July 13, 2020

Zappa 50th Anniversary

Frank Zappa  and The Mothers of Invention

Frank Zappa’s celebrated 1970 Mothers of Invention lineup is being commemorated with an unreleased 70-song collection of studio and live recordings for its 50th anniversary; Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman remember Zappa

The Mothers 1970 is available digitally and as a 4-disc box set via Zappa Records/UMe

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Frank Zappa’s celebrated but short-lived 1970 Mothers Of Invention lineup, “Portuguese Fenders,” the first track to be released from the new collection, The Mothers 1970 is available to stream today. 

The newly-discovered gem is one of 70 unreleased live and studio recordings featured on The Mothers 1970, available digitally and as a 4CD box set June 26 via Zappa Records/UMe. Recorded live by Zappa on his own tape recorder on tour in 1970, “Portuguese Fenders” is a rollicking live recording featuring an exhilarating guitar solo by the iconoclastic composer and virtuosic guitarist backed by the revered ensemble.

Overseen by the Zappa Trust and produced by Ahmet Zappa and Zappa Vaultmeister, Joe Travers, The Mothers 1970 collects together more than four hours of previously unreleased performances by the heralded lineup which lasted roughly seven months: Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (piano/keys/trombone), Ian Underwood (organ/keys/guitar), Jeff Simmons (bass/vocals) and Flo & Eddie aka Howard Kaylan (vocals) and Mark Volman (vocals/percussion) of The Turtles who performed under the aliases to skirt contractual limitations of performing under their own names. This iteration of The Mothers, which likely began rehearsals fifty years ago this month, came to an end in January of 1971 when Simmons quit the band during the making of the 200 Motels movie.

“The Zappa Records/UMe media announcement below details the upcoming product.

The Mothers 1970 encapsulates the band’s brief but productive span, which included two visits to the studio – resulting in the fantastic 1970 album, Chunga’s Revenge – and tours across the U.S., Canada and Europe. Divided into four parts, the collection is anchored by top notch studio recordings recorded at the famed London-based Trident Studios on June 21-22 with a then-young, unknown producer in the engineer chair by the name of Roy Thomas Baker, several years before he’d go on to have massive success working with Queen, The Cars and Alice Cooper to name a few. An unreleased early mix by Baker of the Chunga’s Revenge track, “Sharleena,” is just one of the many highlights of the studio recordings that also boasts several unearthed rough mixes of the Zappa/Simmons co-write, “Wonderful Wino,” including a rare version that showcases vocals and an alternate guitar solo by Zappa that has been lost to the ages as the original multi-track stems were recorded over. Of the material recorded during this two-day span, “Sharleena” was the only song ever officially released – so tracks like “Red Tubular Lighter,” “Giraffe” and an unheard version of “Envelopes” are completely brand new to fans half a century later.

The band’s live prowess is represented with a slew of concert recordings, including the first official release of the oft bootlegged “Piknik” performance originally broadcast on Dutch radio station VRPO, and live performances from concerts in Santa Monica, Calif. and Spokane, Wash. which have been edited together and presented as a hybrid concert since both shows were not fully captured. The release is rounded out with a selection of live highlights recorded around the U.S., interspersed with candid moments recorded in dressing rooms, motel lobbies and the stage by Zappa who took his personal UHER recorder everywhere. All recordings comprising The Mothers 1970 were sourced from their original tapes discovered in The Vault and digitally transferred and compiled by Travers in 2020. Some tracks were mixed by longtime Zappa Trust associate Craig Parker Adams and the collection was mastered by John Polito at Audio Mechanics.

Similar to the Gail Zappa-created “Road Tapes” live series, these recordings contain audience noise allowing listeners to experience what it was like to be there. The set lists focus heavily on songs from the albums Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, We’re Only In It For The MoneyUncle Meat, the then-recently released Burnt Weeny Sandwich, and early workings of songs that would eventually be released months later on Chunga’s Revenge. Some of the many highlights include the extended guitar workouts, the first version of “Easy Meat” and rare live performances of “Would You Go All The Way?” and “Road Ladies.”

As Travers writes in the enlightening liner notes, which also include a wealth of live and behind-the-scenes photos from this era: “It’s no secret that Frank was excited about this group. The cast of characters and their personalities, musically and personally, made for a very eventful and humorous chapter in Zappa’s career. Frank had a blast with these guys. Their sound was unique, their humor was like no other and yet their time was ultimately short lived.”

This century I interviewed Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan about Frank Zappa. Volman in 2009, Kaylan during 2013.

Years before joining the Mothers’ 1970 lineup, the duo met and knew Zappa going back to 1966.

