Zappa legacy lives on
Grande Mothers keep humour to fore as they continue to fly the freak flag high
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
What: The Grande Mothers
When: Thursday, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Sugar nightclub
Tickets: $18 (250-386-6121)
Roy Estrada erupted into maniacal laughter when asked if the Grande Mothers will play Skweezit Skweezit Skweezit in Victoria.
The song title summons rib-tickling memories for Estrada, an original member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. The 1969 recording of Skweezit Skweezit Skweezit featured an unorthodox field recording. Band member Bunk Gardner had recorded a love-making session with a highly vocal woman. Zappa mischievously added it to his song.
When the Mothers performed Skweezit Skweezit Skweezit live, Estrada made his own contributions to the sexy exclamations, yelling out things like: "Right there, Bunk! Oh God, oh God!"
Calling from his home in Orange County, Calif., Estrada recalled: "I went in and started mimicking [the sex tape] on stage. That was part of it. Squeeze it! Squeeze it! And the first time we did it, she was out in the audience. She told me, 'You did it better than I did!' "
For those too young to remember, Frank Zappa and the Mothers were gonzo rock 'n' roll satirists who started in the 1960s. Zappa's album titles hint at his anti-establishment sensibility: Freak Out!, We're Only in It for the Money and Weasels Ripped My Flesh.
His songs include My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama and Who Are the Brain Police? It's wild stuff. However, Zappa -- influenced by such composers as Stravinsky and Stockhausen -- is today recognized as one of rock's best and most innovative songsmiths.
Although Zappa died of cancer in 1993, the Grande Mothers continue to fly his freak flag high, playing his compositions with dollops of crazy humour. As well as 65-year-old bassist Estrada, the Grande Mothers include fellow original members Don Preston (vocalist/keyboardist) and Napoleon Brock (lead vocalist/saxophonist).
Members of the Mothers of Invention have performed on and off as the Grande Mothers since 1980. Estrada joined in 2000 -- previously, he was too busy raising a son to tour.
The Grande Mothers won't revive Skweezit Skweezit Skweezit at Sugar nightclub on Thursday. Estrada says the set list will include Call Any Vegetable and songs from the 1966 Freak Out! double-album.
Estrada was a member of the Soul Giants, the early 1960s bar band that became the Mothers of Invention. Before Zappa joined, the group played such R&B covers as In the Midnight Hour and Gloria. When their guitar player was drafted, one of the Soul Giants said he knew of another musician to replace him.
"And that turned out to be Frank," Estrada said.
When the Soul Giants decided work up some original material, Zappa was more than happy to fill the void. Estrada said his songs were offbeat even then. "They were different. They were kind of challenging. It was fun playing it, and we had a lot of fun doing it."
The Soul Giants morphed into the Mothers of Invention. In those early days, the Mothers ate, drank and slept music.
Zappa's original songs were strange enough to get them fired from clubs regularly. Eventually, though, the music found an audience. Estrada has fond memories of performing at the Garrick Theatre, a tiny venue above the legendary Cafe au Go Go in Greenwich Village. The Mothers started goofing around in performance, doing funny things with stuffed giraffes and chickens, Estrada said.
Despite the laughs, Estrada quit the Mothers of Invention in 1969. He wasn't making enough money to sustain himself.
In 1970 he co-founded the band Little Feat with Lowell George, who had also been a member of the Mothers. When Little Feat didn't find immediate commercial success, Estrada quit to join Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, known for its avant-garde freak-outs and the influential album Trout Mask Replica.
"He was way out there," said Estrada, laughing.
Zappa had a reputation as a tough bandleader, but Estrada -- who returned to tour with him in the mid-'70s -- said he wasn't witness to this. Zappa's taskmaster side emerged after he began writing out music charts and hiring only musicians who could read them, he said.
"I think that's when he became, like, the master. You could just tell he was a different person, you know," Estrada said.
"We always respected Frank. I did, anyway. I didn't have any regrets. Later on, we just had hurt feeling [because] he didn't show his appreciation, you know. Monetarily."
Estrada admits that in the old days, playing Zappa's music was a little more exciting. That's because it was new and ground-breaking.
"But we're having fun now, because it's a whole new audience," he added. "We've had a lot of people cry. Grown men cry. We send them back to the times, I guess."