The Lost Broadcasts: Yhe Beat Club ’68 By Frank Zappa

May 14, 2016

I'll See You In The Summertime Outsiders

If there is anything more eclectic than a Frank Zappa concert, it is a Frank Zappa rehearsal for a concert.

The Lost Performance: The Full Performance is a film of a Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention rehearsal recorded October 6, 1968, in Germany. As Zappa’s career progressed, he recorded dozens of performances but there is surprisingly little footage and documentation of the early Mothers Of Invention.

The rehearsal is a long continuous performance. Zappa plays director and the band will occasionally break into recognizable songs such as “King Kong,” “A Pound For A Brown On A Bus,” “Sleeping In A Jar,” “Let’s Make Water Turn Black,” and “Uncle Meat.” A brass section of Ian Underwood, Bunk Gardner, and James Sherwood, bassist/vocalist Roy Estrada, keyboardist Don Preston, and drummers/percussionists Art Tripp and Jimmy Carl Black were one of Zappa tightest units and able to follow his directions and signals.

It is a release that will basically appeal to fans of Zappa and especially of his early career. The lack of structure makes it difficult to follow unless you are familiar with the music.

There are issues with the sound and picture at times and it is certainly not up to modern day standards, so beware.

The Lost Broadcast: The Full Performance is more of a historical document than a release you will want to play continuously. Still, it is an interesting look into the mind of Frank Zappa and how he plotted his concert approach.


A Token Of His Extreme DVD by Frank Zappa

August 19, 2013

$(KGrHqF,!hcE+5h1rW+1BQPZJ4zzog~~60_1It is not surprising that during the mid-1970s Frank Zappa decided to fund his own television special. It is also not surprising that given the conservative nature of the TV networks during that era, none of them would air the special. Zappa had an eccentric brilliance that was outside the mainstream and the networks at the time were all about mainstream, so the special sat in the vaults. Now A Token of His Extreme has returned in all its bizarre glory.

Given that the film is close to 40 years old, they have done a good job of cleaning it up as the sound and picture are very clear. The problem is the way it was filmed, as the camera angles move very fast at times and for no apparent reason. During some of the performances, Zappa is not the center of attention even when playing a solo and Frank Zappa’s guitar solos are to be treasured.

The band backing Zappa’s guitar and vocals is tight. It centers around keyboardist George Duke, for whom I have new respect, plus sax player Napoleon Murphy Brock, percussionist Ruth Underwood, bassist Tom Fowler, and drummer Chester Thompson. Songs such as “The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat,” Stink-Foot,” “Pygmy Twylyte,” “Inca Roads,” and “More Trouble Every Day” will never come close to the Billboard Hot 100 but they are wonderful excisions into the mind and music of Frank Zappa. They are good connecters to a specific period of his career. Five of the performances clock in at between seven and 12 minutes, which allows the musicians to stretch out and explore his visions.

You can’t have a Zappa television special without some animation interspersed among the music. Bruce Bickford created the characters. I’m sort of split on the effectiveness of the approach but to Frank Zappa it all made sense and, at the least, it is an interesting ride.

The best of the bonus material is his 17 minute appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, which was done to promote the special. Also on hand as guests were Kenny Rogers and Jimmy Walker, which form a very odd threesome.

A Token of His Extreme is a welcome addition to his vast catalog of releases. It will no doubt please his many fans and hopefully add a few new ones along the way. So sit back, let you mind wander, and enjoy the world and music of Frank Zappa.


Valley Girl 45 by Frank Zappa

May 9, 2011

Frank Zappa produced closed to 100 albums during his career but only had three singles reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. “Valley Girl” was the only one to crack the top 40 as it reached number 32 during 1982.

“Valley Girl” was the type of tongue in cheek song that only Frank Zappa could produce. It made fun of the California youth culture at the time and featured his daughter Moon Unit. It was issued on his own Barking Pumpkin Label.

Frank Zappa died in 1993, while in his early 50’s, of prostate cancer. He is a musician I miss.


The Freak Out List (DVD) by Frank Zappa

May 4, 2010

The death of Frank Zappa on December 4, 1993 at the age of 52 cut short one of the most creative, eccentric, brilliant, and prolific careers in modern music history.

He released his debut album Freak Out, in 1966. On the inside cover he listed his favorite musicians and performers who had been his most important influences, all 179 of them. The Freak-Out List DVD explores those influences.

This DVD is a serious look at a number of styles and artists who provided the foundation upon which Zappa built his music. Archival footage and extended interviews with Mothers Of Invention’s Ian Underwood, Don Preston, and George Duke help to shed light upon many of the Zappa myths.

The film is divided into sections and each covers one style of music.

Section one explores classical influences. While mainline performers such as Richard Wagner and Igor Stravinsky appear, it is the eccentric artist Edgard Varese, who probably most influenced Zappa’s musical and song writing style. He used a chromatic method with many odd and dissonant notes. He also paid no attention to the past or tradition but only looked to the future. Zappa would take these lessons and incorporate them into his own style of writing. Frank would always be his own man and care little for what preceded him as well. He would have a life long affection for classical music but on his own terms.

Rhythm and blues would be an early influence in his life. Howlin’ Wolf, Matt Murphy, Guitar Slim, and Richard Berry — who was the original composer of “Louie Louie” — provided rhythms and guitar playing which would stay with him the rest of his life. His own guitar style was probably most patterned after that of Johnny “Guitar” Watson who plays a prominent role in this film.

Doo-wop music plays a central role in the DVD and his life. It seems that this music of his youth was a style he truly enjoyed. Groups such as The Cadillacs, The Penguins, and The Moonglows may have been an odd delight but they were a part of his formative years and stayed with him. His Ruben & The Jets album was an acknowledgement of this musical form.

The jazz section was the least organized. While his music certainly had jazz influences, they are not as apparent as the other forms. A lot of time is spent exploring Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew which was released several years after Freak Out. Davis may have been an influence but certainly not this release and while interesting, makes no sense to the story of his development.

Frank Zappa’s place in music history is secure. While it is impossible to know what actually went on in a mind such as his; The Freak Out List is an interesting exploration of some of the influences who made him what he was.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org