The Incredible History Of The Mothers

By Frank Zappa

   Source: Hit Parader, No. 48, June 1968, pages 27, 38-39.
   Transcription: Roger Maurice.
   Although the Mothers have been in existence for about three years, the
   project was carefully planned about four and a half years ago. I had
   been looking for the right people for a long time. I was in
   advertising before I got into...ha... show business. I'd done a little
   motivational research. One of the laws of economics is that if there
   is a demand, somebody ought to supply that demand and they'll get
   rich. I composed a composite, gap-filling product that fills most of
   the gaps between so called serious music and the so-called popular
   music. Next, I needed my own group to present this music to the
   public. The group that was to become the Mothers was working in the
   Broadside, a little bar in Pomona, California.
   Jim Black, the drummer, had just come to California from Kansas. He
   got together with Roy Estrada, the bass player. They'de been working
   terrible jobs in Orange County, which is a bad place to live unless
   you belong to the John Birch Society. They got a band together with
   Ray Hunt on guitar, Dave Coronado on sax and Ray Collinsas lead
   vocalist. They called themselves the Soul Giants and they were doing
   straight commercial rhythm and blues "Gloria," "Louie, Louie," you got
   it. Then Ray Hunt decided he didn't like Ray Collins and started
   playing the wrong changes behind him when he was singing. A fight
   ensued, Ray Hunt decided to quit, the band needed a guitar player, so
   they called me up. I started working with them at the Broadside, I
   thought they sounded pretty good. I said, "Okay, you guys, I've got
   this plan. We're going to get rich. You probably won't beleive this
   now, but if you just bear with me we'll go out and do it." Davie
   Coronado said, "No. I don't want to do it. We'd never be able to get
   any work if we played that kind of music. I've got a job in a bowling
   alley in La Puene, and I think I'm gonna split." So he did. I think
   he's got a band now called Davie Coronado and his Sagebrush Ramblers
   or something like that. There were four original Mothers - Ray
   Collins, Jim Black, Roy Estrada and myself. We starved for about ten
   months because we were playing a type of music that was grossly
   unpopular in that area. They couldn't identify with it. So we got into
   the habit of insulting the audience. We made a big reputation that
   way. Nobody came to hear us play, they came in to see how much abuse
   they could take. They were very masochistic. They loved it. We managed
   to get jobs on that basis but it didn't last very long because we'd
   eventually wind up abusing the owner of the club. Then we decided we
   were going to the big city - Los Angeles - which was about thirty
   miles away. We had added a girl to the group, Alice Stuart. She played
   guitar very well and sang well. 1 had an idea for combining certain
   modal influences into our basically country blues sound. We were
   playing a lot of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf-type stuff. Alice played
   good finger-style guitar, but she-couldn't play "Louie, Louie," so I
   fired her. Then we got Henry Vestine who is one of the most
   outstanding blues guitarists on any coast. He's really a monster. He
   was part of the group for quite some time. But our music kept getting
   progressively stranger and he couldn't identify with what we were
   doing and he wanted his freedom, so we said, 'Goodbye, Henry' and he
   split. He's in Canned Heat now.
   Then Ray, the lead vocalist, quit and there were three Mothers. We
   hired Jim Guercio, who now manages Chad &Jeremy and produces records
   for the Buckinghams. He was part of our group for a while. Also,
   somewhere along the line, we had hired Steve Mann, who is also one of
   the top blues guitarists on the West Coast. He wanted to play in the
   group but he couldn't make the changes and we got rid of him. Then we
   hired Elliot Ingber and Ray came back in the band and there were five
   Mothers. We cut our first album with those five- Rag, Roy, Jim, Elliot
   and myself. Tom Wilson, who was producing records for MGM at the time,
   came to the Whiskey Au Go Go while we were a five-piece group, while
   Henry Vestine was still with us. He heard us sing "The Watts Riot Song
   (Trouble Every Day)." He stayed for five minutes, said "Yeah, yeah,
   yeah," slapped me on the back, shook my hand and said, "Wonderful.
   We're gonna make a record of you. Goodbye." I didn't see him again for
   four months. He thought we were a rhythm and blues band. He probably
   went back to New York and said, "I signed me another rhythm and blues
   band from the Coast. They got this song about the riot. It's a protest
   song. They'll do a couple of singles and maybe they'll die out".
