1971, Part 4


Man Jailed for Zappa attack

Aman who attacked Frank Zappa, the pop group leader, because he thought Mr Zappawas not giving value for money, was jailed for 12 months by Judge Rigg at theCentral Criminal Court yesterday. Trevor Charles Howell, aged 24, a labourer,admitted maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on Mr Zappa during aconcert at the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, London.

Mr Howell was said to have run on to the stage and pushed Mr Zappa, causinghim to fracture a leg and cut his head. Mr Zappa was in hospital for sixweeks.
[Times, Jan 72]

So those were the consequences for Trevor Howell. The consequences forFrank himself, his career and his music were far-reaching.

He was seriously injured, and the effects would be with him for the rest ofhis life. For a month he was bed-ridden, a cast on his leg up to his hip. Hethen learned to walk with the aid of crutches, and was able to get about in awheelchair.

"I stayed in the cast and in the wheelchair for the better partof a year. Eventually the cast came off and I was fitted with a prostheticdevice - one of those things with metal joints and straps and a special shoe. Eventually my leg healed - but it came out a little crooked. One leg isslightly shorter than the other, the cause of many years of chronic back pain."
[The Real Frank Zappa Book, p.115]

But a permanent slight limp wasn't the only long-term result of the fall:

"When my head had gone over onto my shoulder, it had crushed mylarynx, so I couldn't talk. As a result of that, the pitch of my voice droppeda third and has stayed that way ever since (having a low voice is nice, but Iwould have preferred some other means of acquiring it)."
[The RealFrank Zappa Book]

Not surprisingly, all this had an effect on Zappa's attitude. "It affectedhim deeply," says Michael Gray in Mother! is the Story of FrankZappa (p.108), "and for at least a couple of years afterwards he wasmarkedly more of a loner, more defensive, more suspicious, less outgoing andless open-minded than he had been before." Well, wouldn't you be?

Of course, the state of his health inevitably meant that he had to besomething of a loner, remaining at home to recuperate. Besides which, stayingin wasn't a problem. "I don't live outdoors. Outdoors for me is walking fromthe car to the ticket desk at the airport." [The Real Frank ZappaBook, p.235]. However, during this time, he says, "I refused to do anyinterviews or have photos taken." [ibid., p.115].

Touring at the moment was out of the question, and the Mothers dissolved. By the middle of the year, he continues, "The band with Mark and Howard didn'texist any more - they all had to go out and get other jobs during the year Icouldn't work."

This sounds eminently reasonable, but at the time there was considerablefriction between Frank and the band. He complained that they hadn't come tosee him when he was ill, and had been criticizing him in interviews:

"The means by which they chose to promote their careers at myexpense, while I was sitting in a wheelchair trying to help them get a job andrecord contract, I believe to be despicable and will always think so, eventhough I regard Howard as a fine singer and Mark as a great tambourine playerand fat person."
[New Musical Express 17 April76]

Maybe this was just an example of Frank being 'defensive' and 'suspicious',and it wasn't the first, or last, example of disputes with ex-band members,most prominently the on-off relationship with High School buddy Don Vliet(Captain Beefheart): "Zappa is the most disgusting character I have everencountered. Ever!!" he is quoted as saying in the ironically-namedpaper Frendz in 1973. In the same article other ex-Mothers - bythen members of Beeheart's band - seem to have the same view. Art Trippdismisses Frank's music as "formal crap", and Roy Estrada, although not quoted,is described as "very bitter about the way Zappa treated him." (Only ElliotIngber has a good word to say: "I like and respect Frank very much - he's afine guitarist, but seems very distant from everything going around him.")

Ruth Underwood is quoted in New Musical Express as saying:"Frank is a cynic, but totally destructive. He doesn't believe in anything,not even love. He's just empty inside." [2 Sept 72; date when the comment wasmade not stated]

Well, Frank and Don made it up, and played together in 1975 - although theysoon fell out again - the results appearing on the album BongoFury; Roy Estrada toured with Frank in 1976, and can be heard onZoot Allures; Ruth Underwood was a regular member of Zappa's bandfrom 72 to 76; even Jeff Simmons rejoined the Mothers briefly in December 73for the gigs at the Roxy, Hollywood , extracts from which appeared on the albumLive at the Roxy & Elsewhere.

Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, too, did not sever their connections. Theytoured and recorded for several years as "Flo & Eddie" - nicknames derived fromtheir credits as 'The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie' on Chunga'sRevenge, where, for contractual reasons, they couldn't be named. By1976 they were reported to have "auditioned for Frank's new band - they saidthat they couldn't stand paying out for their own group all the time -and Frankwanted them, but Columbia Records pressured them to take their own group on theroad to promote their new album Moving Targets." [NewMusical Express, 4 Dec 76]

Sadly, during the tour their guitarist Phil Reed was killed, falling from ahotel window. Kaylan and Volman joined Frank's tour, which was in progress atthe time, performing as support band at Cobo Hall, Detroit, on November 19th,1976, later joining Frank on stage for a few numbers, including the oldLive at the Fillmore East favourite What Kind of Girl Do YouThink We Are?.

Another significant personnel change that resulted directly from theseevents was the employment of John Smothers as Frank's personal bodyguard. Smothers accompanied Frank everywhere on tour. He even "sat in on interviewsthese days [1977]," according to Michael Gray (Mother! is the Story ofFrank Zappa, p.144). A 1978 interview in the London EveningStandard says: "He [Frank] is to be found with his constant companion, alarge 7ft bodyguard called Mr Smothers, who has been part of the Zappaentourage ever since Zappa was thrown off the stage at the Rainbow by one ofthe audience in 1971." If 7ft is correct, that's about 2.10m, which makes MrSmothers a big man.

As well as providing Frank with peace of mind - he was now secure in theknowledge that nothing like the Rainbow incident would ever happen again - JohnSmothers delighted his employer with his mangling of the English language. Mistakes and mis-readings always appealed to Frank:

"I change lyrics all the time. A lot of them get changed byaccident. Somebody will read them wrong and it'll sound so funny I'll leave itwrong."
[1974, quoted by Miles in Frank Zappa - A VisualDocumentary]

Many of John Smothers' mistakes and mispronunciations found their way intoZappa's lyrics at this time, and a song celebrating this talent, DongWork for Yuda, appeared on the album Joe's Garage, Acts II &III in December 1979. It was Frank's intention to record Smothers forthis track, but unfortunately he fell ill at just that time, so his spokenparts had to be imitated by drummer Terry Bozzio.

200 Motels received its full release shortly after the Rainbowincident, and Frank's hospitalisation meant that he was in no position toundertake any promotional work. Another possible victim of the attack washinted at in an interview Frank gave in November 1971. When asked if eachMothers' gig was recorded, Frank replied: "No, but this formula allows us to doso if required. However, we will be recording the performances at the RainbowTheatre and from those we will try and do a live British album." [NewMusical Express, 27 Nov 71]. The album never materialised.

Returning home for rest and recuperation, Zappa commenced composingimmediately. Being in pain and confined to a wheelchair didn't mean he wasgoing to do nothing. In fact, he achieved more during the first half of 1972than most would in full health. "I managed somehow," he says, with unduemodesty,"to produce three albums (Just Another Band From L.A.,Waka/Jawaka, and The Grand Wazoo). I also wrote ascience-fiction musical called Hunchentoot, and a twisted sort ofmusical fairy tale called The Adventures of Greggary Peccary." Phew! Not bad for an invalid! On top of his own material he managed to findtime to produce a doo-wop group called Ruben & the Jets; on their albumFor Real he wrote and arranged one track (If I Could Only BeYour Love Again), co-arranged two arranged two more with singer RubenGuevara (Mah Man Flash and Santa Kari), and playedguitar on a fourth (Dedicated To The One I Love). [TheZappalog by Norbert Obermanns].

So the enforced break-up of his band had forced a new musical direction. Although the album Just Another Band from L.A. (released in May72) was a record of the Kaylan/Volman Mothers, the material onWaka/Jawaka (released in July 72) and The Grand Wazoo(released in December 72) was quite different. Scored for a big band with alarge brass section, and largely instrumental, it was quite a departure fromwhat had gone before.

