5-10-15-20 Years without Frank by Chris Quinlan Update: 4th December 2013.P.S. 16th January 2004 .....
This is an article I wrote for Mixdown Magazine in 1998. I hope you enjoy the added video clips from the last 20 years.
A personal reflection on what Frank Zappa means to a musician suffering badly from mid-life crisis.
On the 4th December 1998, it will have been five years since Frank Zappa went on his final tour (as his family put it), losing his battle with prostate cancer ...... for me, being a complete Zappa nut-case; my brain broke a few years before that in September '91, that was when my dad died, Miles Davis died and Zappa's cancer diagnosis all came within three days of each other. Somehow those three events have been intertwined since then.
I've never thought of myself as the kind of deranged fan who parks themselves on the pop-star's door-step, but I'm sure a lot of people may well see me that way. I remember the radio-alarm going off at 7am, Monday 6th December 1993 and the first thing the news announcer said was: "Weird pop-star Frank Zappa is dead from cancer." I was ok for a few minutes, I knew he was really sick, but I went to water after I got up and put on "Watermelon in Easter Hay" from the "Joe's Garage" album. I later found out that most fellow Zappa fans still remember exactly what they were doing that day and did much the same thing I did. In early January '94 a friend of mine, Stephen, told me to give this bass player Craig a call; the rest of '94 was taken up with "The Band from Utopia" our Zappa-cover band that had five lead-guitarists in nine months as well as Tim, Andy and Tony; and me practicing and transcribing charts up to five hours a day to try to get all the drum parts down. I have great memories of Tony the "Mudshark" riding Tim "The Stallion" on stage dressed in an ancient Roman costume with 200+ people screaming "HAIL CAESAR!!!!"
We later found out that the ex-Zappa band members were touring as "The Band from Utopia!", at least we thought of the name first! They later changed it to "Banned from Utopia" because I think Gail Zappa cracked the shits with them. Anyway, back to the dinky Aussie version: Craig wanted to call it quits at the end of the year when the band self-destructed on stage during "ZAPPATREK" at the Grainstore in King st Melbourne, (ZAPPATREK because we did the gig dressed in Starfleet uniform and me hitting the drums with a rubber chicken) but I wanted to keep going, so our Zappaband Phase two happened .... ..... It started off with just me, Craig on bass and Brett on keyboards; an Emerson, Lake and Palmer kind of lineup that we re-named "Kemerson, Kaked and Karl Karma"; we wanted to call our first album "FARKUS" and the single was going to be "Fanfare for the Common Dickhead" .... but that's another story ..... ........ we advertised for musicians who could read and the only people who rang were Peter and Angus, so we all got together at my place during Easter '95 and five months later, played our first gig to 110 people to our complete shock, we thought we'd only pull 20 mates! ..... by then I also had a little TV show called "Melbourne Musos" on Channel 31. "The Zappa Instrumentaale" (prounounced "aaarrhhlll") as we decided to call ourselves, played all the hard polyrhythmic instrumental numbers and bit by bit we had special guests play (and sometimes sing) with us, people like Allan Zavod; who played with Zappa in '84, Richard Piper and Kate Kendall as guest singers (you can see them pop up on that TV cop-show "Stingers" on Channel 9), Bob Sedergreen, Richard Lewis, Geoff Achison and various other famous or about to be famous people. Richard Piper was the perfect "WILLIE THE PIMP" in fact, he played WILLIE better than WILLIE himself!!! I have video of him tumbling all over the stage in an acid-burnout attack and being helped up and supported by his teenage-prostitute, Kate Kendall; a dazzling temptress of stunning beauty; everytime she was on stage with the band, I played with three drumsticks .... two of them were made with wood. I had the chance to meet and film ex-Zappa people like Terry Bozzio, Chad Wackerman, Steve Vai and The Ensemble Modern for the TV show and find out a few inside stories and learn a few tricks on how to play the really tricky stuff. Terry Bozzio let me put my camera literally under his armpits while he was showing me some of his licks, I invited Alan Zavod along who had toured with Frank in 1984; some treasured memories. Silly me, before the meeting, I didn't know that Terry and Alan hadn't met, but what followed was a treasured TV recording of two Zappa veterans of two different eras swapping anecdotes of the glorious times of all things Zappa.
