I have always been intrigued by the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) ethic among bands who cover and interpret Zappa’s music. True, few of these acts have any hope of actually being signed by today’s youth driven music business. In many cases, Demo CDs are given away free of charge through websites, or produced in limited runs by independent labels. In either case, it’s often up to the fan to track down these CDs and order them (if possible).
One such CD is ‘Who Could Imagine‘ by The European Grandmothers. A compilation of live tracks recorded in Salzburg, Ashaffenburg, Linz, Rennes, Paris, London, Zagreb and Prague during the ’93/’94 European Tours, mixed with studio tracks recorded at Cucurbitacea Sapiens Recording Studios (Rome) and Zoo Studios (Los Angeles). Produced, mixed and edited by Don Preston & Sandro Oliva at CSRS, and released through Munich Records.
In a recent correspondence with Sandro Oliva (Assistant Musical Director of the European Grandmothers), Sandro offered some valuable background on the production of ‘Who Could Imagine‘ as well as some behind-the-scenes history of the European Grandmothers in general:
I met Jimmy Carl Black in March 1993 when we both were guests at an Italian Zappa tribute. Jimmy joined me in Rome in April, when we started recording together, planning an album that never was, as I later joined the GM. When Jim reunited with Don and Bunk for a summer European tour, I managed to book them a couple gigs in Italy, and eventually opened for the GM in Rome. The band stayed in my studio for a final week of rehearsals (they needed it SO BAD!!).
They also helped me recording some stuff of mine. After the one-month tour, Don called me telling the guitar player had quit and asked me to join in, as guitar player, composer and assistant-musical director.
I have the habit of recording ALL my live appearances, so I started taping the band on my DAT machine. We also recorded 16 track the Salzburg concert (a memorable evening, it’s a pity there’s no video), and that’s when we started considering a Live CD.
After the 93 fall tour Don came to Rome and we started mixing the show (I had copied the analog tapes to my ADAT rig). Later on, I bought a SOUND TOOLS 4 track editing system as well as a new Mac, and I took it with me on the road (early ’94). Don used to edit music in hotel rooms after the shows, and that’s when I learned the art of digital editing. We also made a rough sequence for the CD, then I took it back with me in Rome.
Listening to the whole thing it was clear it was a sub-standard boring piece of shit, as there were too many long solos, and even worse the rhythm section was rather sloppy (Ener was great as usual, but Jimmy couldn’t sing and keep the beat at the same time for a 2 hour long show!!). So I talked to Jimmy, he agreed I would have put more live section from the 1993-94 tours. Don and I had already included two studio instrumentals, one each, so I decided to go beyond the one-only-show juke-box format.
I edited in sections recorded in Prague, France and who knows where… I also used a short sax section from my solo band as Bunk was in LA…. And I replaced most of the sloppy sections with 2 track recordings from who knows where (I mean one chorus or even a verse!!). And I found a lot of hand-conducted sections (I had learned quickly!!) and the little drama called “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARF?!?” we used to perform.
After the first month of touring, I tried to bring the band back to its MOI years roots, as I thought there was a great potential for theatrical weirdness. On the other hand I thought the jazz-rock direction Don wanted to take was too much for more than one band member’s skills. And Jimmy was not interest in it at all, he often got angry for having to play certain tunes.
Going the Wild Way was an instant success, as the guys had manteined their “lunatic” potential intact. I still own a hundred concerts, and most of them spotlight unique improvisations, vocal weirdness and bizarre electronic music. Other than the more “normal” Astoria CD from the ’98 tour, I assembled a third one from the ’93-’94 tapes, and Jimmy had approved it.
After the (’93-’00) band disbanded, I dropped all FZ covers and replaced them with my own studio material, which become the still unreleased “SERGIO’s HAREM”. I had planned to have Jimmy as the narrating voice, but his health problems and his untimely death left the work unfinished. I think it’s a good CD anyway, and it’s even more MOI-oriented than “Who Could Imagine?!?”.
I have also started remixing the whole 16 track show, so it might be a beefed-up version might come out some day. I got plenty of material, and it’s always a joy to listen back to it. Don, Bunk and Jim are truly underrated Rock & Roll Giants, and I’m proud to have had the chance to work with them. And most of all I’m proud to have had Jimmy as personal friend, I miss him a lot.
That’s all for now
When I first came across the postings of several tracks from ‘Who Could Imagine?’ on YouTube such as “Willie the Pimp / Neon Meat Dream of an Octafish” (above), “Lonely Lonely Nights“, “Who Do You Think You Arf?“, “Who Are The Brain Police?“, “Mom & Dad” and “Help, I’m A Rock” (below) I was struck by the archival qualities of the CD (the best of the 93/94 tour), as well as echoes from the classic MOI album, ‘Weasels Ripped My Flesh‘.
The European Grandmothers:
Jimmy Carl Black – drums, vocals, indian of the group
Bunk Gardner – tenor & alto sax, flutes, chef de cuisine
Don Preston – keyboards, vocals, gong, musical director
Sandro Oliva – guitars, vocals, assistant musical director, italian of the group
Ener Bladezipper – bass guitar, vocals, translator of the group
Roy Estrada – guest toilet vocals
Much thanks to Sandro Oliva (for background) and to TRIBUTOaZAPPA for posting these Grandmother’s tracks on YouTube.