Homage to a Freak

I first met Royce in the summer of 1977 at a second-hand record shop. Greg, the gray haired, pony-tailed, slightly obese proprietor had just gotten a mint vinyl copy of Mothermania, and had absent-mindedly promised it to both of us. His solution: to the highest bidder would go the spoils. Being that I was still in my teens, and Royce was about 12 or so years older and far more gainfully employed, he quickly outbid me and paid for the album. Dejected, I was just about to leave when he suddenly invited me over to his place to listen to the album while he taped it. “Sure,” I said.

By taping, I figured Royce had meant cassette tapes. But when we arrived at the house he rented with his girlfriend, Keri, I found out by taping he meant reel-to-reel tapes. Royce taped every LP record and 45 he had ever bought onto reel-to-reel tapes. I’d later find out why. His stereo was an elaborate mixture of different components, some German, some Japanese, some American. The sound it produced made me ashamed of my own little dinky stereo. I heard things on his stereo I never heard on mine. By the time we finished listening to Mothermania, I was almost glad that he had outbid me. Almost.

Given that I’d first discovered the music of Frank Zappa and The Mothers as an eight year old on my cousin’s turntable, I was a pretty cocky teen when it came to the music of FZ, and I was rather proud of my ever growing collection. Royce soon put me in my place, though, when he revealed his own private vault. On the main floor of the house his rented (and any other subsequent house he rented) was a room whose sole purpose was to store and protect of all the albums he collected over the years. Beyond a door secured with two deadbolt locks, and behind windows which had been blackened and insulated, was a room that was filled with at least five or six thousand albums (I never had the chance to actually count them). Among them were more Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention albums than I even knew existed. All in mint condition. Official releases. Bootlegs. Royce was more than just a collector. He was a completist.

Over the rest of that summer and into the winter, Royce and Keri became not just fellow freaks, but good friends, too. I received my education in all things Zappa and the Mothers listening to their reel-to-reel tapes, and their sordid stories about the times they saw them live at the Kinsmen Field House here in Edmonton in 1970 and 1971. Or the years they saw Zappa live in Vancouver at the Agrodome and again at the War Memorial Gymnasium. “It was like Christmas whenever we got back,” Royce would say. “We’d always come home with brand new boots to tape.”

It was through Royce’s vault that I first discovered the works of various Mother’s alumni like Lowell George in Little Feat, Henry Vestine in Canned Heat, Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke, Flo & Eddie, and Captain Beefheart.

Two years later, in 1979, when Royce and Keri got married, I had an old Serbian painter I knew paint a 4:1 scale copy of the cover of Shiek Yerbouti in oil on canvas as their wedding present. It cost a pretty penny, but it was worth every cent.

47 Responses to “Homage to a Freak”

  1. Roland says:

    What a wonderful story – I enjoyed it !

  2. Dr Sharleena says:

    Ditto!
    Are Royce and Keri still around? What happened to their *vault*?

  3. mcnastie says:

    yeah, good story urbangraffit-o.
    i’m sure every hardcore music listener has a similar story of random revelation. it’s how the magic is conveyed – informal and spontaneous. thank the gods for that.

  4. Roland says:

    Royce is in the Army now & Keri ‘s taking pills
    Oh! How they yearn to see a bomber burn!
    Color flashing, thunder crashing, dynamite machine!
    (Wait till the fire turns green . . . wait till the fire turns green)
    WAIT TILL THE FIRE TURNS GREEN!

  5. mcnastie says:

    roland – HA! good one.

  6. bernard says:

    +/- the same story.
    When I was 16 I visited Brussels ( the Big Capital, far away from home). Together with my fSwiss friend Chevrolet.
    I discovered a classical music record store. I looked for Varèse & Boulez records ( I had learnt about them one year earlier as I listened to ” weird”, acoording to my father, public radio stations).
    I found two vinyl records.
    The owner, a baron( dressed up like a duke), said: ” Listen, young man, nobody wants that stuff. It’s for free. Take it home with you”. Chevrolet and I shared the records. And Chevrolet helped me opening my musical mind: he was hiding records from Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and FZ uder his bed.
    Now: ( stolen from http://www.lynnspace.com/blog/
    - for juergen, who seems to adore 40 years old Californian girls ( like Moon): Mona Lisa after one week in LA
    http://www.nextnature.net/research/?p=1061
    - for people interested in musical instruments, the synclavier : http://www.obsolete.com/120_years/machines/synclavier/index.html
    - cover art from real life, that might have ended up on a FZ vinyl or CD cover: http://www.geekologie.com/2007/10/pet_lover_cramped_for_space.php
    And I still have an awful lot of cassette tapes over here.
    I want to avoid being a Al-Jahiz,who is reputed to have been killed by his own library when shelves fell over on him.

