Sunday, December 19, 2010

Captain Beefheart, Jan. 15, 1941 – Dec. 17, 2010

Despite this blog being about Frank Zappa’s catalog, and despite I haven’t devoted any previous posts to other musicians who have played with Zappa or were founding members of the Mothers of Invention, I thought it appropriate to write something about Don Vliet, a.k.a Captain Beefheart. In keeping with the subject matter of this blog, however, I will stick with information about Vliet connected with Zappa.

Their relationship was an amazing collaborative effort that goes back to their high school days; it was also an at times awkward and strained relationship that, based on some key comments made individually by each, hit patches of mutual alienation.

“I spent more time with Don (Captain Beefheart) Van Vliet when I was in high school than after he got into ‘show business,’” Zappa writes in his autobiography. “Life on the road with Captain Beefheart was definitely not easy … The last time I saw Don was 1980 or ’81. He stopped by one of our rehearsals. He looked pretty beat … I suppose he is still living in Northern California, but not recording anymore. He bought some property up there – someplace where he could see whales swim by.”

Vliet was more terse. Speaking to Musician Magazine for an article published in February 1994 about Zappa’s passing, Vliet said, “I knew him for 35 years, and in the end the relationship was private.”

Beefheart was also connected with one of the biggest myths about Zappa, the shit-eating event that allegedly occurred during a fabricated gross-out contest between Zappa and Beefheart on stage.

According to Neil Slaven, author of the Zappa biography Electric Don Quixote: The Definitive Story of Frank Zappa, Vliet’s unique way of interacting with the rest of the world began very early. He told interviewers that his parents were his “gas station,” as well as that his musical interests began quite early at age 3 when he first learned the harmonica. A truant most of his school life, Vliet’s artistic talents developed early as well, an avocation that occupied him in his later years until his death.

Probably the most significant collaboration between Zappa and Vliet was the production of the album “Trout Mask Replica,” which became the quintessential recording of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Vliet was adamant about not being marketed as a “freak” (or being marketed at all for that matter), which seemed a bit ironic at the least, if not downright “disingenuous” as Slaven writes in Electric Don Quixote.

“I was told by Frank that I would have, if you want to call it, special treatment, that I would not be advertised or promoted with any of the other groups on the label,” Vliet told Slaven. “But somehow, I guess he (Zappa) got hard-pressed for cash, and decided that he’d round me up and sell me as one of the animal crackers. I didn’t like the idea of being labeled and put aside as just another freak.”

Labeled as a freak? As Slaven notes, given the rather curious attire Beefheart and his band wore and “marketed” themselves as, Vliet’s fear of being labeled a freak comes off as a stretch.

If there were any true animosity between the two musicians, the bulk of the evidence suggests that Zappa was the cause. Still, there continued to be collaborative efforts, everything from Vliet’s vocals on “Willie the Pimp” on “Hot Rats,” the live recording “Bongo Fury,” and even more arcane and hidden contributions such as Vliet’s harmonica in “San Ber’Dino” from “One Size Fits All,” where he is identified in the credits as Bloodshot Rollin’ Red. Zappa also went with Beefheart to help manage the Magic Band for a performance in Amougies, Belgium at a festival where Zappa played with Pink Floyd, among other groups (Zappa denied having ever played with Pink Floyd at Amougies despite recorded evidence).

Having said that, Vliet had his own issues as well, particularly when it came to signing contracts, something that Zappa noted that Vliet did without even remotely considering what he had been obligating himself to via his signature.

I’m not familiar with what happened to Vliet following the Bong Fury tour. He dropped out of the music scene for the most part to take up his painting. I had no idea that he had developed multiple sclerosis until much later. When I learned that he had died, my first thought was of “Ella Guru.”

If you’re interested in some live recordings of Beefheart and the Magic Band, you might want to visit here. The album art displayed with this post comes from this live recording.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vitamin Deficiency

This surreptitious recording is a compilation of a few rather poor quality audience recordings of shows Zappa did with the Mothers of Invention circa the Flo and Eddie years. The performances include one from the Ahoy, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, from Nov. 27, 1971; another from the Santa Monica Civic Center on Aug. 21, 1970; and some studio material.

The first 13 tracks are from the Ahoy, and as the notes that came with the boot say, it’s a “worse than live” recording. It was released as the bootleg “Poot Face Boogie,” and misidentified the venue as being in Amsterdam. It’s typical Flo and Eddie fair. The crowd’s clapping along with “Who Are the Brain Police” makes it very difficult to hear the intro and most of the song. This version was decidedly more upbeat than the studio version from “Freak Out!” It has a rollicking guitar solo, but the recording is so poor, it’s a strain to hear it.

With the next song, the recording switches to an early studio version of “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama,” the 1969 single release. There is a brief interview in which Zappa explains that it’s “better” to explain the band’s various sexual peccadilloes through song rather than to let the stories come out in other forms. This is followed by another studio version of “Dog Breath in the Year of the Plague” from “Uncle Meat.”

With the next track, we’re back live in Rotterdam with the song “Once Upon a Time Sofa.” Zappa announces the song will be sung in Dutch and features Mark Volman. This is similar to the routine recorded from the Rainbow Theater in London from Dec. 10, 1971, and which was released on YCDTOSA Vol. 1 as “Once Upon a Time.” However, the bootleg version has the complete musical number, rendering an early version of Sofa #1 that was to be released later on “Once Size Fits All.”

The song “Stick It Out” is just a bunch of prurient screaming from Howard and Mark, aka Flo and Eddie. “Divan” provides more Dutch vocal porn that was common with the shtick this particular touring group was famous for.

“Lightning-Rod Man” is a 1966 recording of Lowell George & the Factory, produced by and featuring Frank Zappa, officially released on the album Lightning-Rod Man in 1993. Has kind of a Captain Beefheart feel to it.
The next series of songs on this bootleg are allegedly from the Santa Monica Civic Center on Aug. 21, 1970, but the first track, “Call Any Vegetable,” has Frank welcoming the audience to El Monte Legion Stadium. So this recording had apparently been long thought to be a 1971 one show from El Monte Legion Stadium. Notes with the boot, however, suggest “it's clearly the 1970 band on the record, and the recording has been identified as Santa Monica.”

I say hmmm, because this version of “Call Any Vegetable” is very similar to the one released on “Just Another Band From L.A.”, which was recorded from a 1971 show at the Pauley Pavilion at UCLA. It wasn’t uncommon for vinyl boot releases to have misinformation on the album cover, such as incorrectly identifying the venue. This item was no exception, but it remains curious that the cover art, which was based on a Cal Shenkel poster for the 1971 Pauley Pavilion, also asserts that the show was from El Monte Legion Stadium.

This half of the boot is a better recording than the first half, although it is still an audience recording. Zappa’s guitar work comes through more clearly.

Flo and Eddie do a decent job on “Mother People,” and it’s evident the crowd enjoyed it as well. There’s a medley of songs from “Chunga’s Revenge,” with “Would You Go All the Way?”, “Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink,” and “Road Ladies.” I’ve always liked “Road Ladies,” a very basic 12-bar blues tune that Zappa can do some heavy shredding on. Mark Volman, however, is the star on this song.

Frank introduces the next series of songs by telling the crowd to imagine themselves staying at the Holiday Inn in a “dumpy little town” called Traverse City, Mich., and the band members are about to go out to the local bar to get some girls. Pretty funny that they call Traverse City a dumpy little town, which it certainly was back in 1970. This eventually leads into the routine made famous on the Fillmore album.

There an obligatory version of “Happy Together,” but it’s pretty lame.

All in all, this isn’t a very inspiring recording. Besides being a poor quality audience boot, the material isn’t that great. Unless you’re the type that absolutely has to have it, I would skip it.

