Sleep Dirt Variations

We are all quite familiar with the acoustical duet version of “Sleep Dirt” between Frank Zappa (acoustic lead guitar) and James “Bird Legs” Youmans (acoustic rhythm guitar) on the album of the same name, recorded at the Caribou Studios in Nederland, Colorado, in December, 1974. It is one of the most beautiful compositions in Zappa’s body of work.

The other day, while organizing music tracks, I happened across several versions of “Sleep Dirt” by other artists as well as a live version by Frank Zappa from 1975 which has an eerie resonance when one listens to these later cover versions.

Listen for yourself, then decide:

Sleep Dirt – Henry Kaiser & Mike Keneally
- Live at the Freight and Salvage, 2000.

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Sleep Dirt – Ed Palermo Big Band
- Iridium Jazz Club, NYC, NY, 12 Dec 2007.

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Sleep Dirt – Quintette Gaucher
- Quintette Gaucher Play the Music of Frank Zappa, 1996.

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Sleep Dirt – Zappatistas
- Jazz Festival, Frankfurt, Germany, 3 October 2003.

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Sleep Dirt – Frank Zappa
- War Memorial Gym, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, 1 October 1975.

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10 Responses to “Sleep Dirt Variations”

  1. Thinman says:

    Sleep Dirt is Black Napkin’s brother (or sister).

  2. kvh says:

    Best version I ever heard is on the Zappa Internet Jam:
    http://zappafan.net/songs/song_item.asp?NewsID=7

  3. Bálint says:

    kvh – just what I wanted to say!! The most beautiful one, by ZombyWoof! Just listen to the piano. Heyyy… Should have been on the top of this list. :-)
    .
    I remember years ago when listenning to this version of Sleep Dirt in my room at the university where I work, and after a while a young girl walked in (the door was open): “What is this beautiful melody?…” I was surprised, also, Never experienced that an FZ tune can truly catch people for the first hearing.

  4. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Bálint:

    kvh – just what I wanted to say!! The most beautiful one, by ZombyWoof! Just listen to the piano. Heyyy… Should have been on the top of this list. :-)
    .
    I remember years ago when listenning to this version of Sleep Dirt in my room at the university where I work, and after a while a young girl walked in (the door was open): “What is this beautiful melody?…” I was surprised, also, Never experienced that an FZ tune can truly catch people for the first hearing.

    I tend to disagree, Balint. While aspects of ZombyWoof’s version are, indeed, quite beautiful (the piano and sax, for instance) – it doesn’t measure up with the versions I posted, mainly because it wasn’t performed live – which is what gives these live versions (and ultimately what gives Zappa’s 1975 Vancouver War Memorial Gym version) their beauty, unity and strength within an improvised framework.

    Having said that, though, I believe it was Zappa’s initial improvisation with this piece that allowed so many others to interpret the song so differently. While some FZ compositions require note for note precision, it’s a work like “Sleep Dirt” that allows for individual variation. And to my ear, all versions are successful, including ZombyWoof’s.

  5. Bálint says:

    Well, we’re all different – that’s the nice thing in all this. ;-)

    Though I have to add, that having a music recorded live will not necesserily add some pluses to the tune. I happen to like (love?) live recordings, but if its not Mr. Zappa, than sometimes it has its ups and downs, and some live recordings are far from perfection. As with Ed Palermo: I love their music, but I’ve never ever enjoyed their live recordings as much as I did their CDs.

    Back to ZombyWoof: this version’s main advantage (to me) that its not played in front of tons of people, so it can be very intimate (just like the original one), and really finely detailed. One thing that is addition to the original tune that ZW (just like FZ did quite often) used it as a source for a(n almost) new composition or orchestration: choozes a tune for a “main melody” and puts it on different instruments, uses it’s beauty in a very fine way, and played with perfection. So here we can enjoy the tune’s original improvised quality together with a nice orchestration, with nice guitar (and piano-) playing.

    This is the same thing ZW did with Republicans (check that one out!) – that is a cover I just cannot be bored of. Amazingly „live” and richly orchestrated at the same time. Something you would not expect, something much more then you would dream of – and that is what I call (sometimes) a really zappaesque experience. :-)

  6. Adam says:

    Can someone please explain to me how to upload music using the above tool ( Adobe Flash Player 10 I guess ) and place it on your blog for instance? Can’t find any info about it. Cheers.

  7. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Adam:

    Can someone please explain to me how to upload music using the above tool ( Adobe Flash Player 10 I guess ) and place it on your blog for instance? Can’t find any info about it. Cheers.

    If your blog is running on WordPress, then the WP Audioplayer plugin is what you’re looking for.

  8. urbangraffito says:

    I agree with your assessment, Balint. I must confess my bias towards live versions is pretty obvious (this, of course, takes nothing away from ZW’s orchestration). Personally, I will always prefer a live ensemble – especially when it comes to FZ’s music. Sure, there may be imperfections, particularly when these ensembles are not FZ’s bands, but each ensemble has a magic all their own.

  9. Disciple of "Bob" says:

    The FZ version:

    Sleepy Napkins?
    Black Dirt?
    Dirty Napkins?
    Narcoleptic Table Dressing?

  10. davidrog says:

    This may not be part of this particular discussion, but doesn’t FZ start the “Sleep Dirt” arpeggio at the end of “Don’t Eat There” on Disk One of “Playground Psychotics?” For some reason, Frank has the track fade out before we can hear the entire version. The next PP track (“Brixton Still Life”) fades in, but there’s no trace of “Sleep Dirt” to be heard.

    BTW – Is “Brixton Still Life” part of the “Don’t Eat There” jam, or is it like the two parts of “Willie The Pimp” on the “Live At The Fillmore” album, where it’s two different performances that couldn’t be successfully spliced together?

    I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Ed Palermo’s Big Band four times in the past decade, and they played excellent version’s of “Sleep Dirt” at all four shows. The solo was usually performed by Phil Chester on soprano saxophone. He always nailed the beautiful subtlety of Frank’s acoustic guitar riffs.

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