Texan Grandmother In Interview Shock Horror
By Roland St. Germain
T'Mershi Duween, #29, February 1993
To round off the interview special that was TD28, here is a chat with Jimmy Carl Black. The cassette of this turned up about three days after I went to print (I know I always claim this, but it happens to be true!). The interview follows roughly the same formats as those with Don and Bunk last time, but as it was a face to face effort, it extrapolates itself. The interview was conducted by fellow Grandmother Roland St. Germain. Roll 'em ...
I'm here with Jimmy Carl Black, the Indian of the group, talking about music. We'll start off with the Mothers of Invention, from which you became legend. What was it like working with the Mothers and Frank Zappa?
With the Mothers, it was at the time the best band I think in the world, the most avant garde and innovative band with sort of commercial potential. Even though we were always the ones who had no commercial potential. And Zappa, back then, he was twenty-two or twenty-three; what can I say? He was a genius then, he still is.
You've had some adventures with the Mothers. Do you have any good stories you'd like to pass on?
The whole Garrick Theater was a good story, but do we really have that much time? I always liked the story of the giraffe that the girls gave us. These three beautiful girls gave us this stuffed giraffe that was about three and a half feet tall. One day, out of boredom, Ray Collins and I wired that giraffe for the evening's performance, with a half inch clear plastic tube, running up its leg and right underneath its tail, which could be construed as the exit of the animal. We got behind the piano; the band were whipping into some frenzy. I was playing trumpet and drums and singing and going all over the stage at that time, so they didn't miss me and they didn't miss Ray. They were playing some instrumental. We got about ten cans of pressurised whipped cream from the Cafe-a-Go-Go, right down below the Garrick Theatre; real pressurised cans. We started squirting those cans down that tube from behind the piano, and they levelled the first three rows of the people in the studio. They had this white stuff, flying out of this giraffe's ass, hitting people in the face, and we sprayed at least five cans. People were splitting and Frank was on the ground. He had to stop playing he was laughing so hard. He'll never forget that one.
There were no reports afterwards of dairy intolerance?
There was something that happened after. The air conditioner broke down and for three weeks, six nights a week, in the middle of the Summer, in Greenwich Village, New York City, that theatre started getting rather rancid from all that whipped cream that was all over the place that they never bothered to clean up. The studio smelled like puke for three weeks, and pretty heavy duty puke. But yet, they still kept coming. It was like the Rocky Horror Picture show (laughter).
Why do I understand that? Talking of Frank, which we were, what is your current view on Frank Zappa, especially after last year's litigation? Do you still get paid for the newest releases?
I can't really talk about that. I don't know if we're getting paid or not for it. I have no idea. Have I received any money? No. I haven't gotten paid ... As far as my feeling about Frank, I love Frank Zappa and I always will. He's like a brother to me. I learned a lot from him and I think he learned a lot from me. He learned a lot from all the original Mothers. Frank is a real friend of mine. I don't know how he feels, but that's the way I feel about it.
What have you been up to recently?
For the last five years, I've had the Grandmothers in Austin going, of which I might add, the commentator and man asking me the questions, is also the musical director, lead guitar player, lead keyboard player and one of the lead singers in the band, name of Roland St. Germain.
Guilty as charged.
We have on violin and vocals Miss [Linda Valdmets], and on all the woodwind and vocals Mr. Gerry 'Eli' Smith, on bass and vocals sometimes yeah, from Amsterdam Holland, Mr. [Ener] Bladezipper. And Bunk Gardner on occasion. We're hoping that we can get the funds together to get Bunk into the band. He really wants to play with us and he would be an added attraction to the band. And that's no bunk.
So what do you guys actually do in the Grandmothers, he asked knowingly?
Well, in our live performances, we do at least thirty old Mothers of Invention songs, at least one song from every album that the Mothers put out. And we do them exactly like the Mothers of Invention. We also do about sixty per cent of our live which is original material, which will be on the up-and-coming CD called 'Dreams on Long Play' that should be released some time this Fall or Winter. It will be out.
Let's get those phone calls in. You know the 0800 number to call, folks. Back in the Mothers, you had two drummers. There was Billy Mundi. Whatever happened to him?
That's a mystery to all of us. I don't know where Billy's at. I haven't seen Billy since probably 1972 or 1973. I've heard rumours that he was in New York; I've had rumours that he was in Dallas; I've had rumours that he was in a lot of places. Just as nobody knows where Motorhead's at. We have no idea where James Euclid 'Motorhead' Sherwood's at. If he reads this magazine, I sure wish he'd get in touch with the magazine, because they'll have a mailing address on me and I could be contacted through the magazine.
It'd probably be quicker than waiting to get the picture on the side of the milk carton.
