Bongo Fury

Released: October 2 1975 (live in Austin, Texas May 20/21 1975)


  1. Debra Kadabra
  2. Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy
  3. Sam With the Showing Scalp Flat Top
  4. Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead
  5. 200 Years Old
  6. Cucamonga
  7. Advance Romance
  8. Man With The Woman Head
  9. Muffin Man

Frank Zappa (lead guitar, vocals), Captain Beefheart (harp, vocals, shopping bags), George Duke (keyboards, vocals), Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax, vocals), Bruce Fowler (trombone, fantastic dancing), Tom Fowler (bass, also dancing), Denny Walley (slide guitar, vocals), Terry Bozzio (drums, moisture), Chester Thompson (drums on “200 Years Old” and “Cucamonga”)

26 thoughts on “Bongo Fury”

  1. Advance Romance: is to me one of the best guitar-pieces ever played. You can hear the hypnotic sound of the two guitars. First at interval with each other, like dueling. Later, after the bass-interval, they go both crescendo into orgasm. Hmm.
    Muffin Man: A very good guitarpiece. But here you can hear the man FZ as human and as a genuine performer. Isn’t it a self-portret of the artist who knows that ‘plain-people’ don’t understand – and believe (means original be-live & be-love) – the art & artist.

  2. The music was… thud like. The music was… thud like.
    I usually played such things as rough-neck and thug.
    Opaque melodies that would bug most people.
    Music from the other side of the fence.

  3. You gotta remember that when this came out both FZ and CB were seeming more than a little “lost” hence this is the album where Donnie Vliet showed Zappa where he was going wrong, and/or the other way round. What I like most about this record is that if you drew a line twixt FZ and the Captain, this album would be teetering almost exactly 1/2 way along said line.

  4. It’s not a collaboration really, it’s Zappa’s show with occasional Beefheart on vocal and harp. “Debra Kadabra” and the two poems by Van Vliet are great – the interaction between the band and Beefheart work really well. It’s a raw album, by Zappa’s standards, with plenty of blues. “Advance Romance” is incredible in every way. On some albums, Frank’s solos sometimes bore me, but the ones he picked for this album never fail to grab me. My only regret is that I didnt buy this album earlier, on the basis that the CD cover is very brown. Ah well, we all learn.

  5. Recorded mostly live in in Austin, Texas at the height of the “cosmic cowboy” era and featuring Captain Beefheart, this is a little more “avant garde” than the previous three or four albums in that it featured some CB improvised sounding recitations, while the music had a more bluesy R&B feel to it.

  6. “Bongo Fury” is a hard one for me to review only because (just like “Uncle Meat”) it was such a sudden musical “left turn” from the dizzying technique of the ’73/’74 band, I just didn’t “get it” for a very long time. Many reviewers and listeners have dubbed the whole sound of “Bongo Fury” as “sludge rock” and that is pretty accurate. However, many have also listened deep into that sludge in order to hear some pretty wonderful things going on, even if they are not a shimmery or dazzling sounding as “One Size Fits All”. Bongo Fury is mainly written and spoken about because of the Captain Beefheart reunion going on in its grooves (which is also great to hear), but what’s REALLY going on in this album is yet another Frank Zappa Musical Approach Transformation: Frank is now turning from the “cranial/jazzbo” sensibility of the ’73/’74 Mothers to what from now on seemed to be his preference with his rock bands: MUCH younger, hungrier, hornier and chompin’-at-the-bit musicians (observe BOZZIO’s arrival here) who not only idolized Frank’s stature and reputation, they were well up to the task of playing his music at unbelievable speeds, with unbelievable precision (just wait till the “Vinnie Colaiuta years” begin to listen to this at its full-tilt insanity!!). I would argue that all these young, hungry musicians didn’t necessarily mean that they were the “best” always in terms of musicianship and “feel”, but they certainly could play the crap out of anything Frank threw at them. This record is Frank making his big decision to go into the “hard-rockin’ arena” world that brought us “Baby Snakes” the movie and “Sheik Yerbouti” the album. It also eventually brought Uncle Frank a good deal of exposure and success! Back to the album: “Bongo” is another transitional record, with live and studio bits thrown together (just like “Chunga’s Revenge”), and the sound IS “sludgy”. However, “Advance Romance” is the PERFECT tune for that kind of sludge, and it sounds wonderful. “Muffin Man” is one of my all-time-favorite Zappa encore jams, and “Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy” has a strangely haunting, beautiful major7th chord intro that opens up to another haunting melody. “Bongo Fury” isn’t the right place to start if you’re just getting into Zappa, but countless fans literally SWEAR by this record, and it is great. For me, this record is all over the place, but if you are already prepared for the way Frank LOVES to go all over the place musically and soncially, you’ll embrace it immediately.