Mark Volman

I was a big fan of Frank early on. Howard (Kaylan) and I from the Turtles were around the Freak Out recording sessions and we later saw Frank and the Mothers of Invention in New York in 1967 when Frank and that band had a residency at the Garrick Theatre. We were invited to Frank’s apartment in New York after one of the shows.

“Herb Cohen, Frank’s manager, invited us to go to the UCLA show with Zubin Mehta in 1970. Herb was a second cousin of Howard Kaylan, my partner in the Turtles. We knew the ‘California mentality’ that defined Frank. We bonded over Doo Wop and soul music.

Frank Zappa-The Mothers 1970-Packshot-Final

“After the UCLA show we were asked backstage. Frank then invited us that weekend to a barbeque at the Zappa’s house. We brought our families. Frank told us to bring our saxophones. He took us downstairs to the ‘dungeon of horror’ and played some music for Howard and me. He quickly saw that we were not sax players. He said, ‘Look, we’re going over to England for eight shows. How would you like to come along and sing?’ We also did some US shows and recorded with him for the first time a piece of music that came out on Chunga’s Revenge. We did some other songs in the studio with Frank including ‘Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink’ and ‘Would You Go All The Way?’

“Frank was a Mother but we were Turtles, and he always wanted to know about our experiences. He thought we were stars. To him, the Turtles were like the Beatles. ‘What was that like?’ We told him a story about groupies; how these girls would do anything we wanted sexually if we would just sing ‘Happy Together’ for them. With that story began a two year relationship culminating in the motion picture, 200 Motels. Frank let us go through a litany of Los Angeles things that were in the live Fillmore East album. We were singing the praises of one of the greatest cities in the world. Like Frank, we were Los Angeles children. 200 Motels becomes the embodiment of our time with Frank. And we did Just Another Band From L.A. with him. After Chunga’s Revenge, we had what I used to call, ‘studio survival sessions,’ which is music he had recorded live and then we would work on it in the studio and clean it up. Some of those recordings were taped in concert. He recorded every show we did over 2 years.

“Rehearsing with Frank was scary. He was the embodiment of a union man. There was never a time for fun. Putting together ‘Billy the Mountain’ was a series of vignettes that connected around a 43 minute opera. Howard and I usually started with Frank on guitar, the three of us, and we were given the music to learn. Frank felt most comfortable playing and singing the melody so there are very few times where Frank placed himself into the four-part harmony or three-part harmony. He kind of left that to Howard, Jim Pons, and me. We’d take the bit and show up at the rehearsal hall on Highland Avenue and lead the band through what he wanted.”

Howard Kaylan

Back in that era in 1966 and ’67, before ‘Happy Together’ hit, and we were still L.A. street people working in the same clubs and stuff, there was enough of a camaraderie there. Not only though our knowing him, but also through Herb and going to the Zappa Log Cabin in Laurel Canyon.

“I loved him and the records. He was singing about growing up. I was trying to sing about growing up, too. It wasn’t that far apart. Nobody made distinctions in that canyon of dreams back then as to what type of music you were doing. If you were Lester Chambers and you were living in that canyon Joni Mitchell didn’t question what kind of music you were doing. Nobody did. Everybody was in there for themselves. To make their music shine for a minute while the bright stars were already living there. We didn’t want to change things. We wanted so badly to be a part of it that finding our place was so important. I’m not sure as Turtles we ever found our place but as Mothers we sort of busted out of our comfort zone a little bit. I think the Turtles were comfortable for us. Because it was just the Cross Fires, a [Westchester] high school band, so we could always fall back on our memories and our school yard stuff.

“The contact that I had with Frank was mostly through Herb Cohen. We’re like third cousins. Herb Cohen was at my Bar Mitzvah.

“Mark and I went to see Frank locally on the UCLA campus at Pauley Pavilion with conductor Zubin Mehta in May, 1970.

“I worshipped We’re Only In It For The Money. One of the greatest rock records of all time. The cover art, too. It was better to me than The Beatles were at the time. There was a lot more content. A lot more undertone. A lot more sub-plot. A lot more ‘Wake Up America’ kind of thing.

“Whether it was real or imagined, I thought that Frank was the most brilliant writer that I had ever seen. Socially, since Dylan. I loved The Beatles stuff, and not to take away from it, but this was new. I wore out copies of it. 8-track. I had it every place.

“So we go down to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion to see the reunion of this early Zappa first band with Roy Estrada, Ray Collins, Bunk and everybody new from the Garrick Theater days. And we loved it. Spectacular concert. The Turtles had broken up.

