The History and Collected Improvisations of Frank Zappa and the MOI
The following are some of the articles that are reproduced in the
booklet that comes with the ten disk boxed set "The History and
Collected Improvisations of Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of
Ontario Composer, Steve Allen To Play Wacky Duet
Frank Zappa, 22, Ontario resident composer of music, serious
and otherwise, will be on television tomorrow night playing a
bicycle concerto for two with Steve Allen.
The show is at 11 p.m., Channel 5. "It's very funny," said
Zappa. "You play a bicycle by plucking the spokes and blowing
through the handlebars."
Other methods of producing "cyclophony" is to stroke the spokes
with the bow of a bass fiddle, twirl the pedals and let air out
of the tires.
The Zappa-Allen concerto will be abetted by a man in the control
room folling around with a tape recorder and by a jazz group will
supply toneless background noise.
Zappa studied music and art at Chaffey College. He wrote the
score for "The World's Greatest Sinner," a low-budget tale about a
sacrilegious imposter who repents. "Sinner" had its premiere at
Vista-Continental Theater, Hollywood, and open Wednesday at the
Ken Theater, San Diego.
Zappa writes musical commercials for TV and radio. They are
recorded at Pal Studio, Cucamonga.
2 A-Go-Go-To Jail
Vice Squad Raids Local Film Studio
By Ted Harp
CUCAMONGA -- Vice Squad investigators stilled the tape recorders
of a free-swinging, a-go-go film and recording studio here Friday
and arrested a self-styled movie producer and his buxom red-haired
Booked on suspicion of conspiracy to manufacture pornographic
materials and suspicion of sex perversion, both felonies, at
county jail were:
Frank Vincent Zappa, 24, and Lorraine Belcher, 19, both of the
studio address, 8040 N. Archibald Ave.
The surprise raid came after an undercover officer, following a
tip from the Ontario Police Department, entered the rambling,
three-room studio on the pretext of wanting to rent a stag movie.
Sgt. Jim Willis, vice investigator of the San Bernardino County
Sheriff's Office, said the raid suspect, Zappa, offered to do even
better -- he would film the movie for $300, according to Willis.
When Zappa became convinced the detective was "allright," he
played a tape recording for him. The recording was for sale and it
featured, according to police, Zappa and Miss Belcher in a
somewhat "blue" dialogue.
Shortly after the sneak sound preview, the suspect's hope for a
sale were shattered when two more sheriff's detectives and one
from the Ontario Police Department entered and placed the couple
Zappa, who recently was the subject of news story on his hopes
to produce a low-budget fantasy film and thus bring a share of
Hollywood's glamor to Cucamonga, blamed financial woes for his
Inside his studio when the raid came was recording and sound
equipment valued at $22,000, according to Zappa.
Also, a piano, trap drums, vibraphones and several electric
guitars were stored among the Daliian litter of the main studio.
On the walls, Zappa had hung such varied memorabilia as divorce
papers, a picture of himself on the Steve Allen television show, a
threat from the Department of Motor Vehicles to revoke his
driver's license, several song publisher's rejection letters and
works of "pop" art.
Among Zappa's completed musical scores were such titles as
"Memories of El Monte," and "Streets of Fontana."
The latter, written before several utility companies had
forsaken the budding composer, opens:
Assisting Sgt. Willis in the raid were sheriff's vice
investigators Jim Mayfield and Phillip Ponders, and Ontario
Detective Stan McCloskey.
Arraignment for Zappa and Miss Belcher next week will bring them
close to home.
Cucamonga Justice Court is right across the street from the
"As I was out sweeping the streets of Fontana.
As I was out sweeping Fontana one day.
I spied in the gutter a moldy banana.
And with the peeling I started to play . . ."
from Rolling Stone, October 18, 1969
Mother's Day Has Finally Come
LOS ANGELES -- Frank Zappa, "tired of playing for people who
clap for all the wrong reasons," has dissolved his Mothers of
The first indication that the revolutionary nine-member band was
aproaching the end of its musical career came with an announcement
that the Mothers had cancelled all bookings from now until the end
of the year so Zappa could concentrate on other projects long in
progress. A talk with Zappa revealed the break was more complete
"It all started in Charlotte, North Carolina," he said. "We'd
been booked by George Wein on a jazz concert date as bait to get
the teenaged audience. We went into a 30,000 capacity auditorium
with a 30-watt public address system, it was 95 degrees and 200
percent humidity, with a thunderstorm threatening. It was really
"After that I had a meeting with the group and told them what I
thought about the drudgery of grinding it out on the road. And
then I came back took to LA and worked on Hot Rats (an upcoming
solo album). Then we did one more tour -- eight days in Canada.
After that I said fuck it.
"I like to play, but I just got tired of beating my head against
the wall. I got tired of playing for people who clap for all the
wrong reasons. I thought it time to the people a chance to figure
out what we've done already before we do any more.
"The last live Mothers performance was in Montreal. The last
`otherwise' performance was a television show in Ottawa the
following night" -- August 18th and 19th.