  7. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Dr Sharleena says:
    January 2nd, 2008 at 9:22 am
    Are Royce and Keri still around? What happened to their *vault*?

    Royce and Keri are living comfortably on the west coast of British Columbia where they moved to in the mid 90s. As for their *vault* itself, it’s still intact as far as I know (except for a few nasty B&Es back in the 80s). Two important lessons I learned from Royce were: 1) Never, ever, sell your music no matter how poor you seem to be; and 2) Always buy tenants insurance.

  8. bernard says:

    Just another historic counterfactual.
    Gail said : ” Mmmmm if he would still be alive, he wouldn’t have cared about this. He would have been thinking far beyond.”
    Another great US specimen, still alive ( now 99 ) is Elliott Carter.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elliott_Carter

  9. Roland says:

    Well, I don´t think my uncle is a freak, but he gave my first Beatles record to me: “Sgt. Pepper”. Shortly thereafter I visited him and he had “We´re only in it”, so I listened to it and this was it. I enjoyed this record so much, that I made him giving it to me, too. Still have it. I bought a John Lennon record “Sometimes in NYC” including a live jam with the Mothers of Invention. I listenend to this part of the double album over and over again and enjoyed it very. Then I bought “200 Motels” and got “Just another band from L.A.” as a present a bit later. All these Zappa records were so different in style for me at that time. None of my friends liked what I was listening. Comment´s like “Can´t you put real music on?” or “That´s horrible”! Well who cares?

  10. bernard says:

    Yes, “Roland”.
    FZ mentioned Conlon Nancarrow. ( I’m right now listening to his Etudes).CN composed great US music. He was a US political refugee, living in Mexico.He explored the 19th century Big Instrument, the piano, till its ultimate limits. Exactly – disconnected from each other – when John Cage made the same effort : the prepared piano. And that seemed to be the ultimate end for that instrument. OK, it isn’t. See Alvin Curran’s Inner Cities.
    The 20th century Big Instrument is the Electric Guitar. We’ve seen & listened to many guitar heroes. The problem with new musical instruments is that artists – as soon as these instruments are made available- get the best out of it. Clarinet : Mozart. Electric guitar: Jimi Hendrix.
    Fz wasn’t an innovator on any instrument. The guitar solos started in the middle of nowhere and ended nowhere. Italian style. Variations.

  11. bernard says:

    What about FZ?
    - No maestro in adding colour to music. FZ was not a painter. Painting music. For instance the bass section happens to be dominant, playing the core & major parts. Scores being put upside down. That was Gil Evans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gil_Evans
    - A maestro in combining much broader things, the comprehensive way.

  12. Roland says:

    You´re right “bernard”: The guitar solos started in the middle of nowhere and ended nowhere. Never liked his reggae backup solos at all. Greatest disappointment: “Black Napkins” was just an edit. Listened to the “Eyes Of Osaka” here from KUR and it was a put down to earth to me. He was always a cheater, this Mister FZ, but anyway: His music always attracted me.

  13. scott says:

    “Cheater”? I have heard many negative things about Frank,
    “cheater” is a new one.

  14. urbangraffito says:

    Roland, would you care to clarify and expand on exactly what you mean by “He was always a cheater, this Mister FZ…” As for his guitar solos starting “in the middle of nowhere and ended nowhere…” they were, for the most part, on the spot improvisations: some turned into fantastic air sculptures (i.e. Rat Tomago, The Squirm (Wild Love coda), Mammy Anthem) while others were just ordinary (by FZ standards). Still, an ordinary FZ guitar solo is still better than 99.999999% of the other guitarists I’ve heard (that .000001% being Hendrix, of course).

