All Bass Players Are Failed Ukulele Players
This interview conducted by Tom Brown and Slev Uunofski at Art's Lotek Studio, some time in 1992 (probably).
Why were we there doing this? Because we want you guys and gals to know what is going on in Mar Vista, California, these days. Because if we don't tell you, no-one else will!
Where were you born and when?
San Antonio, Texas. The second month of the year 1952, on the twenty-eighth day. The day before leap year. If I had been born twelve hours later, I'd only be ten years old. I would be getting ready to celebrate my tenth real birthday.
How did you get interested in music and what did you do in school? What was your first instrument?
My first instrument was a ukulele when I was five years old. A plastic ukulele! I made up a song, me and my brother. It goes – just chords (tries to sing chords).
What was the name of the song?
It didn't have a name. I think I'll call it 'Arthurstones' (laughter). I would play the ukulele and I would take it to class to 'show and tell'. The music teacher had asked if anybody played anything. It was the first or second grade I think. The kids all loved it; the music teacher kind of poo-pooed it. The kids were pretty amazed, but the teacher really praised Mary Baltes, the girl who had taken piano lessons and had played some little piano lesson-type thing.
Let's call this article 'All bass players are failed ukulele players'.
The kids all loved it. I remember I used to do this bar chord thing. (At this point Arthur proceeds to demonstrate the bar chord sound by singing them – impossible to transcribe.) It was only perhaps about forty-five seconds long. I think I got the ukuleles from my grandmother, named Billy-Jo.
Neiswender. She was pretty bizarre. I was playing the ukulele a long time ago. This was before hippies but there was a semi-beatnik kinds guy who lived near us who played the guitar and had a beard. Kind of a folksinger guy. I remember he came over to our house and I played the ukulele for him and he thought I played pretty good. He told me that maybe I ought to get a tenor guitar as the next step. I got one for my birthday in the fifth grade. A tenor guitar is a weird thing. It's a four string guitar tuned like the top strings of a guitar but without the low strings. It was a Harmony with F holes. I strummed my guitar and then I really got into the Kingston Trio. Here's the albums we had beside; my father's organ and classical records: 'The Best of the Kingston Trio', a Ricky Nelson record and I think that was it. Oh and we had a few singles, not many. Weird things. We used to have a copy of that old song 'Transfusion'. I learnt a whole bunch of Kingston Trio songs off the records and I learned the chords by ear. I would play them and sing them, funny songs like 'The MTA'. We used to play that. And every time the old family gathered and friends would come over, it would be 'Tink, go get your guitar'. And I'd play it and they'd all laugh.
It was between the seventh and eighth grade when I started listening to the Ventures and electric guitar music. I took my money and bought my first album which I think was 'The Best of the Ventures'. It was surf music and I thought it was pretty cool sounding. Then somewhere between seventh and eighth grade, I asked my father for an electric guitar, but by this time the response was 'No, none of that rock n roll crap. It's not real music.' So, during this time, I washed cars for a dollar fifty, saved up until I had a hundred bucks, went down to Mayfield Music in San Antonio and bought a guitar and amp. It was a locally made guitar, an Alamo, if you can believe that, and an amp with a four inch speaker and one knob – volume.
So, I got my own little electric guitar and had a band. In fact I have a tape of that band, I transferred it to DAT. It's the oldest tape I have. We recorded my band, the Townsmen. There was no bass player 'cos everyone wanted to play guitar, and just like Frank says, the worst guy on the guitar, we made him turn down the tone and turn the bass up on his amp and play the bass lines. He had the biggest amp because his parents had the most money. There were three guitars, but one of them was supposed to be bass. We were playing Wipe Out and Walk Don't Run'. It's the funniest thing. I'm playing Wipe Out', the song is going along (Arthur demonstrates), and when the drum solo comes in (Arthur demonstrates at a tempo five times faster), it speeds up about forty beats per minute, and when the band comes back in, it slows down again. That's my earliest tape ...
