Final Frank Words


What Ever Happened To The Mothers Of Invention?

by Frank Zappa

(Hit Parader no. 48, April 1970, pages 23-24)

The Mothers of Invention, the infamous and repulsive rocking teen combo, is not doing concerts any more. Jimmy Carl Black (the Indian of the group) has formed another ensemble which he calls Geronimo Black (named after his youngest child). Don (Dom De Wild) Preston is collaborating with avant garde dancer Meredith Monk in performances of electronic music. Ian Robertson Underwood is preparing material for a solo album. Roy Estrada, Bunk Gardner, Buzz Gardner and Art Tripp are doing studio work in Hollywood. Motorhead (James Euclid) Sherwood is working on his bike and preparing for a featured role in a film with Captain Beefheart. Frank Zappa is producing various artists for his record companies, Bizarre and Straight (which he co-owns with Herb Cohen), working on film and television projects and is currently writing arrangements for a new album by French jazz violinist Jean Luc Ponty. This Ponty album, to be released on World Pacific, will mark the first attempt by any other artist to record a whole album's worth of Zappa's writing, exclusive of The Mothers of Invention interpretations.

It is possible that, at a later date, when audiences have properly assimilated the recorded work of the group, a reformation might take place. The following is a brief summary of The Mothers' first five years of musical experimentation and development.

In 1965 a group was formed called The Mothers. In 1966 they made a record which began a musical revolution. The Mothers invented Underground Music. They also invented the double fold rock album and the concept of making a rock album a total piece of music. The Mothers showed the way to dozens of other groups (including The Beatles and Stones) with their researches and experimentation in a wide range of musical styles and mediums.

The Mothers set new standards for performance. In terms of pure musicianship, theatrical presentation, formal concept and sheer absurdity, this one ugly band demonstrated to the music industry that it was indeed possible to make the performance of electric music a valid artistic expression.

In 1967 (April through August), The Garrick Theater on Bleecker Street in New York was devastated by cherry bombs, mouldering vegetables, whipped cream, stuffed giraffes and depraved plastic frogs… the whole range of expressive Americana… all of it neatly organized into what people today would probably call a "Love Rock Long-Hair Tribal Musical." The Mothers called it “Pigs And Repugnant: Absolutely Free" (an off-Broadway musical)… it was in its third month when "Hair" first opened.

The Mothers was the first big electric band. They pioneered the use of amplified and/or electronically modified woodwind instruments… everything from piccolo to bassoon. They were the first to use the wah wah pedal on guitar as well as horns and electric keyboard instruments. They laid some of the theoretical groundwork which influenced the design of many commercially manufactured electro-musical devices.

The Mothers managed to perform in alien time signatures and bizarre harmonic climates with a subtle ease that led many to believe it was all happening in 4/4 with a teen-age back beat. Through their use of procedures normally associated with contemporary "serious music" (unusual percussion techniques, electronic music, the use of sound in blocks, strands, sheets and vapors), The Mothers were able to direct the attention of a large number of young people to the work of many contemporary composers.

In 1968, Ruben Sano lifted his immense white-gloved hand, made his fingers go "snat!" and instantly Neo-Greaser Rock was born. A single was released from Ruben's boss album (remember Cruising with Ruben & the Jets ?) called "Deseri." It was played on many AM stations (actually rising to #39 on the Top Forty at KIOA in Des Moines, Iowa) until programmers discovered Ruben & the Jets was really The Mothers under a disguise.

Meanwhile, the so called Underground FM stations could boast (because they were so cool and far out) that they actually went so far as to play The Mothers of Invention albums on their stations. Yes. Boldly they'd whip a few cuts from Freak Out on their listeners between the steady stream of important blues numbers.

And then of course, there was Uncle Meat, recorded back to back with Ruben & the Jets (a somewhat unusual production procedure). In spite of the musical merit of the album, the only thing that drew any attention was the fact that several words, in common usage, were included in candid dialogue sections.

Awaiting release is a collection of 12 complete albums of Mothers' music, a retrospective exhibition of the group's most interesting work, covering a span from two years prior to the actual formation of the ensemble, through August 1969. Included in the collection is documentary material from first rehearsals, tracing the development of the group through to its most recent live performances in the U.S. and Europe, some of which have become almost legendary. To those people who cared at all about The Mothers' musical explorations (and also those who didn't care & who wish to be merely entertained), this collection will prove of great interest.

Frank Words From Hell

    To all intents and counter-purposes as those Sixties suddenly became Seventies, the hitherto diabolical music of Frank Zappa somehow entered the denimed underground mainstream via that bitchy little largely instrumental brew known, to this day, as Hot Rats.