Which is not to say the Mothers are completely dead. The band
will not be performing, or recording, as a group, but they will be
seen on film. Three short films are now complete -- two of them
documentaries from Germany -- and a fourth is in the works. All
these, Zappa said, will be offered to colleges as a package in
lieu of live performance, probably beginning in late Fall.
Zappa also said he had recorded material for a dozen full length
LPs on the shelf in his Hollywood Hills home, records he hopes to
release through a Mothers of Invention Record Club, now being
planned. The albums cover the band's five-year development and
were recorded on tour (in Europe as well as throughout North
America) and in studios stretching from Los Angeles to New York.
Meanwhile, the individual members of the band are making plans
of their own. Jimmy Carl Black, the drummer known as "the Indian
in the group," for example, has formed a band of (as yet unnamed)
an already has begun preliminary recording, while Don Preston,
one of the Mothers' keyboard men, has gone to New York to work
with a company that combines dance with electronic music.
At the same time, Zappa has holed up in his basement workshop to
By Jerry Hopkins
Zappa mentioned one final project. He said he might be
accompanying Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band to Europe in
October -- not as a musician, but as road manager.
- Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People! This is a
feature-length film, presently in script form, written by Zappa in
1964. Zappa said that thanks in part to Easy Rider and the
Woodstock Music & Art Fair -- "two of several things finally
showing the youth market really means business" -- three major
studios have made offers to back the flick. Zappa also said that
if anyone had shown interest in the film five years ago, he would
never have played rock and roll. His "ideal cast" includes parts
for, among others, Don Van Vliet, who is better known as Captain
Beefheart, an old high school chum of Zappa's; Chester Burnett,
better known as Howlin' Wolf; several of the Mothers of Invention;
and Grace Slick.
- An unnamed weekly television show. For this a major deal is
imminent, too, he said, but details could not be discussed. He
did say, however, the program would be a "music show" and not a
talk or interview show.
- Continued activity in production of records for his own
Bizarre and Straight record company labels. This includes final
editing of the debut LP for the GTOs, recording of the second
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band LP for Straight, and final
work on a new Mothers album called Burnt Weenie Sandwich, which
relates to an 18 minute film just completed. (This film would be
one of the four offered the colleges.) Zappa has additionally
produced an album by Jean-Luc Ponty, an electric violinist from
France, and has completed his own solo guitar debut, Hot Rats, to
be released by Bizarre and distributed by Reprise in October.
- Supervision of planning the Mothers of Invention Record Club,
which he said he hoped would be announced in (get ready) Playboy
magazine. "Those are the people who need to listen to us most," he
explained, adding that Mo Ostin, president of Reprise, was
"working on it." The titles of the 12 LPs are Before the
Beginning, The Cucamonga Era, Show and Tell, What Does it All
Mean, Rustic Protrusion, Several Boogie, The Merely Entertaining
Mothers of Invention Record, The Heavy Business Record, Soup and
Old Clothes, Hotel Dixie, The Orange County Lumber Truck, and The
Hit It, Zubin
"Most rock could not do this sort of thing because they cannot
read music," said Zubin Mehta confidently. "Frank Zappa, on the
other hand, is one of the few rock musicians who knows my
language." As conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mehta is
known not only for his willingness to step in where many Angelenos
fear to tread, but for his ability to get away with it musically.
In the peerless leader of the Mothers of Invention (Time, Oct.
31), however, Mehta was taking on a man whose main goal in life
seems to zap the musical establishment.
The odd musical conjunction of the two men also involved 104
stunned members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic gathered for the
world premier of Zappa's 200 Motels, written for the Mothers and
orchestra. What the concert, held before 11,000 rock fans at the
U.C.L.A. basketball arena, mainly proved is that any marriage
between rock and the classics is likely to be stormy indeed. As
ther Mothers' bassist Jeff ("Swoovette") Simmons said tolerantly
of the orchestra: "Those dudes are really out of it, man. It's
like working with people from another planet."
There were times when the orchestra players felt the same way
about Zappa and his matriarchy. Attired in pony-tail and
yellow-striped pants, Zappa started things off himself: "All
right, Zubin, hit it." That was a bit brazen and did not go over
too well the violins, who outnumber everybody else and use their
weight to preserve a little decorum now and then. Nonetheless,
when Zubin hit it, they hit it too. When the rest of the orchestra
said "Bleep," the violins joined in. When they required to do fey
finger snaps over their heads, they complied. When asked to belch,
literally, they drew the line and said "Blurp." When percussionist
William Kraft, dutifully following the score, fired a popgun, they
played on unblinking. Meanwhile, platformed six feet above the
orchestra, the Mothers were lullabying away at some of their
"greatest hits," like Lumpy Gravy, Duke of Prunes, and Who Needs
the Peace Corps. Then, everyone in the orchestra suddenly
screamed, one final frightening chord was heard, and with a giant
blurp 200 Motels closed down for the night.