When I was a sophomore in High School, I decided to buy a Stratocaster for $160 and played in some other bands, top forty bands and what not; then things started getting weird. It was the Sixties. There was the draft and all that stuff. I remember they had the lottery and I had a fairly low bad lottery number. I didn't really intend to stay in school, but it was a choice between the Army and staying in school. I decided to stay in school! And that's when I ended up at North Texas State University, in Denton, Texas, which was the second largest music school in the country.
If the Vietnam thing hadn't happened, you might have actually left school ...
And just been a hippy, you know, a dope-smoking drop out.
Unbelievable to think that we actually have the Vietnam War to thank for something!
That's absolutely right! And because of that, I said well, I'll stay in college. What do I want to study? The only thing I was interested in was music. My father was a musician and my grandfather was a musician. My father played classical piano and organ stuff. And he taught me about music. When I was seven years old, I knew what the overtone series was. He taught me how the draw bars worked on a Hammond organ, and once you understand that, you understand what the overtone series is. My high school graduation present was organ lessons. By this time, my father had bought a Hammond organ and we had one at home. We had an acoustic baby grand piano as well, which I grew up with. My father occasionally played piano and sometimes he would play some beautiful lullabies. We'd go to bed and he would play it for us kids to put us to sleep. They were all pretty little pieces, but I can't remember exactly what they were now.
I graduated from University in 1975, cum laude. I did well in all the theory classes and ear training stuff. My major in music school was composition and all that; Bachelor of Music, major in composition. So then I moved out to California in 1975. I proceeded to play in top forty bands and met Tom. There was a spell when I played at Disneyland and went from Disneyland to Frank Zappa.
How long did you play at Disneyland for?
Maybe a couple of months. I was playing in the Johnny Pigg Band too. And after I played with Frank, I started working for Giorgio Moroder. There was a couple of years there and I was trying to write some songs.
You worked with the Doors early on as well, your first real session?
That's absolutely right. I took my little electricomp and a couple of surge modules, or something, down there. I met Ray Manzarek, all the guys, and the track that ended up on the album was a short thing called The Movie and it's just me and Jim.
I had met Don Preston. I guess I left out the Loose Connection thing; that was before Zappa. I met Don through a top forty gig. I called up some singer guy, Bruce Powers, who was an actor on General Hospital. He was living in some nice house in Laurel Canyon, right near Frank. He wanted to be a singer in some top forty band and he somehow knew Don Preston. I was calling all the ads from musician contacts service and that's how I met him. He said Don Preston who used to play with the Mothers was the keyboard player. So I said 'Really', and I was interested. We got together. Me, Don and Phil Glosserman used to jam a little bit. And Phil said 'Maybe we should try to have a band. You got those tunes and stuff, we ought to try and play some of them with Don.' Don kind of auditioned us. He had a sung called Moon Unit (which Arthur hums). It had a few time changes in it and we could play the time changes, so he thought we were pretty good. And so he agreed to try a band. We decided to try to get Bruce Fowler, because Don was friends with Bruce. I can't remember how I first met Bruce, but somehow we talked him into being in the band. We did a couple of gigs ...
And the name of the band was Loose Connection? You, Bruce Fowler, Don ...?
Marty Jabara played keyboards and mallets, and various drummers. I can't remember the names of some of the guys. Marty had perfect pitch and stuff. He's a good musician and a funny guy. We did a few gigs and actually made a few recordings. I have some semi-master quality tapes. Who knows, we might release them some day. We have an album's worth of stuff somewhere. I used my own money and did some sessions and we were actually going to try and do an album. By this time, I was playing with Zappa, and I was still trying to get this thing together too. I had a little bit of money, and around Xmas time, I hired Vinnie, Bruce Fowler and Marty and Don. We went to a studio on Hollywood Boulevard and recorded some stuff, a couple of my songs – 'Disco Narsischizisosis', 'Peasant Vigor'. Bruce Gary plays on 'Peasant Vigor'. That's an eight track from Don's basement.
