Frank Zappa – The Fall 1978 tour

The last time the band changed, in the Fall of 1977, Frank only had a rhythm section from the previous band. Now, for the Fall 1978 tour, the rhythm section is the one he has to replace. Terry Bozzio has left the band after 3 years (a very long tenure for a 70s Zappa band member) and joined the band UK. Patrick O’Hearn also left, though circumstances would force his return halfway through this tour. And Adrian Belew joined David Bowie’s tour – Frank was famously mocking of this towards the end of the Winter 78 tour, as Adrian let Frank know before the tour ended – but would become far more famous later on for his work with Robert Fripp in King Crimson.

To replace Terry, Frank hired Vinnie Colaiuta, who could not make up what Frank lost in Terry’s vocals or comedic stylings, but whose drumming was simply monstrous. And, most importantly for a band like Frank’s, he could sight-read. To play bass, Frank hired Arthur Barrow, who had worked with Vinnie and former Zappa band member Bruce Fowler the year before. Arthur wasn’t as improvisational as Patrick was, but his bass-playing was technically spot-on, and he proved so good at learning things fast that he would later take over as the band’s rehearsal director (“Clonemeister”) in Frank’s absence.

To make up for the loss in vocals and guitar, Frank hired Ike Willis, who had seen Frank perform in St. Louis in 1977 and had a short backstage ‘audition’ at that time. Ike’s vocals were fantastic, and brought a new vocal dynamic back to the band which it hadn’t really had since the loss of Ray White a year and a half earlier. Unfortunately, Ike had to leave the tour mid-October, so Patrick O’Hearn was brought back for the remaining 2 weeks of the tour. Frank also brought back Denny Walley to play slide guitar and sing vocals. Denny had played with Frank on the Spring 1975 tour with Captain Beefheart, but hadn’t sung at that time. We find out why here – he has a sort of strangulated tenor that is pretty rock ‘n roll, but not very tuneful. Nevertheless, it works for Frank’s songs.

Ed Mann, Tommy Mars, and Peter Wolf remain from the previous band, playing percussion, keyboards, and keyboards, respectively.

As for the tour, most fans tend to divide it into two parts: September 3 – October 25, and the 6 Halloween shows. I’ll discuss Halloween separately as well, and confine myself to the typical Fall 78 setlist. Actually, I’ll do the ‘early’ and ‘late’ setlists – when he had one show that night, he’d do the early show with some extended stuff, when he had two he would do a 2nd show that introduced some lesser-played songs. Let’s break things down. As always to avoid repetition I will point you to my prior Zappa posts (see tags) for discussion of those songs.

Opening Guitar Solo – For the first few shows of this tour, Frank would start things off with The Purple Lagoon, but after a week or so, he began to rotate various vamps over which he would play a guitar solo. Some of these could be short and perfunctory, and some long and sumptuous. Generally speaking, if the show opens with a fantastic guitar solo, it’s a good sign the rest of the show will also be awesome. Debuting here was a vamp that would eventually appears on the Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar album as ‘The Deathless Horsie’, as well as a more free-form vamp that fans call ‘Persona Non Grata’, an example of which can be heard on the You Are What You Is album with Steve Vai overdubs as Theme from the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear.

Dancin’ Fool – pretty much the same as the Winter 78 version.

Easy Meat – This song actually debuted eight years previously, on the first Flo and Eddie Zappa tour. Its lyrics actually fit in pretty well with the lecherous humor from that band, being a song about, well, a girl who is ‘easy’ and whom the singer can have sex with and then move on the next morning. Not exactly high art, but this was a period where Frank was enjoying finding more songs to offend people. Watch for the namecheck of ‘Rolling Stone’. Vocals on this were by Ike Willis till he left mid-tour, then Denny Walley took over. Frank would play the guitar solo, which is rather short and simple this tour. It would eventually appear on the Tinseltown Rebellion album, but with a later tour’s version and a magnificent keyboard bridge (missing here).

Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me? – This had debuted in the Fall of 1975, and was played for about a year and a half before being dropped. It’s back now, and will stick around for another couple of years. I’ve never really liked the song, as I generally prefer my offensive songs to either have a solo to take my mind off it, or a technically difficult bit where I can point to it and say “Look, hard to play notes!”. This is just a crass story about a jerk guy meeting a dimwitted girl at a bar, then going back to her place, trying to score, getting rebuffed, and eventually getting some head. At least the guy is portrayed just as scummily as the girl. It appeared on the Zappa in New York album, which featured the version from the Xmas 1976 tour.