I rate this with two of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Track listing

1. Peaches En Regalia
2. Tears Begin to Fall
3. She Painted Up Her Face
4. Half a Dozen Provocative Squats/Shove It Right In
5. Who Are the Brain Police
6. My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama
7. Interview
8. Dog Breath in the Year of the Plague
9. Once Upon a Time Sofa
10. Stick It Out
11. Divan
12. Interview
13. The Factory Lightning-Rod Man
14. Call Any Vegetable
15. The Air
16. Dog Breath
17. Mother People
18. You Didn't Try to Call Me
19. Would You Go All the Way?
20. Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink
21. Road Ladies
22. What Will This Morning Bring Me This Evening
23. What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?
24. Bwana Dik
25. Latex Solar Beef
26. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy [partial]
27. Do You Like My New Car?
28. Happy Together [Bonner/Gordon]
29. What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?


Frank Zappa, Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, Jeff Simmons (Santa Monica), Aynsley Dunbar, Ian Underwood, Don Preston (Rotterdam), Jim Pons (Rotterdam) and George Duke

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lawrence University Chapel, Appleton, Wis. 1969

While this bootleg is a bit rough around the edges in terms of sound quality, it contains some of Zappa’s most rhythmically intense and interesting interpretations of early Mothers of Invention of material. Sure, it has some killer guitar work, like the solo in “Little House I Used to Live In,” as well as Zappa playing on guitar the piano part for “Aybe Sea.” But what really stands out in this recording is the intensity and articulation of the rhythm section. In fact, Frank was reported to comment that the concerts he had played in Appleton were two of the best performances the band ever gave.

There were several permutations of this concert bootlegged, none of which appear to have the entire show. The boot “Days of Yore,” for example, has just five tracks from the concert, with a sixth, spurious track added from a Berlin concert 5 years after Appleton. The tracks were identified as: 1) Some Ballet Music; 2) Uncle Meat; 3) Eye of Agamotto; 4) My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama; 5) Clap & Vomit; and 6) Dickie’s Such an Asshoe (from Deutschlandhalle, Berlin, Sept. 14, 1974).

A different boot, “Mothers of Invention Appleton Album,” included six tracks from Appleton, but also had an added track from a different show from about a month later. The tracks included were: 1) Eye of Agamotto; 2) My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama; 3) Clap & Vomit; 4)The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue; 5) Hungry Freaks, Daddy; 6) The Return of the Son of the Hunchback Duke; and 7) The Story of A Pound for a Brown on the Bus (from a June 5 performance same year at Guild Hall in Portsmouth, UK).

The “Appleton Album” boot did promise a follow-up release, which came in the form of “Appleton Volume 2.” That release included the last half of the show: 1) Hungry Freaks, Daddy; 2) The Return of the Son of the Hunchback Duck (this also identified that included a medley of Little House I Used to Live In); 3) Help I’m a Rock; and 4) King Kong.

A fourth variation appeared under the title “Got Zapped Back in ’69,” which provided some spurious titles to some of the concert tracks. As pointed out at the site I linked above, the opening number was titled “Flute Solo (from The Adventures of Greggary Peccary),” a bit of misinformation because Greggary Peccary hadn’t been written at the time.

You can see by the track listing below that the recording I’m referring to includes the entire show and provides a bit more detail of some of the other tunes that were included in the show. For example, the song misidentified as “Flute Solo” Frank introduces as some ballet music that the band had made part of its live shows at the time and which included some bizarre dancing on the stage.

What I find really amazing about this concert is the complexity of the music and its flawless delivery. And just as interesting is the audience’s response to the show: they loved it! Art Tripp during the introduction to “The Eye of Agamotto” is brilliant.

I rate this recording four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Lawrence University Chapel, Appleton, Wis., May 23, 1969.

Track listing:

1. intro
2. Some Ballet Music
3. Uncle Meat
4. Eye Of Agamotto
5. My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama
6. Clap & Vomit (audience participation)
7. Kung Fu
8. Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue (q: Teddy Bears' Picnic, Tea For Two, It Had To Be You, Octandre)
9. Hungry Freaks Daddy
10. Little House I Used To Live In
11. Aybe Sea
12. Transylvania Boogie / Help I'm A Rock / Transylvania Boogie
13. King Kong
14. Igor's Boogie / Little Doo-Wop


Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – drums, percussion
Roy Estrada – bass, vocals
Bunk Gardener – woodwinds
Buzz Gardener – trumpet, flugel horn
Lowell George – rhythm guitar, vocals
Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood – woodwinds, vocals
Art Tripp – percussion
Ian Underwood – woodwinds, piano, keyboards

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Them or Us

Some consider “Them or Us” Zappa’s last studio album, inasmuch as a typical rock studio album. But “Thing-Fish” was released just a month later and it, too, is largely a studio album. Both albums contain live elements as well, despite the material being predominately recorded in a studio. However, with Zappa, it’s difficult to find any “studio” album that didn’t have some live material in the mix. If one wants to differentiate between “Them or Us” and “Thing-Fish,” the former is Zappa’s last mostly-studio release general song material, whereas “Thing-Fish” is a studio release of a themed, concept album reflecting a failed attempt by Zappa to produce a Broadway show.

But a lot of that is just blah-blah-blah.

“Them or Us” presents us with a wide variety of material, from the doo-wop cover opener “The Closer You Are,” to the hard-rock blues cover of The Allman Bros. “Whippin’ Post.” There’s even some of Zappa’s more complex material, such as “Sinister Footwear.” Originally released as a double album, it goes all over the place. Not a bad release, as it has some gems, but not a great one among Zappa’s releases either. Unless you’re a collector and must have every Zappa release possible – such as with my curse – you can easily skip this one. Most every tune on it, including the really good ones, can be found on other releases and compilations, often with better arrangements and performances. Except, perhaps, “Ya Honza,” and “Marque-son’s Chicken.” But more on them in a moment.

The opening cover song by Earl Lewis and Morgan “Bobby” Robinson, for example, can be found on YCDTOSA Vol. 4, and the second song, “In France”, shows up as well on YCDTOSA Vol. 3. Of course, the difference being with the version of “In France” on this release you get Johnny “Guitar” Watson along with Napoleon Murphy Brock, who are not in the YCDTOSA version.

Then along comes “Ya Honza,” which is “Sofa” from “One Size Fits All” with the lyrics backwards, as well as backward fragments of “You’re a Lonely Little Girl” from “We’re Only In It For The Money.” Among Zappa’s studio tracks, this is one of his best. This interesting twist on two of his earlier songs is accompanied by a hard-driving guitar rhythm and ends with a searing shred of a guitar solo that knifes through your brain like a sonic scalpel. You aren’t going to find this track any where else.

This arrangement of “Sharleena” is better than the performance on YCDTOSA Vol. 3, even if it does have Dweezil playing on it, but it’s not a reason to buy this release.

While “Sinister Footwear II” shows up in many places, this particular performance – mixed from two shows – is really interesting. The first half comes from a Nov. 15, 1981 performance at the Painter’s Mill Music Fair in Owings Mill, Md. The guitar solo is taken from a June 23, 1982 performance at Sporthalle, Boeblingen, Germany. It is a huge, soaring solo with frenetic picking and maniacal string bending driven by Chad Wackerman’s relentless drumming.

There’s nothing particularly exciting about the next track, “Truck Driver Divorce,” other than the segue guitar solo, which is actually a solo from a performance of “Zoot Allures” from the Nov. 17, 1981 show at The Ritz in New York City. It’s an odd splice of the tape, as it appears to me that these two songs share nothing in common musically.

Next comes one of Zappa’s best straight-up hard rock songs, “Stevie’s Spanking.” Zappa takes a back seat on this one, playing rhythm guitar while Steve Vai – of whom the song is about – plays the first solo and Dweezil performs the second solo. This song also demonstrates how pointless it is sometimes to call a Zappa album a studio album. This performance is pieced together with at least three segments from shows in Minneapolis, New York City, and Munich, Germany.