No complaints, however, were heard from the Philharmonic
management, clearly overjoyed to have got its players into the
same hall with that many young people and brought $33,000 into the
box office. As for Mehta, if he did not have the last laugh, he at
least had the last lash: despite Zappa's protests, he cut out the
entire second part of 200 Motels. Just as well, Part 2 calls for a
chorus to blow bubbles through straws and the soprano soloist to
sing "Munchkins get me hot."
Zappa at his bizarre best
Show review by Roy Carr
At the time of writing his `1812 Overture,' Peter Tchaikovski
considered it to be no more than a light hearted descriptive work
of little importance. It was left to a much later generation to
reflect upon it's merits.
I'm not drawing parallels, but I don't think it's too
presumptuous to assume that to future musicologists the works of
Francis Vincent Zappa will be looked upon as being indicative of
certain aspects of our quickly disposable instant product society.
And to present it he has used the most acceptable and quickest
method of mass communication . . . a rock band.
Zappa may choose to cacoon his work in the most outrageous
humour, but even this can't overshadow the strength and validity
of his creativeness . . . but then perhaps it's not supposed to,
just compliment it?
Though Sunday's soiree at the London Coliseum was a brief and
informative excursion into some of his most bizarre antics, the
music which fluctuated between sheer brilliance and haughty
schoolboy pornography was still the prime focal point.
The evening's entertainment commenced with a situation which
would have even inspired Fellini. Entering stage left, a
dinner-suited pianist started vamping out "Moon River" on an
Almost immediately, the stage was taken over by a midget lady
tap dancer, a female juggler, an illusionist, and low-n-behold, a
troupe of performing dogs who camped it up in the grand old
tradition of the music hall.
Then to whoops and cheers of recognitin from a capacity
audience, Uncle Frank welcomed us with "Hello boys and girls,"
while his Mothers of Invention cavorted about prior to roaring
into an extended version of "Vegetables," which was followed by
excerpts from his musical-documentary of group life on the road
Though each member of the Mothers is an individualist, at one
time or another during the non-stop performance they completely
come under the almost Svengaliesque direction of F. V. Zappa to
the point where they become the synthesis of his personality.
Continually drawing on the basic mechanics of Rock Americana.
Much of the vocal overtones reflect the nostalgic "Noo Yoirk"
monotones of a bygone era.
In ex-Turtles Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, the Mothers have an
unequalled brace of singer-comedians. Completely uninhibited in
their delivery, their camping about during "200 Motels" and the
subsequent take-offs of the messrs. Daltry and Morrison turned it
into an operetta. Without a doubt they are Zappa's main visual
Of the rest of the group, the internal rapport which exists
between Ian Underwood and our very own ex-patriot Aynsley Dunbar
on drums is quite outstanding in his flexibility and precision.
I don't presume to fully understand what goes on in Frank
Zappa's agile mind . . . I expect very few, if any, can admit to
it. To pretend to would be facetious.
Though others may argue the point, I feel that Zappa takes his
work most seriously. Above all his eccentric genius has to be
admired and respected.
from The New York Times, Sunday, December 25, 1966
`Son of Suzy Creamcheese'
By Robert Shelton
The most original new group to simmer out of the steaming
rock'n'roll underground in the last hour and one-half is an
audacious crew from the West Coast called The Mothers of
Invention. The eight-member group will be appearing through New
Year's Eve at the Balloon Farm, the new haven for young hippies at
23 St. Mark's Place, atop the Dom.
The Mothers of Invention are primarily musical satirists.
Beyond that, they are perhaps the first pop group to successfully
amalgamate rock'n'roll with the serious music of Stravinsky and
others. Both in their material and in their looks, they are also
furthering some of the more outrageous elements of
anti-convention, thus contributing to a new style that might be
called "shock rock."
Compared to the Mothers of Invention, such earlier big-beat
groups as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones emerge as Boy Scouts
with electric guitars. The hairier-than-thou personnel of The
Mothers, include at this writing ("everyone in the band has quit
three times") performers on harmonica, tambourine, percussion and
timpani, electric bassoon, soprano saxophone, tenor sax, flute,
gongs, electric clavichord and "mouth." There is a lot of
alternation of instruments among the band members. No one knows
for sure who plays drums.
The father (or Dada) of The Mothers of Invention is 26-year-old
Frank Zappa, spindly-framed, sharp-nosed gamester whose
appearance suggests some of the more sinister aspects of Edgar
Allen Poe, John Carradine and Rasputin. In truth, Mr. Zappa is no
more sinister than a cultural revolutionary bent on overthrowing
every rule in the music book.
On arriving here, Mr. Zappa took a moment off from worrying
about when the plane carrying the bands 18 boxes of equipment
would be found by the airline, loosened his pink-on-pink tie from
his Carnaby Street collar and explained to a visitor just what he
is up to:
"I am trying to use the weapons of a disoriented and unhappy
society against itself. The Mothers of Invention are designed to
come in the back door and kill you while you're sleeping." A smile
crept through the undergrowth of mustache and goatee, and he
"One of our main, short-range objectives is to do away with the
top-40 broadcasting format because it is basically wrong,
unethical and unmusical . . . Sure, we're satirists, and we are
out to satirize everything. Most of the guys in the band feel
that we're going to do something to help."