Now, maybe it was its utterly polarizing – not to mention polarized – cover art, its hotcha buncha proto-fusion guitar solos, or maybe even (as I’d like to think) the fact that none other than Captain Beefheart scored a Billboard album chart placing courtesy of his magnificent Rats showcase “Willie The Pimp.”  Yet whatever the cases may be, this album’s opening three and a half minutes, “Peaches En Regalia,” quickly became a hep FM staple throughout those glorious Nixon years (before becoming totally co-opted as late night chat show breaks thanks to Paul Shaffer and his ilk), and before he could say “hmmmm,” FZ found himself on the road to eventual artistic Stadium Rock ruin and, as a direct result, the disintegration of his first, classic, and BEST-ever batch of manic musical Mothers.  Pity…

Still, despite its current digital sheen (wherein such essential elements as Ian Underwood’s mightily majestic “organus maximus,” not to mention “Peaches’” concluding Hare Krishna finger-cymbals, seem to have been all but obliterated during remix by FRANK’S LEAD GUITAR), Hot Rats still recalls to what’s left of my mind glad-happy High School daze spent with partner-in-teen-mischief Richard, crashing the local stoners’ TV parties and serving them up mayo-on-catfood sandwiches …all to the hot-rockin’ accompaniment of “The Gumbo Variations,” y’know.


Cruising with Uncle Frank’s Words

    “The recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band spanned 129 days; perhaps the most creative 129 days in the history of rock music.”
(author and “Beatle Brain of Britain” Mark Lewisohn)  


Whilst those “Fugs of the West Coast,” The Mothers of Invention, were spending month upon month held over in New York City’s Garrick Theatre performing their 1967 Pigs and Repugnant Revue, Frank Zappa was spending his every waking hour off stage holed up in the city’s pioneering 12-track (!!) Apostolic recording studio over on East 10th.  The ultra-productive time spent there, which resulted in not only the epic We’re Only In It For The Money but several other stellar FZ / MOI LP’s (not to mention reams of archival material which continues to dribble out posthumously via the Zappa Family Trust), constitutes what I firmly believe to be THE most fitfully fruitful time ever spent by man or beast committing rock ‘n’ roll to magnetic tape …and yes, that includes those pious Pepper sessions as well.

Right alongside Apostolic’s utterly brilliant recording engineer Richard “Dick Dynamite” Kunc and his latest audio toys (variable speed oscillators, the grand new “Apostolic Vlorch Injector,” plus assorted policemen and breakfast rolls), Zappa and band stitched together, for starters, "most of the music from the Mothers’ movie of the same name which we haven’t got enough money to finish yet" as well as the first, and I’m sure you must agree, BEST of all those late-Sixties so-called R ‘n’ R Revival elpees Cruising With Ruben and the Jets.

Now, while the Uncle Meat soundtrack still sounds as magnificently minced and phonically fully-flavored today as it did upon its ’69 release, the digitized Ruben most unfortunately suffers from a typically fool-headed remix and re-record which obliterates the Mother/Jets’ original greasy, bottom-heavy finger-snatting and replaces them all with synthesized bass sloops and Eighties-anemic drums-that-go-“pooh” (instead of poot), I’m so sorry to report.  “When I sat down and listened to the CD I got sick in the pit of my stomach, man,” so go the wizened words of Mother woodwinder Bunk Gardner (as reported in our ant bee Billy James’ indispensable Necessity Is… The Early Years of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention book).  “The music was from one era and you could tell the rhythm section was from the 1980s; it didn’t make sense at all to me.  And the thing that blew my mind was, didn’t Frank hear that?”

Apparently not.  Still, for those who naturally prefer jelly roll gum drops and Chevy ‘39’s over tangerine trees and newspaper taxis…..    

Return of the Son of Frank Words

    The first Friday of most every month throughout 1967 and into ’68, I was formally excused from school so that my mother could take me all the way into Toronto for orthodontic appointments.  As my due reward afterwards, I would be treated to a tasty french-fry-and-chocolate-milk lunch in the sumptuous Eaton’s Department Store cafeteria, then left for an hour alone in the adjacent Music Department while dear mom ran her errands elsewhere.

Gawd, I truly was deep in pre-teen heaven in there, believe you me:  Guitars – just like the one Tommy Smothers played on TV every week! – lining each wall, while right over there were more record albums gathered alphabetically together in one place than my wide young eyes had ever ever seen.  

