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The Real Frank Zappa Thread (WARNING: Politics, Religion, and Other Obscenities)


WhatTheBuck
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Where are the Zappa fans? I figure he deserves a thread. If you’re not familiar with his work then there’s probably a lot more to it than you’re aware. I’ve been reluctant to start a thread and maybe this won’t go anywhere. But the thought of anyone else starting a thread and not calling it “The Real Frank Zappa Thread” would be unacceptable so I figured I should do it. There was also some interest expressed in the ‘I ate 2 mushrooms’ thread.

Some people think of Frank as a novelty act; an irreverent humorist. I along with many other Zappa fans my age started out that way. At first he was good for a laugh and then we realized, “Hey, this guy can really play!”

My introduction to his music was this:

I first heard that when it was played for me by our bad boy neighbor. I was only in 4th grade. My older brother was in 7th grade. This guy was in 8th grade. And he smoked cigarettes! I can still remember that day in his garage when he played the Apostrophe LP.

That was the introduction to Frank’s [i]music[/i] for much of my generation. The impression of him as a comedy act was reinforced when he named his first kids Moon Unit and Dweezil, and when he had a radio hit with his daughter Moon on Valley Girl in 1982.

It’s true that he made a lot of music that was funny, crude, and irreverent. But most of it wasn’t. There was a lot of political and social satire, a fair amount of sophomoric vulgarity, but that only made up a fraction of his work. A lot of it was instrumental. He was influenced by everything from blues, R&B, country, and doo-wop, to jazz, classical, and avant-garde. His influences ranged from Johnny “Guitar” Watson to Igor Stravinsky. There’s so much there. This is from his debut album Freak Out in 1966. It’s about the Watts riots. Tell me this isn’t rap:

He was a wizard in the studio. He employed recording tricks before the Beatles did that they often get credit for pioneering. 

He’s got a huge catalog. He released around 60 albums during his lifetime. His family has released more since his death and there are a lot of great bootlegs out there. His live shows were something else. Even though he didn’t change the song selections as much as a band like the Grateful Dead, every performance was still just as unique. I sometimes wonder if he would’ve had more of a following if he had followed the Dead’s example and let his fans freely record his shows and trade the tapes amongst themselves. 

If you’re looking to start collecting Zappa bootlegs, you could do a lot worse than starting with the show he performed at Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin on 10/26/73. That’s one of my favorite and best sounding bootlegs.

I could ramble on for hours. I haven’t even gotten into politics, religion, and other obscenities yet. That’s another reason I’ve been reluctant to start this thread. But speak up, Zappa fans. Are you out there? One of my greatest regrets in life was not going to see him on his ‘88 tour. I thought there would be other chances. Sadly, I was wrong. Did you ever see him live? I’d love to hear your stories.

Anyway, this will have to do for now. I can say that if you’re not familiar with Zappa and are looking to explore something unique and different, you can get lost in his work for hours on end.

You’ll love it. It’s a way of life.

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Thanks, you woody Hayes worshipping fuckhead.

Yeah I‘ve always thought of him as a “joke” performer but got interested when I heard someone say “goodnight Austin, Texas, wherever you are” and thought it sounded like a quote. Googled it and it was Zappa. Then saw that there was a documentary (directed by either bill or Ted … the one that isn’t neo) so I watched that and got further intrigued.

I’ve got Freak Out in my collection of records I inherited from my dad, but had never realized it was Zappa until watching. Also had never actually heard the line from the deep purple song.

Could I get a 2 album recommendation for shit that’s on iTunes?

Thanks again.

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I’m not a huge Zappa fan, but there are a few things I appreciate about Zappa.

He did the independent label thing where he retained his publishing rights maybe before anyone else?  This gave him complete control and freedom to do whatever he wanted.  He never compromised his vision.

The musicians in his band were always fucking stellar.  I mean, absolutely fantastic, and he drove them hard to deliver perfection.  One of the best intimate live shows I’ve seen was his old band (rebranded as the Grandmother’s of Invention) at Stubbs.  They played just about every genre of music in their set, from blues to jazz to rock to metal to rap and even country.   My buddy and I (a fellow musician nerd) agreed we had never seen a band play so many different things so well in such a small amount of time.

He was a pretty damn good guitar player, though perhaps not quite up to the standard of his band.  Listen to the guitar solo on Inca Roads with the auto-wah around the 2:00 mark.  That is really, really good!

 

All that said, I didn’t really care for his music that much.  It was too out there for me at the time.  Now with more knowledge of music theory, I can appreciate it, but it’s still not something that connects with me on an evocative level and makes me feel something that was not there before the song came on.

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I just ordered Live at the Roxy and Elsewhere last night on vinyl.  A friend of mine played Hot Rats for me when we were in high school, and I dug it.  But I wasn't all in until I heard the Roxy album.  The guitar tone on the Penguin in Bondage and Don't You Ever watch that thing is godlike, and presumably is a a wah into a BiPhase with the chain on the Biphase being B-input routed into the A-input.  He's working the wah on DYEWTT.  It's a little more cocked on Penguin.  It's also possible that it's an expression pedal on the Biphase controlling the sweep, which is a very cool effect regardless.

 

The Roxy movie, which finally came out a few years ago is worth picking up as are the CDs of all 6 Roxy shows with no overdubs, from which the Roxy album was made. 

 

Live at the Filmore is great as well, but it has some more dinner theater type bits in it (or the joke stuff). 

 

As for studio stuff, my favorite is Apostrophe.  Also, the autobiography is great.