Keep It Greasey – This song actually debuted late into the Fall 1975 tour, but was only played once or twice before being dropped. It makes its true debut here, and is yet another song about the wonders of anal sex. Presumably Frank felt the need for it to be hear as he’d dropped Broken Hearts Are For Assholes from the tour. I generally listen to Vinnie’s drumming on this song, which is truly over the top. The song would appear on the Joe’s Garage album with a long instrumental coda – live, it’s just for the three verses and choruses.

Village of the Sun – This was a staple of Frank’s classic tours from 1973 and 1974, with George Duke and Napoleon Murphy Brock on vocals. Now that Frank has Ike Willis in the band, he can put it back in the lineup, and Ike’s vocals are fantastic. Sadly, after Ike leaves the song is dropped, as it needs a vocalist who actually can sing well. In previous tours it segued into a complicated instrumental called “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)”, but here it leads to a calm, relaxed Frank guitar solo, which is usually quite good. The lyrics themselves are a tribute to the town of Palmdale, California, and its vicious sandstorms. The original version can be heard on the Roxy and Elsewhere album.

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing – Another tour debut, and one of Frank’s better political songs. Generally if Frank is going to offend people, I’d rather it be with political or religious views than with sexist claptrap, and The Meek is a great example. It’s an attack on religion in general, but Billy Graham’s style of televangelism in particular. It also features some terrific slide guitar by Denny Walley, and a nice, easy to song melody. Frank makes a point here he’s made before and will again – he doesn’t care what people believe, as long as they don’t proselytize. It would appear on the You Are What You Is album.

City of Tiny Lites – similar to previous tours, only now Denny Walley not only sings lead vocals but adds a slide guitar solo, which Frank would then follow with his own solo. As always whenever Frank had to follow a dynamic soloist, this could lead to some terrific guitar playing.

Pound for a Brown – similar to previous tours, this was one of the tour’s two big solo vehicles, and featured solos (usually) by Ed Mann on vibes/marimba, Tommy on piano keyboard, and Peter on moog synthesizer. Sometimes Frank would also take a solo. As the tour went on, Pound got longer and more involved, and some of the keyboard solos were astounding. You can hear the keyboard solos from a Halloween Pound on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 4.

Bobby Brown – similar to previous tours.

Conehead – This debuted as an instrumental riff on the Fall 1977 tour, but here it’s the Saturday Night Live parody song we know from the You Are What You Is album. Unlike that album, the version here is usually followed by a nice Frank guitar solo, or, when he was a special guest, a violin solo by L. Shankar.

I Have Been In You – generally performed as in the previous tour, this mocking of Peter Frampton was usually shorn of its long, boutique girl intro here.

Flakes – Having debuted in the Fall of 1977 as essentially the first half of the song, then adding the 2nd half as a fabulous instrumental jam in Winter 78, Flakes as we know it today debuts here, with its second half devoted to more mocking of its subject. While I love the instrumental jam version best, this one is also fun, as Frank really goes to town on mocking repair people who promise to fix something, then never do, but charge you just the same.

Magic Fingers – A nice surprise this tour, this was a song that Flo & Eddie performed for the 200 Motels movie. It’s revived here, and gives the show a rocking bout of adrenaline at just the right time, being a fast-paced rocker. The subject, of course, is sex, and more specifically the vibrating beds you get in cheesy motel rooms.

Yellow Snow Suite – Generally speaking, this ended the main set most nights. It’s the first four songs from the Apostrophe (‘) album, Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow, Nanook Rubs It, St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast, and Father O’Blivion, with an added 5th coda song, Rollo, which debuted (with different words and unconnected to Yellow Snow) with the 2nd 1972 tour but gains silly words here. Altogether it winds up being about 14 minutes long, and can be longer depending on how much fun Frank is having. The ‘Nanook Rubs It’ part usually involved Frank trying to get the audience to stand up and jump up and down on the imaginary fur trapper, something which he usually didn’t have success with as audiences were OK with clapping, but jumping up and down made them feel like idiots. He had more luck in Europe in 1979, and the version of this Suite of the You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1 album is the definitive one.