But it was while methodically flipping through that “Misc. M” bin one innocent Friday in seach of the latest Monkees long-player that I came across an image which shook me to the very core of my hitherto safe, sound, Micky’n’Mike-loving spine:

A foreboding, dark purple sci-fi sky shot through with lightning bolts, beneath which were strewn an above-motley crew of comic-book cut-outs (some of whose eyes were obscured with sinister black bars!)  And in front of all that stood what appeared to be a group of bearded, ugly, definitely NON-Monkee-looking men wearing… wearing dresses and standing by a mess of rotten vegetables which for some reason spelled out the word “mothers.”

Subconsciously at least, I recognized this was sort of for some reason like the picture on front of my latest Beatle album.  But I also instinctively gathered something BAD was afoot.

So for the next several months, as if revisiting a decaying body rotting in the back woods or the scene of some other such crime, I’d patiently let Dr. Shanks, D.D.S. rip around my mouth, rush with Mom to scarf down some Eaton’s fast-food, then creep back towards those record racks to check if …IT… was still hidden there.  Why, one grave Friday I even showed the offending, but somehow alluring record jacket to my mother (who, immediately sensing things untoward indeed, said “put that down, Gary.  We’re going home.”)


Flash forward a couple’a years:  By now, my comparatively straight teeth and I were enrolled in the local high school, specializing in Fine Arts and pouring over my latest charcoal still-life when the most incredible music suddenly burst from the record player at the back of the room.  It was Eric Shelkey’s turn to bring vinyl in to accompany the day’s lesson y’see, and Eric, being by far the most freeeky, out-there student in all our Grade 9 Specialty Art class (I mean, the guy wore little round eyeglasses just like John Lennon, and his hair actually reached below his shirt collar!) certainly did not disappoint with his choice of music.  Yep, instead of the usual docile strains of Tommy Roe or, at “worst,” Blood Sweat and Tears, the room was this morning filled with fully- stereophonic snorks, wheezes, electronic noises (much like those the microphone made in the auditorium downstairs when it wasn’t working), and some creepy voice which kept whispering “Are you hung up?” over and over again. 

Understandably I suppose, just like my mother had back in Eaton’s music department, our hitherto pretty patient art instructor Mr. Pollard walked quickly to the back of the classroom, turned the volume all the way down, removed the offending twelve inches from the turntable, inserted it back in its sleeve, and told Eric he could pick his record up after class, thankyouverymuchnowpleasegetbacktoworkeveryone.  Of course, me being me, I made sure to follow Eric out into the hall afterwards to find out the name labelled in the middle of this wondrous, forbidden twelve inches.  Most obligingly indeed, but being careful to check both ways first to see if anyone was looking, he pulled the album slowly from his portfolio case.

AND THERE IT WAS.  That same diabolical image which had haunted my post- orthodontic Fridays all those years ago!  

Winking at me most conspiratorially, Eric invited me over to his place to listen to the entire record that day immediately after school.  I naturally saved up my allowance and bought my OWN copy a couple of months later, locked myself in my room, and it would be quite some time until I ever listened to Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. — or anything else, for that matter – quite the same way ever again.  I couldn’t say it then, but I surely will now:

Thank you, Frank Zappa.


Caveat Emptor however:  In its initial digital incarnation alongside the very dynamite Lumpy Gravy, the Mothers’ masterful Money was subjected to hideous late-Eighties remixing and the replacing even of its magnificent original rhythm tracks!  But I’m assured the current CD version holds the exact same We’re Only In It For The Money I like to think shock ‘n’ awed not only my own, but unsuspecting classrooms the world over back in those once-swinging Sixties.  Grab your own copy today, please.

Absolutely Frank Words

  (Still whizzing and pasting – and pooting even — through my newly-acquired stack of vintage Zappa material, folks, only to discover…..)

Those sophomore 12-inches from Frank and his Mothers are, I’m afraid, just too easily overlooked and unheard, stretching as they do between the twin monumental peaks of Freak Out and We’re Only In It For The Money.  But in rear-view, I posit that spiffy little long-player known as Absolutely Free, recorded in a mere twenty-five hours circa 11/66, reveals itself to be, maybe, just maybe, the man’s true whacked masterpiece.

Two vinyl-side-long suites examining the festered underbelly of LBJ’s America, its ragged overall sheen of wise-ass vocals and hot-rawk jamming may indeed lure the listener in for Just Another Boogie From L.A., granted.  But as no less an expert on the subject as original Mother Don Preston has since revealed, much of Absolutely Free was in fact painstakingly rehearsed and recorded in intricate four-and-eight-bar sections requiring dozens of takes apiece, and the music itself was just as comfortable quoting Stravinsky as it was the Supremes, Kingsmen, and/or the band’s beloved vegetable-encrusted doo-wop. 

Also, this record just happens to contain the legendary original appearance of “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” which, if I may be so bold, absolutely eats Pete Townshend’s “A Quick One While He’s Away” in the mod mini-opera department.