   He came back to town just before we were going to do our first
   recording session. We had a little chat in his room and that was when
   he first discovered that that wasn't all that we played. Things
   started changing. We decided not to make a single, we'd make an album
   instead. He wouldn't give me an idea of what the budget would be for
   the album, but the average rock and roll album costs about $5,000. The
   start-to-finish coast of FREAK OUT was somewhere around $21,000. The
   first tune we cut was "Any Way The Wind Blows." Unfortunately, it's a
   bad mix, but the track is really good. Then we did "Who Are The Brain
   Police?" When Wilson heard those he was so impressed he got on the
   phone and called New York, and as a result I got a more or less
   unlimited budget to do this monstrosity. The next day I had whipped up
   the arrangements for a twenty-two piece orchestra. It wasn't just a
   straight orchestra accompanying the singers. It was the Mothers
   five-piece band plus seventeen pieces. We all worked together. The
   editing took a long time, which ran the cost up.
   Meanwhile, Wilson was sticking his neck out. He laid his job on the
   line by producing the album. MGM felt that they had spent too much
   money on the album and they were about to let it die, but it started
   selling all over the place. Like, they'd sell forty copies in some
   little town the size of a pumpkin in Wyoming. We sold five thousand
   albums all over the country with no extra-hype or anything. Finally
   the company started pushing the album and sales went even higher. We
   went to Hawaii right after the album was completed and we worked over
   there. Then we came back and worked with Andy Warhol at the Trip. It
   was the show that closed the Trip, as they say. Then we went to San
   Francisco and played around there and finally...uh...Elliot had to be
   fired and there were five. Just before we fired Elliot we had a
   six-piece band because we had hired Billy Mundi and we had two
   drummers. Then we hired Don Preston, who plays keyboard instruments -
   electric piano, electric clavichord, etc. We also hired Bunk Gardner
   who plays several various horns, and Jim Fielder on bass. I had known
   Don Preston and Bunk Gardner several years before I met the other
   guys. We used to play experimental music a long time ago. We got
   together in garages and went through some very abstract charts and
   just entertained ourselves. Anyway, we finally had a very workable
   ensemble. The second album was recorded with those eight guys. We just
   added a trumpet, string quartet and contrabass clarinet on one song.
   The instrumentation of the ideal Mothers rock and roll band is two
   piccolos, two flutes, two bass flutes, two oboes, English horn, three
   bassoons, a contrabassoon, four clarinets (with the fourth player
   doubling on alto clarinet), bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet,
   soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones, four trumpets,
   four French horns, three trombones, one bass trombone, one tuba, one
   contrabass tuba, two harps, two keyboard men playing piano, electric
   piano, electric harpsichord, electric clavichord, Hammond organ,
   celeste, and piano bass, ten first violins, ten second violins, eight
   violas, six cellos, four string bass, four percussionists playing
   twelve timpani, chimes, gongs, field drums, bass drums, snare drums,
   woodblocks lion's roar, vibes, xylophone and marimba three electric
   guitars, one electric 12-string guitar, electric bass and electric
   bass guitar and two drummers at sets, plus vocalists who play
   tambourines. And I won't be happy until I have it. I think people are
   entitled to hear that kind of music live. Kids would go to concerts if
   they could hear music that knocked them out. If the concert halls
   would change to a more modern programming, they would find the place
   crawling with kids. Something like this won't happen overnight and I
   know it. But I've studied my audiences carefully enough to see that
   we're making some headway in that direction. Many people sit and
   listen to us because they pretend they can't dance to our music.
   That's total bull. I'm nearly an epileptic and I can make it. Those
   people don't sit because they enjoy the music. They're just waiting to
   find out if they like the music. It doesn't sound like what they've
   been used to hearing. They want to get their ears accustomed to it.
   It's not "psychedelic." I asked a nightclub owner what psychedelic
   music was. "It's loud out-of-tune crazy music," he told me, "You can't
   understand it." Our music is fairly logical.
   Our spontaneous outbursts are planned. They have to be. If you take an
   8-piece band and not direct them, you'll have "psychedelic" music. We
   rehearse an average of twelve hours on each song. We learn them in
   sections. There's the front part, then interlude A, interlude B, and
   so forth, and the band has to remember certain cues for each section.
   Each set that we do is conceived of as one continuous piece of music,
   like an opera. Even the dialogue between numbers is part of it. Some
   of our sets run an hour and a half, when we get carried away. That's
   about opera length. A better description of what we're doing might be
   a theatrical presentation with music. This summer I'd like to present
   a show on Broadway. It's a musical, science fiction horror story based
   on the Lenny Bruce trials. He was a friend of mine, and of our
   manager. Lenny was a saint. What the Big Machine of America did to
   Lenny Bruce was pretty disgusting. It ranks with civil rights as one
   of the big pimples on the face of American culture. But nobody will
   ever really find out about it, I guess.
   Don &Frank (Latest album/We're Only In It For The Money - Verve)