As time has passed since the publication of The Real Frank Zappa Book, and more interviews of original band members have emerged whose individual recollections contradict was had been written (and often taken as factual history) — it further sheds light on the complexity of this band, and the need for an ongoing, objective, and scholarly view of the Mother’s history from those who were actually there (well beyond the usual pop culture biographies and rock critic hokum), the musicians themselves.
Interview with Don Preston (January, 2001):
SM: In “The Real Frank Zappa” bio, Zappa writes that he decided to disband the Mothers when he saw Duke Ellington “begging for a ten-dollar advance.” I have a hard time believing that story. Did you see that happen?
DP: I think I read that, too, but that’s not what happened. A lot of stuff in that book is bull shit. It was just his imagination. There were a number of reasons why the Mothers disbanded. One of them was that Zappa was paying us all a salary. Now this kinda sounds stupid to me. He couldn’t afford the (Mother’s) salary, but he kept hiring more and more musicians. So anyhow, when he had to pay nine people in the band, it’s gonna cost a lot of money. So, don’t hire that many. He didn’t have to hire nine people. That’s what he was doing at that time. So his reasoning was that he couldn’t afford to pay all the musicians with all his money. Sure, so don’t hire that many.
The other thing was that he used to get very angry when people would respond to the solos more than his compositions. So that was one of the things that was making him angry at the time. The other thing was that we sometimes during a concert would only play 3 or 4 songs. The rest would all be improvisation. That’s the way the band was working. And working real well that way. We could handle that reponsibility and people loved it. It wasn’t just jazz but like all kinds of weird time changes, experimental types of music. So I think he wanted more kinds of control on the music. Lastly, a lot of people were geting laid and he wasn’t. That was probably a cause of friction
SM: Everyone in the band appears to have taken the break-up pretty hard, but you went ahead and continued a musical relationship with Frank through ’75. So you were really the only one of the “Mothers” who continued with him.
DP: Actually, Ian Underwood also kept close. In fact, Ian was still close and stayed in touch with Zappa even after the class-action law suit on behalf of the ex-Mothers.
Interview with Jim Pons (New York, NY, April 24, 2000):
SM: You, Flo, and Eddie were tapped by Frank Zappa to join his band when the Turtles broke up in 1970, and your playing and vocals are heard on Live at the Fillmore East, 200 Motels, Just Another Band from LA, and Psychotic Playground. What was the first meeting with Frank like? What were your first impressions of what he was proposing for his “new” group? How did he characterize it? Did you have any personal reservations about the material – or the musical direction- you were heading?
JP: I had known Frank previous to my joining his band, so there was no formal audition. I was almost kind of like a friend of the family by then. (I had known Gail Zappa before they were married.) He called me from London when his bass player, Jeff Simmons, quit during the filming of “200 Motels.” He never discussed with me his ideas about his “new” group or what he was trying to do. He just offered me a job. I had plenty of reservations. I enjoyed and had always appreciated his music before, but it was extremely difficult and complicated stuff compared to what I was used to…. a lot to ask of someone who had taught himself to play just a few years before. It was very intimidating. And more so because my parts were always written out for me and I couldn’t read music. I had to take it to Ian Underwood who would play it for me on the piano until I learned it. I never knew for sure whether or not Frank knew that’s how I was learning my parts. I think he probably did. I was able to do it though, so it never seemed to be a problem. I was happy to be working again and proud that I was considered accomplished enough to play with Zappa, but it wasn’t the kind of music I enjoyed playing. It was more like a job than either of the first two bands, but it was a very good one.
SM: Were you present when Frank composed any music? If so, then do you recall the circumstances or titles of any compositions during your stint as his bassist?
JP: Yeah, I remember evenings sitting around with Frank listening to, and laughing at Mark and Howard’s improvisations. The stories of the mud shark at the Edgewater Inn in Seattle or some parties we had in Winnipeg [Manitoba, Canada] come to mind. A lot of things that he first heard from them in these impromptu sessions would later wind up in his music. It often surprised me that their sense of humor appealed to him so much. And I always thought it was interesting for such a dictatorial type, who claimed such a disdain for any “commercial potential”, that he would use so much of who the Turtles were in his show in those days. And yet, no matter who was in the Mothers at any given time, it was always Frank, and the product always came out with “Zappa” stamped all over it.
Interview with Jimmy Carl Black (Munich, March 29, 2000):
SM: In 1973 — Following the breakup of your post – Mothers of Invention band, Geronimo Black — you moved back to your home town of Anthony, Texas and worked in a donut factory. How did you handle the disappointment of what must have felt like a major failure in your musical career?
JCB: To me, it wasn’t a disappointment to leave the smog and the hustle and bustle (and I’m a poet and don`t know it) of Los Angeles. I certainly didn’t stop playing music just because I wasn’t in LA. I was pretty fed-up with the politics of the music business and still am. They don’t even like — or know — what good music is even if it bit them in the ass. All they care about is how you look and how much money you can make for them. Listen to the radio or watch MTV for a perfect example of what I’m talking about here. Besides that, I was raising five kids and I thought that my small home town (in Texas) was a better environment for them to grow up in — and I was right. Sometimes family must come before career.
SM: When you are touring – or doing interviews – do you sometimes get a bit weary of the constant questions about Frank Zappa and your relationship with his career?
JCB: Not normally, but when some guy shows up with a shopping bag full of records and CD`s and wants me to sign every one plus fifteen pieces of blank paper I wonder what the hell is he doing with all of that? I think he`s selling them and since I am getting no royalities for the recordings, it irriates me a little. Hell, he didn`t even offer to cut me in on the pie. Most people are really cool and I really don`t mind talking to them and answering their questions. It`s the so called EXPERTS that say things to me that we did, or Frank did, that are absolutely not true and they will argue with me saying that I`m wrong. Hell, man, I was there and I should know what I`m talking about on that particular subject. I usually say I gotta go do something when I encounter a fanatic like that. They think they know everything and they don`t know shit.