I started working with Moroder I think in about 1983. He was coming off a big success with Flash Dance, a number one with What a Feeling. He'd had a falling out with his keyboard player and was looking for another one. I faked my way into the gig saying I could play keyboards and somehow I auditioned for him. He liked me OK and I started doing some stuff for him. I did an Irene Cara album for him first.
How could you fake your way into that?
I was lucky 'cos he was into Jupiter 8s and I had just bought one. I knew how to work it, I knew synths a little bit. This is before everyone and his brother had a MIDI set-up. Before MIDI! I actually played stuff and triggered the bass with the arpeggio; we didn't sequence that shit. One of the next things I did right off the bat was the Nina Hagen thing. Keith Forsey who's Billy Idol's producer was co-producing with Giorgio on the Nina Hagen album, although Keith really did all the work! And that's where I met Steve Schiff. I also did a Janet Jackson album. I co-wrote the title song of the album 'Dream Street' which did nothing, a complete flop. I worked on the movie soundtrack for Scarface and DC Cab and Never Ending Story a German children's movie. Giorgio wrote the theme for that and I played a few things on it. It was directed by the same guy that did Das Boot. I did another movie called 'Electric Dreams', a movie about a computer and a cello thing, another silly movie I did. I did a Diana Ross thing, ending up co-writing and playing on, and arranging, the song Touch By Touch'. Me and Ritchie Zito did a soundtrack for a cheesy movie called 'Heavenly Bodies', a 'Flashdance' ripoff movie made by some Canadian guys. An aerobicised version of 'Flashdance'.
And you did an Eddie Money thing too? When he was totally out of control?
I played on his hit, his comeback hit. He was pretty much of an asshole. He was one of the most unpleasant people I've worked with. Anyway, me and Ritchie Zito wrote a song called 'Out of Control'. We went up to San Fran and someone got the Tubes to perform our song and it ended up in 'Heavenly Bodies'. It was never on any album. Also Ritchie produced an America album I played on; he produced a Tony Basil album I'm on; of course, the Motels, a Martha Davis album; there was a band from San Francisco called Red Seven – I played on their album.
I did a couple of songs for movies with Joe Cocker. 'You Can Leave Your Hat On', the Randy Newman song, was one that came out real good. I was pretty proud of that. I played bass and keyboards and helped arrange it. I wrote the horn parts. I played them on the keyboard and then they later overdubbed them with real horns. And Joe was neat to work with, an interesting weird guy ...
I was never a huge Joe Cocker fan or anything, but when we first got together and he came into the studio to just sing the song a little bit and get a key. It was just me and him. I was playing the piano and when he opened up his mouth, this fucking big sound comes out. I always thought that he just went 'Eeergh' and made some squeaky little sound that wasn't that loud, but he opened up his mouth and man, a big fucking loud singing sound came out. I was actually pretty amazed. He could get into it so much on every take. I remember when we were doing 'Edge of a Dream' from 'Teachers'. He was always drinking beer and shit. We were doing takes and inbetween takes, Joe would go into the bathroom and throw up. He would get so into it, he would give it so much every take... But you've got to admire somebody who does that. That's what you've got to do.
Billy Idol is the same way, man. Every time that guy would go out there and do something, like when we were doing 'LA Woman', when we were just doing the scratch vocals ... (Arthur simulates Billy Idol singing, a cross between a rabid dog and King Kong trying to sing 'LA Woman'.) Totally Billy Idol to the max, all the time! It's never 'Ooh, I'm not really in the mood'; it's like 'AAARGGH!' every fucking time, even the most soulless track was 'AAARGGH!' You hear all this other bullshit, he just never fucking stops, he's totally into it. It's a good thing.
How did you come about doing the Billy Idol album?