Zappa throws in a prurient song with “Baby Take Your Teeth Out,” from which we are thankfully relieved with the instrumental “Marque-son’s Chicken,” which, unfortunately, doesn’t turn up anywhere else.

“Planet of My Dreams” is a curious number from Zappa’s never-produced “Hunchentoot,” a play that went nowhere. But it’s a throw-away, nonetheless. “Be In My Video” doesn’t excite me much either. It’s a rip on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance!” and the music videos of the era, and not a very sophisticated one at that. The title track gives us a decent guitar solo taken from the Stadio Communale show in Bolzano, Italy, from July 3, 1982.

The next song, “Frogs With Dirty Little Lips,” is one Zappa co-authored with his son, Ahmet. This puerile little ditty uses a Landini cadence, according to the book Cosmik Debris: The Collected History and Improvisations of Frank Zappa.

The real star of this release is the last track, The Allman Bros. classic “Whippin’ Post.” The back story on this song begins in a 1974 concert in Helsinki (see YCDTOSA Vol. 2) when a fan shouts out “Whippin’ Post!” Ten years later, Zappa has a band that can deliver and they learn this rocking blues number that not only keeps true to the Duane Allman composition, but carries Zappa’s unique signature as well. You should also compare it with the performances on “Does Humor Belong in Music” and the bootleg “Frank Zappa’s Best Band,” which covered a show in Binghampton, N.Y.

This is a decent release, but not necessarily a “must-have” for your collection. Unless, of course, you are a complete Zappa geek like I am. By the way, I would like to express my great appreciation for Román García Albertos, whose website Information Is Not Knowledge I have found to be invaluable. Check it out.

I rate this three of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released Oct. 18, 1984, Barking Pumpkin Records/Capitol Records.

LP release:

Side One

The Closer You Are (2:58)
In France (3:30)
Ya Hozna (6:26)
Sharleena (4:33)

Side Two

Sinister Footwear II (8:40)
Truck Driver Divorce (9:03)

Side Three

Stevie’s Spanking (5:24)
Baby, Take Your Teeth Out (1:24)
Marque-son’s Chicken (7:34)
Planet Of My Dreams (1:40)

Side Four

Be In My Video (3:39)
Them Or Us (5:08)
Frogs With Dirty Little Lips (2:46)
Whipping Post (7:32)

CD release

1. The Closer You Are (2:55)
2. In France (3:33)
3. Ya Hozna (6:27)
4. Sharleena (4:33)
5. Sinister Footwear II (8:39)
6. Truck Driver Divorce (8:59)
7. Stevie’s Spanking (5:24)
8. Baby, Take Your Teeth Out (1:54)
9. Marque-son’s Chicken (7:34)
10. Planet Of My Dreams (1:37)
11. Be In My Video (3:39)
12. Them Or Us (5:23)
13. Frogs With Dirty Little Lips (2:42)
14. Whipping Post (7:32)


Frank Zappa – guitar, keyboards, vocals, arranger, producer, main performer, assistant
Tommy Mars – keyboards, vocals, soloist
Patrick O'Hearn – wind, bass guitar
Scott Thunes – vocals, Minimoog, synthesizer, bass guitar
Johnny “Guitar” Watson – vocals, guitar
Ray White – guitar, vocals, backing vocals, choir, chorus, harmony vocals, harmony
Moon Unit Zappa – vocals
Ed Mann – percussion
Chad Wackerman – drums, vocals
Ike Willis – vocals, backing vocals, choir, chorus, harmony vocals, harmony
Arthur Barrow – bass guitar
Napoleon Murphy Brock – saxophone, vocals, harmony vocals, harmony
Brad Cole – piano
Roy Estrada – vocals, backing vocals, choir, chorus, harmony, bass guitar
Bob Harris – keyboards, vocals, harmony vocals
Thana Harris – vocals, harmony
Steve Vai – guitar, soloist, fills
Dweezil Zappa – soloist, guitar
George Duke – keyboards, vocals, piano
Bobby Martin – keyboards, saxophone, vocals, falssetist, harmony vocals, harmonica

Sunday, May 2, 2010

You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol 4

With the fourth installment of the “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” series, Zappa returns with a song lineup from a variety of shows covering many different periods of time. And while many individual songs include parts from different performances mixed together, there are several songs that were not mixed that way, presenting an unedited version of a song from a single show. That can be a rarity with Zappa recordings.

As mentioned, Vol. 4 lacks a specific theme or show for focus, covering instead a wide array of eras and bands in much the same way Vol. 1 did. There are a few gems on this release that are special not so much because of their performances, but because they show up at all.

The first track, “Little Rubber Girl,” typifies how many of Zappa’s live songs were put together for release. The intro portion of the song comes from a 1984 show at the Bismark Theater in Chicago, while the main song is taken from the 1978 Halloween show at the Palladium in New York City. If you hear something familiar in this song, it’s because it contains a quote from “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder,” from the debut album “Freak Out!

The next three songs are single edits: “Stick Together” is from the Dec. 18, 1984 show at the Queen Elizabeth Theater in Vancouver, and both “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” and “Willie the Pimp” are from the Dec. 23, 1984 show at the Universal Amphitheater at Universal City, Calif. This performance of “MGWTKYM” is very tight and includes an intense, albeit very brief, guitar solo.

One of the intriguing items on this release is track 7, “The Evil Prince,” a song from Zappa’s ill-fated attempt at a Broadway show, “Thing-Fish.” This version is pieced together from two performances with the main portions of the song coming from the 1984 Vancouver show, and the guitar solo coming from the Sept. 24-26, 1984 shows at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. Ray White’s vocals are outstanding in this, his voice strong and clear. Zappa’s guitar solo is inspired and delicious; it’s some of his best picking.

The “Let’s Move to Cleveland Solos” include saxophonist Archie Shepp during this performance from an Oct. 28, 1984 show at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall in Amherst, Mass. Shapp plays an inspiring solo that includes beautifully rendered melodies as well as precision squawks and squeaks that are both amazing and spot-on in terms of the composition’s structure. Allan Zavod provides the keyboard solo, an up-tempo jazz performance that I think would sound positively heavenly had it been played on a grand piano as opposed to the electronic instrument.

The interesting rarity “You Call That Music?” goes all the way back to the original Mothers of Invention as it comes from a Feb. 14, 1969 show at the McMillin Theater at Columbia University in New York City. This piece is focused on percussive instruments, something that Zappa really had an affinity for (his musical career began as a teenager playing drums).

The solos in “Pound for a Brown” are taken from the Oct. 28, 1978 show at the Palladium in New York City. Originally released on “Uncle Meat,” this song shows up frequently at Zappa shows and in many mutations (it’s one of the bonus tracks on the CD release of “Zappa in New York”). This release also has a very rare performance of “Filthy Habits,” which comes from “Sleep Dirt” and “Lather.” It is pieced together from two performances from the 1988 European leg of the ill-fated Best Band tour. Zappa’s solo on this is really filthy, and I mean that in a good way. While this sounds great on electric guitar, it’s solos like this that lead me to often wonder what Zappa’s scores would have sounded like had be become the “classical” composer that he always wanted to be.

Zappa’s relationship with Captain Beefheart was always a tortured one, but when the two high school friends clicked, they produced together some fantastic music. This “original version” of “The Torture Never Stops” from “Zoot Allures” is a prime example. Next to “Inca Roads” from “One Size Fits All,” “Torture” is one of Zappa’s most popular songs in his concert lineups, with variations of solos showing up sampled in much of his later works and releases. But this performance is really like none you’ve probably heard released anywhere else. With this May 21, 1975 performance from the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas, we get a bluesy interpretation of the song with Captain Beefheart’s guttural voice and shrieks set to a hand-clapping rhythm. Classic stuff. If you were in Austin to see that show, you witnessed something special and rare.