Mr. Zappa was not explicit about how he was going to lead his
crusade against the pop and serious music Establishments, other
than to get his band's work more widely heard. Audiences at the
Balloon Farm have been listening to variations on Mr. Zappa's
themes with considerable delight. They have heard such Zappa
originals as "Help, I'm a Rock" (". . . dedicated to Elvis
Presley. Note the intersting formal structure and the stunning
four-part barbershop harmony toward the end. Note the obvious
lack of commercial potential. Ho hum"), "Motown Waltz," "Who Are
the Brain Police?" "Wowie Zowie" (". . . carefully designed to
suck the 12-year-old listener into our camp") and "The Return of
the Son of Monster Magnet."
Other works are entitled "The Mother's American Pageant," "The
Duke of Prunes," "Plastic People," and "Son of Suzy Creamcheese."
If all of this sounds even a bit outlandish, Mr. Zappa has
apparently hit his mark, for he thinks that "freaking out" is an
important method of expression and effecting change. He defines
"freaking out" as "a process whereby an individual casts off
outmoded and restrictive thinking, dress and social etiquette in
order to express creatively his relationship to his immediate
environment and the social structure as a whole."
Not the least of the fascinations of hearing The Mothers at work
are the incidental uses of classical or serious music in rock
arrangements. Besides Stravinsky, Mr. Zappa has scored rock
adaptations of Mozart's Symphony No. 40, Holst's "The Planets" and
a touch or two of Edgar Varese. Mr. Zappa began serious
composition at the age of 14. "At 15 I gave it up and decided to
become a plumber. How long did I stay in plumbing? I'm still a
plumber . . ."
The Baltimore-born, West-Coast-reared musician has had a turn at
nearly every form of music extant. He has written "serious" works
for string quartet, chamber orchestra, scores for the films
"World's Greatest Sinner" and "Run Home Slow." He describes the
latter as the only known cowboy picture using electronic music, in
which the good guys presumably head off the bad guys at the
Mr. Zappa had almost despaired of "making it" in serious
American music, but admits that he might make it through the back
door of rock'n'roll. But "rock is not just a stepping-stone," he
cautions. "Rock is tha only living music in America today. It's
alive. I'm bringin music music [serious or classical concepts] to
our rock arrangements. Stravinsky in rock is like a get-acquainted
offer, a loss-leader. It's a gradual progression to bring in my
own 'serious' music."
Listening to The Mothers of Invention is an adventure, in which
the auditor is warned to expect veering curves and sudden changes.
Some of it is psychedelic sound (without the drugs), some is a
marvelous spoof on the late-1950's teen-scene nonsense, some of it
is social comment on the hypocrisies of contemporary life, and
some of it is just, to use Mr. Zappa's phrase, "music music."
Mr. Zappa urges that every lover of pop music run out and buy
the Vanguard recording of Varese's futuristic "Ameriques." "It
blows my mind. It's my favorite top-40 record."
from The New York Times, Thursday, May 25, 1967
Mothers of Invention at the Garrick
By Dan Sullivan
"Absolutely Freeee," which opened at the Garrick Theater last
night, will cost you threeee dollars a ticket. Whether you find
the money well-spent will depend a great deal on how old you are,
or wish you were.
Although a good many strange and wonderful things were promised
by the advance publicity for this show under its former name,
"Pigs and Repugnant," it turns out to be nothing more nor less
than a concert by a seven-man group called The Mothers of
The Mothers, as we will call them for short, are familiar to and
worshipped by the Flower Generation. The Pepsi Generation may find
them a little hard to take.
Let us say that the Beatles are as far-out a group as you have
encountered up to now. The most striking difference between the
two groups is not in their work but in their approach to their
work -- the Beatles' basic desire to please an audience versus The
Mothers' basic distrust of one (or at least of the one that
attended the opening).
The distrust is seen in the super-ironical introductions of
Frank Zappa -- "Here's another hot little number . . ." -- and in
the cool diffidencewith which the group goofs around between
numbers. The audience has the feeling that if it is not very
careful, the boys might just say, "Who needs this scene?" and walk
Their music is also, more often than not, frankly hostile --
both in its headachey volume and in those lyrics that you can
make out amid the roar.
"Across the nation . . . black and white . . . TV . . . trading
stamps . . . high-school . . ." The targets keep popping up, but
whether they are being hit with any degree of verbal accuracy or
style is impossible to discover without a libretto.
As pure sound, though, this approaches genius. From an
electrified kitchen of percussion, saxes, guitars, flutes, etc.,
they produce a thick, black sound shot through with odd treble
sunbursts and pinwheels -- the exact aural equivalent of the
nervous ever-changing abstract projections flashing on the screen
Beneath the Lenin beards and the John-the-Baptist hairdos, these
are fine musicians -- never better (and surely never more
attractive) than when they are parodying the rock'n'roll numbers
of an earlier generation.