This was your typical ‘early set’. If Frank had a 2nd show, we’d usually see some variations of these songs, mixed in with the ‘main’ songs played again (such as Dancin’ Fool and Easy Meat):

Bamboozled by Love – Debuting this tour (though Frank tried out the lyrics in a few improv spots a couple years back), this is your basic slow blues number, with vocals by Ike (when he was there) and Denny (when Ike left). The lyrics are about a guy yelling at his woman for cheating on him, and saying that when she returns he will murder her. As this is a blues song, I give that a pass, as, well, that’s what a lot of blues songs were about. It also featured a Frank guitar solo.

Sy Borg – Frank was starting to pull together various songs from his recent tours and seeing if he could work them into a coherent album with a ‘plot’. This would eventually become Joe’s Garage, but most of the songs from that album work just as well on their own as they do within the context. This one is about sex – particularly sex with a ‘machine person’, with a nice triple-layered pun in the title about a cyborg, the robot being named ‘Sy’ (a Jewish name), and ‘CYBernetic ORGasm’. The lyrics are crass, but the song itself is very pretty, one of the prettiest Frank ever did. It would also only appear on this tour, so is a nice rare treat. It has vocals by Ike and a moog keyboard solo by Peter Wolf.

Little House I Used to Live In – the other major solo instrumental song of the tour, this is essentially the same as the last tour, with Peter and Tommy getting piano solos (Tommy gets a longer solo, as Peter got a longer one in Pound), followed by Vinnie doing a drum solo. Vinnie’s drum solos on this are an amazing outpouring of energy, very different from Terry Bozzio’s, which were almost a performed composition.

Mo’s Vacation – this didn’t appear very often, but when it did it was always impressive. Apparently this came about after the band had mastered Black Page #2, and perhaps someone noted that it had become easy for them. Frank apparently took this as a challenge, and wrote Mo’s Vacation, which has EVEN MORE insane polyrhythms for bass, percussion and drums. The ‘rock band’ version of this never appeared on an album (though the melody to it was quoted at the end of the song ‘Wet T-Shirt Nite’ on Joe’s Garage), but Frank ended up turning it into a long classical piece called ‘Mo & Herb’s Vacation’ which is on the London Symphony Orchestra album.

Black Page #2 – Performed as it has been the previous tours, as just the complicated instrumental, with no ending guitar solo. That would come later. On Halloween they did another ‘dance contest’ theme before this.

Suicide Chump – Another tour debut, with vocals either by Frank or Denny, depending on the point in the tour it’s being performed. This tour’s version usually involved a long spoken word intro with Frank talking about what the song was about, followed by the body of the song itself, then Denny and Frank playing slide and regular guitar solos. The whole thing was about 9-10 minutes long, and a nice bluesy treat. The song itself is not so much about mocking people who kill themselves as people who ‘pretend’ to kill themselves – taking too many pills (but not actually enough to kill themselves) or cutting their wrists (the wrong direction, so they don’t actually bleed to death), then calling their friends and begging to be saved. Frank feels this is just a sad plea for attention, and notes if they want to be suicidal they should just do it. Let’s face it, empathy is not a reason anyone listens to Zappa.

Tell Me You Love Me – Like Magic Fingers, this is a rocking number from the Flo & Eddie years that was revived to provide a short burst of raw energy into the set, and it does its job perfectly. The song itself is basically just a typical guy begging for affection.

Yo Mama – essentially performed as on the previous tour. The solo has gotten more structured, and tends to expand in 3 stages. First is freeform, with Frank playing under a very minimalist vamp. The band then comes in for a second section with full instrumentation, then Frank shifts into a 3rd vamp that sounds almost triumphant, riding that one for several more minutes. Yo Mama solos this tour could last from 10-12 minutes, and are some of the best guitar playing Frank’s ever done.

That’s basically what you’d see as a second set, with interspersed stuff from set #1. For encores:

Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, Muffin Man – same as previous tours.

Strictly Genteel – Another number from the 200 Motels album, this was stripped of its lyrics and performed as a majestic instrumental. I feel it actually works better that way, with the band creating a wonderful atmosphere to send people home in a good mood.

As I noted, most of the tour was fairly straightforward. Halloween 1978 though, is a different beast, and deserves a separate post.

