Frank Zappa interviewed by Doctor Demento, May 1981
Doctor Demento: [tape starts abruptly] ...Doctor Demento show started, and he's certainly one of the top four or five most requested artists all over Dementia. Welcome to Dementia, Frank Zappa.
Frank Zappa: Hello there.
DD: How's the wife and kids?
FZ: Excellent! I'd like to say hello to the kids now because I know they're listening to the show, because they listen to it all the time. In fact, they tape it every once in a while.
DD: Hello to the new Zappa generation! Well, Frank, you brought along some records, I see. Now, I should intercede that the first time that I met Frank Zappa it was back around the time the Freak Out album was released. I went to his house and he opened up a cabinet, and there, revealed in all their splendor, were, oh, about a half a dozen tall piles of 45s, nakedly gleaming without their sleeves, and inspection turned out that they were some of the real R&B classics of the '50s, some well known, some not so well known. Well, now you've got sleeves on them and I'm sure they're gonna sound even better.
FZ: Well, I don't know whether they'll sound any better, 'cause they have been played quite a bit, but I've brought along some things that I thought would be entertaining for the people who listen to this show.
DD: Okay! And so let's let you be the DJ, Frank, and throw on the first one.
FZ: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to present for the first time in a long time, Don and Dewey with "Jungle Hop."
[song: "Jungle Hop"]
DD: From Frank Zappa's private stash, that's Don and Dewey and "Jungle Hop."
FZ: That's right, and you can see that--well, in those days things were a little bit more crude than they are now, ladies and gentlemen. Just to show you how far we've progressed since that record came out--I think it's been about 25 years since that was recorded--here's a lovely little thing from a group called the Model Citizens, called "I Am Honest."
[song: "I Am Honest"]
DD: "I Am Honest," the Model Citizens on the Doctor Demento show. Our guest disc jockey: Frank Zappa. I've never heard of that one before.
FZ: That's one of four lovely items on an EP called The Model Citizens. I think we might play something else from that later. That's uh--the group doesn't exist anymore. They went the way of all the modern groups, you know.
DD: Where were they from?
FZ: New York.
DD: How did you happen to find that record?
FZ: Um...I saw them playing at CBGBs and the record came out shortly thereafter. And shortly after that, the group split up and everybody formed their own groups. You know how they do.
DD: Frank, your record collection goes back to the '50s, but are you still actively collecting records?
FZ: I don't actually go out and scoop them up. Well, every once in a while I go to a store and I buy some, but a lot of times people send me things, and some of them are really good and some of them are absolutely disgusting. And then there's this guy in New York that you might know, Bleecker Bob, who occasionally gives me piles of stuff--'50s and new wave--whenever I go to New York. So I manage to keep on top of whatever has been released.
DD: Okay. Back to R&B now for another classic.
FZ: Yeah, now this is very nice. This is a relaxing, nice song for people who want to pretend like they're in love, or might want to vicariously participate in the experience of another human being's broken heart, leading that person to extreme weepage. The name of this song is "Valarie" by the Starlites.
DD: Well, the other day we did the history of laughing records here on the Doctor Demento show; that one can certainly go in the "sobbing" hall of fame.
FZ: Well, actually, that one--that should go into the hall of fame with "Death Of An Angel." You remember that one?
DD: Oh yes, sure do.
FZ: For those of you who do remember "Death Of An Angel," you might remember that a lot of people committed suicide to that record. Do you remember that?
DD: [skeptically] Yeah, at least that was the story.
FZ: Yeah, people were killing themselves all over the place.
DD: Tell me how you got to know that kind of music, Frank.
FZ: I just heard it someplace, and I liked it, and I went out and found as many examples of it as I could.
DD: Did you hear it on the radio?
FZ: Uh...they didn't play very much of it on the radio then.
DD: Yeah, that's what I was thinking.
FZ: I heard--I think one or two cuts escaped to white-person radio in those days, see...I believe that there are a few stations in the United States right now that still have this tendency to not play black music. They play, you know, white-person music. And this one station in Los Angeles, which was a very white-person kind of a station, actually allowed some black-person music to get on there one time, and I heard it, and it was all over. I went out and started looking for those kind of records, and...
DD: Where did you find them?
FZ: Well, you know, they had these white-person record stores that wouldn't carry these black-person records, and so it was not easy to find them, so I had to go to places like jukebox dumps. There was this place in San Diego that was located in the Maryland Hotel that was a place that sold used jukebox records and you could get great things for 10 cents apiece down there. And some of the real good rhythm and blues--you know, like guitar/harmonica-type rhythm and blues records--were on a label called Excello, and they had a policy that stated that if you had a record store and you wanted to carry Excello records, you couldn't just get the blues cuts, you had to take their gospel catalog. So that kept a lot of stores from carrying the entire line. And so if you wanted to get a Lightnin' Slim record, or a Slim Harpo record, or Lonesome Sundown or something like that, you had to really go out and scrounge around for it.
DD: Well, growing up in Minneapolis as I did, I know that scrounging. And I know the jukebox dumps, too. We have a blues record here, it looks like.