They are of an age that can honestly think of Elvis Presley with
nostalgia. There is something oddly sweet in their parody-homage
of "Hound-Dog," and lesser-known of yesterday's hits, which they
made fun of in a way that cannot disguise their honest affection
for the Old Masters.
Whether their show at the Garrick will make any new friends for
the Mothers -- or whether they really want any -- is hard to say.
If they are interested in attracting a wider audience, it might
be suggested that they consider the uses of silence, as well as
volume, to attract and hold an audience's attention.
With the best will in the world, one's attention does tend to
click off, like a thermostat, under a steady barrage of
triple-forte, no matter how brilliantly achieved.
At such moments, the Mothers' music becomes simply a background
roar -- as it would on the subway -- and the listener finds
himself paying more attention to what is on his his mind than what
is in his ears.
If what is on his mind is spiritual enough -- how to attain the
inner light, say -- then the music of the Mothers can be
considered devotional. But the trouble with the Pepsi Generation
is that most of us are more likely to be wondering what we did
with our car keys.
A musical by Frank Zappa, with The Mothers of Invention, presented
by Herb Cohen at the Garrick Theatre, Direction uncredited.
by Diane Fisher
Theatre, it's not: "Absolutely Free" is a concert pure and
simple, but if the Mothers of Invention want to down it as
theatre that's okay with me. I'm perfectly happy to hear good
music, no matter what it's posing as.
The seven Mothers, if anyone doesn't know it by now, amalgamate
"serious" music, jazz, and rock into a sardonic, electronic
eclecticism. Mother-in-charge Frank Zappa, the composer-arranger,
plays guitar and sings (with Ray Collins and Jim Black). There is
a one-man wind and brass section -- Bunk Gardner on bassoon,
piccolo, flute, clarinet, and soprano, tenor, and alto saxes. And
a vast rhythm section -- Black, Billy Mundi, and sometimes Don
Preston, percussion; Preston, piano, organ, and related and
unrelated instruments; Roy Estrada, bass; and singer Ray Collins
on occasional tambourine. Everything that possibly can be
electrified is, including the wind-brass section. It works, and
particular well on jazz.
Zappa and other of the Mothers have a jazz background, and jazz
doesn't sell too well these days, but I wish they would sneak in
an all-jazz evening now and then. I suspect the extent of their
electric instrumentation is unprecedented. It's new, and it's
Zappa looks nasty, and when he comes on stage you brace yourself
for a hostile assault; the group follows, you prepare your ears
for deafening hate bleeps. They don't come. Zappa is relaxed,
gentle, his rage is pressed into a fine-tuned irony. (Try to
ignore it if he asks you if the music's too loud, then puts the
voice mike, during an electric soprano sax solo, to the big
vertical speaker. I've been at concerts that literally left my
ears ringing for two days. This wasn't one of them.) The sound is
different from anything else, energetic, often loving.
The Mothers' image is deceiving. Their scandalously
unrespectable appearance must be pretty forbidding for
post-puberty generations, yet in age and frame of reference the
Mothers are at least a generation older than the hippies who
compose most of their following. A few of their targets date back
to the '40s (Avalon Ballroom-style emceeing), some to the '50s
(rock'n'roll of that era).
Their attitude hasn't much to do with age. It might be called
surrealistic enlightened. Subject matter ranges from plastic
people ("you think we're talking 'bout someone else") to the
President ("he's been sick") to Donovan (some wicked epatering
that should outrage the coterie).
But most of what can be said about the lyrics can be ascertained
only from their new record. The "Absolutely Free" album was
distributed absolutely free to critics, but presumably it won't be
any more free in stores than tickets to the show -- $3 -- are at
the box office. At any rate, the unbalanced sound system on stage
renders the lyrics unintelligible. Paradoxically, however,
although this second record is better than the Mothers' "Freak
Out" album, neither hints at how good the group is in person. One
hears everything all at once on the records and somehow the sum
doesn't amount to much.
In person, one can't assimilate all the different musical and
verbal things going on, and more imaginative, varied light-works
would reinforce this. I have a theory that mixed-media events work
only if so many absorbing things are happening simultaneously that
one is missing something exciting all the time, and this seems to
apply to the Mothers in person. And from this angle, maybe
"Absolutely Freeeee" is theatre after all.
from Rolling Stone, June 22, 1968
Lumpy Gravy, Frank Zappa (Verve V6 8741)
Lumpy Gravy is the most curious album Frank Zappa has been
involved in to date, and in many ways the music doesn't make it;
as it says on the cover, "a curiously inconsistent piece which
started out to be a ballet be probably didn't make it." The record
was recorded in February of 1967, and Zappa conducts the
"Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra and Chorus," which
is made of stray Mothers and some of Hollywood's top musicians. On
the back of the album we are asked by Zappa, "Is this phase 2 of
We're Only In It For The Money?" but Lumpy Gravy is hardly a
sequel in quality or kind to Money, although it does share some
thematc material with the later Mothers group.