 

Lastly, I got to see Dweezil on the Zappa plays Zappa Overnight Sensation tour.  It was good, and he's a great player.  But, understandably, even if he can play with Frank's attitude and humor, he couldn't really bring that aspect to the party, which might have been seen as too much of an imitation.  But it really made clear that Frank's attitude and persona really was a huge component of the live shows, not to mention how great his bands were, particularly the early 70s stuff.

 

Glad we have this thread now.

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3 hours ago, MAUFRAIS said:

Could I get a 2 album recommendation for shit that’s on iTunes?

That’s a tough one to answer. I think that all of his albums from Freak Out to You Are What You Is are worth owning (Zoot Allures is debatable but it’s worth owning for that version of The Torture Never Stops alone.). After that you can get more selective.

Joe’s Garage is my favorite album in the world. It’s one of the all time great concept albums. Hot Rats is probably my favorite album to play for friends who aren’t familiar with Zappa.

I’d probably go with those two but I feel bad because it’s like I’m rejecting so many other great albums. You can’t go wrong with Roxy & Elsewhere and One Size Fits All. As I mentioned in the mushrooms thread, the guitar solo on the album version of Inca Roads is my favorite guitar solo of all time. Much of that solo was taken from a live concert in Helsinki on 9/22/74, the entirety of which can be heard on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol 2.

The big band jazzy sounds on Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo are great. They carry on some of what was started on the Hot Rats album. Burnt Weenie Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh are under-appreciated gems. Same for Chunga’s Revenge, the title track of which has a great sax solo with a wah-wah effect.

The first Zappa album I bought when I decided to start reacquainting myself with his work was We’re Only In It For The Money. I’m a Deadhead, Sgt. Pepper’s is my favorite Beatles album, and back then the CD version of WOIIFTM had the Sgt. Pepper’s parody cover. (The original album didn’t.) That album is awesome and it also pokes fun at hippie culture. Around that same time a Deadhead friend of mine was talking about the Sheik Yerbouti album. That’s another great one too, particularly if you like humorous Frank. I guess this will be a good jumping off point for this rambling post. Specifically my friend was referring to this song:

So anyway, Hot Rats and Joe’s Garage is my answer.  :)

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Some terms an aspiring Zappaphile should know:

Project/Object - Zappa viewed the entirety of his work as the “Project.” It was all one piece. Individual instantiations of the project, like live performances, recordings, interviews, etc., were just “Objects.” Part of the larger whole.

Conceptual Continuity - Within that framework, Zappa was conscious about reusing themes, icons, metaphors, memes, and so forth throughout his work. It might be something conceptual - the sexual proclivities of rock musicians was a favorite subject - or it might be something aural - like snorts or wheezes or farting noises and so forth. I’m not sure if there’s a better example of Frank’s affinity for strange and unusual noises than Nasal Retentive Calliope Music from WOIIFTM.

And third:

Anything, Anytime, Anyplace, For No Reason At All - I think that’s self-explanatory. Basically ‘fuck you,’ he’ll do what he wants when he wants and he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation.

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Back in the late 70's/early 80's, you would hear Dinah-Moe Hum or Montana on AOR stations, maybe Joe's Garage, then Dancing Fool.  I would actually hear more Zappa tunes on Dr. Dememto (along with his "projects" like Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fisher).  Actually, the first complete Zappa album I heard was when the Pacifica station in Houston played a (at that time out of print) copy of "Lumpy Gravy", which blew me away and is still one of my favorite albums of all time, just for the instrumental bits.  Years ago I picked up the 2 for 1 CD with Overnight Sensation/Apostrophe.  

A few years ago I got on Spotify and really tried to give Zappa a good hard listen.  Started with Joe's Garage, only made it half way through.  I know he was a musical genius, I get that, but I just can't get past the sophomoric lyrics.  I get satire, I get humor, but to just be bludgeoned with it song after song after song, for me personally it just takes away from the music.  I can definitely handle him in small doses, thinks like Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar are actually more enjoyable to me, Orchestral Favorites, I really like those.  Just my .02 anyway.

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Side note - I've been listening to an incredible podcast series called "A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs", and the podcaster was doing an episode on the great Johnny Otis and mentioned that Zappa was a huge fan and in fact copied Otis for his trademark moustache and beard, a little trivia.

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23 minutes ago, UTCzech III said:

Back in the late 70's/early 80's, you would hear Dinah-Moe Hum or Montana on AOR stations, maybe Joe's Garage, then Dancing Fool.  I would actually hear more Zappa tunes on Dr. Dememto (along with his "projects" like Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fisher).  Actually, the first complete Zappa album I heard was when the Pacifica station in Houston played a (at that time out of print) copy of "Lumpy Gravy", which blew me away and is still one of my favorite albums of all time, just for the instrumental bits.  Years ago I picked up the 2 for 1 CD with Overnight Sensation/Apostrophe.  

A few years ago I got on Spotify and really tried to give Zappa a good hard listen.  Started with Joe's Garage, only made it half way through.  I know he was a musical genius, I get that, but I just can't get past the sophomoric lyrics.  I get satire, I get humor, but to just be bludgeoned with it song after song after song, for me personally it just takes away from the music.  I can definitely handle him in small doses, thinks like Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar are actually more enjoyable to me, Orchestral Favorites, I really like those.  Just my .02 anyway.