"My first post-wheelchair appearance," Frank says, "was as areciter, in a performance of Stravinsky's L'Histoire duSoldat at the Hollywood Bowl, conducted by Lukas Foss [The RealFrank Zappa Book (p.116)], but, almost incredibly, by the summer he wasplanning to go on the road again, with the Grand Wazoo Orchestra, in Europe andAmerica. The European leg of the tour was to consist of three dates inSeptember, in Berlin on the 15th, The Hague, Holland, on the 17th, and inbetween, on Saturday the16th, London - not at one of the usual concert venues,but an all-day outdoor event at the Oval Cricket Ground, Kennington. "EXCLUSIVE - ZAPPA ROCKS BACK AT THE OVAL" announced Sounds, whenthe dates were finalised in August. Surely nothing could go wrong this time?

Well, nothing major, perhaps, but, we read in The Real Frank ZappaBook (p.116): "At the Press conference arranged by the promoter of theLondon date, I discovered the depths to which the British will sink in order tosell a concert ticket."

In an article written as Frank and the Grand Wazoo arrived in Berlin fortheir concert at the Deutschlandhalle, Charles Shaar Murray reports thisincident:

The Master of Bizarre business, Herbie Cohen is there toorganise the proceedings, and is most indignant about a stunt that took placethe previous night at the Oval.

Studious devotees of the pop scene will know that the man who heaved Frankinto the orchestra pit at the Rainbow performed this scurrilous act because hisyoung lady was in love with Frank and he wished to take what he consideredappropriate action.

At the press conference the lady in question appeared, to present Frank witha bunch of flowers. The authenticity of said lady was rather dubious and MrCohen was annoyed about the whole tasteless stunt, which he claimed wasengineered by the organisers' PR man, Peter Harrigan."
[New MusicalExpress, 23 Sept 72]

(Having recounted this story in The Real Frank Zappa Book,Frank begins the next chapter with the words quoted at the beginning of thisarticle: "As a result of all that, the British have earned a special place inmy heart.")

So that's the story of 1971, its disasters, and its consequences, and nowyou know why Britain is not Frank's favourite place on Earth!

There's just one more story worth telling here. It didn't happen in 1971 -in fact, it didn't happen until 1984 - but it's a good one to tell, while we'reon the subject of British PR men. I haven't found any other reference to it inthe extensive Zappa literature, but at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1984, Frankopened the second show on September 24th with this little tale:

"Some of you people might have been in the first show, duringwhich we were making fun of a person named Roland Hyams. Some of you may knowwhy, and a lot of you probably don't.

Anyway, you should know this: we hired a publicity person to take care ofadvertising these shows in England - a real English publicity personwho does English groups, like David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, RodStewart . . . We say, "Well, maybe he would get it right if he did us."

And you know what this motherfucker did? He was supposed to bring somereally important journalists to Brussels, to see our first show in Europe . . .Anyway . . . it really wasn't the journalists' fault, you know - this allrefers to a little article that was in the Manchester Guardian onFriday. The journalists were sworn to secrecy, that they wouldn't spill thebeans about what happened . . .

They were supposed to go to the airport, and the guy calls them up and says,"Sorry, I overslept." So they miss the plane. Then the guy gets to theairport - oops! he forgot his passport, so he has to go home and get thepassport. Even later.

Well, they get to Brussels . . . and in the cab on the way to the hotel,Roland Hyams vomits! We don't know what Roland was eating the night before, orwhat he was doing, but he was in trouble.

So, in order to make the journalists feel more at ease, he promised that hewould take them to a whorehouse! - which he did.

I spent a long time talking with these journalists - hours upon hours, doingall this wonderful publicity for these concerts. They did not go to theconcert in Brussels: they were out at dinner with Roland Hyams! They got backto the show, just in time for the encore, and came to the dressing-room, saidthey had enjoyed it very much, and told me they had a great time at thewhorehouse the night before. The reason they had such a good time is becausethey had told the whores that they were the members of my band! . . .

Oh, the bad part is . . . this guy has already been paid for doing the work. We called him up tonight and said, "Now, Roland, be a good guy and give themoney back!" He said no, he felt that he had done a really good job and didn'twant to do it. So, Roland, you're in some deep shit!"
[Transcribed bythe author]

(The band also performed alternative versions of Carol, YouFool, Chana in de Bushwop, and Baby, Take Your TeethOut: Roland, You Fool, Roland in theWhorehouse, and Roland, Take Your Teeth Out, respectively).

Yes, once again, the British had come up trumps!

To give the man himself the last word, how would he sum up having to playhere?

"Well, sometimes it's fun and sometimes you end up in hospital."
[Melody Maker, 1974]

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