Lumpy Gravy

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Release info


Lumpy Gravy Part One (15:48)

Lumpy Gravy Part Two (15:51)



After contacting symphonic session musicians through trombonist Kenneth Shroyer, who’d played on Absolutely Free, Frank formed the one-off Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, made up of the musicians and characters as they appeared piecemeal on the album rather than in any actual cooperative performances. The Chorus was actually a speaking cast, its members' dialogue taking the place of any sung lyrics on the LP. They were recorded conversing with their heads stuck inside a Steinway grand piano during several sessions at Apostolic Studios in New York City. The chats were improvised, but they followed Frank’s general thematic guidelines. He amassed eight or nine hours of conversation from which to select; further snippets were heard in a few spots on following albums, but the piano characters returned with prominence on Civilization, Phaze III, which clarified and continued the plot (all the way to the end of the world) from where it left off on Lumpy Gravy, using both old characters from that album and new, freshly recorded folks.

The album features three Mothers: Bunk Gardner plays woodwinds and brass, while the others -- Roy Estrada and Jim “Motorhead” Sherwood, sometimes using the voice of his alter-ego, Larry Fanoga (“Almost Chinese, huh!” ... “Drums are too noisy when you got no corners to hide in”) -- are listed as members of the Chorus. Other enclosed-perspective, fear-of-freedom piano inhabitants are played by studio staff members, Louie the Turkey from the Garrick Theater audience and Spider Barbour of Chrysalis, another group recording at Apostolic at the time.

Completed in 1967, this featured the earliest commercial appearance of Frank’s symphonic music. Some of the material was even recorded with a fifty-piece Los Angeles orchestra.

The album was commissioned by Nik Venet of Capitol Records, who’d formerly signed the Beach Boys. It had been assumed that Frank was contractually free to compose and conduct, since MGM had only signed him as a musician and vocalist along with the rest of the Mothers. The latter company disagreed, threatened to sue, and finally bought the master tapes. It was just as well; Capitol’s engineers had messed up the countless edits, requiring Frank to reconstruct the album. He and technician Gary Kellgren labored over this unexpected task at Mayfair Studios in New York City. All in all, the release of the album was delayed for over a year.

The album’s title, originally garnered from a television commercial for Aloma Linda Gravy Quick, is used here to describe Zappa’s congealing of the “smooth” textures of popular orchestral music. Frank’s breaking-up of the frozen emotions of safe, dyed-in-the-wool classical forms is achieved via compositional freedom and intrusions of reality: the “lumps” of the imperfect real world, much more interesting than the escapist dullness of antiquated musical forms. The lumps are the “meat of the matter,” and also happen to be the tastiest part of the gravy. Frank’s opting for meat rather than vegetation: substance, and the eclecticism (and humor) of reality, rather than brain-dead uniformity. Upcoming album titles will update this idea (most drastically Uncle Meat and Burnt Weeny Sandwich, but also, indirectly, Hot Rats and Weasels Ripped My Flesh).

The front-cover photo, backdropped in gravy-brown, features Frank in a non-hip, comfortable outfit, staring proudly up at the spectator from his chambers of creation like a worn-out worker after a long day. He’s wearing a shirt occasionally aired onstage that advertises Pipco, a Santa Barbara, California pipe company that has made shirts to sponsor little-league teams (although Frank won’t learn of the shirt’s origins until long after 1967).

The clothing-store dummy inside the gatefold hearkens back to the plastic people on Absolutely Free.

Conceptual Continuity