Jimmy Carl Black Interview, 91-5
Jimmy Carl Black Interview:
Moers Festival 19.5.91
By Axel Wünsch and Aad Hoogesteger
T'Mershi Duween, #24-25, March-June 1992
I know it says in the editorial that this isn't going to happen this issue, but it's that time of year when not everything goes according to plan, so here is at least part of the interview. Lots of this chat was nothing more than banter over tea (by the sounds on tape), but here are some of the interesting Zappa related sections of that chat. It all begins with gumph about the shows being played in Moers, but then:
JCB: Don's going to record with us when we do the Grandmothers' album. We want him at least to record with us, and if the money's right when we come to Europe next Fall (1992), Don may come with us, even though he's not officially in the band. He is always in the Grandmothers, even though sometimes he doesn't play with us, but he'll always be one of the members. The three of us started the group, Don, Bunk and myself, in 1980. Actually you know, that's not when the Grandmothers first started. We did one recording session in 1970, right after The Mothers broke up. Herb Cohen got us together and said 'How would you guys like to do an album as the Grandmothers? And we said 'Fine'. Tom Wilson was the producer. After we did that first recording session, Herb said 'The title of the album is going to be Frank Zappa Presents The Grandmothers and that's when everybody said 'No, it isn't gonna be like that'. Because we didn't want anything to do with Frank Zappa. Zappa's name will not be on it! And then the deal fell through. But that was the beginning of the Grandmothers.
Why didn't you continue on your own?
It all came down to money. They were putting up the money. The original Grandmothers was myself, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Art Tripp, Roy Estrada, Lowell George, Elliot Ingber and Motorhead.
That would have been a great band. How did you come together as the 1981 Grandmothers?
Rhino Records wanted to put out a compilation, an album called 'The Grandmothers', of all our material since the Mothers broke up. The two tunes that are on that first album were done by Geronimo Black. Don's two tunes were by his band Raw Milk, in the early '70s. They never did anything either. We all gave Rhino a couple of tunes and they were on the album. Elliot gave them a couple, but he never wanted to play with the band. I don't know why; nor did Ray Collins; we asked Ray. Motorhead didn't want to either, so Don, Bunk and I put the Grandmothers together as a touring band, by adding Tom and Walt Fowler and Tony Duran.
Our biggest mistake was hiring Tom Fowler, because of his attitude. He's a great bass-player, but he's a shitty person. He actually manipulated it. First he got Tony Duran kicked out of the band – he was just a total manipulator. The next person he had kicked out was Bunk. I didn't even know it was going to happen or I would have said 'Hey, no way, because he's an original Grandmother'. Tom was never in the Mothers of Invention – he played as a sideman with Frank! Then, when we went on the second tour of Scandinavia with two shows in Germany, after the second gig in Gothenburg, I went down to eat breakfast. Tom had gotten his little gang with the people we had hired. It was only Don left from the original band then, and they came up to me and asked how I would like to be the only original Grandmother in the band. They said 'We think we need to get rid of Don'. I said, 'Hey man, no way!' I wouldn't be a part of that. You can leave ... and that's all that was said about that. I couldn't believe it! I could see it. After they'd gotten rid of Don, then I'm next. I can see the writing on the wall – 'Jimmy's Next!' They'd already gotten me off the drums. I was just singing. Then they wanted to add another singer to the band, and I wouldn't even be singing then that much. What am I going to do? Sit around and be a mannequin on the stage?
It's always the problem in music, this problem between people.
That's the beauty of this Eugene Chadbourne band right here. That problem does not exist in this band. That's why we're great – we're a family. Everybody appreciates everybody else.
That same problem happened with Zappa's 1988 band; they fell apart during the tour.
The musicians should know Frank – that's the way Frank is. Frank has got to be king, he's the boss. He's always been that way. When it was us, it was the Mothers of Invention period. It wasn't Frank Zappa and the Mothers, it was the Mothers. And that's the reason he got rid of us. He couldn't fire us. The only way he could do it was to break the band up. That's what he did. He tried to get us back together about nine months after that, in 1970, and nobody would go with him after the way he broke the band up. We came back off a successful tour and he calls up – we hadn't even been home about five days – and he says 'I've decided to break up the band. You guys have gotten your last cheque as of last week.' Not even severance pay, nothing!
And you didn't expect it during the tour?
Hell, no. To do it that way, that's real cold. He should have said 'Six months from now, we're gonna call it quits.'
(Enter Dr. Chadbourne to discuss the following night's set list. Jimmy does a bit of singing for Eugene.)
You know Dr. Art Tripp? He's a chiropractor; he makes adjustments to your body, a bone-cracker. He's a medical doctor. Four and a half years through school he went. Dr. Tripp, the chiropractor with the green moustache (laughs).