On Disc Two, we get a crazy performance of “Stevie’s Spanking,” which is pieced together from three European performances in 1982. Steve Vai kicks off the first solo with some maniacal shredding, with Frank following up with the second (Zappa’s solo begins at 4:41 into the song). Then at about 7:27 the two of them start shredding together, creating a sonic wall of guitar power. There’s only one other dueling guitar solo that comes close to this explosion of controlled distortion, and that is the solo during “Oh Jim” on the “Lou Reed Live” release.

We get another great solo from Frank in the next song, “Outside Now,” which comes from “Joe’s Garage.” What makes this track particularly nice is that it is taken from a single show at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., from Nov. 10, 1984. The later track “Florentine Pogen,” a complex but very cool piece, is interestingly not only pieced together from different performances, but different bands as well: a 1974 performance in Helsinki and a 1979 show from the Hammersmith Odeon in London.

This is followed by three arcane bits that ought to please any Zappaphile. The first, “Tiny Sick Tears,” is based on the pop song “96 Tears” by ? And The Mysterians and includes a reference to Jim Morrison and The Doors’ song “The End.” What I find very interesting about this song is the way Frank describes mundane activities by using terms that reflect the described action as it really is. There are references in some biographical works that Zappa dabbled with Buddhism for a bit, and evidence of this periodically turns up in his work. The way the lyrics describe going to the kitchen and getting a raisin cookie and putting it in “your eating hole” might sound a bit stupid initially, but these concrete description of everyday activity is really quite brilliant in my view. As Zappa says on the track, “Some people would say it’s bullshit, but we love it, don’t we kids?”

And then there’s “Smell My Beard,” from a 1974 show at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, N.J. This is a sort-of quasi-spoken word bit accompanied by George Duke’s wild keyboards emitting a variety of somewhat cosmic-like sounds. This “story” leads into the next track from the same gig, “The Booger Man.” What’s a Zappa show without a bit of puerile humor?

Doo-wop fans are treated with this CD as well, with the second disc closing with a medley of this genre.

There’s a lot of good material on this release, something for just about every Zappa fan, with a smattering of nearly every major lineup. Realistically, anyone interested in Zappa could simply collect the YCDTOSA series and have a respectable representation of Zappa’s material from throughout his career.

I rate this 4.5 of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Release date: June 14, 1991 on Rykodisc

Track listings

Disc One

1. Little Rubber Girl - 2:57
2. Stick Together - 2:05
3. My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama - 3:20
4. Willie The Pimp - 2:06
5. Montana - 5:48
6. Brown Moses - 2:38
7. The Evil Prince - 7:12
8. Approximate - 1:49
9. Love Of My Life (Mudd Club Version) - 1:59
10. Let’s Move To Cleveland Solos (1984) - 7:10
11. You Call That Music? - 4:07
12. Pound For A Brown - Solos (1978) - 6:30
13. The Black Page (1984) - 5:15
14. Take Me Out To The Ball Game - 3:01
15. Filthy Habits - 5:40
16. The Torture Never Stops (Original Version) - 9:16

Disc Two

1. Church Chat - 2:00
2. Stevie’s Spanking - 10:51
3. Outside Now - 6:09
4. Disco Boy - 3:00
5. Teen-age Wind - 1:54
6. Truck Driver Divorce - 4:47
7. Florentine Pogen - 5:10
8. Tiny Sick Tears - 4:30
9. Smell My Beard - 4:31
10. The Booger Man - 2:46
11. Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy - 6:28
12. Are You Upset? - 1:30
13. Little Girl Of Mine - 1:41
14. The Closer You Are - 2:05
15. Johnny Darling - 0:52
16. No, No Cherry - 1:26
17. The Man From Utopia 1:15
18. Mary Lou - 2:16

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Binghampton, N.Y., St. Patrick’s Day 1988

Have we got a treat for you, boys and girls! This boot was given the moniker of “Frank Zappa’s Best Band,” and indeed, it’s the same lineup that was presented in the official release, “The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life.” This lineup did some crazy and outstanding shit during its brief incarnation – it’s also known as the last tour – and this particularly delightful example is from the St. Patrick’s Day show at the Broome County Veteran’s Arena in Binghampton, N.Y. This was a very high-quality audience recording filled with searing and down-in-the-dirt guitar solos, impeccable percussion, and a priceless capture of the band doing satirical renderings of Beatles songs, in particular songs long attributed to John Lennon.

There is also a minor political theme running through this show, as indicated by the liner notes. There are frequent, seemingly spontaneous mentions of bananas, Nicaragua, and a training exercise in Central America. All of this was in reference to Ronald Reagan’s ventures in Central American against all types of bad guys, such as Sandanistas who wanted to oust the puppet dictator we were keeping there in Nicaragua. Hence we have the brief, but poignant, “When the Lie’s So Big.”

Overall, this was a really great show. But there were some standouts in the set list. For example, there was Ike Willis doing a great job at getting the words out during “Montana” when he sings, “even though he’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket on anyway.” Now, in the original release on “Over-nite Sensation,” this song has a killer guitar solo: not during this show. Just when you think the solo is going to begin, Ike Willis is singing away.

But then comes, “City of Tiny Lites.” This song was made for a guitar solo, and Zappa delivers one here that is just so twisted and delicious.

“A Pound for a Brown” comes along next, with its silly segue into audience participation, “Make a Sex Noise.” The band is really tight during this number, a complex instrumental filled with thematic changes and time signatures varying all over the place. Walt Fowler’s horn solo is excellent. “Make a Sex Noise” wound up on YCDTOSA Vol. 6, but when the band finishes with this diversion and returns to playing, it’s so much more interesting. It’s finished off with a scintillating guitar solo and some very beautiful piano playing by Mike Keneally.

Other tunes from this show that were later released officially include parts of “Dickie’s Such an Asshole,” which turned up on “Broadway the Hard Way.” And the brief bits including “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “Theme from ‘The Godfather II’” are on “The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life.”

The first CD closes with “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk,” a song filled with so many wonderful lyrics and which also shows up on “Broadway the Hard Way.” I think my favorite line is, “Convinced they the chosen ones, and all their parents carry guns.”

CD 2 opens with three songs from the brilliant album “Once Size Fits All.” It starts with “Florentine Pogen,” followed by a killer performance of “Andy.” The guitar solo on “Inca Roads” is good, but not outstanding. Ike Willis also briefly forgets how to count and starts to sing before Zappa’s through playing.

There are a lot of – how shall we say? – covers on the second CD, beginning with some quick quotes from “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and “Theme from ‘The Godfather II.’” After a brief interruption of sorts with “Who Needs the Peace Corps” from “We’re Only In It For The Money,” the band plays another short cover with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” a sort of final ode to the San Francisco scene, perhaps, that Zappa and the early Mothers of Invention had derided so well.

Then comes some really interesting stuff. First, after a somewhat awkward and rambling start, Ike Willis launches into singing the opening to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” This also shows up, although from a different performance, on the official release of TBBYNHIYL. Zappa plays a great solo here that even approximates the original by pulling a few quotes from Jimmy Page’s performance. And the horns playing at the final chorus is thrilling, playing note-for-note the Page solo.

While that was an exciting treat, the medley that follows is probably the coolest part of the show – three songs satirizing Beatles compositions, more specifically compositions attributed to John Lennon. We first have “Norwegian Jim,” which plays off the melody of “Norwegian Wood” from “Rubber Soul.” This is followed by “Louisiana Hooker With Herpes,” sung to the melody of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The last is “The Texas Motel,” which is sung to the tune of “Strawberry Fields,” from “Magical Mystery Tour.”

