Friday, July 13, 2012

Fillmore West 11.6.70 – Zappa, Boz, and More.

Frank Zappa Fillmore West 11.6.70 Photo: M. Parrish
Freak Out!, the first double album by the Mothers of Invention, was among the first dozen or so albums I bought, and Frank Zappa’s compositional skills, the eclectic musicianship of the original Mothers, and their greasy, sarcastic personae held great appeal to me as a mid-teen aged music nerd. Although I had all of their albums, the first opportunity I had to see Zappa in person was in November of 1970. Zappa and the Mothers topped a typically eclectic Bill Graham quadruple bill at the Fillmore West. Not unlike something out of one of Zappa’s cheesy teen anthems, a planned date to go to the show fell through at the last minute, so I once again headed up to San Francisco on a Friday night with my dad to Market and Van Ness.

At the Fillmores, Bill Graham was extremely fond of throwing together eclectic mixes of performers. Some made for artistic magic and others seemed – well – thrown together, and that was more the case for the Zappa show. Opening were two solid touring power trios from the UK. Bottom of the bill (and absent from the poster) was Irish band Skid Row (not to be confused with the later hair metal band), who played the familiar loud blooz rock that Cream had adopted from Chicago bluesmen like Buddy Guy a few years earlier. Skid Row’s guitarist was a young Garry Moore, who later became a regular guitar foil for Cream’s Jack Bruce,. They had briefly included future Thin Lizzy front man Phil Lynott on bass, but he was gone by the time I saw them. I honestly don’t remember much about Skid Row’s set – they couldn’t have played too long because of time constraints.

Next up were Liverpudlians Ashton, Gardner, and Dyke, who are best remembered today for one significant hit – “Resurrection Rag.” A bit proggy, A, G, & D put on a reasonable show that ended up with them doing that “Rag.” After splitting up in 1972, Ashton, Gardner, and Dyke performed in a number of short lived bands with former members of Deep Purple and Yes. They put on a pretty good show, but didn’t make much of an impression.

After departing the Steve Miller Band in 1968, guitarist Boz Scaggs disappeared for a year or so, re-emerging with his sublime eponymous solo album on Atlantic, which he had recorded in Muscle Shoals with the studio’s crack session team augmented by Duane Allman, who played a particularly dazzling solo on “Loan Me a Dime,” the Fenton Robinson blues that became Scaggs’ signature tune. After the album’s release, Scaggs assembled a large ensemble that became one of the best live bands during their time together from 1970 to 1972. The group’s first album together, 1970’s Moments,  was quiet, elegant, and jazzy – a strong departure from much of what was coming out at the time,  and a record that has stood the test of time much better than some of Scagg’s later disco efforts. Scaggs built his band around a set of talented and seasoned players, including former Mother Earth drummer George Rains, guitarist Doug Simril,  keyboard player Jymm Joachim Young, and a horn section made up of trombone player Pat O’Hara, sax and flute player Mel Martin, and trumpeter Bill Atwood (later replaced by Tom Poole). Scaggs’ sets of that era relied heavily on material from his first two solo albums, as well as a long, spacy version of“Baby’s Calling Me Home” from the first Capitol Steve Miller Band album.  The horn section did a lot more jazz blowing than R&B punctuation, and Young’s organ was a perfect counterpart for Scaggs and Simril’s heavily reverbed guitars.

Jeff Simmons, Flo, and Eddie 11.6.70 Photo: M. Parrishj
Frank Zappa’s original Mothers of Invention had been a relatively stable group for nearly five years, and that was the ensemble I fully expected to see at the Fillmore. However, Zappa had broken up the Mothers the previous November and, since June, had been touring with an entirely different group of Mothers built around former Turtles vocalists Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (who assumed the nom de plumes of the Phlorescent Leech [later shortened to Flo] and Eddie during their tenure with Zappa).  This group was as theatrical, if not more, than the previous group, but relied much more on physical comedy,  pubescent humor, and heavily vocal arrangements. In addition to Zappa, the group had some very accomplished instrumentalists in jazz keyboard player George Duke, multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood (the sole carryover from the 'classic' Mothers), and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Bass player Jeff Simmons was also a solo artist on Zappa’s Straight label who had recently released Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up, which has subsequently become a cult classic.

Aynsley Dunbar and Zappa 11.6.70 Photo: M. Parrish
Zappa had recently finished filming his first movie Uncle Meat in 1969,  but announced at the Fillmore that the show was being filmed for a second movie, 200 Motels. Uncle Meat was not released as a film until a video version came out in 1987, but the 1969 double LP of the same name was one of the best efforts by the jazzy, middle period Mothers. 200 Motels, on the other hand, was released commercially in 1971. The film, starred a bizarre cast including Theodore Bikel and Ringo Starr. No footage from the Fillmore show was included in the movie proper, but much of the material filmed showed up in a 1971 VPRO TV documentary on Zappa and was also excerpted in Zappa's 1988 documentary The Real Story of 200 Motels. When you take into account the widely distrubuted soundboard tape of much of the performance, this stands as one of Zappa's best documented concerts. 

Zappa and Cameraman 11.6.70 Photo: M. Parrish
The set of music the band played the night I saw them was similar to much of what was released on Fillmore East June 1971, mixing  old Mothers songs like “Call Any Vegetable,” “Little House I Once Lived in” and a greatly shortened “King Kong” (all modified to incorporate the new vocal-heavy lineup) with new material like “The Sanzini Brothers” and “Do You Like My New Car?” which was built around comedy routines by Kaylan and Volman and allowed them to trot out the Turtles hit “Happy Together.” Although the group’s instrumental chops were still considerable, I was pretty disappointed that there wasn’t more Uncle Meat-style instrumental extrapolations. Still,  I was glad to have seen Zappa during this period and, if nothing else, he and his bandmates proved great photographic subjects, probably due at least in part to the film crew's presence.

1 comment:

Corry342 said...

I'm totally amazed that you saw Skid Row. I had no idea they even toured America. They were an Irish band who had been sort of 'adopted' by Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac. Green and the Mac were right about Moore, but it took about twenty years for his ship to come in. He was a terrific player.

Tony Ashton (and maybe Gardner and Dyke) was a contemporary of the Beatles on the Hamburg circuit, when he was in a band called The Remo Four. That's one reason that George Harrison played on an AG&D album.

I only discovered Zappa (and everyone else) in 1972--"Wowie Zowie" sucked me in, just as it was intended too--but I recall thinking that the Flo and Eddie lineup were trivial compared to Uncle Meat. I can now appreciate the musical difficulty of what they were doing, but I still like The Grand Wazoo better.