But finally, take one quick listen to “Why Don’tcha Do Me Right,” the band’s 1967 non-hit single included as an Absolutely Free bonus track, and find yourself agreeing with Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play Zappauthor Ben Watson when he claims that had The Mothers released only a rare seven-inches or two or three like this back in the daze, then duly disappeared, they’d be widely hailed today as one of the world’s most wholly Nugget-worthy Garage Rock Wonders.  Excuse me while I call Little Steven’s radio show with a request…..             

PS:  Quiz Time, boys and girls!

Which future member of none other than Monty Python made his audio debut on Side Two of Absolutely Free ??

First correct response wins an all-expense-paid trip as the first member of the Peace Corps to be sent to Alabama, as The Big Surfer would say…..

Frank Words

  My olde Pig Paper co-conspirator John Pinto just blessed me with seventeen – count ‘em !! – vintage Frank Zappa / Mothers Of Invention albums …or, should I at least say, their Reagan-era digital incarnations (more about THAT later).  So as you’ll soon plainly see I’ve been having late-night balls revisiting these choice gems, in chrono-logical order, one-by-one and track-by-track, recalling all the trouble I got in at home and especially school upon purchasing and playing, as loudly as was humanely possible, their original Verve vinyl pressings as a snotty young Canuck.  

(btw:  say what you may about Canada of course, but remember that the initial pressings of We’re Only In It For The Money up there in the Grey Wide North sported the uncensored “Pepper” parody cover right up front, whereas them Yanks had to have it hidden safely inside that ugly Motherly-yellow gatefold.  So THERE).

anyways, Starting at the Start then, Frankly speaking:  Freak Out.  

Four (count ‘em!) long-playing sides BEFORE Blonde On Blonde;  multi-minute suites of musique concrete slapped right alongside nice cute pop songs …BEFORE The White Album;  an album-length “concept,” as it was, BEFORE Arthur, Tommy, or even Confessions of a Teenage Opera [sic!] …though, admittedly, several years AFTER the Little Deuce Coupe and All Summer Long LP’s.  

And, speaking of Big Brother Bri and the Summer of 66, Freak Out proved a ground-breaking, genre-busting, earth-quaking true lush orchestral song cycle BEFORE posh li’l Pet Sounds ever did.  

And, possibly as a direct result, it sold just about as badly back then too, even in the comparatively hep U.K…..

The Communists Are Coming To Kill Us/Prank Calls

John Trubee’s The Communists Are Coming to Kill Us! is a Lost in the Grooves exclusive, available now from Maryatt Music Group. Click to sample John’s singles collection or purchase.

John Trubee’s legendary Prank Call CDs, available as MP3 samples, downloads or full CDs:

Greatest Prank Phone Calls Of All Time Vol. 1
Greatest Prank Phone Calls Of All Time Vol. 2
Greatest Prank Phone Calls Of All Time Vol. 3
Greatest Prank Phone Calls Of All Time Vol. 4

John Trubee and the Ugly Janitors of America The Communists Are Coming to Kill Us! (Enigma, 1984)

Mr. Trubee is best known as the man behind “Blind Man’s Penis,” a demented poem with lines like “Warts love my nipples because they are pink/Vomit on me baby, yeah, yeah” that was sent to a song-poem mill and turned into a deadpan country song which subsequently became an underground novelty hit. Lesser known, but far stranger, is his follow-up album. Trubee got the ball rolling by sending a fake suicide note to several associates, including L.A. Reader rock critic Matt Groening and Enigma’s Bill Hein, who agreed to meet with Trubee and negotiate a record deal. In Trubee’s words: “It was no negotiation. I wanted to do the record badly–that was obvious. It was similar to a horny teenage boy negotiating with a supermodel to lose his virginity. There is no deal–he just gets with her fast before she changes her mind. I told Bill I’d do it for no money. He set up mastering time at Capitol and I walked in … with a brown paper bag full of reel tapes and cassettes of teenage poetry rants, prank phone calls, aborted horn chart recordings from music school, and other weirdness. I had the flu and I sat with Eddie Shierer for six hours editing all this madness into an album.” What resulted was an extremely unique and, well, odd record. I came across it in a used bin shortly after it came out. It was both annoying as hell and insanely captivating, a collage of atonal avant-jazz, primitive electronic compositions, and spoken rants against stuck-up college girls and the suave men who slept with them, plus those juvenile prank calls, a revelation long before the genre became a pop cultural phenomena. If the record that was attached to the Voyager space probe had contained the sounds of all the alienated, pissed-off, shat-on people on earth, it would sound something like this. (Chas Glynn, from the book Lost in the Grooves)