Go back to Joe’s Garage and finish it. Yeah, there’s a lot of obscenity there. But there’s also a lot of truth. The basic theme of making rock music illegal is still sort of topical. And lighten up; the idea of the formerly good Catholic girl Mary (voiced by Dale Bozzio) sucking cock to get backstage shouldn’t be all that offensive. Nor the concept of the “Crew Slut.” That shit happened. Check out the Ballad of the Mud Shark from the Fillmore East, June 1971 album sometime. That’s based on a true story. (Or so they say.)

Yeah, the album is heaping full of a lot of vulgarity and sexual deviance. But there’s also a lot of great music. Do you really have a problem with Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt? That’s a great song (with a great guitar solo). I’m not sure how anyone can have a problem with Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? Poor Joe, he’s gone astray and is paying the price. And Lucille is just beautiful. Ike Willis kills and Frank’s guitar is so tasteful.

I think Stick It Out offers a good commentary on vulgarity. There are some crude lyrics but, assuming you don’t speak German, you can’t be offended by them when they’re sung in German. They’re just a collection of sounds. But then when they switch to English you hear lines like “Fuck me, you ugly son of a bitch” and “Don’t get no jizz upon the sofa.” Did they suddenly become dirty? Or are they still just a collection of sounds? I think that makes a statement and I’ll bet George Carlin would agree.

And poor Sy. That’s another great piece and it has a beautiful keyboard part. And oh, man, there’s also Outside Now to close out the second act. There are just so many classics on that album.

But the best is yet to come. In Packard Goose, Frank unleashes on his critics. He tells them where to stick it. He also wrote some of the finest lyrics in his entire catalog:

Information is not knowledge. 
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST

And then there’s Watermelon in Easter Hay which is so simple yet so beautiful and is one of his signature tunes. Yeah, the album is goofy and irreverent and audacious and outrageous but it’s also funny and poignant and beautiful and relevant and a tour de force by a musical genius.

 

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No, I get it, I get the concept, I get the lyrics.  But everything, Ruben and the Jets, We're Only in It For the Money, etc.  To me it feels like on one part, yes, you're in on the joke, but then on the other hand, it feels like, you're actually part of the joke as well.  When all the lyrics are sarcastic, and satirical, and contemptful, it's just not my personal thing.  Again, I appreciate the music, and much of it is mind-blowing.  It's just not something I'm going to go back to again and again.  

 

A lot of people rail on Roger Waters for the same thing, the politics and all, I'm personally a Roger fan, but I can definitely see why others feel the way they do about him.  But Roger can also step away from all the vitriol and produce songs that are deeply personal, or have a moment of hope or depth of feeling to them.  To me, Zappa just seem to be, I'm the smartest guy here and you're either with me or I'm going to show you how stupid you are.  Maybe there are songs he's written that are not in that vein, lyrically, I've love to hear them.  

 

Again, I'm not knocking him or you or anyone who enjoys his music, I do as well, in doses.  

 

ETA:  I just got on Spotify and picked a few albums at random and spot-checked some tunes, Hot Rats, Lather, Uncle Meat, there is some incredible stuff on there and I will definitely give them a full spin at some point.  Not that you have time or want to, but if so, gimme a playlist, stuff more in the instrumental vein, and I will for sure check them out.  

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Back in 1996 they released an album called Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa. It had 7 tracks. Two tracks each of some of his big signature guitar pieces: Black Napkins, Zoot Allures, and Watermelon in Easter Hay. One each of the album version and then an alternate live version. I posted the album version of Watermelon above. Let me see if I can reproduce the rest of that album.

Black Napkins, album version:

Black Napkins, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, 11/22/75:

Zoot Allures, album version:

Zoot Allures, Tokyo, Japan, 2/5/76 (This video is mislabeled as Osaka; the album version of Black Napkins, the previous track on the album, was from Osaka, this is from Tokyo; simple mistake; there are a lot of other great live versions of these songs out there):

I already posted the album version of Watermelon in Easter Hay above. This is from sometime in January or February of ‘78, location unknown:

The other track on the album was improvised. From Paris, France, 9/27/74, the title is self-explanatory:

Hey! I did it! How’s about that? That was fun.

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Being a African American yute in Ct, my friends ( all non black) were listening to deep purple, Uriah heep,and Van Halen tripping balls speeding down I-95 to NJ.

I was listening to frank zappa billy was a mountain.  
got a lot of “what the fuck is that” but as the trip settled in and the song played. ( it’s a long song and longer when your tripping down I-95)  errbodys head was bobbing and yelling out the remembered words.  
we didn’t realize we listened to that album 3 times back to back…..

ahhhh  old school acid.  What a trip.

I saw quite a few of his concerts, hi and sober and they were all remarkable.

shut up and play your guitar is fantastic.

only cried twice when a musician died

stevieray, and frank zappa.

I still love catholic girls

kinda young kinda wow

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In the liner notes of that FZ Plays FZ album, Dweezil inserted a note that said, “Frank was a master at controlling feedback. He knew which frequencies were helpful and which were harmful.” I’m not sure there’s a better example than Filthy Habits.

(Just FYI, the Dead were really good at playing feedback too.)

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Speaking of the Dead, if Frank Zappa had an analog to Dark Star then I’d say it was King Kong. I think that was his big jazz odyssey and the song that was the most diverse whenever it was played. Here’s one from ‘68:

That was from a show broadcast on BBC. I’m pretty sure there’s video of it  there’s definitely video of a BBC performance in ‘68. The Auead of Their Time album is great and includes a lot of theatrics before the music gets started. “We’re doing a play.”

