How did you discover Frank Zappa?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Bassist4Eris, Sep 22, 2013.

  1. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    I am a huge Frank Zappa fan. I can tell by various screen names, quotes, etc, that I am not alone on this forum. Since he's not exactly a staple of rock radio, I was thinking it might be fun to share stories of how you discovered and fell in love with his music.

    For me, the year was 1991, I was fresh out of high school, and a bunch of bands from Seattle, spearheaded by Nirvana, were about to change the face of rock radio for the next two decades (and counting). Of course, we had no idea that what we were hearing was going to be so important. It just sounded good, and we were glad to be hearing some rock on the radio after a decade of Madonna and Michael Jackson. But I was hungry for something truly ground-breaking and different, and frankly, Nirvana wasn't it.

    A young bassist, and a fan, at the time, of Metallica, I was studying their music, and learning about odd time signatures in the process. I began to hear these rhythms in other music as diverse as Black Flag, Juliana Hatfield, and Dave Brubeck. To me, it was the only way to go, and I began to consider 4/4 time to be banal and uncreative. I've since gotten over that, but I digress.

    One day, I received my latest copy of "Guitar for the Practicing Musician" in the mail. For those of you who don't remember, that was a guitar mag that did full transcriptions, with tab, of five complete songs every month. They usually included complete bass lines for one or two songs, and eventually included them for every song. They also had a column called "Bass Secrets" from a bassist named Randy Coven. To this day, I have never heard Mr. Coven's music, but I do remember that he had a whammy bar on his bass, so there's that. This particular month, he was talking about what he called "complex polyrhythms", where a musician might, for example, play seven evenly-spaced notes in the space normally occupied by three. As a youngster intrigued by odd time, this seemed like the next frontier. At the end of the article, he dropped the statement that would change my musical life forever (quoting from memory here) "I first learned about these types of rhythms from studying such Frank Zappa pieces as 'The Black Page' and 'Moe and Herb's Vacation' when I was at Berklee".

    OK, so I needed to check out some FZ. Now, I'm just young enough that I've never heard (even to this day) "Valley Girl" played on the radio. At the time, I hadn't heard ANY FZ, and my impression was that he was a blues-rocker in the vein of SRV or Santana, or perhaps a jazz guy. Boy was I about to be proved wrong. I stopped in a local record store (remember those?) and checked out the FZ section. They must have had 20 or so titles. I figured that must be about every record he ever made. Again, I was soon to be proved very wrong.

    Different CDs were offered at different price points, and being a newbie, I decided to try a disc at the lowest possible price point. I picked one out called "Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch" because the cover made me LOL (although "LOL" wasn't even a thing back then).

    When I got the disc home, I only had time to listen to the first three songs (what would have been side one in the vinyl era). I thought to myself, "this is all right, I might listen to this once in a while". Later, when I got to side two, I was having the same thoughts, right up until Frank goes "ritual sacrifice...." And then the musical **** hits the musical fan. Or fans. In a big way. To say that nothing I had heard before prepared me for the instrumental onslaught that followed would be an understatement of epic proportions. My jaw hit the floor, and I never really picked it up properly since.

    The second album I picked up was "Absolutely Free". It's a radically different album from "Drowning Witch", and if I had started here, there's a chance I may have never caught the bug. But because I loved "Witch" so much, I gave it a proper chance, and ended up loving it too.

    There was a kid I was giving lessons to at the time, and I told him about my newfound love. He said, "oh yeah, my uncle made me a tape of some of that stuff" (Remember tapes?) He loaned the tape to me, and it was a mind-blowing live album. Based on the track listing, I was able to figure out that it was "The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life". I purchased the CD soon thereafter. In the liner notes were the albums that the songs originally appeared on. This became the blueprint for the next bunch of Zappa purchases, and eventually I would get the whole collection.

    20+ years later, I can't say that I'm still the Zappa-obsessive I once was. But I still, to this day, consider him to be my very favorite musician/composer. I have simply come to realize that there are a lot of other artists who are worthy of attention too. And I think that's a healthy realization.

    But at the end of the day, if I had to pick a desert island album, it would definitely be a Frank Zappa album, and might very well be "Civilization Phaze III". Or "One Size Fits All". Or "Hot Rats". Or "Uncle Meat". Or "The Yellow Shark". Or..... damn, this is hard.

    OK, your turn.
  2. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    A guitarist friend of mine in college was a big fan and convinced me to go to E.M. Loews in Worcester, MA to see him on October 25, 1984, the early show. This was the band at the time:

    Chad Wackerman, drums
    Robert Martin, keyboards, tenor saxophone, French horn, vocals
    Scott Thunes, bass
    Ray White, guitar, vocals
    Ike Willis, guitar, vocals
    Allan Zavod, keyboards

    The new Roxy '73 release should be out by December!
  3. Mooblar


    Jan 9, 2009
    Mid Michigan
    My Pops spinning his records on the player when I was a child. FZ's humor just seems so right!
  4. I am the youngest of 4 brothers. One of them joined the navy in '74 or so and left the Apostrophe alum behind. I was in 5th grade or so, just beginning to really listen to music. FZ really stood out as something different. So unconventional. Like a painter that sees more colors than the rest of us.

    Unfortunately many have only heard a few tunes that can be crammed into the "novelty" bin, and have only heard the stuff from the Doctor Demento playlist.

