zappa will do. Let him mess about.
From the Village Voice, 9/28/72:
Frank Zappa brought his new band to the Felt Forum last Friday. It's been five years since the original Mothers of Invention tore 'em up (baby dolls as well as audiences) at the old Garrick Theatre on Bleecker Street, but the high school vegetables Zappa once sneered at all came down, with their white socks tucked into short jeans, barefoot braless wonders in dirty tye-dyes at their sides, to hail him as a prophet and yell for "Help, I'm A Rock" while he tried to play his new music.
The Forum has been completely redecorated to kick off its new season as a music emporium. There are small silver reflecting globes and a "Magic foods to turn you on" stand right beside the regular blue lucite hot dog counter, dispensing "Joy Juice" in orange, grape, or lime at 35 cents a shot, tended by a very beatific-looking, bald, bearded bohemian. Diverse stoned types played cosmic hopscotch with the dots of light moving across the floor--some Quaalude-laden old Garrick regulars and equally styleless fellow jumpers who were probably in junior high at that time.
Tim Buckley was onstage doing a lot of his old songs like "Gypsy Woman" and "Pleasant Street." His voice still soars and swoops from a most sensual moan to a full-out wail down a no-city street, but he is now back from a three-year flirtation with jazz and calls his new album, "Greetings from L.A," "barrelhouse rock 'n' roll."
There were blue filters on the lobby lights, which lent an air of unreality to the scene that the loud canned music (running heavily to the Who and Rod Stewart) did nothing to dispel, while the equipment men struggled to set the stage for a 20-piece band. The tickets we'd got from Warners (they'd cost the paying customers a quick $6.50 each) were only about three feet away from a bank of monitor speakers so we moved back into a more commodious block of near-deserted, apparently unsold seats with a slightly better view.
Zappa and the band finally came on to a standing ovation. There was a lone balloon bobbing around and Frank clutched it to his side as he said, "It's my unpleasant task to ask you people in front to move back to your seats because the Fire Department is getting pissed." He then introduced the musicians (several of the people who played on his latest album, "Waka/Jawaka"), while running a plausibility check, using the audience as indicators. Bassoonist Joanne Mc[Nab] earned a burst of applause as she ran through a bit of the evidently familiar strains of "Peter and the Wolf." Jim "direct from Derek and the Dominos" Gordon earned a hand too, as did Ian Underwood, an alumnus of the original Mothers and the Hamilton Face Band. It was clever but finally rather tedious.
There were scattered yells for "Freak Out!"-vintage numbers like "Monster Magnet" and "Hungry Freaks Daddy" as Zappa announced, "We're not going to eat or burn any guitars live onstage tonight, but we do have two kinds of weirdness--random and organized. I think we've got something for everyone from eight to 13 tonight."
The band finally went into some "random weirdness," which consisted mostly of dissonance for its own sake, mixed up, oddly enough, with a lot of Chicago eunuch-horns. Some of the individual instrumentalists, particularly percussionist Ruth Underwood, were excellent, but Zappa's writing gave them little room to display their abilities. Despite a mixed force of hired guards and regular city police, the air kept getting thicker and more aromatic.
Out in the now-deserted lobby (which could have passed as an airline terminal waiting room), two cops were at the organic food stand, sampling the "joy juice." A guard stood behind a police-line barrier with a big stash of confiscated wine, mostly Yago Sangria and Boone's Farm, with a few Spanish style wineskins in among the brown bags. "We want the people here to have a good time, not to get hurt, so we give them their stuff back after the show," he said. A young girl was carried past us, screaming, out to the floodlit plaza, an acid casualty, as he spoke.
Surprisingly enough, Zappa's partner in his Straight/Bizarre Records, Herb Cohen, was also outside taking the air. As it turned out, he had known the friend I was with for several years. While we watched the cops watch little groups of people eddying along the street, I asked him how the tour had been going down.
