Interview With Bunk Gardner, 92-11

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By Fred Tomsett
T'Mershi Duween, #28, November 1992


What was it like working with Frank Zappa?
It was an experience that I really didn't expect in the beginning when Don Preston and myself joined the band, because we spent so much time rehearsing the music and memorising everything that was written out that I wondered 'When does the fun begin? And where is all the money that we're supposed to make?' Later on we certainly did have fun along with a lot of hard work and bizarre experiences playing and partying from 1966 to 1970.

FZ was not a particularly fun guy to work for or with, for many reasons ... He had a huge ego and he was definitely a workaholic who could rehearse hour after hour after hour and then make a critique and criticise after all that hard work, and also display a complete intolerance for anyone making a mistake while playing his music ... I can still remember FZ walking around in a rage after many concerts because someone fucked up and made a mistake, which Frank said was a lack of concentration and not being tuned into him. In spite of all those things, everyone in the band got along with each other quite well and we all have memories that we'll cherish the rest of our lives.

Do you have any interesting (road) stories?
For laughs in the band, you could always count on Motorhead, Jimmy Carl Black and Roy Estrada. They provided most of the humour for the rest of us, and in the early days it was badly needed because of problems dealing with Frank and the fact that we weren't making much money, but we were working a lot ... We used to have a band meeting after almost every job to find out how much money we made – if any. All the expenses and bills had to be paid before the band did, and whatever was left over went to us – if any...

We were always being told 'not to worry' when it came time to explain why we weren't making any money – the old cliché about 'We are all in this thing together and if we just hang in there through the bad times, we would all eventually have the proverbial fame and fortune'. That was the constant message at the band meetings. Unfortunately the end came so soon, and later on the fame was acknowledged but the fortune completely eluded us!!

The 'good stories' about the band are a little too numerous to even start writing down and I certainly don't want to incriminate myself in any way, but you have to realise that we did have a reputation in the rock world, and everywhere we played, there were people who wanted to know if we were really as bizarre and weird as all the stories they had heard. It was a bonanza for the band in terms of getting attention and girls at the same time that for me will never be duplicated again! At every concert we played, there were people who wanted to take our hands and go party until we had to leave for the next job, so the stories are endless. I can't go into detail for the readers but strange experiences were commonplace for us because we did have individuals and groups and groupies that would follow us around to every job that we played in LA and sometimes even on the road.

I do remember being on tour in 1968 in Germany and demonstrating on a TV show the 'Buster Crabbe' with Motorhead, a new sexual position that I had discovered one night in an Amsterdam hotel with a young American girl ... We had fun with that one for a long time and later on, in 1976, that girl became my wife. We've been married eighteen years, and have two girls, Zoe and Zena, who are sixteen and eight respectively. I also remember the band going on the road to Buffalo, NY for a weekend, and Simon and Garfunkel came along for some fun! We did a lot of bizarre stuff in the hotel and in our rooms that Simon and Garfunkel filmed. Later on at the concerts, we would introduce them as mystery guests, and while they sang, we did our usual weirdness right along with their singing. It sticks out in my mind because I remember it was my birthday, and after going to a party following the concert, I was driven back to the hotel by a gorgeous Virgo school teacher who decided to come in and help me celebrate by sharing a fine bottle of wine!

What is your current view of Frank Zappa?
It is the same one I had when he decided to end our association in October of 1969 which is disappointment, sadness, and finally anger at a man who preferred to pay lawyers (what should have been our record royalties) rather than the band members. We had to wait twenty-five years to get our money. I'm not at liberty to discuss any aspects of the lawsuit!

Can you give us an update on the original Mothers of Invention?
Billy Mundi and Motorhead have completely disappeared ... I have not heard from or seen anybody who knows where they are, or has talked to wither one! Artie Tripp graduated from chiropractic school and has his own practice in Northern California near Eureka. (Track him down, Den!) Ray Collins is living in Claremont Ca and is doing some music. He's selling some recent demos mail order. Rot Estrada is still driving a truck and hasn't gotten back into music as far as I know. There is a chance he might be doing some recordings with Ant-Bee. Every now and then, he telephones or comes over to hang out and lets me know what's been going on in his life.

What was the Grandmothers all about?
The Grandmothers was a natural evolution musically of former Mothers of Invention to continue what we were doing with FZ and then some. We wanted to play contemporary and avant garde music with satire and humour thrown in; also have everyone write, have input and contribute musically to the new group. So, in 1979 or 1980, Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston and myself decided to get as many former Mothers to record and tour as the Grandmothers. In the beginning, we enjoyed the new challenge of recording and travelling, but too many problems plagued the band – economically and socially – to keep it going. It ended just short of two years after it started. It wasn't meant to be, at that time ... Later Jimmy Carl started the new Grandmothers in Texas and has continued right up to this day.

What is your view on working with Ant-Bee?
My recent connection with Billy James and Ant-Bee has been fun ... recording some tracks and doing some tracks has reminded me of earlier times in my career. I've always liked the challenge to do something different and at the same time interesting musically. So, I found in talking with Billy that we have a lot in common, and it was easy to relate on different levels, musically and personally. I think you'll be hearing from him in the future. He's got some good musical and visual ideas, and is going in the right direction to make his mark as a creative force in music. He knows where he wants to go and how to get there...

What have you been up to lately?
Recently, I have been playing in Hollywood at a jazz club called Legends twice a week with my brother Buzz, who was also with the Mothers, and the Hollywood Allstars. I'm still involved with a woodwind jazz and chamber quartet that has one album out called 'The Four Winds and Rhythm'. We have been giving concerts in the LA school system for the last thirteen years plus, playing most of the jazz rooms in town. I'm also giving both of my daughters piano lessons which I do hope they continue, and stay in music and have some fun with it.

In closing, all I can say is that in spite of FZ, I have a lot of great memories and lifetime friendships that are still in my life as a result of my years with the Mothers of Invention! (Who, by the way, were just nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!) (Footnote time: They didn't get in. Shame.)