Frank Zappa / Captain Beefheart / The Mothers

Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, was a high school friend of Frank's, and both had eclectic tastes in music way back when. While it is widely noted that it was a love of R&B that brought them together, tucked within The Lost Episodes is a remark about an album of whaling songs and sea shanties that they both listened to over and over and that the Captain allegedly never gave back to Frank. [The album is Blow Boys Blow, which just happens to be on Rykodisc's TRADITION label] The Captain's brand of space-blues absurdinalia was captured by Frank as Trout Mask Replica and released in April of '69 on Frank's label, Bizarre. According to some accounts, the music was arranged by Captain Beefheart in his head and he would sing the various parts in "vocalese" which the band members would repeat until they "got" it. While Zappa's lyrics are satirical, scatological, and topical, the Captain's lyrics are dense maps without many signposts--lyrical and poetic absurdities much like Burroughs's literary experiments, borne out of the cut-and-paste method. Above all, the Captain was a blues man and his blues, while blown over intricate rhythms that never seem to catch up to any one time signature, is stellar as well as interstellar. In addition to his contributions to Bongo Fury the Captain lent his growl to Hot Rats, his harmonica to Zoot Allures, and FZ even unearthed the original version of "The Torture Never Stops" for YCDTOSA Vol. 4" After many albums on many labels, the Captain called it quits in the music biz and now leads a painter's life. A book of his work, God's Empty Socks and Other Paintings, has just been published.

Frank Zappa / The Mothers Of Invention

The Mothers Of Invention were an ever-changing conglomeration of musicians who revolved around Zappa during the formative years of 1964-76. One can try and break these Mothers into three almost distinct sections, if one is into those sorts of distinctions. The "early" Mothers of Invention existed approximately 1964 to 1969 and recorded from Freak Out! to Uncle Meat. The "middle" Mothers of Invention (or Mothers), when Flo & Eddie were front and center, recorded from Chunga's Revenge to Just Another Band From L.A. (1971-72). Then there were a couple of "later" Mothers groups, like the one in 1973 responsible for Apostrophe (') and Over-nite Sensation, which evolved into other groups from '73 to early '76 that recorded from Roxy & Elsewhere to Bongo Fury (w/ Captain Beefheart). From '76 and Zoot Allures on, Zappa was known as Zappa. Both the "early" Mothers and the Flo & Eddie Mothers made reappearances on the historical releases Ahead of Their Time (released '93) and Playground Psychotics (released '92), respectively. Got it? Originally, the band was called The Mothers (short for Motherfuckers, or "musicians who play well"). The Mothers became The Mothers of Invention at the insistence of MGM label executives, who felt that a band called "The Mothers" would never receive airplay - "as if our name was going to be The Big Problem," observed Zappa in his autobiography. The Mothers Of Invention were like nothing that had ever come before--they were the first all-electric big band and mounted theatrical presentations full of rock, hooplah, and absurdity. Rock and roll became an artistic medium in Frank's hands. He created mini-musicals of the mind both on albums and absolutely live in front of audiences. In 1967, the band hunkered down at the Garrick Theater on Bleecker Street in NYC to perform what they called Pigs & Repugnant: Absolutely Freeeee. According to The Frank Zappa Companion, "the Garrick Theater was devastated by cherry bombs, stuffed giraffes, & depraved plastic frogs...all of it neatly organized into what people today would call a 'Love-Rock-Long-Hair-Tribal-Musical'...(Absolutely Free was in its third month when Hair first opened)." Zappa composed music for The Mothers Of Invention in time signatures other than 4/4 and arranged for weird and strange instruments, often grafting disparate musical idioms together to obtain exciting hybrids. Through The Mothers Of Invention, Zappa tore apart the then-moldy and stuffy world of serious "modern" music and recreated it through the medium of rock and roll. Even a seemingly benign album, like Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, full of Zappa's beloved doo-wop and "greasy rock and roll," was woven with threads of Stravinsky. The Mothers, whatever era, had to seamlessly draw from everything and everywhere to fulfill Zappa's compositions and theatrics. Felled by prostate cancer December 4, 1993 at age 52, Frank Zappa didn't die a rock and roll death and he didn't live a rock 'n' roll life. His idiosyncracies were the making and undoing of his career, catapulting him into notoriety and confining him there. He achieved a peculiar status: famous, but not necessarily well-known. The shopping mall masses remember "Valley Girl" (from SHIP ARRIVING TOO LATE TO SAVE A DROWNING WITCH and "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" (from APOSTROPHE'). More dedicated fans took the (often scatological) humor as the icing on Zappa's musical cake, which was as rich and deep as one cared, or dared, to go. With the Mothers Of Invention, and later, under his own name, Zappa played "rock" in instrumentation only; as his band members can attest, the music's complexity equaled that of any more academic genre. One of his album titles asked the question DOES HUMOR BELONG IN MUSIC?, but Zappa's fans knew better. Whether it was the biting social satire of WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY (released only a few months after SGT. PEPPER, and the first real stab at the pretenses of hippiedom), the conceptual effrontery of JOE'S GARAGE and THING-FISH, the groupie burlesques on FILLMORE EAST, JUNE 1971, the timely stabs at organized religion on YOU ARE WHAT YOU IS, the disco-era parodies on SHEIK YERBOUTI or the nasty responses to creeping censorship on FRANK ZAPPA MEETS THE MOTHERS OF PREVENTION, Zappa could wear the hats of social satirist, entertainer and musical innovator on the same head. But Zappa's talent knew no boundaries. A demon electric guitarist, he also wrote for orchestral forces--sometimes huge ones. Pierre Boulez commissioned and performed Zappa's THE PERFECT STRANGER in 1984. More recently, Joel Thome has taken up the cause of Zappa the composer. Second only to music in Zappa's life was his passion for political activism. He promoted voter registration and made a memorable 1985 appearance in front of a Senate committee investigating song lyrics. Vice President Albert Gore, Jr., then a senator, gushed to Zappa: "I respect you as a true original and a tremendously talented musician." At least he said it to his face. Following Zappa's death neither Gore nor his wife, Tipper -- who, as a member of the PMRC, weathered Zappa's withering wit -- would comment. Zappa wouldn't have been surprised. Cynicism was the reverse side of his faith in people to improve government. In his business dealings he was increasingly individualistic, eventually setting up his own record and video companies to handle an amazingly prolific output. If he belongs to any musical tradition, it is that of the American original, from Scott Joplin to Charles Ives to Duke Ellington. Conciously or not, he picked his epitaph when he proudly emblazoned his earliest albums with a quote from his hero, composer Edgard Varese: "The present-day composer refuses to die."