Lumpy Gravy carries to an extreme the protean, fragmented
musical approach that Zappa favors, but on the whole the work is
rather inert. The composition is liberally garnished with
dialogues about everything from living in drums to pigs with
wings, but most of these spoken sections seem rather artificially
forced. There are several jabs at surfing music, and the record
closes with an instrumental version of "Take Your Clothes Off
When You Dance" that could have been arranged by the Ventures. In
contrast some sections of Lumpy Gravy are so extremely chromatic
that they verge on "atonality;" these passages are usually scored
for strings and/or woodwinds, although towards the end of the
second side an atonal passage for wind instruments is
incongruously accompanied by a studio drummer.
Parts of Lumpy Gravy break down into cliched lush string
writing, while other parts abound in burps and bits of electronic
music not unlike sections of "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of
Yet in spite of its varied tricks, Lumpy Gravy does not come to
life; it is a strangely sterile recording, as though all the
studio musicians reading their music could not do what a batch of
well-rehearsed Mothers can do. Missing are the songs and the
energy of the Mothers with all their casually tossed off mistakes
vocally and brilliance musically; furthermore what Zappa has lost
by not using the smaller Mothers he has not really gained back by
using a huge orchestra. The texture of the music (and the scoring
of the instruments, for that matter) is surprisingly conventional
and even boring, especially if one is familiar with Zappa's love
of burps, aimless dialogue and certain kinds of electronic music.
Neverthless Lumpy Gravy is an important album, if only because
Frank Zappa is one of rock's foremost minds. This album, recorded
well over a year ago, demonstrates the problems that serious rock
as a whole faces, as well as compositional limitations (as of a
year and a half ago) of one of serious rock's leading voices.
Lumpy Gravy can hardly be called successful, yet it points the way
towards more integrated, formal protean compositions such as
Zappa's masterpiece We're Only In It For The Money. It might be
said that Zappa makes mistakes that other rock composers would be
proud to call their own best music; Lumpy Gravy is an
idiosyncratic musical faux pas that is worth listening to for
that reason alone.
from Newsweek, June 3, 1968
Zapping With Zappa
There is a method in their madness -- in their obscene gestures
and erotic shenanigans with dolls, in their seemingly random
wanderings about the stage and in the mumbles, grunts, oinks and
electronic twitters that course through their rock songs. This new
race of hairy men, the nine Mothers of Invention, are not musical
primitives stumbling through a Stone Age happening. They are
missionaries with a message, first-line musicians using their
gifts to reshape the minds of America's teen-agers. "It's
electronic social work," explains hawk-nosed, spectral Frank
Zappa, the 27-year-old who has made the Mothers the most radical
and entertaining rock group in the United States.
This month, when the Mothers returned to Los Angeles, their
musical birthplace, to celebrate what Zappa called "the beginning
of our fourth unsuccessful year in the United States music
business," 7,000 young followers packed Shrine Exposition Hall, a
staggering figure since the Mothers' radical vision and raw
language have cut them off from virtually all but underground
radio exposure, the lifeline without which most groups sink. But
four madcap albums and public exercises in studied mayhem have
kept the Mothers afloat, so much so that Zappa has just been voted
Pop Musician of the Year in Jazz and Pop magazine's annual poll.
The LP's deliver the gospel according to Zappa, a
lyricist-composer who is, perhaps, second only to the Beatles'
John Lennon as the leading creative talent in pop music. Zappa's
pixilated preachments conceal beneath the surface a frontal
assault on every aspect of conformity and deadness -- from the
imitation hippie and automatic hippie hater, to the plastic Mom
and Dad who founder in face cream and liquor while discouraging
their kids from thinking or wanting anything better.
Mosaic: A Mothers concert is a revival meeting in which Zappa,
as conductor and stage director, socks his credo to 'em. Here
style becomes content -- a mosaic of Brechtian musical comments,
oinks and monologues on carburetors by versatile Jim (Motor Head)
Sherwood, who plays alto sax, drums and tambourine; extended
cantatas like "King Kong" which has run up to 70 minutes; and
infusions of electronic zaps and gurgles over a dozen amplifiers.
Even the hair styles and dress are part of the message, ranging
from Sherwood's neatly combed shoulder-length hair and the
beardless, spotless appearance of sax man Ian Underwood to the
Ben-Gurion coiffure of organist Don Preston and wild-man presence
of bearded Jim Black. "I don't tell the group what to wear," Zappa
explained to Newsweek's Martin Kasindorf last week. "Our
unorthodox appearance represents the free choice of everyone in
the group. I don't want to control their private lives."
Gastric: But, as casual as it all appears, a Mothers concert is
as tightly run and tactical as a revivalist tent show, all aimed
at grabbing the audience. "If I notice interst waning," says
Zappa, "I might give a finger signal and everybody sings the
highest note he can for a split second. This refocuses attention
for the next solo. Or I can bring up Motor Head to talk about his
car as we play and have his voice joined by the bass player
talking about hamburger buns, whatever it takes to produce a
certain amount of gastric activity in the audience." The show, as
Zappa sees it, is one extended composition made like a piece of
junk sculpture out of "bits of the environment, the sound of your
transistor radio burped back at you, a panorama of American life."
