Zappa’s Coven of Drowning Witches

On more than one occasion, upon seeing the colossal size of my Frank Zappa music collection, I’ve been asked, “How many versions of Zappa songs do you really need?” Of course, to someone who isn’t a fan of Zappa’s music, or is new to the maestro’s music, wouldn’t understand. Especially in regards to live versions of Zappa’s work.

What led me to seek out more and more live versions of Zappa’s work, after purchasing his official catalogue, was the sheer variation of his live material, particularly within given compositions. Unlike some artists, or groups, each live performance by Zappa and his assembled ensemble would offer the appreciative listener a unique variation with each public performance. Above all, Zappa was no jukebox, and refused to become one at anytime throughout his career. And each version of whatever composition was being performed reflected his refusal (and we’re all the richer for it).

For your educational and listening pleasure, I have chosen a “coven” of various versions of “Drowning Witch” to illustrate this observation, from it’s earlier incarnation as a spoken word piece to it’s fully developed form:

Drowning WitchCelebrity Theater, Phoenix, AZ, 13 October 1980 (Early Show)

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Drowning WitchChalk Pie, 1982 (Live with studio overdubs)

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Drowning WitchCobo Hall, Detroit, MI, 25 November 1981

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Drowning WitchTower Theater, Philadelphia, PA, 10 November 1984

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Drowning WitchFelt Forum, NYC, 31 October 1984 (Late Show)

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Drowning WitchIsstadion, Stockholm, Sweden, 7 May 1982

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Drowning WitchJohnson Gymnasium, UNM, Albuquerque, NM, 12 October 1980

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Drowning WitchPalladium, NYC, 31 October 1981 (Early Show)

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Drowning WitchThe Ritz, NYC, 17 November 1981 (Early Show)

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Drowning WitchSanta Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA, 11 December 1981 (Early Show)

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Drowning WitchStadio Municipale, Pistoia, Italy, 8 July 1982

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Drowning WitchState University of New York, Stonybrook, NY, 3 November 1984 (Early Show)

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Drowning WitchUptown Theater, Chicago, IL, 27 November 1981 (Late Show)

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What unique variations could you identify?

17 Responses to “Zappa’s Coven of Drowning Witches”

  1. jonnybutter2 says:

    At the risk of sounding like…..I am really enjoying hearing so much new-to-me stuff on KUR. Thanks to UG and all.

    Your blog is so awesome. It has answered many questions for me. I’m so glad my sister told me about it.

  2. Dave says:

    Great versions of Drowning Witch in nice sound quality. dis de sort o´thing dat belong on an albim

  3. Gavo says:

    One of my favourite Zappa songs! I was very tempted to skive off work today to listen to this. I managed to resist but am loving it now. Thank you!

    I always preferred the ‘open’ sound of the Chalk Pie version compared to the released Ship Arriving… album version. The whole Chalk Pie album is great in terms of production and the track sequencing, better than what was ultimately released, in my opinion. It just feels more exuberant! Hey ho.

  4. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Gavo:

    One of my favourite Zappa songs! I was very tempted to skive off work today to listen to this. I managed to resist but am loving it now. Thank you!

    I always preferred the ‘open’ sound of the Chalk Pie version compared to the released Ship Arriving… album version. The whole Chalk Pie album is great in terms of production and the track sequencing, better than what was ultimately released, in my opinion. It just feels more exuberant! Hey ho.

    I’ve always preferred the Chalk Pie version myself, Gavo. I’m glad you’re enjoying Zappa’s Coven of Drowning Witches. As an aside to the Chalk Pie version, I also included in this “coven” the three live versions from which Zappa pieced the vocal and guitar parts: Santa Monica Dec-11-1981 (early show), Chicago 27-Nov-1981 (late show), and Ritz 17-Nov-1981. Hoopla!

  5. Sunrise Redeemer says:

    Fantastic post. This is one of my all time favorite Zappa songs. The composed sections never get old (and they evolve nicely over the years, as do many of Zappa’s other tunes) but those two guitar solos blow me away, every time, no matter the version.

    Bravo!

  6. Jamez says:

    Why don’t the ZFT release ‘Chalk Pie’ and ‘Warts ‘n’ All’..and Beefheart’s
    ‘Bat Chain Puller’? Although they’re probably preparing the latter as we speak…

  7. Robert says:

    I’ve always loved Drowing Witch for its “two solos in a row” approach. On more than one occasion, FZ used this to give totally different focuses to the two solos, usually the first one is exploring the dissonant, experimental whereas the second solo often endulges itself in pure lyrical and melodic extravaganza. Voilà: St. Etienne! The role model for all “Drowning Witch 2nd Solo”-type solos.

  8. Pontus says:

    Great post. What songs did follow “Drowning witch” on these performances?

  9. Leonardo says:

    dear urbangraffito, thank you very much!
    ..and check this…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWC3WUlwGeQ

  10. Hans says:

    “More Wtiches!”

  11. Cardiacs Sterbus says:

    A quote from Robert:

    I’ve always loved Drowing Witch for its “two solos in a row” approach.

    That was the same thing I found very cool back on Hungry Freaks, Daddy! (it was Elliott Ingber or Zappa? or one and one)

  12. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Pontus:

    Great post. What songs did follow “Drowning witch” on these performances?

    Respectively (and in order):

    Honey, Don’t You Want A Man Like Me?
    We’re Turning Again
    What’s New In Baltimore?
    The Black Page # 2
    Ride My Face To Chicago
    Envelopes
    Honey Don’t You Want A Man Like Me?
    What’s New In Baltimore?
    What’s New In Baltimore?
    What’s New In Baltimore?
    Envelopes
    Ride My Face to Chicago
    What’s New In Baltimore?

  13. Dave says:

    love the drowning sleep dirt solo from stonybrook!

  14. chris says:

    Brilliant. I love this song, and it is interesting to hear it’s progression. I love comparing different versions of Zappa songs.

  15. chris says:

    State University of NY 1984 is my favorite

  16. Dark Clothes says:

    The Ritz 1981 version is great – not least because Wackerman and Thunes provide such a dynamic and interesting backing for Zappa’s solo. I heard once that Chad and Scott had difficulties playing together sometimes, because they have such different conceptions of rhythm. I can’t say that’s a problem here, though. An outstanding Witch in this here exceptional coven!

  17. I Come From Nowhere says:

    I just love the Ritz version…a bit more extreme mix than Frank use to do them (came from a radio broadcast). Funky bass, dirty guitar, also love the processed sound of Frank’s vocals…

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