  15. Hugh says:

    Good story. Reminds me of a guy I met as a teen. Too bad the only shit he seemed to play was Southern Rock. Especially Molly Hatchet. Still I loved those Frazetta album covers back then.
    Tell me, does anybody bother with reel to reel anymore?

  16. jane23 says:

    i come from nowhere.
    so maybe that’s the reason i enjoy franks middle of nowhere solos.
    just exactly where should a solo start?
    at the beginning, proceed to the middle, end at the end???
    that would be rather dull and certainly not something i would desire from a guy who constantly pushed the boundaries of music.

  17. Freon P. Sandoz says:

    I saw MOI the first time at the Balloon Farm, mid sixties, and saw various incarnations of FZ bands in the Carolinas, several Paladium shows, Atlanta, and Portland, but I was never really into going to performances. I don’t like people, and I like them even less when I’m around lots of them. Frank apparently liked people, but I don’t hold that against him, anymore than I hold his misguided belief in voting against him. People are idiots at the core, and the reason people believe in God is to forgive themselves for being idiots.
    The music, on the other hand, I have always loved and the better the recordings, the better I liked them. I just checked iTunes, and I have 979 unique Zappa tracks. I have 94 vinyls (some duplicates, sure, like Freak Out, Absolutely Free, Burnt Weenie Sandwich, Ruben and the Jets), a couple of dozen CDs, a handful of DVDs, and I paid for all of it.
    Right now I’m listening to Banned from Utopia, which I downloaded from iTunes after rereading the idiotic interview Dweezil gave to the Oregonadian that was mentioned here at some point, and I’m loving it. The sound is tight, like the sky, and it brought me back to those early days when I actually went to shows and saw Frank and Velvet and the Chambers Brothers.
    Music really is the best. Business is just business and now apparently has become the white bitch’s boiden.

  18. Roland says:

    When I look at Mister FZ releases it always said “100% live music” or “last chance for live music” and so on. But when you look at “Jesus thinks you´re a jerk” it´s an edit from many, many shows. Same with “Black Napkins” – an edit from a 10 minutes improvisation (which cut out the horrible noodling of N.M. Brocks saxophone). Etc. etc. …
    Same with his “Xenography” business: take a guitar solo from here, a bass from there and let drums play along – out comes “Friendly Little Fingers”. This is what I call “cheating” – not played straight forward, not played intuitive, not that brilliant. It´s like give a typewriter to a monkey and wait 2500 years – out comes “Ulysses”.
    You´re right, there are solos like “Rat Tomago” and it´s a hell of a solo, but it´s a “one hit solo”. I always become very bored to listen to “Guitar”. It was boring as a double vinyl album, and even more boring as a CD: just one solo after the other, no dramaturgy in it at all. (“Shut up and play …” is the much better guitar album anyway.)
    His “reggae backgrounded” solos for 10 minutes are redundant, so many releases which included them, his 80´s live shows we´re full of them – very often uninspired filler material.
    It´s a good question to ask, where a solo should start and where it should end. I only can answer it with what I just wrote. But again: His music always attracted me.

  19. Jeroen says:

    Roland: I agree with you that the reggae solo’s in the eighties (like those on Does Humor Belong in Music?) are not my favourites.
    On the other hand: there are many artists that use ‘mixed techniques’, part painting, part collage, part scuplture, that make beautiful art. As I’m not Bernard I’m not going to provide you with lots of links or names, but there are.
    FZ was an artist in this vein. He made albums using live material and proved to be not only an exceptional musician, but also an exceptional editor.
    Apart from that: an album is another medium than a concert. An album is ment for repetitive listening. Something that is useful/fun/unavoidable for the one time only event of a concert can and often will be useless/boring/avoidable for an album. To transfer the good live parts to make it an even better album part is an art in itself (like the solo of Yo Mama).

  20. Roland says:

    Jeroen: You´re right. And this is also what “bernard” prays – crossover artist. I agree and albums like “We´re only in it” for example prove perfectly, what a great musician/observer/editor he was. You brought it to a precise point, better than I did, Jeroen.
    “Cheating” in my eyes is to say “100% live material” (which it is/was) but from five dozen different concerts/takes. Solos like “Rat Tomago”, “Yo Mama” or “Them Or Us” are fantastic, they have skill, they have dramaturgy – I do not question this, at all.
    Anyway: From a certain point in his career onwards, he went in a questionable direction of his career. All these songs with “our favourite four letter words” were redundant, too. Lots of releases were just repetition of his own work – which he named “conceptional continuity”. Yeah great, but marketing – and all his fans bought this “conceptional continuity” thing.
    Well, it would be possible to shrink his oeuvre … redundancy is a bore.