While these songs are all technically Lennon/McCartney compositions, they tend to be largely attributed to Lennon, with whom Zappa had an interesting relationship. Lennon, along with Yoko Ono, joined Zappa on stage in New York during one of the Flo & Eddie shows when Yoko let loose some of her infamous howling and shrieking. This showed up on Zappa’s “Playground Psychotics.” But there were plenty of problems that followed over copyrights and other problems, particularly when the same material showed up on a Lennon live release. Some of these alleged problems are alluded to here in an extrapolation from an interview during which Zappa reveals that the song on the Lennon album identified as “Jam Rag,” was in fact “King Kong,” a Zappa composition, and yet it was identified as a Lennon/Ono composition.

Obtaining this boot just for this medley of Beatles spoofs is worth the effort alone.

For an audience recording, this is a good boot. And the fact that it contains a raw performance of this final touring band of Zappa’s is great too, as it contains mistakes and all, unlike the official version of TBBYNHIYL that contains songs with quotes and portions from different shows mixed to sound like what your hearing was actually played that way live at one particular show.

I rate this four of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Disc 1

1. The Black Page (New Age Version) incl. Intro – 9:36
2. Dickie’s Such An Asshole – 6:15
3. Stick Together – 1:58
4. My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama – 3:31
5. Willie The Pimp – 2:11
6. Montana – 4:00
7. City Of Tiny Lites – 9:49
8. A Pound For A Brown (Make a Sex Noise) – 18:10
9. When The Lie’s So Big – 0:33
10. Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk – 7:19

Disc 2

1. Florentine Pogen – 8:17
2. Andy – 5:31
3. Inca Roads – 10:24
4. Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up – 3:06
5. Let’s Move To Cleveland – 7:40
6. When Irish Eyes Are Smiling – 0:47
7. Theme from ‘The Godfather II’ – 0:28
8. Who Needs The Peace Corps – 3:08
9. I Left My Heart In San Francisco – 1:12
10. Stairway To Heaven – 10:10
11. Norwegian Jim – 2:57
12. Louisiana Hooker With Herpes – 3:23
13. The Texas Motel – 3:08
14. Sofa No. 1 – 3:06
15. The Illinois Enama Bandit – 7:12


Frank Zappa – lead guitar, computer synclavier, vocals
Mike Keneally – rhythm guitar, keyboards, vocals
Ike Willis – rhythm guitar, synclavier, vocals
Bobby Martin – keyboards, vocals
Scott Thunes – bass, mini moog
Chad Wackerman – drums, electronic percussion
Ed Mann – vibes, marimba, electronic percussion
Kurt McGettrick – baritone sax, bass sax, contrabass clarinet
Bruce Fowler – trombone
Walt Fowler – trumpet, flugelhorn, synthesizer
Albert Wing – tenor sax
Paul Carman – also sax, soprano sax, baritone sax
Also, special guest Eric Buxton.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Another release in the Beat the Boots box sets, “Piquantique” ostensibly contains material from a single 1973 concert in Stockholm, Sweden. At least, that is what we are led to believe if we go by what is on the cover art. But that appears suspect. There is some question about the fourth track, “T’Mershi Duween.” At the Web site Information Is Not Knowledge, site owner Román García Albertos suggests the recording is from a 1974 show at an unknown venue. Wikipedia suggests that it comes from a December, 1973 show at the Roxy. KillUglyRadio, however, does not confirm that suggestion, going, instead, with the unknown venue. It could very well be from the Roxy, as the lineup on the fourth track is identical to the lineup from the release Roxy & Elsewhere.

Also connected with the songs from the Stockholm show is video from the concert that was shown on Swedish TV. You really need to do yourself a favor and check out this site and the video stills from this show. Frank is wearing a green and white plaid blazer over a burgundy turtle neck. It is total dorkdom.

As with most of the Beat the Boots CDs, the sound quality of this recording is only fair. But the material is really quite good, as we get 40 minutes of some quality avant-garde jazz.

There was a lot more improvisation going on with the original Mothers of Invention during their live shows than what went on with later incarnations of Zappa’s traveling troupe. And while Ian Underwood is the only member of this lineup from the latter incarnation of the Mothers, the playing is definitely more free-form that what you get from later lineups.

The CD opens with “Kung Fu,” a short, but interesting composition that includes the opening theme from “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue,” which had officially appeared on “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” Ruth Underwood’s percussion is sweet in this number, but she really brings it on during “Redunzl.” Jean-Luc Ponty also cranks it out during this piece. I wish the recording was just a tad better because Ralph Humphrey’s drumming sounds pretty awesome as well.

Zappa’s guitar solo during “Redunzl” has that characteristic fuzz sound that showed up frequently during the jazzy albums of 1969 through 1972.

Things get funky and out there with “Dupree’s Paradise,” George Duke getting crazy and throwing in some Space Invader types of sounds as the song increasingly takes on a cosmic sort of oeuvre. Zappa interjects a bluesy guitar that seems to bring a bit of sanity to the number. After Zappa chimes in about how cold it is at this outdoor venue, George Duke slips into some basic boogie-woogie piano, which brings some off-beat clapping that Frank makes fun of. It’s a good groove that devolves into Duke’s fingers running all over the keyboard giving it the sound as though he were playing a harp. The band joins in lending a music theme to what previously had initially sounded aimless. Jean-Luc Ponty delivers some searing violin now, killing the crowd with triplets and sixteenth notes.

I think the real treasure of this recording, however, is “T’Mershi Duween,” a really cool number that is delightfully percussive and filled with rhythmic surprises. It’s hard to tell, however, if it is from a Roxy show. Could very well be.

Next is “Farther O’Blivion,” a song that had been included in the Petit Wazoo tour, and a version of which shows up on “Imaginary Diseases.” Again, it’s Jean-Luc Ponty’s playing that sends this song into the realm of gods, and he doesn’t waste time. Right from his opening notes he sets straight for the musical stratosphere. This piece contains a theme from “The Be-Bop Tango,” which gives Ponty something musically different to play around. But wait until Bruce Fowler comes in with his trombone! I bet you didn’t think a trombone could sound like that! And Ian Underwood gets very spooky with his distorted soprano saxophone. Jean-Luc Ponty returns to expand on the ghostly theme while Ralph Humphrey keeps a steady boogie beat going. Ruth Underwood comes in and the boogie section of this piece comes to a slow, fading end. After a brief, sort of avant-garde coda (was this the “fast instrumental arrangement of ‘Cucamonga’”?), Humphrey delivers a drum solo that surely must has hurt his hands tremendously if it indeed was as cold as Zappa had said earlier.

There’s great stuff on this recording, but among all the bootlegs out there, the sound quality is still pretty poor.

I rate this three of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released as part of Beat the Boots box set, July 7, 1991, Rhino Records.

Track listing:

“Kung Fu” – 2:12 (includes the opening theme from “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue”)
“Redunzl” – 4:26
“Dupree's Paradise” – 11:25
“T’Mershi Duween” – 1:55
“Farther O’Blivion” – 20:41 (including themes from the “Steno Pool” section of “The Adventures of Greggary Peccary”, “The Be-Bop Tango” and a fast instrumental arrangement of “Cucamonga”.)


Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals)
George Duke (keyboards)
Bruce Fowler (trombone)
Tom Fowler (bass)
Ralph Humphrey (drums)
Jean-Luc Ponty (violin)
Ian Underwood (woodwinds)
Ruth Underwood (percussion)

Personnel on track 4?:

Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals)
Napoleon Murphy Brock (tenor sax, flute)
George Duke (keyboards)
Bruce Fowler (trombone)
Tom Fowler (bass)
Ralph Humphrey (drums)
Jeff Simmons (rhythm guitar)
Chester Thompson (drums)
Ruth Underwood (percussion)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

As An Am

The entire Beat the Boots series is an exercise in irony. Zappa had a special dislike for bootleggers, which he shares on the opening track of “As An Am,” the first CD in Volume 1 of the Beat the Boots series.

