di Mark Worden
Speaker: Mark Worden (Standard British accent)
This month Milan’s Mazda Palace will host a remarkable event, “Zappa Plays Zappa,” in which Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa “present and perform” the music of their late father, Frank Zappa. Zappa, who died of prostate cancer in December 1993, at the age of 52, is often described as a genius. His music covered a whole range of genres, from classical symphonies to free-form jazz and wild rock’n’roll, while his records and stage shows could be hilariously funny. Zappa’s legacy is such that “Zappa Plays Zappa” is in fact just one of at least three organisations currently performing in his honour. Another is a Liverpool-based group known as The Muffin Men, which is named after a Zappa song. The line-up includes Jimmy Carl Black, who was a member of Zappa’s own band, The Mothers of Invention. As Black explained when he talked to Speak Up, he first met Zappa back in 1964, when the latter was still an unknown guitarist:
From the beginning, actually before the beginning, I was with The Soul Giants. He joined The Soul Giants and, a month after he joined The Soul Giants, he took over the band and the rest is history. Well, we were just working, playing in tittie bars, actually, go-go joints, just trying to make a living, but we were rehearsing, we were rehearsing Frank’s music, he said… he did tell us one time, he said “If you’ll play my music, I’ll make you rich and famous.” He kept one half of that promise: he made me famous, but sure in hell didn’t make me rich!
Roy Estrada was also a member of Zappa’s first group and he was likewise to play with The Mothers of Invention on and off over the next 30 years. Today Estrada, along with Don Preston, Napoleon Murphy Brock, and other musicians, is a member of another Zappa tribute project, The Grandmothers Re-Invented. We asked Roy Estrada what Zappa had been like to work with:
He was fun, he liked to laugh, I liked to make him laugh and he liked rock’n’roll, he liked blues, rhythm’n’blues, and he was just like a comedian a lot of times, you know, and in turn we would joke around... so what happened with Frank, he... he got so much into his music, he got involved so much into his music and... which I’m not saying is bad, but I don’t think he really gave time to anything else but to music, so, you know, the smoking and drinking a lot of espresso, and creating his music, you know, that’s... which is great, you know, but I guess that took the toll, you know.
Estrada remembers working with Zappa and his daughter, Moon-Unit, in the recording studio in the basement of the family home in Los Angeles’ Topanga Canyon. Zappa’s wife Gail and his other daughter, Diva, tended to stay upstairs:
(He) hardly ever slept, as far as I knew, and hardly would see his family, they’d go into the studio, just to check, you know, to see him, to get a hug before they went to sleep, ‘cause I remember I used to go... I went there to do... like in the ‘80s, I went back and did Drowning Witch, the white album, where his daughter’s singing “Valley Girl,” and at that time I remember, even before that, I remember when they were kids, you know, they used to go and... before they went to bed, go in there, he would hug them and then they’d (be) gone: (he) kept on working again. I don’t think they ever saw him any more than that.