Frank Zappa – The Winter 1978 tour

A giant Zappa geekery warning for this post, and the obligatory Zappa warning for those who don’t want to see me mentioning Dinah-Moe Humm again.

I have a particular soft spot for this tour. Not only does it feature many of my favorite Zappa songs played by one of my favorite bands, but it was also my first exposure to the Zappa tape-trading community, and my first live concert tape. I got a copy of the February 15th concert in Berlin, Germany, generally acknowledged as one of the highlights of the tour. I was enraptured.

This features the same band as the Fall 1977 tour, which covered the United States and Canada. The Winter 1978 tour is a European tour, hitting the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium. The audiences there have always been more into Zappa than they were in North America, even in the 1970s, but several concerts this tour have Frank running up against a language barrier, as he starts several times to try to do long spoken word intros, then realizes that few there can speak English. He also talks about singing “for the GIs” several times, reminding you that this was right in the middle of the Cold War.

For those who forgot, the band for this tour is Frank Zappa on guitar and vocals, Adrian Belew on guitar and vocals, Tommy Mars on keyboards and vocals, Peter Wolf on keyboards, Ed Mann on percussion and vocals, Patrick O’Hearn on bass and vocals, and Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals. This would be Terry and Adrian’s last tour with Zappa. Terry would go on to found Missing Persons with his wife Dale, and many years later joined Duran Duran for a time. Adrian would go on to greater fame by joining Robert Fripp in his new version of King Crimson. This was also Patrick’s last tour as sole bass player, but he would later join Frank mid-tour in the Fall of 1978 to play bass with his replacement Arthur Barrow.

Here’s a breakdown of a typical Winter 1978 playlist. If I’ve discussed these songs before, I’ll just point you to my previous discussion, while noting any variations that may have changed for this tour. Much of this tour, especially the shows in London, was used as backing tracks for the Sheik Yerbouti album.

The Purple Lagoon – After a one tour break, this difficult instrumental returns as the opening bit of musique concrete for this tour. It would be its final tour as the main opener/closer, though it would also begin a few Fall 1978 shows.

Dancin’ Fool – After 2 proto-versions were played in the Fall of 1977, this is the debut tour for one of Frank’s most popular songs. Another swipe at disco, or more accurately a swipe at older folks who go to the disco clubs and try to treat them as singles bars, pretending they are ‘hep’. The description of the narrator as “One of my legs is shorter than the other and both my feet’s too long” is Frank’s own; after an onstage attack in 1971 where a crazed fan pushed Frank into an orchestra pit, he needed surgery and one of his legs was indeed slightly shorter the rest of his life. Also watch for Frank’s mocking of cocaine in this song, another example of his dislike of drug users. This song appears on the Sheik Yerbouti album.

Peaches En Regalia – essentially the same as the Fall 1977 version.

The Torture Never Stops – essentially the same as the Fall 1977 tour, only even better. This is pretty much THE tour for Torture solos, as Frank really outdoes himself here. A great example is heard on the You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 1 CD, which features a Torture from Germany on this tour (mislabeled as 2/25, we’re not sure where it’s from) that is absolutely sublime. The song ‘Rat Tomago’, from Sheik Yerbouti, is also taken from a Torture solo, this one 2/15 Berlin.

Tryin’ to Grow a Chin – essentially the same as on previous tour. Starting about 2 weeks into the tour, Terry’s vocals got a bit less angry and a bit more ‘whiny teenager’. I think he was getting tired of the song. It has been pretty much in every show since the Fall of 1975, along with Torture. Both would get a well-deserved rest after this tour.

City of Tiny Lites – essentially the same as on the previous tour, with Adrian handling the vocals. The guitar solos for this tour were OK, but not great – we’d have to wait until 1979 to see Tiny Lites really start to take off as a guitar vehicle.

Baby Snakes – A one-tour only treat, breaking up the usually inseparable combo of Tiny Lights and Pound. The song appears to be a nonsense verse, but listening closely makes you realize that it’s (surprise!) about sex, with ‘baby snakes’ being clitorises. The Sheik Yerbouti album has a version from this tour, with one exception. On the album, the lyric is ‘They live by a code that is usually SMPTE, which stands for Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers’. This was no doubt the original lyric, but Frank and the band got to goofing on the acronym, so all live version list SMPTE as ‘Suck My Pee-pee Towards the End’. I think we can be grateful Frank went with the original for the album.