You can also check out this album:

Ponty-Jean-Luc-King-Kong-on-Liberty-1200

Here’s a version from ‘88:

There are so many great versions of that song. It gets out there.

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The various “Guitar” albums are great if you don’t want to hear Frank’s thoughts, words, opinions, commentary, stories, attitudes, etc. A lot of it is just guitar solos lifted from live performances and it’s a great way to just appreciate the man’s virtuosity on his instrument. Here’s an example of an original piece tucked away in there that i like, sort of a Zappa deep cut if there is such a thing:

 

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On 9/9/2022 at 10:22 AM, Goredho said:

I’m not a huge Zappa fan, but there are a few things I appreciate about Zappa.

He did the independent label thing where he retained his publishing rights maybe before anyone else?  This gave him complete control and freedom to do whatever he wanted.  He never compromised his vision.

The musicians in his band were always fucking stellar.  I mean, absolutely fantastic, and he drove them hard to deliver perfection.  One of the best intimate live shows I’ve seen was his old band (rebranded as the Grandmother’s of Invention) at Stubbs.  They played just about every genre of music in their set, from blues to jazz to rock to metal to rap and even country.   My buddy and I (a fellow musician nerd) agreed we had never seen a band play so many different things so well in such a small amount of time.

He was a pretty damn good guitar player, though perhaps not quite up to the standard of his band.  Listen to the guitar solo on Inca Roads with the auto-wah around the 2:00 mark.  That is really, really good!

 

All that said, I didn’t really care for his music that much.  It was too out there for me at the time.  Now with more knowledge of music theory, I can appreciate it, but it’s still not something that connects with me on an evocative level and makes me feel something that was not there before the song came on.

There’s a lot to be said about all the talented musicians that played in Zappa’s bands. Just on guitar there were big names like Lowell George, Adrian Belew, and Steve Vai.

Another was Mike Keneally. Here he is performing a solo version of Inca Roads. That took some guts. He earns a well-deserved hug from a grateful fan.

 

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definitely had a zappa phase. i've always been obsessesed with the part of the song that starts at 1:48, love that pedal steel...i understand it was the dude from the flying burrito brothers playing that part. 

 

 

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Another favorite. In the album version, other than Terry Bozzio on drums, Frank is credited with playing all the other instruments. (Including, allegedly, the female vocal parts which according to one interview included his wife Gail and another woman but who really knows? There’s nothing in the album credits other than Frank being “director of recreational activities.”) Such a gritty ‘n’ glorious song.

Here’s a live version from YCDTOSA Vol. 1 without the female shrieking but with a scorching guitar solo from Frank. From March, 1977 in Nuremberg, W. Germany.

 

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Speaking of Adrian Belew. He deserves his own thread. Everyone should check out the Baby Snakes video. City of Tiny Lites is a classic. In addition to Terry Bozzio on drums (you might remember his wife Dale from Missing Persons; she also played the part of Mary on Joe’s garage), we also have Ed Mann on percussion. Tommy Mars is the guy on keys with the big ‘fro, and the other keyboardist is Peter Wolf who you might remember from the J. Geils Band. And that’s Patrick O’Hearn on bass.

That song appears on the Sheik Yerbouti album. It’s a great album and a must have for any Zappa Fan, especially if you like the comedic side of Zappa. It includes Broken Hearts are for Assholes, which was referenced earlier, as well as Dancin’ Fool and Jewish Princess. It also includes Flakes.

Back in 1989 I was riding with a fellow Deadhead in the back of someone’s pickup on our way downtown to see a Santana show and he was talking about Flakes. It was kind of a motivator for me to start investigating Frank’s music seriously for the first time, although it would be awhile before I bought that album. My first was a disc that included both We’re Only In It For The Money and Lumpy Gravy. Anyway, the lyrics he recited were:

I'm a moron 'n this is my wife 
She's frosting a cake 
With a paper knife 
All what we got here's 
American made 
It's a little bit cheesey, 
But it's nicely displayed 
Well we don't get excited when it 
Crumbles 'n breaks 
We just get on the phone 
And call up some Flakes 
They rush on over 
'N wreck it some more 
'N we are so dumb 
They're linin' up at our door 
Well, my toilet went crazy 
Yesterday afternoon 
The plumber he says 
"Never flush a tampoon!" 
This great information 
Cost me half a week's pay 
And the toilet blew up 
Later on the next day

Good stuff, right? And he’s talking about California so that should go over well here.

Anyway, here are two versions of that song. The first is the album version with those lyrics. The album was released on 3/3/79. They’re clever lyrics, but they overshadow Adrian’s guitar solo in the background.

And here’s a live version from the Hammersmith Odeon on 2/28/78 without those lyrics and just Adrian playing his solo. It’s so Adrian.

 

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Huge Zappa fan!  

Unfortunately, sine his wife died and the kids now have control, I bet Zappa is spinning in his grave.  They have released recordings that Frank had shelved long ago.  Shelved because they didn't meet Franks approval.  As a fan, I've grabbed whatever is released, but have been disappointed, thus my previous comment.

First turned on to Frank with Joe's Garage, but have since grabbed everything!

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have seen zappa plays zappa 3 or 4 times...first time was at hogg auditorium on campus. the first 2 times were great and the second 2 times were pretty terrible. don't think i would go again. 

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12 hours ago, Horn_Spanker said:

Huge Zappa fan!  

Unfortunately, sine his wife died and the kids now have control, I bet Zappa is spinning in his grave.  They have released recordings that Frank had shelved long ago.  Shelved because they didn't meet Franks approval.  As a fan, I've grabbed whatever is released, but have been disappointed, thus my previous comment.