  7. It’s not the sort of disc I can just throw on the stereo any old time. I like Frank. I like the Cap’n. I just have to be in “one of those moods”-y’know, it’s a long tiring semi-depressing day and “Advance Romance” sums up those feelings.

    It combines the band in a bit of transition. It’s like trying to combine “Roxy and Elsewhere” with “Sheik Yerbouti” and Captain Beefheart’s “Clear Spot.” There are some songs that are probably some of Frank’s best. Of course there’s “Muffin Man,” just in case you really need to see its real power check out the Baby Snakes DVD. Captain Beefheart’s beat poetry-song-poem-sound-landscape things are really neat. Anyhoo, if you really like Frank and the Cap’n, this is right up your alley even if you might’t listen to it that much. Buyer beware…insofar as -some people- consider this a real turd.

  8. I loved this the moment I heard it. I had only heard the Bongo Fury from El Paso bootleg from this tour so to hear these tracks with great sound got me real excited. The best song from the bootleg, “debra Kadabra”, is first up on this album. What a great tune. Zappa really tries to emulate the Captain’s style and does a hell of a job. The breakdown before the Beefheart ranting section just cracks me up. It’s easilly the most bizarre section of music Zappa had done since the early Mothers. Then Beefheart going on about “braniac fingers” and so on. So cool. The next track,”Carolina Hardcore Ecstacy”, is my favorite. More or less a pop song this version is far superior to the bootleg, which was slow and too long. I’ve read that he edited it down for the album. If he did, kudos! He turned it into a great song. I even think this might be his best vocal harmonizing. The guitar solo is sublime. He goes for the throat and takes it clean off. These songs and Advance Romance are what makes this album an essential purchase, at least for fans of his guitar playing, because there is a boatload on here.

  9. The album is definitely “raw”, as other reviewers hvae suggested. Zappa’s blues influences are strong on this. After listening to this album and One Size Fits All, you realize that Zappa’s band demolished any jam band that came after them. Some of the tunes (Debra Kadabra for example) are strange and odd; others (Carolina Hard Core Ecstasy) are catchy. Too bad the vocal intonation is hideous! Muffin Man is obviously the hit on this album; a rock solo. A good album, but not my favorite from Zappa.

  10. Halfway between Beefheart and Zappa music. Most ‘Blues’ Zappa album. Only wish Nappy sung more lead vocals on it!

  11. Strange – but like Daniel, it was the first Zappa album I ever bought and it is up there with the best. This was Zappa rock, as distinct from Zappa everything else. Definitely raw, but not on the nerves.

  12. I was at the crazy concert in El Paso, 1975 or was it 76? Several strange things happened the evening before and the day of the show. We had quite the entourage..anyone out there?

  13. I bought Bongo Fury because Captain Beefheart played on that album… Since that moment I started to listening FZ too… Maybe ZFT have tapes from spring 1975 tour and some day ………….?

  14. Pamela from Dallas says:

    January 13th, 2008 at 8:29 am
    I was at the crazy concert in El Paso, 1975 or was it 76? Several strange things happened the evening before and the day of the show. We had quite the entourage..anyone out there?

    Did anyone film it or take pix?

  15. I swear by this record. Not a bad cut on it. Some of the most memorable guitar work Zappa had done is on this disc. Add the madness of Don Van Vliet to the mix and you’ve got an album pulsing on full thrusters. Not for everyone, certainly. But if you’re a bonafide Zappa/Mothers/Beefheart freak, this album will keep you revving all day long…

  16. Hi Debra,
    I was at the Zappa concert. Just thinking about it makes me queasy. I do recall vaguely the baton twirler (WTF). Mr. Zappa performed the entire set sitting on a chair stool. I don’t think he ever got up.

    Hot Rats figured in, as I recall singing along. Help me here. This is a lot like deep memory therapy. :)

  17. To be sure, this is not the place to begin with Frank Zappa, but it is good fun. “Debra Kadabra” seems like a surreal, mad dance; “200 Years Old” is great snarling blues that burns wood and draws blood; “Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead” is a great cynical observation about the American bicentennial; the good Captain Beefheart’s contributions “Sam with the Showing Scalp Flat-Top” and “Man with the Woman Head” are pure Beefheart pop surrealism; “Cucamonga” is an unalloyed delight(and,no doubt, a bit of autobiography); and “Muffin Man” features one of Zappa’s greatest guitar workouts. I have considerable mixed feelings about “Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy”, yet another one of Frank’s explorations of sadomasochism. It seems to me an essentially unpleasant song married to a truly great guitar solo and a deceptively pleasant tune. I suppose it works in its jaw-dropping way, but I suggest some proceed with caution on this one. “Advance Romance” is a bit of a mixed bag to me. I love the lyrics and Zappa’s guitar work is uneven here – but becomes glorious in the latter parts of the song. Walley’s slide work seems to my ear murkily mixed – this is no slam on his playing. Unfortunately, this song simply descends a bit too often into sonic mud, justifying (and only here, I think) the accusation of sludge rock. I enjoy this, but I think both Zappa and Beefheart did better elsewhere. And other Zappa releases have a much more ‘wide open’ sound. Still, I wouldn’t write this one off. Zappaphiles must attend for the curious pleasures it sometimes offers. My thoughts, anyhow…Greg Cameron, Surrey, B.c., Canada

  18. For some, this album represents a transitional phase for Frank; for others it is evidence of Frank’s love of the blues; for other folks it is “sludge-rock” or maybe the music is “thud-like”.