Anyways, back to the Instrumentaale, we held down a residency at The Club in Collingwood for two years; We were filmed by Optus Vision and Paul Grabowsky's "Access all Areas" (all 45 seconds worth!?), on the ABC; I've done two Ultimate Drummers days playing The Black Page#1 and wrote a Drumset exam syllabus with Zappa's music included. Craig left mid-'97 and we managed to find Scott real quick and keep on going ....... ..... we did ok for playing weird shit. I even got to go and play in Europe in April-May '98; I played with a German 12 piece band called "Tinsel Town Rebellion" and mucked around with "Dancin Foolz" a Zappa-cover band from Amsterdam; Tinsel Town Rebellion were an awesome band ....... really precise in a typical German way, basing themselves on the Zappa '88 band format; some songs I thought they played better and tighter than some of the original versions except their accents gave them away ..... .... "She was Easy Meat" became "She wiz Izzy Mart" when translated to German for a quick example. "Dancin Foolz" would play a song then when it came to a real hard instrumental bit .... sang it instead of playing it ..... I thought it was funny having five Dutch guys playing through a song then stop and yell "OO-OO-RANNA-RANNA-DIDDLY-RAANNAA-OO-OO" While I was in the Netherlands, I met a 12 year-old girl named "Sharleena" who has a Zappa repertoire she plays on Violin and Piano, a real talent. One Italian band, "Ossi Duri" is made up of a bunch of thirteen year-olds, apparently they can play "The Black Page#1" one of the hardest pieces of music you have ever seen and apparently these kids can play it great ..... the little bastards ..... God bless the Internet; I've met so many Zappaheads; two great friends in particular; Jos Schooner and Thomas Reinicke who are a part of the European Arf-Society; every August they have a "ZAPPANALE" .... a two-day Zappa Festival in Rostok, East Germany consisting of all the European Zappa Cover-Bands ..... ...... 1999 will see the 10th anniversary "ZAPPANALE" ...... I don't want to miss that. Jos collects Zappa albums ..... I mean he has SIXTEEN copies of "Overnight Sensation", he collects them to see the differences, like whether the Australian pressing has the word "fuck" censored out of it etc ..... a real full-on Zappa junkie. Thomas once had Bunk and Buzz Gardner and Jimmy Carl Black from the original Mothers in his car driving them from gig to gig when they were doing the "Grandmothers" Tour ..... Bunk had his hair slicked back with vasoline, fell asleep with his head against the window leaving a grease slick on the window ..... Thomas never washed that window again ...... Jos was really proud when Jimmy Carl Black tried to hit on his old lady ....... Jos and Thomas ..... real Zappa freaks! So, it's five years since he died and basically five years of me playing his music ..... I've worked out 130+ tunes and I've found a lot of friends in all sorts of different places; Hardly anyone rings me up for gigs because I think they're too shit-scared of me putting in a fill-in with quintuplets and septuplets, and I don't blame them, I probably would.
People often ask me why I listen to Zappa so much ...... probably because there is every style of music and musical expertise in his albums; if I want to rock; there's heaps of it; if I want jazz; if I want classical; if I want avant-garde; all of it is there and played incredibly well by incredible musicians ...... ...... incredible music played by incredible musicians written by an incredible composer who was absolutely, resolutely fearless in his words, his thoughts and music ..... .... in a lot of ways, playing his music for five years with The Band from Utopia and The Instrumentaale has been a kind of therapy for me, everytime I played "Watermelon in Easter Hay" ... I thought of my dad .... everytime I tried to work out a new Zappa song I would learn a new polyrhythm or sticking pattern ..... everytime I heard of some ex-Zappa musician coming to town, I would try to film them .... to give you an idea of the amount of music there is, I've listed his releases, broken down loosely into the following sub-groups ..... 