That's very true.
Out of the various Mothers' albums, two of the albums that come to mind, 'Uncle Meat' and 'Ruben and the Jets'. What did you play on those? Describe what you played on, who was there, what instruments were involved ...
Well, I played the drums on both of those and sang background. Those are two of my favourite albums. The Grandmothers play probably seven or eight tunes from those. We enjoy playing them. It's very good music.
'Uncle Meat' was a leap forward in technology because Frank had more toys to play with.
And tracks. That was on twelve track, as opposed to most of the eight track studios. 'Ruben' was also twelve track, at Apostolic. Both 'Uncle Meat' and 'Ruben' were cut at the same time. 'Ruben and the Jets' was the last album we owed Verve, and 'Uncle Meat' was the first album that came out on Bizarre/Reprise.
That was a hard one to get hold of when it came out; at least if you lived in New Orleans. But we found it anyway. Couldn't keep the records away from us. So there was a first Grandmothers about ten years ago? It's not the same Grandmothers as the ensemble that's playing today?
No it's not. It was myself, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Tom Fowler, Walt Fowler, and Tony Duran. That made up the original Grandmothers. The first album was the anthology of the Grandmothers. Cal Schenkel did the cover, and that was actually just each member contributing a couple of songs. My two songs were recorded by the band Geronimo Black. Don Preston had two songs; Bunk and Elliot Ingber both had two songs. That was how that album worked out. It was not us playing together. But the second one was.
How did that one come about?
'Looking Up Granny's Dress'. Side one was the Grandmothers that were on tour and it was live in [Odense], Denmark. They recorded us on sixteen track two inch tape and gave us the tape. Side two was the other guys, Bunk and Elliot and all of them. They got together and did various songs with Ray Collins.
Did Motorhead tour with you during this time?
No, he didn't. He only played one time with us and that was at the Roxy, the first and only gig of that Grandmothers in LA. And he's also missing.
Please call the Motorhead hotline, that's 1-800-MOTORHEAD. You've been doing some work with Ant Bee and Chadbourne. Why don't you tell us something about that?
Well, Ant Bee is Billy James, and he's rapidly becoming a very very good dear friend of mine. I've never seen him in person; I've only spoken to him about a million times on the phone. And you can get to know somebody just from the telephone. I really like what Billy is doing. In our conversations, we have spoken of the Ant Bee/Grandmothers tours and live stuff that I wouldn't mind doing with him. It's quite possible. With Eugene Chadbourne, he's also another weirdo. He's one of the most avant garde players I've ever met and I enjoy playing with Eugene a whole lot. It's always total improvisation. There's no plan. The Grandmothers are like the Mothers of Invention. We're a highly structured band. We know what we're doing, on everything, but yet we have the freedom, on solo spots, to take care of that part of it.
In a case like that, no two shows are the same anyway.
That's right. That's why I call them that way. I don't want us to get bored.
That would destroy everything we worked for. Now viewers, we come to the closing remarks section.
If I may, I would like to ask Roland to describe the Grandmothers. I think it's real important in this interview for us to promote our band. I think we have one of the finest bands in the world, and when you hear what we're doing, you will feel the same way. But I'd like Roland to have his say about what he thinks of the Grandmothers that are happening right now.
Well, right now, we're trying to get two album projects done simultaneously. 'Dreams on Long Play' is the brain-child of the group that occurred during the Spring of '91, and we're putting the tunes that have stuck with the show on one CD, and it's a totally original album. All of the things that we've put together and this is what we play, we're trying to give it as good a representation in the studio as in the live show.
The second album which is also in preparation, 'Dances With Weasels', also entitled 'Shut Up 'N Get in the Bus', is another compilation of original material. There's quite a bit of stuff that this band does and it's a nice collaborative effort. We come up with a nice idea and we hash it out in rehearsal and what you end up getting on stage is what we've agreed to. If there was ever any problem with the way we do the songs, I'm sure we would have dropped them from the repertoire a long time ago. But fortunately, the material that we're doing is still current. I've got my favourites – 'I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up'; we've got a version of 'Teen Angel' called 'Idiot' ... think about it ... We've got quite a bit of things going and we're trying to make it so that no two songs are alike as well. That's a challenge for five people to sit there on stage and make it interesting. I have never belonged to a band for longer than nine months, and for me to be in the fourth year of this has been an experience and a serious education. I've definitely grown quite a bit as a result and people seem to like what we do. I hope I answered that one, but you got me started, and what can I say.
I hope you will enjoy listening to the new Grandmothers when we come out and arrivederci. I'll see you in Italy.
(in Arnold Schwarzenegger voice) We'll be back. You be Beethoven, you be Brahms.