What Ever Happened To The Mothers Of Invention?
by Frank Zappa
(Hit Parader no. 48, April 1970, pages 23-24)
The Mothers of Invention, the infamous and repulsive rocking teen combo, is not doing concerts any more. Jimmy Carl Black (the Indian of the group) has formed another ensemble which he calls Geronimo Black (named after his youngest child). Don (Dom De Wild) Preston is collaborating with avant garde dancer Meredith Monk in performances of electronic music. Ian Robertson Underwood is preparing material for a solo album. Roy Estrada, Bunk Gardner, Buzz Gardner and Art Tripp are doing studio work in Hollywood. Motorhead (James Euclid) Sherwood is working on his bike and preparing for a featured role in a film with Captain Beefheart. Frank Zappa is producing various artists for his record companies, Bizarre and Straight (which he co-owns with Herb Cohen), working on film and television projects and is currently writing arrangements for a new album by French jazz violinist Jean Luc Ponty. This Ponty album, to be released on World Pacific, will mark the first attempt by any other artist to record a whole album's worth of Zappa's writing, exclusive of The Mothers of Invention interpretations.
It is possible that, at a later date, when audiences have properly assimilated the recorded work of the group, a reformation might take place. The following is a brief summary of The Mothers' first five years of musical experimentation and development.
In 1965 a group was formed called The Mothers. In 1966 they made a record which began a musical revolution. The Mothers invented Underground Music. They also invented the double fold rock album and the concept of making a rock album a total piece of music. The Mothers showed the way to dozens of other groups (including The Beatles and Stones) with their researches and experimentation in a wide range of musical styles and mediums.
The Mothers set new standards for performance. In terms of pure musicianship, theatrical presentation, formal concept and sheer absurdity, this one ugly band demonstrated to the music industry that it was indeed possible to make the performance of electric music a valid artistic expression.
In 1967 (April through August), The Garrick Theater on Bleecker Street in New York was devastated by cherry bombs, mouldering vegetables, whipped cream, stuffed giraffes and depraved plastic frogs… the whole range of expressive Americana… all of it neatly organized into what people today would probably call a "Love Rock Long-Hair Tribal Musical." The Mothers called it â€œPigs And Repugnant: Absolutely Free" (an off-Broadway musical)… it was in its third month when "Hair" first opened.
The Mothers was the first big electric band. They pioneered the use of amplified and/or electronically modified woodwind instruments… everything from piccolo to bassoon. They were the first to use the wah wah pedal on guitar as well as horns and electric keyboard instruments. They laid some of the theoretical groundwork which influenced the design of many commercially manufactured electro-musical devices.
The Mothers managed to perform in alien time signatures and bizarre harmonic climates with a subtle ease that led many to believe it was all happening in 4/4 with a teen-age back beat. Through their use of procedures normally associated with contemporary "serious music" (unusual percussion techniques, electronic music, the use of sound in blocks, strands, sheets and vapors), The Mothers were able to direct the attention of a large number of young people to the work of many contemporary composers.
In 1968, Ruben Sano lifted his immense white-gloved hand, made his fingers go "snat!" and instantly Neo-Greaser Rock was born. A single was released from Ruben's boss album (remember Cruising with Ruben & the Jets ?) called "Deseri." It was played on many AM stations (actually rising to #39 on the Top Forty at KIOA in Des Moines, Iowa) until programmers discovered Ruben & the Jets was really The Mothers under a disguise.
Meanwhile, the so called Underground FM stations could boast (because they were so cool and far out) that they actually went so far as to play The Mothers of Invention albums on their stations. Yes. Boldly they'd whip a few cuts from Freak Out on their listeners between the steady stream of important blues numbers.
And then of course, there was Uncle Meat, recorded back to back with Ruben & the Jets (a somewhat unusual production procedure). In spite of the musical merit of the album, the only thing that drew any attention was the fact that several words, in common usage, were included in candid dialogue sections.
Awaiting release is a collection of 12 complete albums of Mothers' music, a retrospective exhibition of the group's most interesting work, covering a span from two years prior to the actual formation of the ensemble, through August 1969. Included in the collection is documentary material from first rehearsals, tracing the development of the group through to its most recent live performances in the U.S. and Europe, some of which have become almost legendary. To those people who cared at all about The Mothers' musical explorations (and also those who didn't care & who wish to be merely entertained), this collection will prove of great interest.