FZ: Yeah. This is of fairly recent vintage. This isn't from the '50s; I believe this is from the '60s. I don't know the exact date that it was released, but it's on a label called The Blues, and the artist is Big Moose, and the featured Hawaiian guitar player on this record is Freddie Roulette, and the name of the song is "Ramblin' Woman."
[song: "Ramblin' Woman"]
DD: Ah, that's the good stuff! From the collection of Frank Zappa, Big Moose with "Rambling Woman." Frank Zappa is our guest on the Doctor Demento show.
[During the broadcast of this prerecorded interview, Dr. Demento made the following live announcement.]
DD: [tape cut]...KMET. In this next segment of our interview with Frank Zappa, which was taped a few days before the near-tragic shooting in the Vatican, Frank Zappa played a song about...Pope [sic.]. It's a little bit unconventional, but not at all disrespectful. In fact, it's all about really what a wonderful man the Pope is. And of course our prayers are very much with him. So let's listen.
DD: Frank Zappa's my guest, and Frank, last time we did this you introduced me for the first time to a very remarkable recording group known as the Shaggs.
FZ: Oh, you liked them, eh?
DD: Yeah, we still play them, especially since the album was reissued. Now you have something called Snooky Tate.
FZ: Yeah. Snooky is a guy that I met in New York, and I don't know how to explain this record to you other than to say that it is a kind of...disco/funk/new wave/rampant commercialism based on the time when the Pope was touring the United States. And the name of this song is "He's The Groove."
[record: "He's The Groove," which consists largely of the repeated phrases "He's the groove! He's the man! He's the Pope in the Vatican!" and "Can you do the Genuflect?"]
DD: Snooky Tate with "He's The Groove" on the Doctor Demento show, from the collection of Frank Zappa. A little later on in the show, we'll tell you how to get a Doctor Demento t-shirt, so stay tuned. Frank, you've got another one here by a former business associate of yours, I believe.
FZ: Yeah. This is a record made by an electronic genius named Paul Buff, and those of you in the electronic business know Mr. Buff. He's made some very interesting devices, but nothing quite as interesting as this song, called "She's Got A 60-Cycle Brain."
[song: "She's Got A 60-Cycle Brain"]
DD: Paul Buff and "She's Got A 60-Cycle Brain" from the collection of Frank Zappa on the Doctor Demento show. By his record collection you know the man, or at least some of the man, is one of our mottos around here, and we're listening to some gems from Frank Zappa's record collection. You've got some pretty rare R&B 45s, some that I confess I don't have myself.
FZ: Yeah, well, you know, you've gotta keep scrounging, you've gotta go to those record dumps.
DD: Heh heh, right! You've got some other kinds of records, too. We're going to listen to one that contrasts quite starkly--but maybe not as starkly as all that--with the R&B 45s and other kinds of music. Well, you gave a little clue as to your admiration for this man right in the middle of one of your most popular "demented discs," the one called "Beepies And Beer," as we have to say it here on the radio.
FZ: Really? You have to do that?
DD: Yes, we do.
FZ: Really? Who makes you do that? And why?
DD: Well, it's just the Establishment, I guess you might have to say.
FZ: Oh, Mister Demento, the problems you must face in getting the truth across to the people of our great land.
DD: Well, you've run into similar problems myself [sic.], as I've heard you say many times.
FZ: Heh heh. Lemme tell you a little bit about what's coming up here. Now, this selection, this goes out to everybody who has a birthday that's listening to the show today. This is your birthday greeting. And one thing that you have to bear in mind about a lot of the records that are played on the Doctor Demento show, they are for entertainment purposes, and the people that made these records never forgot that music was supposed to entertain you and to show you a good time and maybe even make you laugh. I don't think that the reason why this piece was written was to make anybody laugh, but it was definitely designed as a type of entertainment. This is a selection by Igor Stravinsky, and it is his arrangement of "Happy Birthday."
[songs: "Greeting Prelude," "59 Volvo"]
DD: "59 Volvo," the Medallions on the Doctor Demento show. That's from Frank Zappa's collection, and Frank's here with us. They did one about Buicks, too, didn't they?
FZ: Yes, they also did "Buick 59" [snorts].
DD: Right. So there they pay tribute to the imports.
FZ: [snickering] Yeah, right.
DD: And that's on the Dooto label. I hear you have a new record company of your own, Frank.
FZ: Why of course! The name of my new label is Barking Pumpkin, distributed by CBS!
DD: Okay! And the name of the new album is...
FZ: Tinsel Town Rebellion.
DD: All right! Let's hear a cut. This looks like a new version of that wonderful favorite from Absolutely Free, "Brown Shoes Don't Make It"!
[song: "Brown Shoes Don't Make It"]
DD: "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" 1981, from the new Frank Zappa album, Tinsel Town Rebellion. Frank's our guest on the Doctor Demento show. You're putting out not just one album but a whole slew of 'em.