    What this album really is, is another example among many of Frank’s unique ability to write compositions perfectly suited for the members of his band at that moment. There is no college-educated jazz funk combo here: what we get is a wonderful set of songs that showcase the particular talents of the Mothers in May 1975.

    The most obvious example of this has to be the crucial element to this new sound: Captain Beefheart’s inimitable vocals, blues harp playing and wonderful way with wayward words. Once you’ve heard the opening song, Debra Kadabra, just try to imagine anybody else singing it! As far as I’m aware, Frank never played this song on any other tour – and I’m not surprised, as it is a custom built piece for the good Captain. (Boy, do I ever hope that ZPZ never try this one!) It sounds like it could’ve been written by Van Vliet himself, there’s just enough blues, just enough way out jazz and all topped off with …those surreal lyrics!

    Other songs contained herein also benefit greatly from Van Vliet’s involvement: Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead would be far less deserving of our attention if it were not for his almost violent harp playing, and 200 Years Old would be somewhat boring for the same reason. And of course he gets to perform two of his own compositions too; these seem to fit in perfectly with the rest of the album due to the spot-on precedent set by Debra Kadabra.

    This album has its fair share of classics too. Carolina Hard Core Ecstasy, Advance Romance and of course Muffin Man all make their debuts here. Frank’s guitar playing is wonderful throughout and is heavily influenced by his immediate company, namely Terry Bozzio’s drumming (which has no precedent on any Zappa album before this one), Captain Beefheart’s abilities, George Duke’s funk keyboards and Denny Walley’s slide guitar playing.

    So, yes – this album does sound unlike any other in Zappa’s oeuvre, but the same concepts are at work. For me it’s just further evidence of the guy’s genius. He dons this sound for just one tour/album, and then moves on to whatever piques his interest next…

  19. This album marks the endpoint of what had begun with Overnite Sensation and stylistically it clearly belongs to that era. It is somehow the little brother of Roxy & Elsewhere but not ‘little’ in terms of quality and intensity. I remember that those two releases had even been advertised together.

    The next album (Zoot Allures) was transitional because then the days of the MOI were finally over and Frank changed his image and attitude (for the worse IMO).


  20. So this is a drive in restaurant in Hollywood….So this is a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood….So this is a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood

    As an aging rocker with too many years of a “frame of reference” to count, I must say that this is one of the best albums I ever purchased (while attending Ohio U in 1976). Still listen to it to this day, and my 3 kids love it as well, though it does cause them to question the type of “entertainment” I endulged in while in college (we use the “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell” policy). Incredible guitar solos – I read several mentions of that in this blog about Advance Romance and Muffin Man, but I also think the short one in Carolina Hard Core Ecstasy is outstanding too.

    Roll streak! Roll streak! Sam was a basket case!

  21. I’m not sure what to say about this album. I was searching out the original piece that Muffin Man was debuted upon and stumbled across Bongo Fury. What a name eh? I’m a youngster compared to most Zappa fans as I’m only 27 and was barely alive before Frank’s unfortunate death. Born in ’82 I was forced upon music’s worst era but my step dad had me listening to Overnight Sensation when I was about ten years old. He had tons of Zappa tapes and I’m pretty sure Overnight Sensation was Zappa’s best but somewhere along the way I stumbled upon Strictly Commercial and heard Muffin Man. This is the absolute greatest song of all time period.
    I don’t know what sludge rock is but I will say that the sound of this album is a bit muddy and a bit chaotic but it definitely features some of the greatest tunes that will ever be heard by man’s ears

  22. “Thinman says: This album marks the endpoint…
    … The next album (Zoot Allures) was transitional because then the days of the MOI were finally over and Frank changed his image and attitude (for the worse IMO).”

    I agree with you Thinman… things were not a solidly good – of course there were very fine moments scattered throughout. I think the next watershed was synclavier-land and Ensemble Modern. But the 80’s rock stuff (technically faultless) mostly leaves me cold.

    Anyhoo, the matter at hand: Bongo Fury – a wonderful album. The Beefheart tracks and Cucamonga are the high points for me.

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