Interviewing Frank Zappa in Fall River for Fusion magazine, 1967
Ted Scourtis was editor of Fusion magazine. He also worked at E.U. Wurlitzer. He’s a musician, writer and frequent witness to Boston rock history.
AN EARLY INTERVIEW WITH FRANK ZAPPA In 1967-70 I co-edited a Rock magazine in Boston named Fusion. My absolute first and completely exclusive interview was with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention at the Brown Theater in Fall River in 1967. I was 22 and VERY ,VERY nervous and intimidated by the whole experience.
There was a Three foot shelf ringing the backstage room and, as I Described it in the article, it was lined with “wall to wall Mothers”. The interview got off on a tenuous note because although I had a primordial Grasp of the Individual Musical components of his compositions (I came from a Very Musical Family and knew basic theory), The complexity of the music with it’s brilliant segues was quite cutting edge for it’s time . This and the combination of my journalistic inexperience , youthful awe at his genius , and being conscience that every word was being monitored by all those lounging Mothers was downright scary to a twenty two year old. Add to all this his general disdain for the youth culture of the time , and the fact that he didn’t suffer fools gladly , and you had a recipe for quite a few Awkward moments and embarrassing silences .
During one such dead air space , Frank Remarked “Now , what where we talking about? Motorhead’s toothbrush I believe.” to which Motorhead replied , toothbrush in hand , “Yes , It’s of high quality plastic and of a medium gauge –” I swear I felt like climbing under the chair.
In desperation I went for the only weapon left in my arsenal: The Truth!!! I admitted that this was my first interview of all time , that I also was a musician and appreciated how he tied so many varied musical forms together, and had come eager to know about his background and musical influences, but was tongue tied.
At that point he did a complete about face and spoke graciously of his influences ; Johnny Guitar Watson , Sonny Stit, Richard Strauss, 50s Doo Wop, Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, etc.. He kindly offered the Mother’s upcoming itinerary and said they were going to play the Isle of Wight, and that Donovan was also appearing. To This Day , I am so grateful that instead of exclaiming “Oh Wow , Donovan , you must be looking forward to that” like the Folkie I was at the time , what came out of my mouth was “Oh, so what do think of Donovan” ? “Donovan?” He Repied in a Breathy Whisper , “Why I think He’s — ssssswonderful” . I dodged a Zappa bullet on that one .
He also told me that he considered each musician in the Mothers, World Class (and they certainly were that), and that there was a lengthy audition Process , no matter what their skill level and/or resume. They had to fit. They rehearsed upwards of twelve hours a Day when not on tour , which is why they were one of the tightest bands ever.
There was also a Zero tolerance policy on ANY and ALL Drugs, unless prescribed. Cigarettes were excluded from this policy, however, probably because Frank himself smoked. Also, at the time of the Mothers, the freak costumes and affectations were strictly a Business decision. Frank was well aware that image sold a lot of records and tickets. It was his enterprise, from start to finish.
I saw Zappa live Nine times before he died , with most of his varied musical incarnations; with Flo and Eddie , Big Band , Symphonic Ensembles, Etc.. He always recognized me and was accessible if it was possible .
He seemed to many, a cynic , but was actually a Patriotic Skeptic. He Really believed and supported the right to vote, and set up voter registration booths at many of his concerts and testified before congress in support of voter rights and stricter copy write enforcement .
Oh, and of course, he was one of the world’s master guitarists .
Frank Zappa – R.I.P.
Copyright 2011 – Ted Scourtis
Published on February 20, 2013