That was through Keith Forsey. I met him doing the Nina Hagen thing. And Keith was Giorgio's drummer for the disco shit. You know how Giorgio did the drums back then? This was before drum machines. That was real drums. They had only just invented drum machines about when I met Giorgio, just a little bit before then. But the Linn Drum had just come out. I remember Zappa had one.
But later on Giorgio used a drum machine.
Of course, yeah, when the drum machine came out, he said 'Fuck this real drummer stuff.' What Giorgio would do is have Keith record just four on the floor; he would record it on twenty-four track, just drum tracks for the whole reel of tape, like thirty minutes. Maybe fills every now and then. Giorgio would sit down and use that to write to and he would play along with that, so Keith would record endless tapes with a disco drum beat, with all those grooves and beats. That was kinda interesting.
You mentioned Bruce Fowler a little while ago, so how about telling us some stories about Bruce!
Well, for historical purposes, I was always really impressed with Bruce. From the first time I ever saw him, I always thought he was great. I always just loved his playing. I think he's a great musician. When I was in music school, I didn't listen to any top forty; I was totally into Zappa. Then I came out to LA and through Don Preston, I met Bruce Fowler, and I said to him 'Would you come and play some of my tunes and be in my band?' The Fowler Brothers were totally great, and I was sort of intimidated by Bruce. Back then he was a macho jazz guy, he was the heavy guy and I was the young punk. The young kind of eager kid, a Zappa fan, learned the licks and stuff, and he would be a little bit of the heavy musician and say 'No man! It's got to go like this! No man.' Bruce is great. We have managed to stay in touch over the years and I talk to him frequently. He's always been very encouraging to me and when we talk, he says 'You know what you're doing.' (Tremendous Bruce Fowler impersonation)
Now, let's talk about your album 'Music for Listening'. How long have you had Lotek Studios?
Since 1985, here at this location.
I guess it's called Lotek because you didn't have that much equipment at the time, right? And you've always spelt the name differently at every session?
I was thinking about this the other day. I think the final evolution has come down to Lotek, so I think that's it.
How would you describe the music on the album?
They are compositions of mine that I've been putting together over the last few years. I come to my studio and I say to myself 'What would I like to hear?' I spent till this time doing what the record producer would like to hear or what the record company guy wants to hear, or what this guy or Zappa wants to hear. Well ... what would I like to hear? If I could hear any kind of music, what would it be? And that's my starting point. I just take it from there.
I'd like to talk about the 'Impromptus' series. The composition of these is based on improvisation. I improvised them and orchestrated them from there. I just do it. A stream of consciousness thing. I just improvise the whole thing in one shot. I do a whole bunch of them and the ones that I like, I start to work on. I listen back to it to hear if it makes sense all the way through. I spend months fixing it up and orchestrating, making something out of it. I get a very detached feeling when I'm doing it. I become detached from my body. I know it sounds kind of cosmic and psycho, but I'm looking down at my hands and they're just going. It's kind of a weird thing actually, but those are the best ones, when I'm just totally detached, and it's like someone else is doing it and it's just coming through me. Its a magic moment; everything clicks. I think it's a fairly original concept.
Zappa has had people transcribe his guitar solos and then load that into a computer. But this is different to that, because he's just taking a single melody line and doing stuff to it. Basically with mine, all the parts that you hear, all the melodies and chords (with some minor exceptions – the embellishments and stuff), the actual full music is there in the original improvisation. I think I got the idea from Joe Zawinul. I heard somewhere that when Joe wrote a lot of the Weather Report stuff, he would just turn on his Revox and play a piece in one go, then take that to the band and have the band play a version of it. I'm similar, but I'm taking more control over it. Anyway, 'Impromptus I and II' took me an average of a week or two just to figure out the time signatures and changes. When I first did them, I didn't think there was anything too unusual: a bar of 3/4 here and a bar of 5/8 there, but when I started going through it, I said 'What the fuck is this?' I had a lot of figuring out to do. But when you listen to it, all the phrases make musical sense on their own, even though there's all kinds of weird shit going on.