  21. jane23 says:

    a monkey could not write ulysses
    never
    ever
    not by James Joyce
    not by Homer
    not in 2000 years
    not in 2,000,000 years
    not even by accident.
    It’s a myth.
    but
    some composers chose to create music through accidents:
    zappa’s xenochrony: where he took foreign elements and combined them over time.
    Iannis Xenakis’s Stochastic music: randomness as defined by mathematical probability.
    John Cage’s Aleotory or Chance Music.
    whether you enjoy the way it sounds is another story.
    but a monkey couldn’t do it.

  22. Roland says:

    jane23: So glad of a reaction, I already thought Í became a No-No-person here at KUR, being too critical. You´re right, no monkey in years would make it, just a metaphor. Although I doubt the span of 2,000,000 years …
    The thought of music through accidents is very interesting to me – so “Rat Tomago” is still just a “one-hit-wonder”!

  23. urbangraffito says:

    I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “No-No-person here at KUR, being too critical.” I have always liked (even loved) this site because it was where free spirited minds were free to play without the draconian likes of Zat Friggin Thang pulling the plug just when the discussion gets interesting…
    Regarding zappa’s xenochrony: where he took foreign elements and combined them over time; anyone who has listened to more than just a handful of zappa bootlegs/field recordings cannot help but come to the conclusion that not all of the live material zappa recorded was meant for the ears of the listening/buying public, but for zappa’s on use. And, yes, some official releases were just attempts at generating income (you make up your own list). Yet, we bought ‘em all anyway didn’t we?
    I suppose my rabid need for “new” FZ will override my good sense each and every time (and the zft knows this, unfortunately).

  24. Roland says:

    urbangraffito: Thank you for your mental support! I like the thought of “… but for zappa’s on use”, probably one should look with a common sense on FZ´s work and releases as well. Artist and business man. I´ve listened to his music for so many years now, that I might have lost touch with it.

  25. jane23 says:

    Zappa’s live material for his own use of:
    When zappa would improvise a solo he often treated the process of improvisation and resulting solo as a compositional tool where he could utilize the live accompaniment, (even a reggae beat), as a sketch pad for rythmnic and melodic experimentation as an alternative to the dots on paper method. These spontaneous musical experiments would often later be transcribed and used in more formal musical settings such as sinister footwear which was transcribed for orchestra and the horn lines on waka jawaka which originated from guitar solos.

  26. mcnastie says:

    anyone
    who tells
    you
    that
    they know what
    monkeys will be
    writing
    in
    2,000,000 years
    is a
    batshit
    loonball
    pseudo-poet
    with an
    e.e. cummings
    fetish

  27. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    jane23 says:
    January 3rd, 2008 at 11:27 pm
    Zappa’s live material for his own use of:
    When zappa would improvise a solo he often treated the process of improvisation and resulting solo as a compositional tool where he could utilize the live accompaniment, (even a reggae beat), as a sketch pad for rythmnic and melodic experimentation as an alternative to the dots on paper method.

    This is exactly the educational value of Zappa bootlegs and field recordings (an insight into FZ’s compositional process) and why they are no threat whatsoever to the “official” product. For instance, “Rat Tomago” as heard on Shiek Yerbouti, is appreciated all the more when heard in it’s raw form as part of “The Torture Never Stops” as part of the Deutschlandhalle, Berlin, Germany, 15 Feb 1978 show. I bought the “official” product (vinyl, cassette, compact disc) long before I ever sought out the field recording, not the other way around.