FZ: Yeah, I like to take care of my business as efficiently as possible. And what we've done this time is released a double album called Tinsel Town Rebellion, and on the inside of Tinsel Town Rebellion there's a notice on the inner sleeves telling people that all of you who are interested in the stuff that I do on guitar, we're making available at this time three albums, by mail order only. First one's called Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar, second one is Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar Some More, and the third one is Return Of The Son Of Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar. All three of these single albums are available by mail order, and the notice for that is inside the album. There'll also be ads in Guitar Player magazine and Musician and--and like that.
DD: All this and you've got another one coming out in the fall, too.
FZ: Yeah, that one won't come out until about the first of October. That's our Halloween album.
DD: And when I think of all these other rock superstars where it seems to be like pulling teeth to get just half an album out a year, and you have reached what, like three or four LPs worth of material a year, if not more.
FZ: I like to make records, what can I tell ya? I like to make 'em, you like to beep 'em. What's the difference?
DD: [titters nervously] No, Frank, I gotta get that straight. I don't like to beep them. But I live in America.
FZ: Hm-hmm, well, don't we all! One way or another.
DD: But--but--I--I--I just have to say that "Beepies And Beer" is better than Nothing And Beer.
FZ: This is--huh. This is true.
DD: Got another one of those splendid R&B ditties for us?
FZ: Yes, I have a very nice song. This used to be one of my favorite songs in high school. That was, oh, a very long time ago. This is called "Do Wah" by the Spaniels, and I think you should listen very closely to the bass vocal.
[song: "Do Wah"]
DD: Quintessential R&B from the Spaniels. Notice that that one still says "Frank Zappa D-11" on the label.
FZ: No, it was 11-C. That was the slot in my "Tune-Tote" carrying box. And I wrote my name on it so that nobody would steal it from me at a party.
DD: That's party music. They don't make 'em like that today!
FZ: Well, they try it occasionally, but they don't come out exactly that way. One of the interesting features of that song is the fact that the bass sounds so--well, I don't know, sort of ill, and then the guy that's singing the high part in the background is in another key from the rest of the guys in the group.
DD: That would've probably been a big hit on the Times Square Slim show.
FZ: [chuckling] That's right.
DD: Let's have another cut from Frank's new album. This is the title cut from Tinsel Town Rebellion.
[song: "Tinsel Town Rebellion"]
DD: KMET Los Angeles. Frank Zappa's my guest, and you've brought us an encore from the Model Citizens, I see.
FZ: Yeah, this is a lovely tune entitled "Shift The Blame."
[song: "Shift The Blame"]
DD: "Shift The Blame" with the Model Citizens from Frank Zappa's collection, one of the newer records thereof, on the Doctor Demento show. Frank, are your kids making music?
FZ: Well, I think that they're making a stab at it this week.
DD: This week.
FZ: It may blow over. They haven't really shown that much interest in it. But this last week they've been playing the piano and playing the guitar and playing the drums and jamming with their friends.
DD: Do they have kind of a family band?
FZ: Well, they don't play together too much. They each seem to go their own way.
DD: What kind of music do they seem to favor the most?
FZ: Well, Dweezil seems to like themes from the films. He plays the theme from "Rocky" on the piano. And "Another One Rides The Bus."
DD: Ha ha!
FZ: And Ahmet makes things up.
DD: Okay. You think the future is in good hands with them and their contemporaries?
FZ: Well, I wouldn't want to go so far as to say that.
DD: Well, 's gotta be something in the genealogy that's going to inspire future generations like you've inspired ours.
FZ: I don't want to comment on that.
DD: You don't.
FZ: No. I don't want to be held responsible for another generation of people who'll make records that have to be beeped on the air.
DD: Well, fair enough. Okay, some more R&B.
FZ: Okay. We have time now for a record that's on Federal, which is a very attractive label, as I'm sure you know--forest green with silver letters. This is by a group called the Cats that didn't make too many records, and this is one of their better ones. It's called "After I Gave you My Heart."
[song: "After I Gave You My Heart"]
DD: From Frank Zappa's collection, that's the Cats with a wonderful R&B tune. We've got another one that we don't have to beep here. Time for at least a couple choruses of, I guess, this one. The sound of the swamps.
FZ: Okay, this is Lightnin' Slim on Excello. The name of this song is "Have Your Way," and the lick in the background on this record is the thing that gave me the idea for the background on "Brown Shoes Don't Make It."
[song: "Have Your Way"]
DD: The Doctor Demento show, from Frank Zappa's private record collection. Well, thank you, Frank. Sure have enjoyed hearing these tunes and talking about your work and other things around the world of Dementia and America and all those other places.
FZ: Okay, very well then. Keep up the good beep!
DD: Well thank you, and stay demented.
Personal Note: Like Frank Zappa, I spent many, many hours of my youth haunting that "jukebox dump" under the Maryland Hotel, at Seventh and F Street in San Diego. By this time (the mid-'70s), the price of those old jukebox singles was up to 35 cents, and LPs--all stuck randomly in bins with no alphabetization--were two bucks a pop. The store's name was Arcade Records, and, as it happens, the first record I bought there was a Frank Zappa bootleg.
Thanks to Barret Hansen (Dr. Demento) for his kind permission.
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