Zappa hopes to counteract what he sees as the rise of herd
instinct and mass passivity. His counterinsurgency to date has
created the term "freak out" and wedded a Lenny Brucian language
to a sophisticated musical style that echoes composers such as
Stravinsky and Varese. From his headquarters in a huge log cabin
built outside Los Angeles by Tom Mix, who buried his trusty horse
Tony under it, Zappa lives with his young wife, Gail, infant
daughter called Moon Unit, and a hippie "governess," Miss
Christine. Here, he plots his spiritual revolution. "Half of
America is under 25, yet there is no real youth representation in
government," he says. "It's not my job to organize them. The best
I can do is ask a few questions. If we reach a million, maybe 500
will become active and get out and influence the opinions of
others. But those 500 could be dynamite. I'd be happy to have
Those Mothers Can Really Play
It is not enough to say that The Mothers of Invention, who
appeared in concert Saturday night at the Berkeley Community
Theater are funny. They are brilliant satirists and absolutely
unique and first rate musically as well.
I went through several transformations of opinion at their
concert. I had never liked that at the Fillmore and their impact
is considerably less on records than in person (especially with
such a successful show as Saturday's). At the Fillmore you could
never really hear them and good sound is essential to what they
are up to.
Then I thought they were the Spike Jones of rock but, while
there are elements of Spike Jones madness in their performance,
the Mothers are total where Jones was selective in his satire.
They are closely akin to Lenny Bruce, not as flexible because of
the nature of the material they work with, but just as ruthless in
their attack on the hypocrisy of this world.
The next thing that hit me, during a long tenor saxophone solo,
was these Mothers can really play!..
Ralph J. Gleason
And they really can play. There are two good saxophone players in
the band and the rhythm section swings and Zappa is a fine
guitarist. (He is also an exceptiona; composer in a special kind
of electronic music.) Truly the Mothers are the first electronic
jazz band I have ever heard. They utilize piano and bass and they
produce an incredible variety of sounds. Underneath Zappa's
theatrical, deliberately non-stage presence and determined
cynicism, a great deal of first-rate music is played.
They are a kind of total theater. They assault you with
references to an assumed body of knowledge that details the 1950s
with a documentary maker's touch. Their bit about "Louie Louie,"
for instance, is absolutely perfect. They set the entire thing up,
discuss the kind of person who would ask for it, and what that
implies with deadly accuracy.
At one point, responding to a call for the audience, Zappa brought
the audience into the show in a kind of put-on of audience
participation, the Living Theater and the rest. He explained his
hand signals for the orchestra's vocal effects and then directed
the audience to stand and make the indicated vocal sounds while
the two side sections waved their arms and the center section
grabbed their crotch. And they did!
"Don't we look foolish with the lights on?" he remarked and then
told the people they were an audience again and would respond en
masse to "hootenannies, politicians' promises and Madison Avenue,
as well as instructions like this." A more devastating
demonstration of his point could not have been made.
If the greater Los Angeles area plastic uptight America and the
synthesis of what this country's ills consist of then the Mothers
of Invention have correctly applied the non-sterilized needle of
satire to the right place.
They assume the common Los Angeles and Orange County experience of
the '50s, attack it with an almost demoniac gift for satirical
lyrics, an hysterically funny talent for musical satire, and use
it all, including the bizarre costumes, to cover up the fact that
the music is first class.
The combination of instruments, electronics and voices is very
well handled and Zappa's own conducting style is worth a column
all by itself. One of his more frequently employed gestures is
flipping the bird. It sums up his attitude, I suspect, to make
this derogatory gesture so musically useful.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Mothers in every way. I hope they
return soon. They came close to selling out the Berkeley Community
Theater. Their audience can only increase on the basis of this
from The Los Angeles Times, Monday, March 18, 1968
More Polemics From Pop Satirist
Their first album, now a couple of years old, was fairly routine
by later standards. The jacket was an oddly tinted pink and blue
and yellow and black thing with the words "Freak Out!"
encapsulated in a thought balloon. Next came "Absolutely Free," a
double jacketed creation with each surface seemingly at right
angles to each other surface. Their latest, "We're Only In It for
the Money," surpasses both for incredibly imaginative humor. It is
an inverted parody of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts
Club Band," a perfectly executed takeoff. Along the way, their
albums have bannered such thought provoking slogans as "Kill Ugly
Radio," "You Must Buy This Album Now, Top 40 Radio Will Never Play
It" and "The Present Day Composer Refuses to Die." The group is
the Mothers of Invention, spearheaded by Frank Zappa.
Zappa is a brilliant musician with a flair for satire.