“The bootleg problem as it applies to the work that I do is very much, uh, out of control, and so the FBI is working on it for us … As far as my material goes, it’s a very big business … They’ve already got the stuff recorded live and in concert before I can even release it on a record, and that makes me mad.”

And yet, the entire Beat the Boots series is nothing more than bootlegs Zappa got a hold of and which he dubbed for his own release. Clinton Heylin writes in his 1995 book, “Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry”: “Beat the Boots I and II consisted of two eight-album boxed-sets that were simply counterfeits of existing bootlegs, dubbed direct from the original versions, complete with pops and crackles and original artwork … The Beat the Boots volumes were not intended to legitimize this part of his oeuvre but to undercut the bootleggers and make Zappa money from the bootleggers’ industry (and make money they did).”

But what makes this irony complete is that with the Beat the Boots series, the listener gets unmodified concert recordings. Despite how crappy the sound is with some of them, you are hearing the real deal. These “boots” are real, raw, live recordings without any studio overdubs or modifications or additional parts added or removed or re-done – the opposite of how every legitimate “live” recording was packaged that Zappa officially released.

“As An Am” is not a single-concert boot. It covers two shows from 1981 and 1982. Both the songs “Young & Monde” and “Sharleena” came from a May 21, 1982 show at Sporthalle in Cologne, Germany. The final three tracts come from the late show from Halloween night, 1981, which I’ve already reviewed. So I am just going to stick with the first two songs.

“Young & Monde” (which is also known as "Let's Move to Cleveland") is a very cool mini suite that explores syncopated rhythms around a relatively secure musical theme. It opens with the syncopation, but switches back and forth with a soaring guitar theme. After a few of these presentations, the song devolves into a whining and groaning guitar solo with some machinegun guttural picking, eloquent feedback pumped by a whammy bar, and several time signature changes that only Chad Wackerman can keep up with. About 6 minutes into the song, Frank pulls out some industrial sounds out of his guitar, then goes into a series of repeated oscillating rhythms punctuated with a return to the song’s central theme. But the feedback keeps going, and then there’s another burst of this industrial like sound, like huge manufacturing machines above which are triplets of high notes that are sheer brilliance. It all abruptly stops as the band then begins to return to the original theme as Frank squeezes out a few more fuzzed up chords. The song concludes with some brief, but excellent, vocals by Ray White.

Quite tasty.

With this version of “Sharleena,” I end up asking myself, why didn’t Frank include this live recording on the YCDTOSA series instead of the one he released on Vol. 3. The interplay on this version between Zappa and Steve Vai is so much more interesting than what was going on between Frank and Dweezil on the other release.

I still cannot find the words to describe the solo as it begins. It varies so quickly from fuzzed up bass to trilling notes and squeaks – it even includes a bit of a march tempo mixed in a Hendrix-like acid rock sound that electrifies my scalp as I listen. There are periods in this solo that my hair is standing on end. But then again, my hair is so short, it’s always standing on end. And when the jamming starts to include Steve Vai, I am in guitar heaven. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

If you’re a hardcore Zappa fan, then you will want to collect the Beat the Boots series, if you haven’t already. But if you’re only a strident fan or a moderate fan, you might want to pass on the investment. As noted, these are unpolished copies of bootlegs, so you really got to love the music and not be bothered by how sucky the recording is.

I rate this recording three of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released as part of Beat the Boots box set, July 7, 1991, Rhino Records.

Track listing:

“That Makes Me Mad” – 0:51
“Young & Monde” – 11:24
“Sharleena” – 9:09
“Black Napkins” – 3:58
“Black Page #2” – 7:12
“The Torture Never Stops” – 11:03


FZ--lead guitar/vocal
Ray White--guitar/vocal
Steve Vai--stunt guitar
Tommy Mars--keyboards/vocal
Bobby Martin--keyboards/sax/vocals
Ed Mann--percussion
Scott Thunes--bass
Chad Wackerman--drums

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jones Crusher!

The 1977 Halloween show produced a number of bootlegs, including this one, which erroneously states on the cover that it is from the 1977 show at the Felt Forum. The show was at the Palladium, as documented here and here; Zappa played a Halloween show at the Felt Forum in 1976, which I’ve already reviewed.

Much of this material has appeared on official releases, such as “Baby Snakes,” both on the CD release and the movie release. “Black page #2” and the title track, “Jones Crusher,” appear in both the movie and the CD release of “Baby Snakes,” while “San Ber’dino,” “City of Tiny Lites,” “Camarillo Brillo,” and “Black Napkins” were only on the movie release. “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin,” was released on YCDTOSA Vol. 6.

While most of this material was later officially released, it’s worth noting that with this boot, you’re getting the raw performance. The 1995 CD edition of “Baby Snakes” uses a new master made from the remixed version of the album release, for example.

This boot begins with an intro from “Flakes,” followed by Zappa introducing the band. They launch into “San Ber’dino,” which on this recording sounds a bit thin and pinched, but the playing is really fabulous. The tempo is also much faster than the studio release on “One Size Fits All.” Adrian Belew’s guitar on this is stinging, as are Terry Bozzio’s vocals. Bozzio continues with vocals on “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin,” and he’s just as guttural and frenetic as he is on “Sheik Yerbouti.”

“City of Tiny Lites” has always been one of my favorites, and not just for the guitar solo this song is built around. But when Zappa and Belew start trading licks, it is positively scintillating. A minor disappointment, however, is this performance lacks the typical extended guitar solo normally associated with it.

We do get a solo out of Frank in the next track titled “The Squirm.” This also appears as “Bowling on Charen” from “Trance-Fusion.” Although from the same tour, the version released on “Trance-Fusion” was recorded Oct. 28, 1977. This solo begins similar to other Zappa solos found on his guitar solo albums, but his playing soon transitions into an ethereal quality that literally lifts the listener skyward. It’s even reminiscent of “Watermelon in Easter Hay” in some respects. There are also some musical themes that reach back to “Burnt Weeny Sandwich.” It’s really quite beautifully composed.

After that solo, the band drops into “Big Leg Emma,” or rather devolves into the song. While “Emma” can be a fun song, coming after “The Squirm,” it comes off as odd and jarring.

“Invocations” is an audience participation routine that serendipitously includes allusions to previous material with a couple of women who say their names are Janet the Planet and her friend, Donna Youwanna, who has a bottle of Yoohoo. (Interestingly, in this routine, the word “fuck” is bleeped out, as are other expletives). The routine is another one of Frank’s pointless attempts at mocking Warner Bros. It transitions into “Dance Contest,” which was a common routine in Zappa’s tours. It’s set against “The Black Page #2,” a rhythmically complex song that would be a challenge to any dancer. It must have been a joy to watch the contestants try to find a beat in that number.

The band gets to jamming with the next song, “Jones Crusher,” a song about a woman who has a love so strong that she crushes penises. After all, “she can push, she can shove, until it’s just a nub.”

It becomes obvious with the next song, “Camarillo Brillo,” that the song sequence on this boot bears little resemblance to the actual set list. At the show, the song was followed with “Muffin Man,” as it almost always was. Instead, it is followed with “Black Napkins,” which was, in fact, the last song of the show. But while the boot opens with “San Ber’dino,” that song was played just before “Black Napkins.” The intro at the start was actually followed by “Peaches En Regalia.”

Despite all that, the solo in “Black Napkins” on this boot is really amazing, one of the best solos for this song Zappa ever performed.

I rate this four of five stars. Add your own rating below.