"We've already played in London, at the Oval, and in Berlin and the Hague, and everything's gone well so far. We have had a bit of trouble placing the amps and balancing the sound here because the Forum has just installed a complete new PA. In fact, they only put the floor down yesterday. Frank formed this band just for this tour. We're only playing eight cities, but we're doing some live recording and some of it will be on an album around November. It's going to be called 'Grand Wazoo.' This music will be on it, but not all played by the full band." Finally Herb had to get back inside, so there was nothing more to do but find the car and a Baskin-Robbins, whichever came first. --Dan Nooger
Frank Zappa, at the Felt Forum Friday night, proved once again to be several steps ahead of what's expected of him. And once the Forum's renovations are completed (floor, curtains and lights are in the process of being changed, and there is already a new sound system), it should prove to be one of the best halls, acoustically and visually, for rock in town. --Ira Mayer
From the New York Times, 9/24/72:
Frank Zappa proved again Friday night that he is a master of musical sleight-of-hand. Dealing with a Felt Forum audience that clearly expected to hear a medley of old Mothers of Invention hits like "Son of Suzy Creamcheese," "Are You Hung Up?", "Nasal Retentive Calliope Music," "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" and other similar provocatively titled tunes, Zappa gave them instead a mixed bag of jazz-rock-classical music from a 20-musician ensemble. It is to his credit--or perhaps to the persistence of memory--that the audience loved what it got.
For true Mothers of Invention fans, some of the thematic material might have sounded familiar, but Zappa's knack for building a word imagery that penetrates to the center of the teen-age psyche (the foundation of his commercial success) was missing; there were no vocals.
Only the tune titles recalled the marvelous inanity that Zappa conjures up to mask his serious musical intentions: "The New, Brown Clouds," "Low Budget Dog Meat (A Medley)," "For Calvin & His Next Two Hitch-Hikers," "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary."
A La Bernstein
He seems to have settled comfortably into his role as the Leonard Bernstein of rock. Like Bernstein, Zappa has mastered the elements of one musical discipline (pop-rock, in his case) and attempts to ally them with elements from another (for Zappa, classical music). The results are often curiously parallel to Bernstein's--creations that are neither fish nor fowl, that survive almost as a result of sheer will rather than because of their intrinsic vitality.
One could hear warmed-over bits of Stravinsky, Shostakovitch and Milhaud in some of the works; weird, bitonal marches and processionals recalled the view "serious" composers in the Twenties had of American jazz; rock rhythms underlay everything and extensive solo space was allotted to jazz improvisations.
Fascinating? In places, although one can think of composers who, given the resources of this excellent 20-piece group, might have done considerably better. Yet Zappa is undeniably a true original, and one of the pop-rock movement's first composers with a genuine esthetic overview of the music's enormous potentials. When he gets over his fascination with decades-old classical devices, he might produce some powerful music.
An eye-witness account of the Felt Forum show, 9/23/72, from Jeff:
The Felt Forum show was, to me, the most memorable Zappa concert I've seen--and I've attended shows in just about every tour following '72. This was the show with the "Comic Book Extravaganza" and "Dog Meat"-- "Uncle Meat" and "Dog Breath" performed together. The Felt Forum was a very dignified place for a Zappa concert. It was small like a TV studio, with impeccable sound. Before the show, following Tim Buckley's awesome performance, I ventured over to the stage to get a closer look at the sheet music on the stands. The music books were titled "Hot Rats Ensemble."
I've heard a bootleg cassette of the show and the sound is so awful it almost ruined the memory of this truly original and stratospheric concert event.
From down beat, 11/9/72:
We all know that necessity is the mother of invention. I'd always maintained that Pat Pending is the father--until I discovered that the real father is a mother: Frank Zappa.
Just how inventive Zappa can be was tested on an unsuspecting public on two continents as this word picture was being drawn. Just how unpredictable Zappa can be will become clear when I report that the prime mover behind the Mothers of Invention has gone legit. Now don't get the wrong impression: His hair is just as long, just as unkempt; his mustache is just as droopingly evil, and its bottom half just as tentative; his thoughts are just as outrageous, and his disdain for convention just as intense.