How about telling us about Visitors Gift?
That one has Bruce Fowler playing trombone on it and I actually wrote that when I first moved out here, about 1976. I wrote it for a rock band: two guitars, bass, two keyboards and drums. I was really into Elliot Carter and it has some metric modulations, that's why it has all those weird rhythmic things. I could get theoretical and talk about the metric modulations and stuff a little bit ... I'm doing fairly crude ones by Elliot Carter standards. But the idea is you are going along with the beat 'one two three four' and say you could play triplets, on top of that. And you take those triplets and you keep this even (Arthur demonstrates) and then you start sub-dividing it differently. So you end up with a new 4/4, and then you could impose another one, say a quarter note triplet, over that. And you get a new tempo. So I wrote that stuff and figured out all the tempos. I think we read it through a couple of times with Loose Connections, and tried to play it, but it was too hard. Too hard, too bizarre. We did rehearse it a few times though. I think I have tapes of it somewhere. The main concept of Visitors Gift, beside the metric modulations, is the fact that it's a twelve tone piece. One basic rule of doing twelve tone music is to avoid consonance. Schoenberg described it as pan-tonality. Instead of it being in one key, like the key of C, it's supposed to be in all keys simultaneously. So you are supposed to avoid any keys, but of course I took it upon myself to break that basic rule and try to write something twelve tone but that was tonal. That's the basic concept to Visitors Gift. You know how it goes; it's a hit.
(Here ended part one of the interview. Next time, Arthur talks about his experiences of playing Zappa, the bit you're all waiting for.)
To bring a fresh approach to the questions regarding Arthur's many Zappa experiences, a nonpartisan person, Tom Troccoli, was invited to assist Slev Uunofski and Tom Brown in the questioning. Here goes ...
You were probably employed by Frank longer than many other people who served as musicians in his organisation, a lot of times behind the scenes. What was it that kept you there?
Well, I've always liked Frank's music. It was an interesting gig by most standards. It was a good job; I enjoyed it; it was challenging at that point in my life. At the time I had no complaints.
You were the clonemeister for a time, right? Would you please explain what the clonemeister is?
If it was an orchestra, they would call him the concertmaster, the first violin, the drill sergeant for the band. I rehearsed the band when Zappa wasn't there.
Did you use specific charts?
Yes, if there were charts. Sometimes head charts. Sometimes Frank would bring in lyrics. Depending on the band ... If the band got real good and could learn stuff real fast, it was fun. Frank would throw stuff at you and it's just 'You do this, and you do what you did just now and throw in the part I just showed you, and throw it in there', that kinda thing. It was really great. I have some rehearsal tapes of some of it. Especially the band we had just before David Logeman came in to play drums, when Vinnie was still in the band. It was a great back row, with me and Vinnie, Tommy, Ike and Ray, and Frank in front. That was 1979. That was a great band.
Let me ask you about Tink, and also the story of the construction of 'Tink Walks Amok'.
Tink was my nickname from childhood. My mom says my father gave it to me, but I don't honestly know. The way Frank found out about Tink was because I grew up in the same town as Christopher Cross (Chris Gephert to give him his real name) and this is how the whole 'Teenage Wind' thing came about. I had gone to school with this guy, and after I started playing with Zappa, I heard that he'd secured a record deal with Warner Bros. I heard his song on the radio one day whilst I was driving to a Zappa rehearsal. It was Ride Like the Wind; I recognised the voice immediately. I went up to Frank when I got to rehearsal and I said 'I can't believe it! This guy I went to high school with has got a song on the radio.' And I started playing it on the piano and singing as much of it as I could remember. Frank says 'Aw, gimme a pencil and paper and I could write a song like that in five minutes' and he whipped out the lyrics to 'Teenage Wind'. Which was pretty funny. And then the story continues.