1) The original classic Mothers of Invention: 1966-69 Freak out Absolutely Free We're only in it for the money Lumpy Gravy (released as solo Zappa) Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets Mothermania (best of compilation) Uncle Meat Burnt Weeny Sandwich Weazels rip my flesh Ahead of their time (released '93) __________________ 2) The Mothers (1970-71) featuring Flo and Eddie and Aynsley Dunbar Chunga's Revenge The Mothers Fillmore East-June '71 200 Motels (featuring the London Symphony Orchestra) Just another band from LA Playground Psychotics (released '92) _________________________________ 3) "Solo" Albums and Grand Wazoo (69-72) Hot Rats and music written whilst recuperating in a wheelchair after being pushed off stage. Hot Rats The Grand Wazoo Waka/Jawaka _________________________________ 4) Zappa and the Mothers (73-75) Arguably Zappa's musically best/most popular combo Overnite Sensation Apostrophe' Roxy and Elsewhere One Size Fits All YCDTOSA vol. 2 (The Helsinki Concert; released '88) _________________________ 5) Frank Zappa/Mothers becomes just Frank Zappa ('75-78) Terry Bozzio drums the Black Page, Norman Gunston guests, and Warner Brothers Sux! Bongo Fury Zoot Allures Zappa in New York Sheik Yerbouti Baby Snakes Soundtrack ____________________________ 6) The Warner Brothers Trio ('78-79) Zappa takes Warner Brothers to court and Greggary Peccary finds a new trend. Studio Tan Sleep Dirt Orchestral Favorites _________________________________ 7) Frank Zappa ('79-82) Zappafan heaven, a new album every four months! Joe's Garage, Vinnie Colauita and Steve Vai. Joe's Garage acts 1, 11 & 111 Tinsel Town Rebellion Shut up 'n play yer guitar Shut up 'n play yer guitar some more Return of the son of Shut up 'n play yer guitar You are what you is Ship arriving to late to save a drowning witch ________________________________________ 8) '83-'87.....The '84 tour featuring Allan Zavod plus Frank Zappa discovers that the Synclavier doesn't need a muso's union like The London Symphony Orchestra does. The Man from Utopia Zappa/London Symphony Orchestra Volume 1 Boulez conducts Zappa/The Perfect Stranger Them or Us Thing-Fish Francesco Zappa Frank Zappa meets the Mothers of Prevention Does Humor belong in Music? Jazz from Hell London Symphony Orchestra Volume 2 Guitar ___________________________________________ 9) '88- '93............ The '88 Tour...........Zappa's best band and Sonic Solutions create YCDTOSA's, live masterworks of all incarnations segueing together) Please note: Frank found out about his Prostate Cancer around '90-91. Every project thereafter became urgent deadline material. YCDTOSA vol. 1 Broadway the Hardway YCDTOSA vol. 2 YCDTOSA vol. 3 The best band you never heard in your life Make a jazz noise here YCDTOSA vol. 4 YCDTOSA vol. 5 YCDTOSA vol. 6 Playground Psychotics Ahead of their time Beat the Boots (Zappa's collection of all bootlegs and released them himself to stop people ripping him off) ____________________________________________ 10) Posthumous Frank The Yellow Shark The Lost Episodes No Commercial Potential LATHER Frank Zappa plays the music of Frank Zappa Strictly Genteel Have I offended anyone? 200 Motels (digitally re-mastered film and CD of Zappa's cinematic masterwork) Mystery Disc (to be released late '98) ___________________________________________ ...... that's the Cd list, not to mention his Video List, his Book List, his Sheet Music-list and his Web-site. In the Zappa Family Vaults there are many yet to be released gems he was working on up until he couldn't work anymore. There are many books out and literally hundreds of web-sites you can check out ...........
the main official one being: http://www.zappa.com
So there you have it, I'm reading this article back and I don't know if this is what I was originally going to do or was I just going to rattle off the usual tribute article ..... all I can say is that after five years there are a lot of people I've met who miss Frank Zappa terribly .... ...... so come December 4th this little black duck will be putting on "Watermelon in Easter Hay", having a look in the sky to see if the Zappafrank comet (yep, there's a comet named after him) pokes out from behind a cloud and making a toast to one of the most talented shit-bags ever born.
What can I say .... my six year ZappadaZe was a labor of love, I grew as a musician,
I grew as a person and have some great memories, and yep .... some not so great .... but the influence of Frank will always be with me.
P.S. December 4th 2013
20 years since; after Watermelon in Easter Hay, wiped away a tear and then laughed and played my way through "Roxy and Elsewhere",
"One Size Fits All", "Best Band you never Heard" and "Make a Jazz Noise Here".
Now it's 5am and "Zappa in New York".
By the 21st December, his Birthday, I will have conquered the complete repertoire again somehow without burying another relationship :)
Bless your little white socks for reading this far :)
This is my YouTube playlist dedicated to all things Zappa Influence;