First turned on to Frank with Joe's Garage, but have since grabbed everything!

First, Gail sucked too. I’m not a fan of the Zappa Family Trust. And Deeezil isn’t half the studio engineer his dad was. The production quality of some of the posthumous releases has been less than stellar.

Can you give an example of a release that shouldn’t have been released because it didn’t meet Frank’s approval? Two of my biggest beefs with the Zappa Family Trust, and I have several, are that they didn’t release enough whole live shows (warts and all, I don’t care), and that they didn’t tell you what was on a release before you bought it. I bought several releases that were light on music and were mostly recordings made of his band members in the studio, on the bus, or in hotels. Fuck you, Dweez.

Zappa Wazoo from Boston 9/24/72 is a treasure. It includes an instrumental Greggery Peccary. Zappa Buffalo from 10/25/80 is excellent. So are FZ OZ from Sydney, Australia 1/20/76, Philly ‘76 from 10/29/76. The problem was that it took them years to release just those four whole shows. (The Dead are much better at opening up their vault.)  I got frustrated with the whole organization and gave up.

If you’re in to BitTorrent, sign up at zappateers.com and you can find a whole lot of live bootlegs to download there. I haven’t done BitTorrent in awhile because whenever I do, my CD collection explodes and I’m trying to pare it down, not expand it. 

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More on Frank, Gail, Dweezil, and the Dead.

Frank was very uptight about people stealing his music. The “Beat the Boots” series is a collection of bootlegs being sold in record stores that Frank took and released as-is, with no remastering, on his own label. The quality varies. But I often wonder if Frank might have reached a wider audience, and made more money, if he had adopted the Dead’s practice of letting fans tape his shows and trade them freely amongst themselves. That’s a big impediment to the people trying to sell bootlegs, for one thing. Plus it gives you exposure since your music isn’t often radio-friendly.

I’ve never seen Dweezil in concert. I think it’s fine that he’s hiring former members of Frank’s band to play with him but he’s not Frank. (Oh, look! Some guy profiting on his family name! I’ll bet he even owns a laptop!) But Gail had no problem with her son playing Frank’s music.

What Gail had a problem with was anyone else playing Frank’s music. Specifically, Ike Willis and his band Project/Object. She figured that if anyone else is going to play Frank’s music, Gail’s gots to get paid. Ike and other former Zappa band mates didn’t owe her anything. As I recall they cancelled some shows during the legal wrangling. Fuck you, Gail. I realize it wasn’t always easy being Frank’s wife and tolerating the sexual proclivities of a touring rock musician (proclivities that sometimes came home to roost), but if you and Frank had just lightened up a little bit then maybe his music would’ve reached a wider audience.

https://www.npr.org/2009/04/09/102907874/frank-zappa-a-lumpy-legacy

Quote

Frank Zappa: A 'Lumpy' Legacy

April 9, 2009
11:06 AM ET
Heard on All Things Considered
Joel Rose

Hear The Songs
After our story aired, NPR was asked to take down the two Frank Zappa pieces we had been given permission to stream.

Frank Zappa was called many things during his life, but lazy wasn't one of them. He put out more than 60 records, and unreleased music is still trickling out more than 15 years after his death. It's part of an effort by his widow, Gail, to keep Zappa's legacy alive.

The most recent effort from the Zappa Family Trust is a three-disc set titled Lumpy Money. It combines music — released and unreleased — that Frank Zappa recorded in 1967. One session produced the Mothers of Invention album We're Only in It for the Money, the group's third release. The other was a surprise.

Zappa was a 26-year-old, self-taught composer with long hair and a funny goatee when he walked into a Capitol Records studio in Los Angeles and handed an orchestra charts for Lumpy Gravy.

"At one point, he turned to me when we were listening, just to playback," Gail Zappa says, "and he said, 'Did I write that?' It was so shocking."

It's almost as if Frank Zappa was writing avant-garde classical music in Top 40 segments, says Rolling Stone's David Fricke, who wrote the liner notes for the new set.

"It just blew my mind," he says.

Lumpy Gravy is a suite of three-minute movements, built on Zappa's love of 20th-century classical music (particularly that of Edgard Varese), R&B and jazz. The music is not easy to play. Some of L.A.'s best studio musicians balked at the parts Zappa had written — until he picked up his guitar and tossed off the sections he'd written for bassoon and bass clarinet. Gail Zappa says musicians are still struggling to play what her husband wrote.

"I want people to play Frank's music," she says. "Go ahead; try. Don't hurt yourself, but just try it."

She insists that anyone who does try to perform it in public needs to pay royalties to his estate.

"I don't really care who's doing it, as long as they get a license," she says. "The people I'm going after are not licensing the music."

Legacy Vs. Controversy

Gail Zappa is going after cover bands she accuses of "identity theft." Her lawyers have sent scores of cease-and-desist letters. But many of the people who continue to perform Frank Zappa's music say they don't need permission.

"You or I cannot record that material and sell it for money. But we can perform it," says guitarist Andre Cholmondeley, who plays in a long-running Zappa cover band called Project/Object. "I'm not a lawyer, but that is the opinion and direction I've been given by probably a dozen lawyers at this point."

Cholmondeley maintains that as long as the venues he plays have paid for a blanket license from the performance-rights organization ASCAP, he is not doing anything illegal. Music lawyers consulted for this story agreed. It seems that Gail Zappa has never actually sued a cover band, but she has sued a 20-year-old festival in Germany called the Zappanale for trademark infringement. She lost but plans to appeal.