How then, you ask, has Frank Zappa become house-broken? Well it's his music. A respectable, big band jazz sound has suddenly asserted itself. Try to imagine 200 Motels infested with Hot Rats that can swing. The result runs a gamut that duplicates the two record labels owned by Zappa: Bizarre and Straight!
The vehicle for Zappa's latest sonic experiment reflects an evolution that embraces both extremes: from the bizarre Mothers of Invention to the current straight creation, The Grand Wazoo. Now if the name tells you nothing about the make-up or philosophy of the new group, that was Frank's intention. It's a typical "Zappelation," made up of one part gibberish, one part satire, and the rest--just plain old put-on.
For reasons known only to him, Frank decided to call his new ensemble The Grand Wazoo. For equally mysterious reasons, he revealed the following about Wazoo:
"Since the earliest days of the Mothers of Invention, from about 1964, roughly, I have been interested in assembling some kind of electric orchestra, capable of performing intricate compositions at the same sound-intensity levels normally associated with other forms of pop music."
There's an air of formality about the whole project--and formality is as foreign to Zappa as it is to Southern California, but these are unusual times. The search for newness is taking musicians out of their accustomed molds and casting them in unfamiliar settings. Jazzmen are discovering the financially rewarding world of rock; and, conversely, some rockers are latching onto the creatively stimulating milieu of jazz.
Zappa is one of the latter, and to many of his startled fans, shifting into reverse--in other words, going from bizarre to straight--is the ultimate in put-on. As Frank explained it: "To begin with, The Wazoo bears little resemblance to any previous form of rock 'n' roll band. There are 20 musicians in it who mostly sit down and read music from an array of charming little fiber-board stands. Nobody sings. Nobody dances. They just play music."
That may be anathema to his fanatical rock followers. It may even turn his groupies into novitiates. But for the jazz-oriented, it signals a certain sense of orderliness. For a change they're getting down to the music. And there are plenty of respected paid-up members of Local 47's jazz community to be found Wazoo-ing it: among the trumpets, Malcolm [McNab] and Sal Marquez; in the trombone section, Kenny Shroyer, Glen[n] Ferris, Bruce Fowler; in the reeds, Jay Migliori, Charles Owens, Ray Reed, Mike A[l]tschul; Dave Parlato is on electric bass, and Jim Gordon is on the equally electric drums.
For the most part, they're serious and dedicated and Zappa is the first to admit it: "very few of the Wazoo's members exhibit the normal pop musician's ability to function efficiently while garbed in fringes, feathers or festoons. The concert presentation will be informal, reasonably straightforward and non-theatrical.
"Those in the audience who make a fetish of close-range seats in order to scrutinize a group's soul-squint-grimace potential, to see if they're really getting into it (italics Zappa's), may be disappointed to discover the Wazoo eyeball heavily oriented to the printed page and conductor's baton." Incidentally, in the formal listing of sidemen, Zappa's instruments are: 1) guitar; 2) white stick with cork handle.
One can also find a contrabass sarrusophone among the amplified goodies in the Grand Wazoo, and that's something no jazz-rock band should be without. Earl[e] Dumler has the dubious distinction of making love to its double reed. (In case you have forgotten what a sarrusophone is, it's a brass wind instrument about the size of a baritone sax that can be found in some obscure symphonic scores doing the work usually assigned to the contrabassoon.)
Zappa regards Dumler and his oddity as his "one concession to overt showmanship." As Frank put it, with a face as straight as his baton, "It's possible for the first time to view a grown man with a mod hair cut, struggling against the forces of nature to extract accurate intonation from an amplified Eb contrabass sarrusophone." Charles Owens put it in more down-to-earth terms when talking about the tone it produces. "Sounds like an elephant playing soprano sax."
With all respect to Dumler and his struggles against natural forces, I must agree with Owens' observation. As for the rest of the band, I had a chance to hear the whole Wazoo during a rehearsal at the Glendale Civic Auditorium.