A friend of mine named Phil was Chris Cross' drummer in a band called Flash when we were all in high school in San Antonio. Phil had kept in with him a little bit and I had told Phil that Frank had written a song making fun of Chris' song. Phil told Chris that Zappa had written a take-off on his song and Chris' response was 'Oh god, I hope he doesn't release while I'm peaking.' Another irony was that Chris had a song called 'Arthur', another twist of fate. I told that story to Frank and he said 'Oh my god, I've been in the biznis for fifteen minutes and I'm peaking'. That's when Frank started doing the 'I'm peaking, I'm peaking' routine. I think the LA show in 1980 was when Frank first did that. And the story goes on.
Tink Walks Amok. Frank was in New York, and a chance meeting occurred in this restaurant between Frank and Chris. Frank, in his generous way, sent over half a bottle of wine, then Chris came over and talked a little and hung out. It was at this time that Chris informed Frank that my childhood nickname was Tink. Frank liked that, so it was OK, he named a song after me. It was originally a piece called 'Thirteen'. There were some really neat rehearsal tapes of it. The band versions of it were much cooler than the album track. It's kinda funny the way it turned out on the album. We did it by starting to a click track, then I put down a basic bass track. Then I overdubbed bunches of other tracks, micro bass and some other stuff. We were sitting in the studio with the tape rolling. Frank would say 'OK, move the whole pattern up to the D-string, get ready, NOW!' All while the tape was rolling. That's the way it is on the record. That was pretty funny. But I understand 'Man From Utopia' is one of the fans' all-time least favourite Zappa albums.
I understand that too. But 'The Radio Is Broken' is a great track.
I actually play keyboards on that track, but I never got a credit for it. I even stole some more stuff from the Doors in the basic chord changes. It was from 'Love Street' (Arthur demonstrates and sings the particular parts of this track that were his.) I also never got a credit for my little guitar part on 'Joe's Garage (Track)'. Warren and I played dual Stratocasters on that song, the 'ree du ree du ree du re du redu reeee' bit. That was the only bit of guitar I played on that album.
Since we mentioned 'The Radio Is Broken', how about telling us about meltdown?
A meltdown is for example a song like 'The Dangerous Kitchen'. Frank had this new concept where he came in with copies of all the typed-up lyrics for all the band members, and he'd have the band improvise to that, and it kind of evolved from there.
And he finally decided on the exact notes?
In the case of 'The Dangerous Kitchen', Steve Vai came into the studio and overdubbed to the live tracks. The melody was derived from the way Frank was saying these words that particular night. But a meltdown is a collective band interpretation of Frank's lyrics.
Was Frank your first touring experience?
Almost. The year before Frank, I went over to Sweden and toured with a rock star named [Björn Skifs]. He was in Blue Swede.
What was your favourite tour for music and performance, personally and collectively?
The best tour was probably the last tour with Vinnie, because Vinnie is so great on drums. Some of the stuff on 'Tinseltown' is so great. That album is pretty good. As far as material is concerned, my favourite stuff that he wrote while I was in the band was the 'You Are What You Is' stuff. Frank would bring in all these lyrics, bunches of them. He could write them really fast, compose them on the spot, and we would do head charts from the lyrics.
How did that work out?
Frank would say 'OK, here's a lick that goes... (sings 'I'm A Beautiful Guy'), and we'd learn that lick. Then we would start playing over that and we would make little marks on our lyric sheets and try to remember what we could. Since I was the clonemeister, I was taping it too. That's how we would get the shit together, all that complicated stuff. Frank might already have written the lick, and say to one of us 'Remember that lick I showed you before?' He might teach it to Tommy, then experiment with it, and put it together that way. All head charts. And this made it very complicated when Vinnie quit. What I then had to do was figure out all the crazy stuff we'd been playing. The time signatures that we had been playing normally now had to be written down. At the time, we just played everything and it fitted, and we really didn't think that much about it. A bar of 7/8 or whatever. We never stopped to analyse it, but when Vinnie quit, it was hell for me.
