Frank Zappa Talks Music, Money and Steve Vai in His First Guitar World Interview From 1982, Part 2
In part two of Guitar World's first interview with Frank Zappa, he discusses Steve Vai, the high cost of being a band leader and the state of music in 1982.
The late Frank Zappa made his first Guitar World cover appearance with the March 1982 issue, during the magazine's third year of publication. The cover calls him "America's Most Misunderstood Genius," and the original story by John Swenson starts on page 34.
Here's part two of the Zappa interview. Note that the first question below is from part one, so you can see where we left off.
GUITAR WORLD: Given your current group, is that pretty much what we see is what we get, or do they suggest another group of songs or ... there were some things you played that I had never heard before.
There are other things that are already recorded that you haven't heard on stage, too. Because we did a bunch of recording before we left LA.
What kind of stuff can we expect? Can you describe any of it?
Well, I'll tell you what we've already recorded. A lot of stuff with [One-Time Mother] Roy Estrada. A song called "Truck Driver Divorce," which will probably be the end of country and western music. It's like country music on PCP. And another song called "Willing Suspension of Disbelief," which is a science-fiction extravaganza. It has everything in it about cheap monster movies that wasn't included in the song "Cheepnis."
And another song called "Sex," which is a very nice song. And then there's a straight-ahead Mongolian sing-along song called "No, Not Now." And there's another one called "Viva La Rosa," which is like a jazz song, bossa-nova type. That features Tommy Mars on Hammond organ and recorder. And then there's all the ones that we were doing in the show that you heard that have also been recorded and haven't been released yet.
What was that Jimi Hendrix song?
That's called "Returning Again."
When did you write that?
Two or three years ago. It's got some good words to it.
What's that line about the way they play it on the radio?
"If you listen to the radio and what they play today you can tell right away, all of those assholes really need you. Everybody come back. No one can do it like you used to. If you listen to the radio and what they play today, you can tell right away, all those assholes really need you.
Is that a comment on the fact that The Doors are the second best-selling American group right now?
No, it is just a comment on the fact that as we head and those who make the into the Dark Ages again you will hear only ten songs for the rest of your life. And I think a little variety never hurt.
There is also ... you do really like Hendrix obviously?
Well, yeah. I think that he was really good. Steve loves Hendrix. You know, Steve, he's got tattoos on his body. He's the Stratocaster guy. And I knew Jimi. He came over to my house once. Nice guy. And it's too bad that he met such an early demise.
So there is in a way a kind of tribute to him?
Of course, it's a tribute to anybody who did anything in rock and roll that set the standards for what people are doing now, and often copying in a bad way. You know, to me the original stuff ... it's just like the original rhythm and blues records. There's nothing like it. A lot of those same things are being re-recorded again and recorded cleaner and nicer and better and whatever, faster. But it's not the same. And it's really not New Wave and it's not improved anything. It's just today's freeze-dried version of the mannerisms of another form of music that already happened.
There's a sense in which you play "Whipping Post" as the ultimate joke on encores, because that's the most requested song of all time.
Well, I'll tell you how it happened. We were playing Helsinki, Finland, about six or eight years ago, and in the middle of this very quiet, nice concert hall from the back of the room a voice rings out, "Whipping Post." And I thought, if we only knew it we could blow this guy's socks off. You know, it would be great to just ... sure, fuck you, "Whipping Post" ... all right, here it is. So, when we got Bobbie Martin in the band I said, "He can sing the shit out of 'Whipping Post' and so let's go for it."
What did the other members of your band think when you said...
"God damn right, let's do it." They love it. They enjoy playing it.
Did you similarly like Duane Allman?
I never listened to their music. I like "Whipping Post," though. In fact, I think they even premiered it when we were working together at this pop festival at the baseball stadium in Atlanta years and years and years ago. It was the first time I heard this song and I liked it then, thought it was really good but I am not an Allman Brothers consumer.
But, as a guitarist you were obviously aware of Duane Allman.
Well, I heard him like the same way I hear other things, if it happens to be on the radio when I go someplace. I don't follow it, I don't consume it.
But, you do offer a kind of homage to a famous dead guy who was a great player.
The credit is all his. It's his song. I didn't invent it. It's a great song.
Yet at the same time you are making fun of Jim Morrison, right?
Well, I knew Jim Morrison too. As a matter of fact, my wife knew Jim Morrison when she was a child. They used to play together. In fact, I think she even hit him on the head with a hammer or something. And so, I know all about Jim Morrison. And, as a matter of fact, Herb Cohen tried to manage him at one time. And they were playing around LA when we first started. They were working at the Whiskey Au Go Go and all that stuff.
And so I am pretty well-acquainted with the rise of Jim Morrison. And the thing that was obnoxious about Jim Morrison was when Crawdaddy decided to proclaim him the Lizard King of rock and roll and went on this bizarre rampage. And the type of merchandising that was originally associated with Doors music I thought was really distasteful and stretching the boundaries of what it actually was beyond the realm of credibility.
Okay. So what you are making fun of is the deification of Jim Morrison.
No, I'm not even picking on Jim Morrison. I am talking about the machinery that takes anything and exaggerates it to the point where it's blown out of proportion and the public believes the inflated version of what the reality is. I am a realistic kind of a guy. I just try and look at things the way they are, take them for what they are, deal with them the way they are, and go on to the next case. But Americans thrive on hype and bloated images and bloated everything, and anything that's realistic they turn away from. They want the candy gloss version of whatever it is. And Jim Morrison is only one example of that.
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