Pound for a Brown – Essentially performed as on the previous tour. On this one, it’s a strictly keyboards only showcase, with Peter Wolf taking the majority of the solos. Shorter than it has been or would be in future, it’s nevertheless a treat, especially for you lovers of mini-Moogs.

I Have Been In You – This song has a long and amusing history. In May 1977, Peter Frampton released an album with the title ‘I’m in You’, featuring a song with the same name. The song is apparently not meant to be as salacious as its title suggests, but Frank took one look at the album and thought “Is that guy kidding or what?” At the time, Frampton was at the height of his popularity, especially with teenage girls, for being cool and English and having long blond hair and pouty lips and the like. Frank then wrote a song in the fall mocking it, called I Have Been in You, which pretty much takes the suggestion in Frampton’s song and makes it explicit. This song actually opens the Sheik Yerbouti album. It debuted a couple of times last tour, but is a regular number here, with Frank doing long, involved spoken intros about you, a teenage girl, abducting the succulent young pop star of your choice and taking him back to your room to sleep with. As always, these could get pretty crass, but hey, it’s Zappa.

Flakes – We’re into Version 2 of this song from the Sheik Yerbouti album, and my personal favorite. The first half of the song is essentially performed as on the previous tour. After the ‘Dylan’ verses, the keyboards strike up a minimalist vamp, and Adrian Belew performs a solo on e-bow. This goes on for a minute or so, then he switches to guitar and solos a bit more. When he’s done the whole band just seems to pause on a long chord, then Patrick screams “ONE TWO THREE FOUR!” and the band proceeds to go into a full on chaotic jam, with Frank and Adrian having a mini-guitar duel. The whole thing extends to about 4-5 minutes after the song ‘proper’, and is one of the great unreleased treats in the Zappa catalog. For the Sheik Yerbouti album, Frank overdubbed vocals over the second half (the ‘I’m a moron and this is my wife’ lyrics), and in future tours it would appear this way. I like that version too, but I miss the giant instrumental raveup. You can hear it in the background on Sheik Yerbouti.

Broken Hearts Are For Assholes – as performed on previous tour. Patrick’s mid-song vocal improvisation frequently made the band crack up.

King Kong (2nd half of tour only) – This, along with Pound for a Brown, was the longest running of Frank’s concert songs, first being performed in 1967 and last heard on the final tour in 1988. It’s an instrumental, of course, consisting of the theme (played very fast this tour) and solos. The main soloists on this tour were Ed Mann and Patrick O’Hearn, and after a week or so they started to throw in a vocal breakdown where each band member would pick a two-syllable phrase (‘sport shirt’, ‘blow job’, ‘white person’, etc.) and spout it in a sort of acappella meltdown. You can hear a performance of this madness on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 6, as ‘White Person’ – it’s from the 2/25/78 Neunkirchen concert.

Wild Love – Not quite as epic as the previous tour, but essentially performed as it was there, with solos from Ed, Patrick and Adrian (before King Kong was added) and Adrian alone (after KK arrived). This would be its final tour, which saddens me. An underrated song.

Yo Mama – The reason that Wild Love isn’t as epic is that Frank’s final monstrous guitar solo had gotten so monstrous that he finally simply decided to cut it off and writes some lyrics around it. The result is Yo Mama, one of his best guitar vehicles. The lyrics themselves are almost pointless, a brief rant at twenty-somethings still living at home, but the solo was always fantastic, taking shape as the tour went on and frequently including snatches of a riff that would develop into the song ‘You Are What You Is’ two years later. This appears on Sheik Yerbouti as the final song, The stunning solo from Eppelheim on 2/24 is also heard on the One Shot Deal posthumous compilation as ‘Heidelberg’.

Punky’s Whips (first half of tour only) – essentially as performed on the previous tour. Frank and Terry were growing weary of this song, and it vanished about 2 weeks into the tour. Being a vehicle written about and for Terry, it was also its last tour.

Titties ‘n Beer – essentially performed as on previous tours. The dialogue between Frank and Terry is even more perfunctory here, as if they just want to get through it fast. The final tour with this as a regular set piece, though it would pop up occasionally as an audience request in future tours.