    His autobiography is a good read.
  5. steelbed45

    steelbed45 TRemington Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2011
    Nolanville, TX
    My freshman year of college, (1987), my tuba practice room was situated on the 2nd floor over the sound recording engineer area. The "tonemeisters" had a board up in their main area with local concerts of note. On a whim, I paid the $30 and hopped on a bus with those crazies and went to a Zappa concert.
    That was a hell of a night - and a damn good show.
  6. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    Nice! I have a boot from that tour, recorded locally: the 9/1/84 show from SPAC in Saratoga NY. It's a pretty good recording, and widely circulated around these parts.

    Some malign the '84 band, especially for the synthesized handclaps. But I ask you, has there ever been a finer vocal section in Zappa history than the combined talents of Ray White, Ike Willis, and Bobby Martin we were treated to in the 1984 band? Even the "Flo and Eddie" band pales somewhat in comparison.
  7. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    Yep. This drives me crazy. My current guitarist is half a generation younger than me. When he first joined, he said he found Zappa too silly. Then I turned him on to "Hot Rats". :D
  8. Doctor_Clock

    Doctor_Clock The Moon Machine Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2013
    Brooklyn, NY
    1986. I was 11 years old:
    Two art counselors at the summer camp I attended once put on The Mother's of invention record while we were painting, I saw the record cover and said "My Parents have that record!"
    I always saw it in their collection but never played it because it looked like just another one their "stupid hippy records".
    The counselor looked at me and said "You got some cool ass parents little man."
    We listened to the whole record and me and my friends begged them to bring more stuff in for us to listen to.They did and is was all Zappa, totally inappropriate for 11 year-olds, and it was amazing!
  9. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    mtv halloween concert...opened my ears for sure.
  10. Dave W

    Dave W Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2007
    White Plains
    Going through my Dads record collection and stumbling across a few albums, then doing the same thing with my friends dads collection.

    It was awesome
  11. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    I have to be honest, I do find some of the stuff to be a bit too slapstick/Broadway musical for my tastes, especially the Flo and Eddie period. But I'll take most anything else from '69 through '78 or so. The clip up on the Zappa website from the Roxy with Montana and Dupree's Paradise is among the greatest performances in all of music. There's also a version of 50/50 with Jean-Luc Ponty out there that'll melt your teeth.
  12. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    For someone of my age (60), just the title Freak Out and the associated cover art was enough to get my attention in a big way. Same for many of my friends, so there was nothing terribly obscure about Frank's music back then. Hot Rats actually got plenty of FM radio airplay when it came out, and as soon after that as I was able to drive myself to a Zappa show I did so. '70-'72 was a pretty nice time to be able to see shows for around 5 bucks, for sure. ;)
  13. I read about Scott Tunes in a Bass Player magazine article about the most important bass albums of all time. My older brother was a Zappa freak so he burned me a copy of Does Humor Belong in Music? which is still in my top 10 favorite Zappa albums. I made a 2 hand tapping version of Let's Move to Cleveland that is fun and challenging to play especially with a loop pedal on the reggae parts.
  14. bkbirge


    Jun 25, 2000
    Houston, TX
    Endorsing Artist: Steak n Shake
    So my Zappa story. Always been a fan. Was in a psychedelic art rock group back in the 80's. The guitar player had a friend who was dating Moon Unit (unbeknownst to the guitar player at the time) and they got ahold of some of our demo tunes.

    Frank called our guitar player in the middle of the night and introduced himself and said he liked the tunes. The guitar player didn't appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night and thought he was being pranked and told Frank to go eff himself and hung up.

    Now get this... Frank being the cool guy he was called back.

    The guitar player cussed him out and hung up again.

    Later the guitar player found out it was the real deal and told me. I almost strangled him right there but he felt bad about it too. Just a funny story now.
  15. erikson


    Feb 11, 2011
    I took my brother's copy of Freak Out to my junior high band end of the year party along with my all-in-one record player. I put it on and about two minutes into it, the band teacher suggested I turn it off. That was the end of organized band class as far as I was concerned.
  16. lowendrv


    Dec 12, 2007
    Growing up in SoCal in the 60's Frank was pretty much a mainstay on the local scene. Been a fan since 68. Several of my friends were hired by him (horn players). Got to see some great rehearsal's.
  17. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    It's a fantasy of mine to be discovered by a guy like Frank. Since he's dead, and such a fantasy is impossible, I now fantasized about being discovered by John Zorn.

    If I ever did have to play in front of Frank (as my drummer once did) I would probably make a brown 'n' stinky in my trousers!
  18. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    Please tell me who! I'm guessing that it's some of the guys on the Waka/Jawaka, Grand Wazoo, and Wazoo sessions.
  19. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Couple potheads in a band I was in for 10 years simply would NOT stop playing Zappa stuff in the van on EVERY SINGLE ROAD TRIP. That's how I "discovered" him. I probably would have given his music a chance if they hadn't ruined it for me. There was one song about surprise uh...... not very traditional sex that they kept playing over and over and OVER again. OY! Now, just the sight of his picture or the mention of his name makes me sick.
  20. pacojas

    pacojas "FYYA BUN"

    Oct 11, 2009
    moving to Montana soooon.....

    in 197something we were dropping L and blasting Zappa through open-air Sennheiser's. by 1980 i was front seat at the Circle Star in complete and utter awe watching his band nail every hit LIVE!