1. San Bernadino
2. Grow Me a Chin
3. Tiny Lights
4. The Squirm
5. Big Leg Emma
6. Invocations
7. Dance Contest
8. Black Page #2
9. Jones Crusher
10. Camarillo Brillo
11. Black Napkins


Frank Zappa: guitar, vocals
Adrian Belew: guitar, vocals
Roy Estrada: guest vocals
Patrick O’Hearn: bass
Terry Bozzio: drums, vocals
Ed Mann: percussion
Tommy Mars: keyboards, vocals
Peter Wolf: keyboards

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Baby Snakes

One of the fascinating things about Frank Zappa’s career is all the musicians he worked with and how many of them went on to form significant groups of their own. And with the album “Baby Snakes,” we have three musicians on the album that went on to form a major New Wave band in 1980, albeit a short-lived one.

Those three were Terry Bozzio, Warren Cuccurullo, and Patrick O’Hearn. The band they formed was Missing Persons, which presented an image that comingled punk, New Wave and glam. Their almost-eponymous album, “Spring Session M,” was an outstanding debut for a full-length album. I played the hell out of that album, as every song was fresh and exciting. But alas, they were to be a flash in the pan and by 1984 everyone was going their own way. Still, Bozzio, Cuccurullo and O’Hearn didn’t disappear from the music scene, as their talents carried them forward. Bozzio went on to play with Jeff Beck (was he there when I went to see the Beck/Stevie Ray Vaughn tour?), Cucurullo to join the 80s supergroup Duran Duran, and O’Hearn to continue recording instrumental New Age albums.

The fact that Missing Persons was such a short-lived effort causes me to wonder just how prescient Zappa was when he wrote “Tinseltown Rebellion.” I wonder how much of Missing Person’s sound was their own and how much was concocted by the record company. Bozzio was certainly around Zappa as he ridiculed hair bands, and there was always the song about Punky Meadows. And, ironically, just look at all that hair on those band members in Missing Persons! Zappa always had exceptional musicians playing with him, but for these three to flame out so quickly working together brings me pause.

Cuccurullo’s appearance on “Baby Snakes” is strictly related to the movie, as the opening dialogue on the CD includes him; he didn’t join Zappa’s band until 1978, and the songs in the movie soundtrack that were compiled for this CD come from the 1977 Halloween shows at the Palladium in New York City (coming soon). Interestingly, the bootleg “Jones Crusher” asserts itself to be the 1977 Halloween show at the Felt Forum (Zappa played there the year before).

The movie “Baby Snakes” represents well the dichotomy of reactions Zappa faced regarding his work, a split of opinion that was often clearly marked by the Atlantic Ocean. Recordings that only faired decently in the U.S., or even failed miserably, were frequently better received in Europe, and the movie “Baby Snakes” was no exception. Zappa couldn’t find a distributor for the film in the U.S., even after he had hacked its length from 166 minutes down to 90 minutes. He ended up distributing the film on his own. Barry Miles writes in “Zappa: A Biography” –

“It premiered on 21 December, 1979, at the Victoria Theater in New York to less than ecstatic reviews, probably because of the extended footage featuring an inflatable sex toy. Typical of this criticism was Tom Carson’s piece in Village Voice: ‘Once, Zappa built a satirist’s career on the idea that all of life was just like high school; now it turns out that all he ever wanted, apparently, was a high-school clique of his own – and on the evidence of Baby Snakes he’s found one.’ Zappa was unfazed by the criticism. Foreign critics were more sympathetic and in 1981 Baby Snakes won the Premier Grand Prix at the First International Music Festival in Paris.”

Perhaps what was most amazing about the film was a clay animation sequence by Bruce Bickford, an interesting character who, as described by Barry Miles, speaks like “the people under the piano on Lumpy Gravy.”

Zappa, as told to Barry Miles, describes Bickford: “He talks real slow – as he states in the film he has had some contact with chemical alteration of his consciousness and his speech pattern is probably related to the fact that he’s been chemically modified … For some of the more complex parts (of the film) in there he could shoot only four frames in a day. And remember 24 frames go by in a second. If it takes him one day to shoot four frames of something complicated, it’ll take him six days to shoot one second of complicated stuff. So, what you see in the film is a product of about three years’ work to give you a half hour of animation. But not all the stuff he does is complicated.” Once sequence in the animation, Zappa notes, was shot in one evening.

Cuccurullo’s intro rap at the start of the CD introduces the sole studio track on this “live” recording, the title song, which is from “Sheik Yerbouti.” It’s a fun song to get things going, but the real gems are the concert items, which start with “Titties & Beer.” This is not the same version as what appears on “Zappa in New York,” as those songs were recorded between Christmas and New Year in 1977.

This is followed by “The Black Page #2,” which is really very cool and well played. Ed Mann is outstanding on this. This transitions right into “Jones Crusher,” a rocking song that has one of the oddest lyrics in the Zappa catalogue: “The Wind can’t blow because the sky is gone.”

“Disco Boy” is one of the few direct musical commentaries Zappa made into the realm of disco. Originally from “Zoot Allures,” I’ve always like this song despite its rather shallow description of the disco scene. Granted, the disco scene was shallow, but one cannot always count on Zappa having intimate knowledge of all the topics he writes songs about; one must remember that he is, more often than not, commenting on the musical nature of his target, not the actual social scene. For example, virtually all of his songs reflecting the gay scene are focused on the leather and S&M crowd.

The obligatory performance of “Dinah-Moe Humm” is hardly worth noting. While I really love the album “Over-nite Sensation,” as well as this song, I would never be disappointed at a concert if the song wasn’t played.

“Punky’s Whips” is great performance that is filled with musical variance and Terry Bozzio’s faux-Zappa vocalizations are really spot on; how ironic that he mentions Jeff Beck. And finally, we get a song with a Zappa guitar solo. A delicious solo. Listen to Bozzio’s drumming too, it’s perfectly maniacal.

Overall, I rate this recording 4.5 of five stars. Share your rating below.

Released: March 28, 1983, Barking Pumpkin Records. Recorded Oct. 28-31, 1977, The Palladium, NYC.

Track listing:

1. Intro Rap/Baby Snakes – 2:22
2. Titties & Beer – 6:13
3. The Black Page #2 – 2:50
4. Jones Crusher – 2:53
5. Disco Boy – 3:51
6. Dinah-Moe Humm – 6:37
7. Punky’s Whips – 11:29

Roy Estrada – vocals, voices
Frank Zappa – director, keyboards, vocals, guitar
Adrian Belew – vocals, guitar
Tommy Mars – keyboards, vocals
Peter Wolf – keyboards
Patrick O’Hearn – bass guitar
Terry Bozzio – drums
Ed Mann – percussion

Saturday, January 16, 2010

You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol 3

With six volumes to this collection, I wanted to break up the monotony of simply posting about the tracks on each issue. And with Volume three, I thought it might be a good time to explore the issue of bootlegging again.

Clinton Heylin reveals in his 1995 book “Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry,” Zappa’s intense hatred of bootleggers. But this hatred was not simply over money, as Zappa suggests in the opening track of the first “Beat the Boots” release, “As An Am.” In that sound bite, Zappa states that it angers him that bootleggers will record concert performances of material he hasn’t released yet. But there was another factor in Zappa’s antipathy for bootleggers, and that centered on Zappa’s control issues.

“Zappa had always been a control freak,” writes Heylin, “and hated the idea of bootleggers offering an alternative to his own, sometimes questionable, decisions about what should and should not be made available.”

Heylin interviewed a particularly prolific bootlegger identified as “Richard,” who was very likely a huge thorn in Zappa’s side.

“I’m a big Zappa fan,” says Richard. “In fact, my ‘Mystery Box’ got Zappa as upset as Columbia got over ‘Ten of Swords’ (a Dylan bootleg that Richard compiled).” Zappa was apparently so upset about the release of ‘Mystery Box’ that he contacted the FBI, which apparently had no interest in investigating the allegations.

“I guess,” Richard continues, “the problem was that Zappa was doing his (own) ‘You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore,’ his ongoing series which has just ended, and ‘Mystery Box’ was like a giant ‘You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore.’ A lot of reviews were saying that ‘Mystery Box’ was better because it was chronological and didn’t jump all over the place and didn’t have all these stupid edits in it. That kind of thing can annoy you if you’re an artist putting out your own thing.”