But back to the Grandmothers. After I told Don what Tom and his gang were up to, he didn't want to play with them any more after we'd finished the tour, and that was the end of it. Did you know there's a third Grandmothers album, unreleased? I've got a copy of it at home, the master tapes. It was done in a twenty-four track studio. It's very very good, with Walt and Tom Fowler, Don Preston, myself, Mike Miller and Tony ... shit, I can't remember his last name, a Cuban guy ... Tony Morales! It was done in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It's got Moon Unit on a song 'What was Zappa Really Like?', one of my tunes called 'Lady Queen Bee', a couple of Tom Fowler's songs and one of Walt's, and one by [Mike] Miller.
Do you think there is a chance that it will ever be released?
I don't know. I could probably get it released, but I'm not gonna do it until after the Grandmothers happen, and then maybe it'll be released, an archive thing, but it's very very tight, pretty much a jazz-oriented album. 'What Was Zappa Really Like?' is a funny song; Don wrote that one.
So, the old Grandmothers broke up in 1982. When did the new one start?
1987. I've had this band for four years, rehearsing not playing. We've had over three thousand hours of rehearsals. That's how tight the band is. They're so tight it's unbelievable. We can use telepathy. We know what's going to happen before it does happen.
I've read that you play old Mothers material and 'Lonesome Cowboy Burt'?
That's one of the tunes that we do. I can name the Mothers' tunes that we do live: 'Peaches En Regalia, The Orange County Lumber Truck, Let's Make The Water Turn Black, Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder, You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here, King Kong, Holiday In Berlin, Directly From My Heart To You, Uncle Meat, Electric Aunt Jemima, Dog Breath and Variations, What's The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?, Mother People, Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance, Mr. Green Genes, I'm Not Satisfied, Jelly Roll Gum Drop, Harder Than Your Husband.' Oh and 'Big Leg Emma'.
Is this only live or will some of it be on record?
If we ever do any of this on record, it will be from a live concert. I have a recording we did in a studio of 'Lonesome Cowboy Burt' and 'King Kong', from the first demos we did about three years ago. We won't release them. I have also a three quarter inch PAL master from a German show for TV in Hamburg in 1981. What I eventually want to do is ... I have several videos of the original Grandmothers and of this band from several places, and make a compilation, an hour video of the music. It's not the same music, it's different and played differently. I don't know how I could sell it in Europe. The quality isn't big production, but it's good, and the sound is good. It would be nice for collectors. I don't know how many fans there are in Europe, hardcore fans. What do you think?
A lot; a couple of thousand. Sales would really depend on the cost of the tape.
I even have tape of Arthur Brown with our band, doing some of his songs. I would include that because it's the Grandmothers backing him up.
In part two (and last) of this interview, Jimmy gets to talk about the Grandmothers then up-and-coming project. There's not really an awful lot to this part, as our hero was dragged off to the bus in full flow.
Do people think that The Grandmothers just play Frank's music?
Probably seventy-five per cent of the stuff that we do is original Grandmothers' stuff. We also do I Am The Walrus and A Day in the Life'; sounds just like the record. We do a couple of Doors' tunes, some Rolling Stones tunes. We even do a Little Feat tune, 'Willin. I've been doing that song for years. (At this point, JCB sings the chorus to Axel who doesn't know the song.) Little Feat were all good friends of mine. Lowell George was a real good friend of mine. He never came to Europe with the Mothers. He was in the band right after 'Uncle Meat', but was only in the band for about six months. Then he was fired.
(There now ensues a long often dull discussion about the early bootlegs which I could probably get into real problems if I printed here, so I won't.)
How soon can we expect something from The Grandmothers?
As soon as the deal is signed, we hope to have something out by the Fall (oops! -Ed), and maybe tour late Summer. It's not going to take long to record it. We know the material we're going to do.
Where did you meet all the other musicians? Were they friends?
It's taken me four years to put this band together. I sort of let them come to me. I auditioned a few guys and they all wanted to do it, but I've had great players that didn't fit into the band.
And where did you meet the Dutch bassist?
I did a radio show in Austin with a guy who was on an exchange programme at the University of Texas. He was from Amsterdam, name of Jan Donkers. He stayed a year in Austin, and his job was to interview musicians from the area about their music. He did an interview with me for Dutch radio, in about 1987... I met René through him. René's been over in the States for about twelve years. He lives in Austin, but he's still a citizen of the Netherlands. He comes back at least once a year to see his mother and his grandfather who's one hundred and three years old. He came out and sat in with the band I had at the time. He was playing in a jazz band and he was the guy I wanted to get from the beginning to play bass, but he wasn't available, so I got another guy for a year. Then this guy left and René was just freeing himself from the jazz band and was looking for another band.
(Enter Dr. Chadbourne to take JCB away. Exit pursued by a bear. End of chat.)