By all accounts, Frank Zappa was a perfectionist who liked to keep a tight grip on his business and his art. As he told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1989, he struggled with symphony orchestras — and his own bands — to get his music right.

"Goal one for a composer is to just hear what it was that you wrote," Zappa said, "because you like to listen to music, as well as write it. That's always been the main thrill for me, is to come up with a musical idea and have it performed some way, and I'm especially thrilled if it's performed correctly."

That's why Gail Zappa has a problem with some cover bands.

"Somebody goes out there, plays music — it's not played very well; it doesn't sound anything like what the composer intended," she says. "And they are telling the audience that's never heard it before that this is Frank Zappa's music. It's not. It's some wretched version of it."

There are cover bands that the Zappa family does endorse, including Zappa Plays Zappa, a band fronted by Frank's son Dweezil. Gail Zappa insists that she's not playing favorites. But some of the musicians who have been threatened by her lawyers have doubts.

What Would Frank Want?

Many fans point to a message that was left on the hot line for Zappa's record label shortly after he died of prostate cancer in 1993.

The message says, in part, "Just play his music if you're a musician. And otherwise, play his music anyway. That will be enough for him."

The message was read by Zappa's daughter, Moon Unit. Gail Zappa insists that it's not what some fans and musicians have made it out to be.

"We wrote something for Moon to say on the hot line," she says. "But it was not a statement made by Frank. He never said that. He never told anyone that."

Ike Willis would beg to differ.

"The main reason I'm doing this is because I love Frank," Willis says. "I love his music. And he asked me to do it."

Willis is a singer and guitarist who worked with Frank Zappa on and off for 17 years. He now tours with Project/Object and other unauthorized cover bands. Willis says he talked to Zappa a week before the composer died.

"He said, 'I would really like it if you could be one of the people that could actually keep my music played, in some way, shape or form.' Those were his words," Willis says. "He didn't want it to die."

There are performers who have decided that it's simply easier to work with Gail Zappa. Students from the Paul Green School of Rock performed at Zappanale in 2005. A few years later, Green got a threatening letter from Gail Zappa's lawyers. He decided to negotiate.

"I don't disagree with her right to do that — just her opinion on the matter," says Green, whose work gained a wide audience through the documentary film Rock School. "He wrote this music to be played. If Gail opened it up a little more, I think kids would latch on to this music, if it was more readily and easily available."

Rolling Stone's Fricke says the disputes don't help the legacy — which is unfortunate, he says, because Zappa's music deserves to reach a wider audience.

"The legacy hasn't been taken seriously enough since his death," Fricke says. "In a way, I don't think people really understand him. I'm still working on it."

So are other fans, musicians and family members, who insist that they want Frank Zappa's music to thrive. But that's just about the only thing they can agree on.
 

 

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5 hours ago, WhatTheBuck said:

I’ve never seen Dweezil in concert. I think it’s fine that he’s hiring former members of Frank’s band to play with him but he’s not Frank. (Oh, look! Some guy profiting on his family name! I’ll bet he even owns a laptop!) But Gail had no problem with her son playing Frank’s music.

I've seen ZPZ once.  Dweezil is very talented and hits the notes.  But he lacks Frank's sarcasm, attitude, and general stage presence.  Now part of that could be that he, intentionally and thankfully, is not trying to act like a parody of his dad on stage.  But what is lost is the attitude in the playing despite the proficiency in the playing.  Overall, I'm glad I saw the show, but I wouldn't see another. 

 

Also, the warts and all Roxy CDs (6 shows) are pretty great. 

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Also, since Phish crossed over into the Zeppelin thread and it's all @WhatTheBuck's fault . . .

 

 

 

There's one flub, but it's hard to find a version of this song outside of 12/31/93 that doesn't have one.  Interesting history, they'd been playing this since 1986 or so.  At some point, Dweezil heard about it and sent them the correct compositions, which they then learned.  In more recent iterations, Trey is playing the 1/32 or whatever notes at the beginning of the song.

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1 hour ago, dcbc said:

Also, since Phish crossed over into the Zeppelin thread and it's all @WhatTheBuck's fault . . .

 

 

 

There's one flub, but it's hard to find a version of this song outside of 12/31/93 that doesn't have one.  Interesting history, they'd been playing this since 1986 or so.  At some point, Dweezil heard about it and sent them the correct compositions, which they then learned.  In more recent iterations, Trey is playing the 1/32 or whatever notes at the beginning of the song.

Still, Phish never played Peaches all that well. I think it was in the mushrooms thread that I posted three different versions of Peaches. But Zappa was a big influence on Trey and his early songwriting. Some of their early songs, like Harpua, had complex composed parts like Zappa tunes and that was one of the things that initially attracted me to them.

I’m what you’d call a jaded vet. I followed them through to Coventry in 2004 and that ruined them for me. In retrospect I should’ve quit after 2000. I still say that NYE ‘95 was the best concert I ever saw. It has some good competition in my extensive concert going career but that night was just perfect.

I’ve mentioned before that the guitar solo on the album version of Inca Roads is my all time favorite. I’ve heard that it was the inspiration for the guitar solo on Reba. I don’t know, but Reba is definitely Zappa-esque. And when they played it that night, and Trey broke into that solo, I was in Heaven. (And it had been a long day trekking around the city, and there were a dozen of us sitting in one row at MSG, half of whom were friends of friends I’d only just met, and not a single one of us had tickets for the seats we were sitting in).