Black Page #2 – essentially performed as on the previous tour. In the UK, they’d try doing dance contests before this, as on prior tours, but Frank must have been dissatisfied, as by Germany it had gotten to just hand clapping for audience participation.

Jones Crusher – essentially performed as on the previous tour. This was the final tour for this short-lived number.

Little House I Used to Live In – Boy, does this song have a long and involved pedigree. It first appeared on the 1970 album Burnt Weeny Sandwich, and consisted of a piano-instrumental head, as performed (and possibly written) by Ian Underwood. It then segued into a live performance of what Frank then called ‘The Duke’, a lively instrumental played throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. The song also appeared on Fillmore East June 1971, called LHIUTLI but consisting just of ‘The Duke’ part. Now for this tour, we see the song revived, but only the instrumental piano part, leaving ‘The Duke’ off. After the band plays the piano part as a full band intro, the song then goes into solos, usually led by Tommy Mars on keyboards (who would frequently scat during them). On this tour, this was then followed by Frank playing a tango guitar solo, with the band playing a great tango vamp behind him. Another highlight of this tour, these solos were smooth and smoking. You can hear an excerpt of one as ‘The Sheik Yerbouti Tango’ on the titular album – it’s from 2/15 Berlin.

Dong Work for Yuda – This was done as an acappella instrumental for the Winter 1977 tour, and I discussed its origins there. Here it gets a somewhat minimal full band version, but still ends with Terry playing the part of John Smothers and coming out with a few good quotes. This would be the final tour for this song, but it would pop up out of context, like so much of that album, on Joe’s Garage.

Bobby Brown – performed as on the previous tour.

Envelopes – performed as on the previous tour, with Tommy’s ‘I’m screwing you’ vocals and Terry’s drum solo. This is the final tour for the song in this form, though it would return in 1981 sans vocals and drum solo.

Disco Boy – essentially performed as on previous tours. With Frank having Dancin’ Fool as his new vehicle to mock disco, this would prove to be the final tour for this song as well.

The encores were usually Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, and Muffin Man, which I’ve talked about before. Sometimes we also heard an early proto-version of the classic guitar solo Watermelon in Easter Hay. One of these early versions can be heard on Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa.

This is a terrific tour, highly prized by Zappa collectors due to the band’s skill and the many opportunities for solos. Frank had another North American tour lined up in the Fall of 1978, but as opposed to last fall (where everyone but the rhythm section had left the band), this time only the rhythm section (plus Belew) were leaving. Frank would have to get a new bass player, drummer, and rhythm guitarist. And he might also want to find a good vocalist, something Frank had lacked since Ray White left the band.

To be continued…

Frank Zappa – The Fall 1977 tour

Zappa geekery warning. Also, Zappa warning in general, as I know some find him offensive.

At the end of the Winter 1977 tour, Eddie Jobson left Frank’s band to form the supergroup UK with Bill Bruford and John Wetton. Likewise, Ray White left the band at the same time to pursue other interests (he would return in 1980). This left Frank with only 2 band members – his rhythm section, Patrick O’Hearn on bass and Terry Bozzio on drums. Clearly it was time to hire some new band members.

Frank was busy putting together an album from the Winter 1976 NYC concerts, and hired percussionist Ed Mann to do some overdubs. He hadn’t had a percussionist in the band since Ruth Underwood, but in Ed he found the only other one he would ever hire. Ed was in Frank’s bands, on and off, through 1988. Meanwhile, Frank,. Patrick and Terry, along with engineer Davey Moire, recorded a bunch of very silly dialogue for a project tentatively called Läther. He also went to a bar in Nashville and saw Adrian Belew playing in a band, and after a raucous audition, followed by a much quieter one, he hired him to replace Ray. Meanwhile, Ed Mann recommended Tommy Mars as a keyboardist, who he’d worked with in Connecticut; at the same time, former Zappa keyboardist Andre Lewis recommended Austrian Peter Wolf, who had emigrated the year before to play jazz. Frank ended up hiring both, and he’d have two keyboard players for years after that.

(Note: as many get confused, Peter Wolf is not the same Peter Wolf who is in the J. Geils Band. However, it *is* the same Peter Wolf who was the producer/arranger of We Built This City, Sara, Who’s Johnny, These Dreams, and On My Own. In case you needed an infusion of 1980s just now.)