The rehearsal was called for 1 p.m. It was nearly two when Zappa hobbled in. His left leg is still in a brace from an incident last year in London when an overzealous fan knocked Zappa off the stage of the Rainbow Theater into the orchestra pit 15 feet below.
Zappa dispassionately greeted his retinue of friends, assistants, hangers-on, photographers, and--since no one manned the doors--curiousity-seekers lured by the bedlam of 20 pieces warming up.
Apparently Frank thrives on such chaos. He limped over to the centrally located stand that contained all his scores, tapped on it with a Benson and Hedges-length baton, called a tune, For Calvin And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers (you were expecting maybe Stardust?) and the Grand Wazoo was making music.
It was kind of ragged around the edges. But much of the blame belonged to Zappa. Not only are his charts awkward, but his conducting technique is jerky, usually unclear and always timid--which comes as a surprise from a cat that looks so evil. But the fact remains: he seldom kicked off the tempo before giving the downbeat. And when The Wazoo was in motion, Zappa failed to indicate precisely where "one" could be found in the midst of unmotivated tempo changes.
The fact also remains that Zappa is on to something with his new charts. Despite their clumsy melodic intervals and unsophisticated harmonic gropings, there is about them a refreshing fusion of jazz and rock. Take Calvin: Zappa has worked in some fine hard-edged brass attacks against a relentless rock pulse. That chart (all arrangements for the Wazoo are by Zappa) is one of the most successful weddings of jazz and rock in the book.
Big Swifty is a succession of time changes, from 7/8 to 3/4 to 7/8 to 3/4, to 5/8 then 6/8. One immediate comparison was with the Don Ellis big band amalgam of rock and jazz, but one immediate difference is that when the head has been stated, and it's time for improvised choruses, Zappa switches to reliable 4/4.
A satirical waltz permeates New Brown Clouds, with a section that goes into double-time before returning to the slow waltz. There are a lot of gimmicky effects here, but more significantly there are a lot of awkward passages in the writing: the kind of phrasing that would allow anyone to goof without the audience knowing it.
Another lazy feel is in Penis Dimension, a series of muddy chords before a satirical march takes over. The march-like section is reminiscent of the tongue-in-cheek sound of Kodaly in his Hary Janos suite. The main difference here is that Zappa calls for a free jazz excursion by tenor sax over the march.
The march in Low Budget Dog Meat is not so much satirical as it is grotesque, suggesting early Prokofieff. On the other hand, some of its twisting, meandering unison passages conjure up the musical incense of the mid-East.
What I'm trying to say is that through The Grand Wazoo, Frank Zappa is hoping to produce a self-portrait as a man for all seasonings: from the decadence of Weill to the sensuality of a belly dance. All this over a synthesized rock beat that swings, because of its integration with a jazz conception. Even those nonsensical titles are part of the total picture: umbilical cords to the underground that Frank is reluctant to sever.
Apparently those titles were not enough to insure success when The Grand Wazoo made its grand debut Sept. 10 at the intimate Hollywood Bowl. They were on a bill with The Doors and Tim Buckley. The crowd came in expectations of hearing the Shah of shock and his inventive mothers playing a familiar brand of rock.
Some of them laughed when the Wazoo began. Good old Zappa. Any moment now he'll jump up and say "Ah-one-and-ah-two-and-ah-three..." No way. All that Frank Zappa did was conduct! And all that his 18 men and two chicks did was respond! They sat and read and tried to follow the "white stick with cork handle". It was cerebral, antiseptic and disciplined. Maybe Zappa had the last laugh, but if he did he was laughing with tears in his eyes--plenty of his fans got turned off and headed for the exits.
Of course, a mind as sharp as Zappa's usually gets its biggest kicks by turning inward. He not only enjoys last laughs, but gives the impression that he can giggle at the whole weird world of rock--especially the necessary twin evils of promotion and public relations.
