The Clonemeister Speaks
This interview-ette is from the margins of "A Definitive Tribute To Frank Zappa" (1994), which was produced by the publishers of Guitar Player and Keyboard magazines.
Frank Zappa's daily work schedule was legendary, consuming nearly every waking moment. Almost as grueling was the rehearsal schedule he set for his band, which amounted to eight hours a day when they were preparing for a tour. After bassist Arthur Barrow's first tour with the band in 1978, Zappa bestowed upon him the title of Clonemeister, which carried with it the awesome responsibility of running rehearsals in Frank's abscence. Here Barrows recounts some Mothers stories and reveals his, uh ... advanced rehearsal techniques:
"Frank would always show up for the last four hours of rehearsal, and I would tape that part. He'd say to various band members 'Okay, now you do this here, and you make that fart noise there, and you do that here.' So after the rehearsal I'd sit down with a notebook, listen to the tape again, and make notes about who was supposed to make what fart noises and stuff. The next day, we'd start to rehearse that song, and of course everybody had forgotten where they were supposed to make the fart noises. So I'd stop and say, 'Now don't forget, you were supposed to make that noise here,' and they'd say, 'Oh, right.' You run it three or four times until everybody remembers where to put their noises. It was like being a drill sergeant, kind of.
"One tour, Frank gave us this huge song list, with some ridiculous number of songs, like 200 songs. It was absurd, and I knew there was no chance in hell that we'd ever learn them all. Of course, my assignment was to teach them all to the band. I knew Frank well enough by then to know that he'd come in, look at the song list, pick a song, and say, 'Let me hear THAT song.' We'd play it, and if it sounded crummy, he'd say, 'Well, you can just take that one off the list!' So I rehearsed the band only on those songs that I liked. The songs that I didn't care for were way down on my list, since I knew I couldn't do them all anyway. Sure enough, he came in and asked for a tune that we hadn't rehearsed. It stank, and he said, 'Well, that sounds like shit. You can just take that off the list.' And I'd go, 'All right, great!' So we ended up with this tour of all my favorite Frank Zappa songs, like 'Florentine Pogen,' 'Inca Roads,' and a bunch of other real cool music.
"When Frank was there at the rehearsal and inspired, he would write with the band the way someone else might write at the piano, or with a piece of score paper, or at a computer. He would yell out stuff, like do this, do that, go to A minor. After the band had been together awhile, it was like being able to talk to a computer and tell it how you want the song to go. It was really amazing how quickly he could get stuff together, and get really good players to interpret it and make it sound like Frank Zappa music.
"He'd always keep us on our toes. About a month into the tour, you'd think, 'Okay, I've got this down, I can do it in my sleep.' But just then, 'Band meeting in Frank's room!' Frank would tell us, 'You guys are getting too comfortable with this. We're going to change the whole show tonight.' So we'd do all this stuff that we hadn't done since rehearsals a month before, and suddenly put together a whole new show.
"Frank's just about the only guy who did not compromise his music at all, and still made a living at it. That's pretty amazing. Now that he's gone, I don't know if anyone else could do it. I didn't always like what he did, but by God, he was doing it his way."