 

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1 hour ago, stc said:

no one likes phish

And yet I’ve attended festivals with 60,000 other people where they were the only band playing. Not too long ago they did a 13-night stand at MSG. I don’t like them anymore but they’re still family so fuck you. Negged.

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1 hour ago, WhatTheBuck said:

Still, Phish never played Peaches all that well. I think it was in the mushrooms thread that I posted three different versions of Peaches. But Zappa was a big influence on Trey and his early songwriting. Some of their early songs, like Harpua, had complex composed parts like Zappa tunes and that was one of the things that initially attracted me to them.

I’m what you’d call a jaded vet. I followed them through to Coventry in 2004 and that ruined them for me. In retrospect I should’ve quit after 2000. I still say that NYE ‘95 was the best concert I ever saw. It has some good competition in my extensive concert going career but that night was just perfect.

I’ve mentioned before that the guitar solo on the album version of Inca Roads is my all time favorite. I’ve heard that it was the inspiration for the guitar solo on Reba. I don’t know, but Reba is definitely Zappa-esque. And when they played it that night, and Trey broke into that solo, I was in Heaven. (And it had been a long day trekking around the city, and there were a dozen of us sitting in one row at MSG, half of whom were friends of friends I’d only just met, and not a single one of us had tickets for the seats we were sitting in).

 

The "Mudshark Arpeggio" mentioned in the Filmore show sounds eerily like the solo from Bathtub Gin.  I caught a lot of shows in the 90s, including a NYE show at MSG, Big Cypress, and the last two pre-hiatus shows in Mountainview.  I've seen them sporadically since then and find plenty to appreciate.  But seeing them a lot during that late 90s peak was really cool.  That 95 NYE show is great.  I'm a fan of the one from 93 (Worcester, MA) as well.

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Really, I was coming here to post this. From 12/23/84 in L.A., he took the solo on Sharleena (great song). He was 15. It’s the first track on YCDTOSA Vol. 3.

Frank notes that the song is from the Them or Us album which was released that year. He also published a fictional novel by the same name that year which I’ve never read. His autobiography is great. Other than that, shut up ‘n’ play your guitar, Frankie (or your synclavier or compose and conduct or whatever).

Anyway, in 1994, Ahmet Zappa appeared in an episode of Roseanne where he played Mark’s roommate after Mark left Becky. Frank had passed in ‘93 and the episode was dedicated to his memory. There was a Them or Us poster on the wall in the background in their apartment. 10 years later. I don’t know why that was the choice but whatever. Maybe it’s just what Ahmet had lying around.

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Here’s a better look at the poster. The one in the show didn’t have the text advertising the book.

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On 9/9/2022 at 10:17 PM, 83Horn said:

Recorded at the Armadillo World HQS

 

That whole album was. Compiled from 5/20-21/75. There’s some serious shredding on there. It’s complicated talking about Frank and his music because there’s so much of it and it’s so diverse yet all connected. It’s like a big spider web and any time you pull one thread it leads you in a dozen different directions. Like here we could talk about Joe’s childhood friend Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, whom we remember from providing the vocals on Willie the Pimp from Hot Rats. Two very different sounding albums. Anyway, here are a couple other big tracks from Bongo Fury:

One of the things I was coming here to post about was “conceptual continuity.” Advance Romance mentions “potato-head Bobby,” a recurring character in a few of Frank’s songs. It’s basically a meme. A little thing that can be inserted anytime, anywhere, for no reason at all. More on that to come.

 

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Speaking of conceptual continuity. I relistened to Imaginary Diseases on Friday and then again yesterday. It’s all instrumental, recorded in the fall of ‘72. This was the “Petit Wazoo” band, just 10 members as opposed to the 21 members credited on the Grand Wazoo album. (The Zappa Wazoo vault release only lists 20 band members and I haven’t taken the time to see who’s missing.)

It’s a compilation from 6 different shows. They’re all great takes, edited and produced by Frank himself. It irks me that he probably had tapes of all of those shows and I want to hear them all. But it is what it is.

I’m going to interrupt my own comments here and spoiler the rest. I want to post Steve Vai’s liner notes. They’re more interesting than what I have to say.

Spoiler

Anyway, in sort of a call forward to Apostrophe, the term “conceptual continuity” appears as a lyric in Stink-Foot. (There are a lot of versions of that one out there.)

So does the lyric imaginary diseases.

”Out through the night an’ the whispering breezes to the place where they keep the imaginary diseases.”

It’s kind of weird that it’s a connection in a humorous song but it’s Frank so weirdness is to be expected.

Anyway, Steve Vai wrote a piece for the liner notes and I think it’s explanatory. One of the things about Frank’s music is that it keeps rewarding you the deeper you dig. (Or the digger you deep.) It really is one big project and every object is part of the larger whole. Just listening to all his albums is one thing but then listening to his live performances reveals so much more. And like Steve points out, you’ll never be able to hear it all.

One more connection to Apostrophe. It has Father O’Blivion. A short little song. Imaginary Diseases has an excellent version of the much larger instrumental Farther O’Blivion (lots of those out there too). Steve references it in his commentary. The whole album is awesome. I’ll post Steve’s liner notes and a couple of tracks. I guess I’ve rambled on long enough that I should probably spoiler Steve’s commentary.

You know what? That’s pretty arrogant of me. I’m going to post Steve’s notes and spoiler my mukkity muk. Anyway, enjoy.