Said Zappa: "Every new group will issue some kind of proclamation explaining the fantastic potential delights resultant from exposure to their unique material, ingenious stage-craft, and/or their groovy vibes. This is usually accompanied by descriptions of the wonderful freedom shown by the group in performance, and assorted stuff about how everybody in the group loves what they're doing and what a wholesome bunch of lads they are. Maybe they're not wholesome. Maybe they're tough and degenerate, but of course underneath it all, each fellow is exquisitely talented and in posession of a GOLDEN HEART with matching SOUL. I make none of these claims on behalf of the Wazoo.
"Such a merchandising proclamation would probably include a paragraph or two about how nobody in the group really cares about money, followed by a carefully worded testimonial regarding the new group's URGENT COMMITMENT to make the world a better place to live in through their music, which is SENSITIVE and unutterably DEEP." (Capitalization also Zappa's--to be emphasized stronger than his italics.)
Two ironies come to mind instantly: First, part of Zappa's disdain for promotional proclamations came verbatim from one of Zappa's proclamations issued just prior to the unveiling of The Grand Wazoo; secondly, someone in the group came heretically close to showing that he really doesn't care about money. Or at least that he had ambivalent feelings about bread. Reedman Charles Owens told me John Mayall had called him to go on the road with his blues-rock group. "He offered me $650 per week, plus room and board. But I had to turn it down because I'd already promised Frank I would make this tour."
The tour was a strange one--from a logistical point of view. Following the bow at the Bowl, The Wazoo flew to Europe for single concerts in Berlin, London, The Hague, Copenhagen; then back to the States for a concert in New York and the grand finale in Boston.
Zappa seemed to be impressed by the fact that such highly-respected studio swingers agreed to make the tour even though they all knew beforehand that the band was scheduled to "self-destruct" at a specific time: "right after the show in the dressing room of Boston's Music Hall, September 24, 1972."
I was curious how he managed to contract the musicians whose loyalties matched their talents. "I called a trombone player I worked with during the recording of the Lumpy Gravy album. His name was--and apparently continues to be--Kenny Shroyer. With a rumpled copy of the Local 47 Musicians' Union Directory in one hand and a telephone in the other, Shroyer managed to fill most of the empty chairs by crooning such memorable lines as; 'Are you interested? Can you read these charts? Do you have time to rehearse?' and the perennial favorite, 'Are you free to travel?'"
Well, the traveling's over. The first season is history. According to Zappa's manager, Herb Cohen, "Artistically, it was a success. Those kids in Europe just sat and listened attentively. Financially--well, we broke even, so I'd call that a success too."
Zappa's immediate plans? They call for a return to the womb--a new, 10-piece Mothers of Invention, "a completely different repertoire" with a concert tour already set up in this country and Canada. But Frank is serious about Wazoo-ing it again next summer. And he should. Zappa has proven he can handle large forms. He's no stranger in paradise.
He pleased the guys in the band, and let's face it, the sidemen in a big band are the severest critics of any leader. The consensus I got when I talked to them--to Jay Migliori, Mike Altschul, Charles Owens, Kenny Shroyer and Glen[n] Ferris--was "It's a challenge... it's something different... I thought he was crazy at the outset, but there's a method to his madness."
Excerpted from New Musical Express, 9/1/73:
"About three or four months. It was very hard to get together, because they're all studio players, and they were all busy. It came as a considerable surprise to them to learn that they were going on the road. They'd never experienced it before, and I'd never been out on the road with a group that large trying to perform electric music. It was a worthwhile experience. It only cost me $2,000. That's how much I lost on the tour. The tour grossed $97,000, and the expenses exceeded that by $2,000."
Returning momentarily to the subject of that worthwhile $2,000 experience with the Wazoo, to what extent are the Mothers economically viable?
"Well, a group that size, earning that amount of money, carrying that much equipment, going to Europe, playing that few jobs in that amount of time cannot make money at all," he replied with his best creepy leer. "It just does not work. You gotta four piece band? You're gonna make money. You just get out there and play blues."
Grand Wazoo: Repertoire |
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The Planet Of My Dreams
Hunchentootin' by Charles Ulrich.