Zappa blamed bootleggers for profiting off his material and that caused him to lose money. But Zappa had so many other things going on in the legal realm that were costing him money that to point to bootleggers as a culprit seems more like an effort to eschew responsibility for his own travails. And besides, as “Richard” points out, most Zappa bootleggers recorded concerts and distributed their recordings for free or at a cost that was just enough to cover their own costs. The Zappa audience was too esoteric to make any real money off of, so most Zappa bootleggers were doing it because they loved his music.

And besides, the criticism that Zappa was a bit overzealous with his editing that turned a song from one performance into a quilt of sound clips from multiple shows was justified. What started as a technique in the early days that enhanced the quality of his recordings later turned into an obsession that might have improved the sound quality of a recording, but which also led some of his music losing its gut.

This was because Zappa believed that music was unemotional, that it was merely sound. The idea that music had an emotional element was absurd to him.

From Barry Miles’ “Zappa: A Biography”: “See, I take a real cold view about that stuff. I think that music works because of psycho-accoustical things – like the way in which a line will interact with the harmonic climate that’s backing it up. And all the rest of it is subjective on behalf of the listener.”

One of Zappa’s musical idols and influences, Igor Stravinsky, was even harsher in his view regarding music’s ability to convey emotion: “I consider that music, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc… Expression has never been an inherent property of music.”

From that perspective, it is no wonder that Zappa spent hours and hours splicing bits and pieces of performances together and calling it a “live” performance, even when he would dub in a studio cut. To him, it was just music, just notes on a sheet of paper.

It is incredible that both Zappa and Stravinsky would have such points of view given that it is quite clear that each composed music that told stories. And how do you tell an emotionless story?

Two tracks on this recording really challenge this notion, both on Disc two: “Zoot Allures,” and “King Kong.” I can’t see how Zappa can play “Zoot Allures” without him channeling emotion into his guitar playing. He could play it strictly as music, as lines and dots on a page, but it is clear that he doesn’t. And the classic piece “King Kong” in all its many permutations; does not the fact that a performance is altered either through style or time signature change the impression the audience experiences from the piece? Zappa seems to lay all responsibility for any emotional response on the listener rather than the music; yet he ignores how that listener response changes when he changes the timbre or tempo of a song.

Just a few comments about this particular recording, which overall is pretty damn good.

Dweezil’s guitar solo on the opening track “Sharleena” is competent, but rather boring and simplistic. It is only when father and son begin playing together that the solo finally gets interesting.

“Lucille Has Messed Up My Mind” is actually a composition by former Mothers of Invention member Jeff Simmons, which he released on an album of the same name in 1970. Zappa plays guitar on the Simmons release as well.

“Drowning Witch” is a compilation of edits from shows at Stadio Communale, Bolzano, Italy, July 3, 1982 and the Bayfront Center Arena, St. Petersburg, Florida on Dec. 1, 1984 and the Bismarck Theater, Chicago, from Nov. 23, 1984, and the Paramount Theatre, Seattle, Wash., Dec. 17, 1984. It also contains musical quotes from a Hawaiian Punch commercial, Dragnet (Schumann/Rósza) and Le sacre du printemps (Stravinsky).

This CD contains the only releases of “Ride My Face to Chicago,” “Carol, You Fool,” and “Chana in De Bushwop,” which were performed at the Bismarck Theater, Chicago, Nov. 23, 1984. The latter song also included Diva Zappa.

“Zoot Allures” contains two edits, with the first part from Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, Osaka, Japan on Feb. 3, 1976, and the guitar solo from Les Arenes, Cap D'agde, France May 30, 1982.

The sequence of “Society Pages” through “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” comes from the Halloween show at the Palladium in New York in 1981.

“Cocaine Decisions” is comprised of two edits from the Bismarck Theater, Chicago, Nov. 23, 1984, and Stadio Communale, Palermo, Sicily, July 14, 1982.

This is the only official release that has “Nig Biz,” and it comes from the show at the Stadio Communale, Palermo, Sicily, July 14, 1982. It also contains a musical quote from “The Tracks Of My Tears” (Robinson/Moore/Tarplin).

“King Kong” contains musical quotes from “Shakin’ All Over” (Heath), “Big Swifty,” “Yo Cats” (FZ/Mariano), “Uncle Meat,” “A Love Supreme” (Coltrane), “Midnight Sun” (Hampton/Burke/Mercer) and the “William Tell Overture” (Rossini). It is also comprised of too many edits from various shows to enumerate.

“Cosmik Debris” contains portions from three shows including the Paramount Theatre, Seattle, Wash., Dec. 17, 1984; the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Ore., Dec. 20, 1984; and the ending from The Pier, New York City, Aug. 25-26, 1984. It also contains a musical quote from “Who Knows” (Hendrix).

I rate this four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released Nov. 13, 1989 on Rykodisc; various live recordings from Dec. 10, 1971 to Dec. 23, 1984.

Track listings:

Disc one
1. “Sharleena” – 8:54
2. “Bamboozled by Love/Owner of a Lonely Heart” – 6:06
3. “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” – 2:52
4. “Advance Romance” – 6:58
5. “Bobby Brown Goes Down” – 2:44
6. “Keep It Greasey” – 3:30
7. “Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me?” – 4:16
8. “In France” – 3:01
9. “Drowning Witch” – 9:22
10. “Ride My Face to Chicago” – 4:22
11. “Carol, You Fool” – 4:06
12. “Chana in de Bushwop” – 4:52
13. “Joe’s Garage” – 2:20
14. “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” – 3:07

Disc two
1. “Dickie’s Such an Asshole” – 10:08
2. “Hands With a Hammer” (Bozzio) – 3:18
3. “Zoot Allures” – 6:09
4. “Society Pages” – 2:32
5. “I’m a Beautiful Guy” – 1:54
6. “Beauty Knows No Pain” – 2:55
7. “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” – 3:39
8. “Cocaine Decisions” – 3:14
9. “Nig Biz” – 4:58
10. “King Kong” – 24:32
11. “Cosmik Debris” – 5:14


Frank Zappa – arranger, editing, keyboards, lyricist, vocals, producer, main performer, liner notes, guitar, compilation
Mark Volman – vocals
Howard Kaylan – vocals
Lowell George – guitar
Denny Walley – guitar
Steve Vai – guitar
Dweezil Zappa – guitar
Jim Sherwood – guitar, vocals, wind
Ray Collins – guitar, vocals
Ike Willis – rhythm guitar, vocals
Ray White – rhythm guitar, vocals
Ian Underwood – guitar, wind, alto saxophone, keyboards
Patrick O'Hearn – bass guitar, wind
Roy Estrada – bass guitar, vocals
Jim Pons – bass guitar, vocals
Scott Thunes – bass guitar, vocals, synthesizer
Tom Fowler – bass guitar, trombone
Peter Wolf – keyboards
Allan Zavod – keyboards
Andre Lewis – keyboards
Don Preston – keyboards, electronics
George Duke – keyboards, vocals
Tommy Mars – keyboards, vocals
Bobby Martin – keyboards, vocals, saxophone
Napoleon Murphy Brock – saxophone, vocals
Bruce Fowler – trombone
Bunk Gardner – horn, wind
Ralph Humphrey – drums
Art Tripp – drums
Chester Thompson – drums
Chad Wackerman – drums, vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – drums, percussion
Aynsley Dunbar – drums
Terry Bozzio – drums, soloist, lyricist
Ruth Underwood – percussion, keyboards
Ed Mann – percussion
Diva Zappa – lyricist
Mark Pinske – engineer
Kerry McNabb – engineer
Bob Stone – engineer, engineering supervisor, remixing, supervisor