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 Invention." (1964-1973)

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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.

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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 companion. 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.

Rent Movie

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.

More Enter

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 under arrest. 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 latest venture. Inside his studio when the raid came was recording and sound equipment valued at $22,000, according to Zappa.

Musical Instruments

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:
'Sweeping Streets'
"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 . . ."
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 studio.

from Rolling Stone, October 18, 1969

Mother's Day Has Finally Come
By Jerry Hopkins

LOS ANGELES -- Frank Zappa, "tired of playing for people who clap for all the wrong reasons," has dissolved his Mothers of Invention. 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 than that. "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 horrendous. "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 concentrate on: 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.

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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."

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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 upright. 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 "200 Motels." 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 assets. 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 continued: "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 oscillator. 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 Invention.

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 out. 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 behind them.

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 good. 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 Destiny." 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 that."

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Those Mothers Can Really Play
Ralph J. Gleason

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!..

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 performance.

from The Los Angeles Times, Monday, March 18, 1968

More Polemics From Pop Satirist
Pete Johnson

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 imitation. 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

Lisa Mehlman, New York

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 left.

unknown date/source

Zappa Genius on Horn
By Richard Harrington

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.

C. Gordon Keeble (gordo)                  The meek shall inherit BUNTING!