I remember you told me once that he wrote some stuff on the plane.
One time, we were on our way back from Europe and I was roaming about the plane. I stopped to say hi to Frank, and he showed me the lyrics of 'Dumb All Over'. I thought they were pretty great. It's too bad though. I think he put too much effect on the vocals to the point where you can't hear the words clearly on the record.
What was your most treacherous moment on stage?
I remember the first tour, there was a funny stage set-up. Vinnie was down on the floor and I was next to him, and I was standing near Frank when he was playing this solo. I think we were up on the East Coast somewhere and all of a sudden, I saw Frank kind of fall back, almost fall down. It seemed that someone had thrown a pint whisky bottle or something at him, which hit him on the shoulder. It really pissed him off. He said 'Stop the music! Everybody stop! Turn the lights on.' And the lighting guys turned a spotlight around the audience. 'No no. I mean the big ones. The houselights! The big bright ones. The daylight ones!' And then he said 'The show is not going to continue until the guy that threw the bottle at me goes to jail.' They turned the lights on and people started pointing fingers in a certain direction. The security guys walked up the aisles and narrowed it down, found the guy and took him away.
Its like the Santa Monica show when that guy threw the popcorn up on stage and Frank had Smothers hold the guy by his legs and lick it up. He was really reacting violently after a certain point. I remember (I think it was 1984), some guy threw a nickel on stage somewhere in Michigan, and Zappa said 'That's it, the show's over! Somebody just threw a nickel on stage. Maybe you'll learn for next time.'
How about your actual audition? Were you phoned?
No, I think I heard through the grapevine that they were auditioning bass players. I had gotten his phone number from Don Preston and I figured this was the time to use it. So I called Frank and told him I had learned the melody to 'Inca Roads' by ear off the record on my bass, and I think that he didn't really believe me. He said 'You know the middle part of 'St. Alphonso'? Learn that melody on the bass and then play it for me the day after tomorrow at the audition.' So I did that. I taped the record on reel to reel, then slowed it down to half speed so I could figure out the notes. When I played it for him at the audition, he said 'Well, there are a few wrong notes in there, but you've got potential.' I auditioned a few more things: the sight reading, etc, and I knew a bunch of the old songs already, so that was a good thing. He auditioned a whole bunch of people, but kept me around. At one point he told me 'You are temporarily hired for one week; we'll see how it works out.' Two days later, he brought some music in for reading and I guess I did OK, because he took me aside. 'You don't have to wait the whole week; you're in the band.'
Did you make good money?
He was paying us $500 a week. That was good for the time. It was more than I was making at Disneyland. Plus per diem on the road.
What could be better than that. You got a raise and a chance to work with Frank!
It was great.
What about Zappa staying at different hotels because he was afraid of getting busted for drugs?
I don't think it because he was afraid of being busted. I think it was because he wanted to stay in a fancy hotel, but didn't want to pay for us to stay in one.
So you guys were literally miles apart?
Any time we were in a place like London, Paris or New York, Frank would stay at some ritzy place and we'd be at a Holiday Inn or something. It was never really much of a band hanging out. I do remember on some of the first tours, there were times when we would go back to Frank's room after the show and listen to the board tapes of the night's performance.
That sounds more like a sense of congregation. Did you guys feel like a band?
Almost, at times. But it's never really a band with Frank. I suppose it was more so than it was on the 1988 tour when Frank was staying in separate hotels all the time.
What was your favourite tour?