“Frank says, ‘Lemme ask you a question. Do you guys know what you’re gonna do yet?’ Because, and he didn’t even give us a chance to answer, ’Cause I’m putting together a new bunch of Mothers and I want to go to Europe and I want to make a movie. What do you think?’

“We looked at each other in awe. Mark and I were so into that We’re Only In It For The Money album at the time we would have gone anywhere. We were flattered.

“He then asked us that day if we wanted to come with him for ten booked dates in Europe that would possibly lead to a movie. That he was going to be writing a movie as these dates were going on in Europe. He didn’t have a script yet bit he was going to call the thing 200 Motels.

“And then we play with Frank at the next UCLA show, it wasn’t like I was returning triumphantly to the campus where I briefly went to school. It was just another show. I think I had deeper feelings for the shows we did at The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Because my parents were there and maybe the first and only time they had seen me not as a Turtle but as a Mother of Invention. It was great fun and a show I looked forward to every single night.

“Once the British thing was over and realized we were going full speed ahead, we went right back into the rehearsal hall and we started prepping for a much longer segment European tour that took us all over the place. Mostly doing the stuff that would turn up on 1971 Live Fillmore East album. But a lot of the older stuff, the medleys Frank would make up.

“And it wasn’t just power, it was just a mastery. There was some deep compassion in the man that it actually was very empathetic. He could listen, whether he was listening for his own personal gain later on to turn that into money later in the creative venture or not.

“Well for me, it wasn’t so much we did on stage it was Frank’s demeanor off stage that made him paternal to me. On stage he was a band leader and we were guys for hire. The fact that we got away with improve only meant we were smart enough to know when to get out of a bit in time for the music to come in. That’s what Frank respected. You could go off book as long as you got right back. No beats were lost and something was added. If you added something to the routine it was always appreciated and repeated if you could on a nightly basis or made to be part of the folk lore in some way.

“If it was not appreciated, Frank would let you know right on stage in no uncertain terms that this was not the time nor the place for that kind of thing. And later you would discuss it with him. It wouldn’t be a slap on the hand parent kind of talk. It would be very familial, more brotherly than paternal, but something that I never had before, which was an older figure that I respected respecting me back. The only other older figures in my life had been agents and managers who pretty much lied to me.

“After the show, when everybody else eschewed talking music particularly, and got together with the abject point of not discussing the show in any way, shape or form, because it would taint the next performance, Frank wasn’t like that. Frank wanted to discuss the show. Not so much the musical part of it. To find out why things worked and why things didn’t. He was very curious. Discussing what worked and why it worked and the social implications of it. So that he could stay on top of the pop music when we were brought into the band anyway, stay on top of the pop music side of things. Because Frank couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. I mean, it didn’t interest him. What interested him was the public’s reaction.

“You take it in as an anthropologist and re-cycle it. But you really don’t want to listen to it. You just want to understand why it’s a phenomena. So that’s what Frank was. He was very much Margaret Mead of his generation.”

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 18 books, including Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon and Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972.

Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Kubernik’s The Story of The Band From Big Pink to the Last Waltz. Kubernik is currently writing and assembling a 2021 book on Jimi Hendrix for the same publisher.

Otherworld Cottage Industries in July 2020 will publish Harvey’s 600-page book Docs That Rock, Docs That Matter: Conversations with the Greatest Rock Documentarians of Our Time. Kubernik interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Andrew Loog Oldham, Curtis Hanson, Dick Clark, Allan Arkush, and David Leaf, among others.

In July of 2017, Harvey Kubernik appeared at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio as part of their distinguished Author Series discussing his book 1967 A Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love.

Harvey and brother Kenneth Kubernik co-authored the highly regarded A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival, published by Santa Monica Press.

Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik also wrote the text and biographical portrait for legendary photographer Guy Webster’s first book of music, movie and television photos for Insight Editions; Big Shots: Rock Legends & Hollywood Icons: Through the lens of Guy Webster, published October 21, 2014, with an Introduction by Brian Wilson.

Harvey Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Otherworld Cottage Industries in February 2018. It was nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.

Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, most notably The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats and Drinking with Bukowski. He was the project coordinator of the recording set The Jack Kerouac Collection.

In 2006 Harvey spoke at the special hearings initiated by The Library of Congress that were held in Hollywood, California, discussing archiving practices and audiotape preservation.

Kubernik’s 1995 interview, “Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown” appears in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader edited by David Brackett published in 2019 by Oxford University Press. Brackett is a Professor of Musicology in the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Canada. Harvey joined a distinguished lineup which includes LeRoi Jones, Johnny Otis, Ellen Willis, Nat Hentoff, Jerry Wexler, Jim Delehant, Ralph J. Gleason, Greil Marcus, and Cameron Crowe.


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