Unfortunately, he tends to do things a couple of years before
people are ready for them and often so many ideas into such brief
musical space that they get lost in the confusion. That first LP
(all are on the Verve label, by the way), a two-record set,
anticipated many of the strange rhythmic "innovations" of the last
album by the Rolling Stones, "Their Satanic Majesties Request."
Additionally, their record debut offered a 6-minute plus song
called "Trouble Every Day," a deadly serious collection of
thoughts inspired by the Watts riots whih has even more topical
value today. Then there were a number of tongue-in-cheek
resurrections of the rock'n'roll of the 1950s which showed as much
sympathy as meanness.
For his second album, Zappa demonstrated that is as familiar
with Stravinsky as he is with Don and Dewey in a program which
took some roundhouse swipes at the excesses of society, not the
simple vices on which many pop musicians have pounced (love of
money and wars, lack of communication), but at topics such as
sexual fantasies and drunken revels which aren't revels. The
Stones also apparently picked up on a song called "America Drinks
and Goes Home" for the last album, which contains an inferior
Now comes No. 3, a hilarious visual evocation of "Sgt. Pepper"
which is sometimes funny and sometimes grim inside.The Mothers
attack hippies, the San Francisco scene, motherhood and
fatherhood, childhood, drugs, flower people, making records,
police, fashions and on. "This whole monstrosity was conceived and
executed by Frank Zappa as a result of some unpleasant
premonitions August through October, 1967" proclaim some small
capital letters almost hidden among the lyrics inside the album.
Along with the visual nod at the Beatles, Zappa takes them on in
the structure of a couple of super-contemporary songs. One,
"Mother People," pokes fun at the Beatles' odd musical transitions
by using the sound of a phonograph needle to "unite" two
dissimilar melodic sections, much as the Fab Four used radio
static to connect parts of "I Am the Walrus."
The record largely is a series of polemics, but Zappa's barbs
are witty enough to make his messages entertaining ("Unbind your
mind/There is no time/To lick your stamps/And paste them
in/Discorporate/And we will begin . . . Wah Wah/Diamonds on
velvets on goldens on vixen/On comet and cupid on donner and
blitzen/On up and away and afar and a go-go . . ."). Zappa is pop
music's bravest iconoclast and perhaps its brightest. His next
album, which has been held up for nearly a year through a
technical dispute, is a full-length symphony called "Lumpy Gravy."
from Disc, November 28, 1970
WHY I'M SICK OF ZAPPA
Mothers of Invention were on with Sha-Na-Na. They still have
Frank Zappa, but that's about the only thing that approaches the
original group. Aynsley Dunbar is on drums, and ex-Turtle Howard
Kaylan on vocals. The music was done extremely well, but some of
the visual excitement is gone. I for one am getting a bit tired of
Frank Zappa's cynicism and put-downs of the audience. He announced
after about 40 minutes that they were through. But the kids were
screaming for more. He came back on and said: "Oh, I guess we've
been given a reprieve, we'll stay a bit longer." Sure, Frank. I
Lisa Mehlman, New York
Zappa Genius on Horn
Many people feel it will probably be at least 1983 before the
world realizes what a genius Zappa is, because by that time it
will probably be too late for both us and for Zappa. It probably
serves as little consolation that while most people love him for
his apparent madness, musicians and critics have long loved him
for his far sighted concepts and ambitions.
Representatives of both camps came out in force Saturday night,
to witness one of Zappa's infrequent East Coast concerts (at
Constitution Hall). What they found was the master, the leader
fronting one of the most dazzling, powerful and talented horn
sections this reviewerhas seen in a long time. They are mostly
respected Los Angeles studio musicians, and their dexterity was
not at all hampered by having at times to work closely with
charts. When was the last time you saw a poular, ostensibly "rock"
band working from charts? More than anything, Zappa's section
reminds me of what's left of the big bands, with emphasis on a
more energetic and creative kind of music. Much of the shows were
taken up not by Zappa's zany songs, but by stinging ensemble work
and masterful solo after masterful solo.
Particularly impressive in solo sessions were Bruce Fowler with
a simmering tuba solo (a true to life jazzy tuba solo) and Dave
Parlatto with a driving bass that started off in virtual seclusion
and ended up driving the band to a fabulous finish. Also worth
noting was a drum solo by Jim Gordon that was both the funniest
and most furious version of "Caravan" heard in some time.
As for Zappa, he seemed much more laid back than usual. He is
still very much in charge, leading the entire group, shaping its
ultimate sound. His guitar breaks reflect the general attitude of
his music -- jams built around a concrete concept, the development
of a statement as opposed to mere technique. Zappa is a firm
guitarist, and his breaks much more in a jazz tradition than rock,
obviously dictated by the by the shape and force of the band.
While enough of his legendary zaniness came through, it was the
excellence of the music that saturated the audience with joyful
exhaustion. Zappa played long and well, and like a magician, left
everyone filled, not with questions of how or why, but the
knowledge of wonder.
By Richard Harrington
C. Gordon Keeble (gordo) The meek shall inherit BUNTING!