That was probably the Fall 1980 tour (the last tour I did). I had been in the band for a while and I was getting pretty good at clonemeistering. I remember on that tour, Frank brought in a huge songlist with some two hundred songs on it for us to learn, and I knew there was no chance in hell of us learning them all. Frank would come into rehearsals, look at the list and say 'Let's hear ...' and pick a song. If it sounded bad, it would be taken off the list. The perfect situation for Frank to be in, that he liked the most, was for the band to be begging him to let them keep working on his music because they wanted to get it right. Frank would say 'No, you guys ain't cutting it, we're taking it out of the show'. But the musicians would beg to play it. 'Oh please, torture us some more. Let us play the really difficult thing.' And Frank loved that.
So what I started doing, once I figured this out, is rehearse the band on only the songs that I liked. The songs that I didn't like, the songs that I thought were dumb, like 'The Torture', my least favourite Frank Zappa song ever, I never rehearsed the band at all. And the ones I did like, such as 'Florentine Pogen' and 'Inca Roads', we rehearsed the shit out of every day. Made 'em sound really good. So when Frank would call out 'Ms Pinky', he'd say 'It sounds horrible; you can take that off the list', and I would just chuckle to myself. So that meant the tour was comprised of all my favourite songs. (Much laughter).
OK What about your least favourite tour?
The low point had to be my first tour as clonemeister. Ed Mann had been doing it when I arrived. It's a horrible job, and Ed was taking a lot of pressure for it. When we started touring, Frank would listen to the tapes and was disappointed with the sound of the band. He'd say 'All those rehearsals, shit! And it sounds like that!' So next time around, Ed quit the clonemeister job. Frank asked me to do it and I said 'Sure'. Unfortunately, the guys in the band that had seniority over me, resented having a punk like me tell them what to do. Particularly Peter Wolf. He really seemed to have it in for me.
Wasn't there that story about Peter and Tommy getting attacked in France on one tour?
Yeah. I heard this story from Tommy Mars. It happened when we were in France. Peter and Tommy were out on the town and some French neo-Nazi skinheads spotted them and jumped them. They started beating them up. The way I understand it, when these guys had Tommy on the ground and were kicking him, Peter Wolf ran away and just left Tommy there.
I have to ask you, what were your impressions of your overdub sessions on 'Ruben' and 'We're Only In It For The Money'? Because I know that must have been one of your favourite albums, right?
Yeah. It's funny; I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, as a musician, I'm always happy to be employed and doing sessions is always fun. But on the other hand, I did try to talk Frank out of it the best I could. I said 'Are you sure you want to do this?' He said 'I don't like the old bass and drums.'
Was the real reason because the oxide was falling off the tape?
As I recall, I think it was just because he didn't like the bass and drum parts. Actually, how could the oxide be falling off the tape on one track and not on other tracks? The other tracks sounded perfect to me. One good thing, when Frank went up to make me a peanut butter sandwich, I sat at the board and soloed a few different things, the different tracks, so I could hear what they sounded like individually. That was kinda fun. But it's Frank's album. It's his music. He can certainly do what he likes with it. But I think it would be nice for those of us that like the original version, to put that out also. Remix it from the eight track ... As for 'Ruben and the Jets', I kinda think that's bad too. Because one of the coolest things about that album originally was the tape loops for the drums. It sounded like a machine, it was a great sound.
You didn't play the double bass on that, did you?
No. I only played on a couple of songs. It was pretty interesting. It was one of my favourite albums when I was in high school, and now I'm on it.
You know a lot of fans are really upset about that. And they blame you, Arthur.
It was hardly my idea.
At which point, the tape ran out. We did however ask Arthur if he would like to add any postscript to this story. He said: 'By the way Frank, if you happen to be reading this. We musicians would really appreciate getting paid for the Rhino bootlegs.'
Readers should also note that Arthur plays lead acoustic guitar on 'Stage Vol 6' on 'Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance', but you will not find this credited to him, so please adjust your notes accordingly. Thanks to Tom and Slev and Tom Troccoli for the interview transcript; and to Arthur for his time. (Now, where's those CDs?)