With his new band, Frank set out on a tour of the United States, starting in Tempe Arizona on September 8, and ending in Los Angeles on November 20th. This includes a legendary 6-concert run at the Palladium in New York City, whose madness would only be topped by the 1978 band the following year.

Here’s a breakdown of the typical Fall 1977 setlist. If I’ve already discussed a song in my Winter 1977 post here, I’ll direct you to those remarks, though I may note any differences between tours. This is unofficially called ‘The Sheik Yerbouti tour’, as much of the album came from this tour and the following Winter 1978 one.

Flakes intro – an instrumental version of the ‘Bob Dylan’ portion of Flakes is used to open these shows. See my post on Flakes below.

Peaches En Regalia – see previous post, but note that this version has Tommy and Adrian sing the final ‘verse’ in an acapella falsetto, with occasional cat growls.

The Torture Never Stops – see previous post. Note that Frank’s Fall 1977 Tortures are really sublime, and he’s really coming into his own as a guitar soloist. He’s still playing a solo with this band, rather than attempting mini-spontaneous composition as he would with the 1980s bands.

Tryin’ to Grow a Chin – see previous post. Still a Bozzio vocal spotlight. Though, as you will note, he doesn’t so much sing as scream.

City of Tiny Lites – see previous post. Sung by Adrian, this is the version most familiar to people from Sheik Yerbouti. At the start of the tour, it was a vehicle for a Patrick O’Hearn bass solo, but about a month into the tour, Frank took it over as a guitar solo song. His solos here are OK, but Tiny Lites wouldn’t become a stone cold Frank guitar classic until 1980 and the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression.

Pound for a Brown – see previous post, but note that now that Tommy and Peter are in the band, this becomes a major keyboard vehicle. Usually in this band it has Tommy taking the majority of the soloing, though both keyboardists get lengthy improvisations. Patrick also plays fantastic bass backing through this entire song, and many time I’ve found myself listening to him rather than the soloists. Frank initially took a guitar solo at the end, but see ‘Conehead’ below.

Bobby Brown – this is the debut tour for this Zappa favorite, and it pretty much sounds as it always has. It appears on the “Sheik Yerbouti” album. Around October Zappa would begin it by telling ‘The Story of the Three Assholes’, where he talks about interviewers from rock magazines who brought their girlfriends along to watch them interview Frank, then laid into him for writing sexist songs. Frank felt they were doing this so that the girls would see they were ‘sensitive’ and give them head later on. His response was this song (which is pretty sexist, I will admit), about a wannabe cool guy who sexually assaults girls in high school, is terrified by a sexual encounter with a strong butch girl where the tables are turned, and finally ends up happy as a gay man getting ‘golden showers’. There’s not much I can say in its defense except 1) hey, it was the 1970s, and 2) it was a huge chart hit in Scandinavia.

Conehead – An interesting oddity this tour. Frank was clearly an SNL fan, and had appeared as a musical guest in 1976. (He would return as host in 1978, but more on that disaster later.) He then debuted a song called ‘Conehead’ on this tour. However, it’s nothing like the Conehead of future tours, and the one that appears on the album You Are What You Is. Instead, it’s a spacey, bass-driven instrumental, with Patrick O’Hearn playing a very funky lick, over which Frank tears out a terrific solo. Frank really made his solos count this tour, and Conehead is always a treat. It gains its familiar tune and words in Fall 1978.

Flakes – Another tour debut, sort of. This Sheik Yerbouti song is about plumbers, mechanics, etc., mostly in California, who show up to do a job, tear everything apart, leave without fixing anything, then charge you a huge bill. Frank decided to write a rant called ‘Flakes’, which includes an amusing Bob Dylan impression from Adrian Belew. After Belew’s contribution, the song comes to a quick end. In Winter 1978, it would gain a long instrumental coda, with an e-bow solo by Belew, and a band rave-up at the end. From Fall 1978 onwards, it would get the vocal 2nd half familiar from the SY album.

Big Leg Emma – see previous post. This was the song’s final tour.