IMAGINARY DISEASES

Many have tried to define who Frank was as a creative entity, but everything he wrote, played, sang or said further defined him as exquisitely indefinable. Imaginary Diseases is yet another Zappa jewel that places his body of work far beyond any limitation of label or category. And that’s the way we like it.
 
Some of the pieces on Imaginary Diseases allow us to peer into the forevertinkering nature of Frank’s creative muse. Sometimes he would work on a piece of music, release it at a certain point in its development, and then continue to work on it some more. I remember he once showed me 10 different chord re-harmonizations for “Twenty Small Cigars” — and even more for “Village of the Sun.”
 
Within the body of the fourth track on this album, “Farther O’Blivion,” we can hear elements and sketches from what ended up being parts of ‘The Steno Pool,’ and more of them that became parts of “Greggery Peccary,” “Be-Bop Tango,” “Cucamonga,” as well as parts to possibly a number of other reconstructions that we may never discover. Although many of the mirrored reshapings of his audio delectables may never be identified, they none theless add to the “Conceptual Continuity” of Frank’s musical universe.
 
Frank is now celebrated as an artist of historical significance, and the future will see him thusly celebrated even more so. The documenting of musical history shows us that the future is not biased by the musical trends of its past. Thank God.
 
As a guitar player who worked with Frank, I am fortunate to have played in several of his bands. I’ve transcribed countless hours of his guitar playing, and have stood three feet from him onstage for many months of touring and watched him play an average of 1 1/2 hours of guitar solos each night. Listening to his guitar work on this record further confirms that there is no limit to his improvisational ability to create instantaneous compositions on the instrument. He seems to never repeat himself, it always works, and it feels damn good.
 
If you’re a first-time listener of Frank’s music and you happened onto Imaginary Diseases, you might find yourself scratching your head and pondering, “Huh, I’ve never heard anything as diverse, musical and just plain fun as this.” You may even find yourself feeling a trifle disturbed about having been sold a bill of goods by corporate radio programming that rarely includes Frank’s music but instead shoves freeze-dried audio insipidity down your throat.
 
And if you are already a hardcore Frank fan, you’re far from alone. After listening to this album, you may find yourself scratching your head and pondering in disbelief how it is possible on God’s Grey Earth that there is this guy who passed away at the untimely age of 52 (young for a composer), who could very well be considered the most prolific artist in history, and whose body of work stands as a testament to the potential of human creative achievement, the style of which is utterly unclassifiable — only one of the many components that set Frank apart as a true genius.
 
And you, Zappa aficionado, after consuming his catalog for the past 30 (maybe even more like 40) years and fetishing every little shining morsel of the gems he made available, perhaps you may even know more about those morsels than most others of your ilk. Ponder this:
 
He built a vault in his front yard and buried innumerable treasures like this one, and this plethora of unreleased recordings is so vast that even in the remainder of your own life (regardless of how old you are at the time you are reading this), you will never get to hear all of it.
 
And let’s also not forget the some 400 Synclavier works that are in various forms of completion, securely buried in digital bliss...
 
What the fuck, Frank?
 
Just maybe you are someone who has been so touched by Frank’s work that you wish you could grab him by the shoulders and say, “Do you realize what you have done for me and the quality of my life? How could anyone have such timeless, fathomless vision? Do you know that I love you?”
 
But then comes that bittersweet smack-in-the-face reminder that Frank had the audacity to leave us before we ever had the chance.
 
Jeez, the nerve.
 
Another listen, please — this time a little louder,
 
STEVE VAI

 

https://www.zappa.com/music/imaginary-diseases

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Gave this one another play on Monday. It’s the earliest of the releases in the Beat the Boots series. From Frank’s first European tour.

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9/30/67 Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden 

You Didn’t Try To Call Me > 
Petrushka > 
Bristol Stomp > 
Baby Love > 
Big Leg Emma
No Matter What You Do (Tchaikovsky’s 6th) > 
Blue Suede Shoes > 
Hound Dog > 
Gee 
King Kong
It Can’t Happen Here.

Talk about diversity. Petrushka is Stravinsky. I can’t confirm whether No Matter What You Do is based on Tchaikovsky, I don’t have the ear. But it was released by Zappa so I’ll assume he knew what he was talking about. 

The jewel of the recording is the King Kong which gets pretty out there. I’ve mentioned before that it’s like his Dark Star.

“The name of this song is King Kong. It’s a story of a very large gorilla who lived in the jungle. And he was doing okay until some Americans came by and thought they would take him home with them. They took him to the United States and they made some money by using the gorilla. Then they killed him.”

I found the set on YouTube so you can check it out for yourself. This has more in the intro than the Beat the Boots release so that probably means there’s a better recording out there than what I have.

 

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Here’s an interview Frank did on Letterman. He talks a little bit about his relationship with Captain Beefheart. This was from when he was releasing the recording of his album performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

He goes into a lot more detail on working with the LSO in his book. Frank is a composer first and foremost. I think he would’ve been happy if he had lived centuries earlier and there was a king or a pope to commission him to compose symphonic works. He loved to write little black dots on paper. Often lots of them. But there’s no money in that today. Electric rock ‘n’ roll paid the bills.

In his book he goes into the trials and tribulations of the composer trying to get his music played by an orchestra. The exercise of writing it all out, and getting all the different pieces for all the different instruments written out. And the tendency for classical musicians to just want to play the classics that they know and their reluctance to learn and play anything knew, especially if it was complex. And the struggles with rehearsal and recording time and the habit of the musicians from the LSO to come back drunk after their lunch break.

 

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