Frank Zappa: straight outta Cucamonga
There’s been no permanent recognition of Frank Zappa in the Inland Valley, but Rancho Cucamonga’s Biane Library did mount a display for him earlier this month before the library’s holiday closure.
By David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Posted: 12/19/15, 4:06 PM PST | Updated: 8 hrs ago
Frank Zappa should be preparing to turn 75 on Monday. Alas, the iconoclastic musician died at age 52 of prostate cancer.
He’s something of a native son of the Inland Valley, even if he was born in Baltimore and achieved fame in Los Angeles. A chunk of his formative years was spent in various cities local to us: Rancho Cucamonga, most notably, but Ontario, Pomona, Claremont, Montclair and Upland all figure in.
Let me pull together some of the threads of his story, based on previous research and Barry Miles’ invaluable biography, to offer a one-stop overview.
Because of the young Zappa’s health problems, the Italian-American family headed to California, first to Monterey and then to Claremont. His father, Francis, who worked in aerospace, got a job at Convair in Pomona.
Zappa seems to have attended eighth and a portion of ninth grade at Claremont High before the rootless family — mother Rose Marie and siblings Bobby, Candy and Carl — tried San Diego and then Lancaster, where Frank graduated from Antelope Valley High in 1958.
At that point the family returned to Claremont. And that’s where the local Zappa story really begins.
“He never lived anywhere more than two years,” Zappa fan Murray Gilkeson of La Verne observed. “But when they came back in ’59, he was here for six years, until he hit it big with the Mothers.”
The Zappas returned to Oak Park Drive, the neighborhood where they had previously lived, and Frank attended Chaffey College in spring 1960, its first semester in its new Alta Loma campus. Joyce Shannon, head of the music department, later called him “a very exceptional music student, extremely bright.”
The broke but ingenious Zappa somehow took a music composition course at Pomona College, and briefly hosted a show on the campus station KSPC-FM, despite not enrolling.
Chaffey was the end of Zappa’s formal education. He did get something else out of his time there: a girlfriend. He and fellow music student Kay Sherman moved in together in the summer of 1960 and married that December.
They lived in an old home at 314 W. G St. in Ontario, Kay working at First National Bank in Ontario and Frank at Nile Running Greeting Cards in Claremont, although he had other odd jobs, such as selling encyclopedias door-to-door and designing ads for Kay’s bank.
He put his energy into music, performing folk with future Association leader Terry Kirkman at the Meeting Place in Claremont, rock with the Boogie Men in his garage and lounge music with Joe Perrino and the Mellow Tones at various clubs in San Bernardino and environs.
Offered the chance to score a very low-budget movie, titled “The World’s Greatest Sinner,” Zappa composed music and recorded it in part at Chaffey College with the 52-member Pomona Valley Symphony Orchestra. He was never paid, but the lover of avant-garde music delighted in writing charts for an orchestra and hearing the results.
A friend introduced him to Paul Buff, who had a small recording studio in Cucamonga, Pal Recorders, at 8040 Archibald Ave. Zappa and Buff hit it off and Buff taught him how to record, overdub and record on multiple tracks, all invaluable training. (Buff later recorded the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” there.)
Zappa recorded some novelty folk songs at Pal with Ray Collins, whom he’d met in Pomona. Collins heard Zappa sing R&B at a Holt Avenue bar, the Sportsman, talked his way into singing a couple of songs and struck up a friendship after the gig with Zappa over their shared love of doo-wop and R&B.
One of their writing collaborations was “Memories of El Monte,” about teen dances at that city’s American Legion hall, which was recorded by the Penguins; another was “How’s Your Bird?,” a riff on a Steve Allen catchphrase, “how’s your fern?”
In March 1963, Zappa got on Allen’s TV show via the gimmick of demonstrating all the musical sounds that could be produced on the parts of a bicycle. He even got the host to blow into the handlebars.
The rest of the Zappa family briefly relocated to Florida but, missing Southern California, returned, moving to Palo Verde Street in Montclair. Francis and his brother Joe opened a restaurant named The Pit in Upland, where Frank built a small stage and performed with Collins for the college crowd.
By the end of 1963, Frank and Kay were through and he moved into Pal, which he bought the following year and renamed Studio Z. He also bought a bunch of scenery from a movie studio that was going out of business, thinking he might make low-budget movies at Pal. A feature story in the Daily Report dubbed him “the movie king of Cucamonga,” which the local cops decided must mean he was a pornographer.
An undercover officer hired Zappa to produce a sexy audiotape, then busted him when he did so, arresting him and a girlfriend on a charge of conspiracy to produce pornography. The Daily Report, invited to witness the arrest, wrote a story headlined “2 A Go-Go to Jail.” (Probably not one of our finer moments.)
In March 1963, Zappa served 10 days in jail in San Bernardino, the worst experience of his life, one that included finding a cockroach in his jailhouse breakfast. Zappa’s hostility toward authority dates to his arrest.
Shortly after his release, he got a call from Collins, who needed a guitarist for his R&B cover band, the Soul Giants, which was the house band at the Broadside Club in Pomona. Zappa joined in April, wrote songs and asserted control.
On May 9, 1965, Mother’s Day, they came up with a new name for themselves: the Mothers. Days later, Zappa was evicted from Studio Z and moved to Echo Park, ending the phase of his life that we might call The Inland Valley Years.
The Mothers became the Mothers of Invention and Zappa became a well-known singer, songwriter, composer and free-speech advocate.http://www.dailybulletin.com/arts-and-e ... -cucamonga