  28. jane23 says:

    Monkeys
    have existed for 6-7 million years
    and have thus far
    written nothing.
    They barely even know how to read.
    But i believe the point was not what monkeys will be writing but that they will most assuredly not be writing.
    e.e. cummings
    munc. e. me. sing
    animal references:
    monkeys; bats and loons
    an ad hominem attack against a fellow hominid
    let’s hear it for shitballs

  29. mcnastie says:

    it’s okay
    jane23
    i’m from the
    east coast
    where
    shit-talking is
    almost
    always
    complimentary
    i
    simply
    recognize
    a fellow
    batshit loonball
    when
    i
    see one

  30. Jeroen says:

    KUR, where
    poetry
    and Frank
    collide
    to make
    weird noises
    for
    weird eyes

  31. Jeroen says:

    KUR, where
    poetry and
    Frank
    collide
    to make
    weird noises
    for
    weird eyes

  32. Jeroen says:

    Oops. I’m having a lot of problems with Word Press lately (always telling me I’ve already said that) and this time it looked like it actualy ate my words. Apparently it took a while digesting the stuff (I’ll leave this metaphor behind now) before it deemed it worthy to publish.
    Now we can all discuss the proper place of the word ‘and’ in this little gem.
    We can, but we don’t have to.

  33. Freon P. Sandoz says:

    Back at you.
    I see no bars.
    I don’t need my eyes open.
    I listen.
    I know where I come from.
    I know where I’m going.
    When your children finally recognize how lame you are, they will murder you in your sleep.
    And I will be there. Applauding.
    Happy new year, Gail.

  34. Roland says:

    It
    this
    the
    latest
    fashion
    at
    KUR
    to
    write
    blogs
    word
    by
    word

    ?

  35. jane23 says:

    Yes,
    it
    is.

  36. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from mcnastie:

    anyone
    who tells
    you
    that
    they know what
    monkeys will be
    writing
    in
    2,000,000 years
    is a
    batshit
    loonball
    pseudo-poet
    with an
    e.e. cummings
    fetish

    A quote from jane23:

    Monkeys
    have existed for 6-7 million years
    and have thus far
    written nothing.
    They barely even know how to read.
    But i believe the point was not what monkeys will be writing but that they will most assuredly not be writing.
    e.e. cummings
    munc. e. me. sing
    animal references:
    monkeys; bats and loons
    an ad hominem attack against a fellow hominid
    let’s hear it for shitballs

    A quote from Jeroen:

    KUR, where
    poetry
    and Frank
    collide
    to make
    weird noises
    for
    weird eyes

    A quote from Roland:

    It
    this
    the
    latest
    fashion
    at
    KUR
    to
    write
    blogs
    word
    by
    word

    ?

    A quote from jane23:

    Yes,
    it
    is.


    o
    k
    a
    y
    i
    f
    y
    o
    u
    s
    a
    y
    s
    o

  37. Roland says:

    Right
    on
    then
    jane23
    me
    Tarzan24
    .

  38. urbangraffito says:

    By the way, I am of the opinion that folks that write blogs word by word are trying to make to appear that they have much more to say than they actually do. That’s my point.
    Remember that girl in High School who could talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and say absolutely nothing?

  39. Roland says:

    “urbangraffito” this is what I wanted to point out – you´re a laugh! Okay, let´s shut up and play the ukulele …

  40. urbangraffito says:

    What key, Roland, what key…

  41. Roland says:

    It´s G C E A “urbangraffito”. To be honest, at the moment I am only able to play two songs: “Louie Louie” and “All My Loving”. And is gives me the creeps to play and sing at the same time. “Close your eyes and I miss you … Me got a girl” !

  42. urbangraffito says:

    Have you heard Ian Underwood “Whip It Out” on the pipe organ on Uncle Meat?

  43. jane23 says:

    wasn’t that don preston on the pipes organ?

  44. mcnastie says:

    yeah, it was don on the majestic albert hall pipe organ. ian whipped it out on alto sax, i believe.

  45. urbangraffito says:

    Yes, it was don preston on the mighty majestic albert hall pipe organ. My mistake. I must’ve mixed up Ian Underwood’s “Whip It Out” segment because I was comparing my own sax playing to the sounds that emerged when they “turned the amplifiers up.”

  46. urbangraffito says:

    Cast your dancing spell my way
    I promise to go under it

  47. Roland says:

    “Louie Louie” on ukulele cute – on the Royal Albert Hall pipe organ it´s a monster. Doot Doot Doot, Doot Doot, Doot Doot Doot … me gotta go !