Envelopes – An ‘instrumental’ song with a convoluted history, Frank originally composed it in 1970, but never performed it with a band. He then gave it to Tommy Mars to perform on this tour. It started as a Tommy-led keyboard instrumental, but about 2 weeks in Tommy started singing juvenile sex lyrics in a high falsetto as he played, and Frank found this amusing. He’d keep doing it for the rest of the run, and into 1978. The song then goes into a 4-5 minute drum solo by Terry Bozzio. When the song eventually returns to setlists in 1981, it was once again a pure instrumental, and had no drum solo afterward. This is the version that appears on the Ship Arriving Too Late To Save a Drowning Witch album.

Disco Boy – One of the few songs Frank ever performed that he debuted live *after* it had appeared on an album. He’s toyed with the guitar riff on the Winter 1976 tour, but this is the first appearance of Disco Boy proper, as seen on the Zoot Allures album. The song is a typical dumb rock anthem a la Dinah-Moe Humm, written for the kids in the audience to mosh to. The plot involves a teen going out clubbing every night, looking cool, trying to hook up with a cute girl, watching her go home with your best friend, and going home alone to jerk off. It’s a classic tale of the disco years. Frank, aware how dumb it was, would frequently scream out “Rock and roll!” after the instrumental break. The audience, of course, would go nuts.

I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth – Winning the ‘most offensive title’ award handily, this piece is actually an instrumental, and quite a beautiful one at that, featuring a keyboard solo by Peter Wolf. It debuted in the Christmas 1976 concerts. The title itself comes from a lyric in the song ‘Punky’s Whips’, which I shall discuss later in this post. Frank also sometimes called it Läther, and it appears that way on the Läther album. It appears with the IPNTCIYM title on the Zappa in New York album.

Wild Love – This is the big one, folks, and *the* number one reason to get a tape from this tour. This may surprise people who have only heard the Sheik Yerbouti version, which cuts off at 4 minutes after the vocal intro, which is just another boy-meets-girl song. But after the intro when played live, the band would start to solo. And solo. And solo. Some of the Wild Love performances clock in at half an hour or more. We’d get solos from the keyboard players, from Ed Mann, and from Adrian Belew. Then we’d get Frank, whose solos got more outrageous as the tour went on, and are almost a separate song of their own. A good example of this can be found on the Trance-Fusion album, where Frank’s 10/28/77 early show Wild Love solo is included as ‘Bowling on Charen’. Improvisational heaven right here.

Titties ‘n Beer – see previous post. Frank has now removed the ‘Chrissie puked twice’ verse that was written for Bianca, making the song about a minute shorter. Terry still isn’t very good at improvising when compared to Frank.

Dance Contest/Black Page #2 – After TnB, Frank would usually try to get the audience worked up a bit by working in ‘audience participation’. In smaller halls, this just involved trying to clap along with the instrumental composition Black Page #2, which was named by Terry Bozzio after he observed that the piece was so complex that you could not see the white space in the sheet music for all the notes Frank had included. The audience would try to keep a 4/4 beat going while the band played the song’s weird rhythmic structures. In later shows that had larger halls, Frank would get some audience members to get on stage and dance to the song – but the dancers couldn’t dance to the 4/4 beat, they had to dance to the weird rhythm. A lot of fun. Black Page #2 appears on the Zappa in New York album in this form.

Jones Crusher – see previous post, but note that this is the more familiar version I mentioned there, with Adrian Belew on vocals, and no guitar outro.

Broken Hearts Are for Assholes – see previous post.

Punky’s Whips – another tour de force for Terry Bozzio on vocals, and a song that seems simpler than it actually is – it’s quite difficult to play. The song is about Terry’s obsessive love with the lead singer of the 70s hair band Angel, Punky Meadows. Terry exhorts all the things he’d like Punky to do to him, then reminds us that he is not at all gay. The song has a very fluid sexuality which I find makes it very much of its era. It typically ends with a fiery Zappa solo, and is typically the final song of the ‘main’ set.

Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, and Muffin Man – see previous post.

San Ber’dino – A classic from the One Size Fits All album, this was played by the 1975-1976 bands, then revived for this tour. It’s performed very well, with terrific energy, and usually sends everyone home with a smile. The song itself is about a teen getting jailed and having to spend several days in ‘Tank C’ – something which happened to Zappa himself in the early 60s, after being busted for making ‘pornographic materials’.

This tour is a fan favorite, and rightfully so – I’d nominate it as being one of Frank’s top 5 tours. Great musicians, a fun setlist, and some awesome solos.