Dick Barber was a high school friend of Bob Zappa, and Frank’s road manager from 1967 to the mid 70s. He is name-checked in both the liner notes of Freak Out! and in The Real Frank Zappa Book.
He played the role of the industrial strength Gypsy Mutant Vacuum Cleaner that Motorhead falls in love with in 200 Motels, and also appears in the Uncle Meat and True Story Of 200 Motels home videos. Barber performed snorks and various vocal noises on several FZ recordings, strangled a rubber chicken at the Royal Albert Hall, and can be heard talking on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 5 and The Mothers 1970.
He is credited with contributions to the Bob Guy Dear Jeepers/Letter From Jeepers single, and The Big Squeeze (the Luden’s Cough Drop Commercial, recorded in 1967). He snorked on We’re Only In It For The Money and Lumpy Gravy.
For One Size Fits All, he was the Assistant Engineer.
In 1968, FZ listed Barber as his favourite “well known personage” in the United Mutations’ Folio.
When I first interviewed Bob Zappa in 2015, I was amazed to find the two were still good friends and that Dick attended Bob’s wedding to Diane Papalia that same year. I toyed with getting Bob to introduce me to Dick, but it wasn’t until I read Diane’s book, The Married Widow, that I resurrected this idea. And so it was Diane who finally hooked us up. Happily, Dick (or Richard, as he has been known for the last 30 years) agreed “It might be fun to visit some of my memories from the Zappa and MOI days and earlier,” and we arranged to chat via Skype.
Here’s what went down.
You were friends with Bob Zappa in school, I understand?
So did you see much of his older brother at that time?
A little bit. I knew Frank from that time period when I first knew Bobby. I remember Frank putting on puppet shows for the neighbourhood kids.
Yes, he mentions building puppets in The Real Frank Zappa Book.
I think Frank was very early on into entertainment, theatre, whatever. And Frank never drove, so I’m pretty sure I drove him to several events – I’m trying to remember if I drove him to the Steve Allen Show, which you’ve probably seen: where he played the bicycle.
Yes, of course – his sister Candy’s bicycle.
Could have been. So that would have been when he was still living at home. And accordingly he looked quite different from the persona of a few years later.
In that clip, he looks very much like Dweezil.
Yes. And I hadn’t seen Dweezil since he was crawling around on the floor of his dad’s house, back in the 70s, until I got to see him in person at the Crown Of The Continent Guitar Festival in Bigfork Montana in 2015. They were bringing in guitar players and, as a young person or an old person, you could pay a bunch of money to hang with these people, and then towards the end of the week, Dweezil put on a concert. And I was lucky enough to meet him through an old friend from the music business, David Lindley[i] – incredible guy: anything with strings on it, he plays the heck out of it. He’s been Jackson Browne’s lead guitar player for a long time
Now Ronnie Williams[ii]: was he also a school friend? What was he like?
You know, I’m trying to think: was Ronnie Williams a female?
No. He and his brother Kenny were the inspiration for Frank’s song, Let’s Make The Water Turn Black.
I’ve seen the name a lot of places, but it doesn’t ring a bell.
He unfortunately passed away last year.
Oh, okay. Sorry to hear that.
What about Denny Walley?
You know, I’ve heard his name mentioned, and I know he’s talked with Diane Zappa. I think he’s been around in the music business for quite a long time, but I don’t remember a lot about him. That goes back quite a long time and a lots of times names and dates and everything get confused.
Sure. You’ve talked about Frank playing coffee houses, as a folk musician – was he performing his own material then?
I can’t remember for sure, but I know I took him to a lot of gigs – because he never did drive, even as an adult – so I was transportation, because Bobby didn’t have a car. So I imagine he probably played cover stuff. But he could have done his own material, but I would recollect that he was playing acoustic guitar.
So we’re talking late 50s here?
Yeah, I would guess so. Let’s see: I graduated from high school in 1961, same as Bobby, so yeah it would be late 50s. I know a couple of times...[laughs] Frank was creative and stuff, and when got bookings to get paid, he would play parties, and I think we did that twice and of course we lived about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, so it was the better part of an hour drive to go into LA and we would be the beatniks and the hip people at a straight party of bunch of adults. And I remember specifically leaving one of those parties and there was myself and Bob Zappa and Frank and some other guys. I had a Plymouth station wagon – I think it was a ‘53 vintage – and we had some equipment, and a couple of the younger guys had had a few drinks, and we drove through Hollywood, and we were on Sunset Boulevard and we drove by a restaurant. And we slowed down, and there was a bunch of people dressed fairly upscale at that period and one of our high school classmates who had had quite a bit to drink opened the window and was sick as we cruised by 77 Sunset Strip, where that TV show was supposed to take place [laughs].
It was silly, but a memory.
Is it possible that one of those guys in the car was Motorhead Sherwood?
It is possible that Motorhead was in the car on the Sunset Strip adventure, but I do not recall for sure.
You say Frank was very creative: do you know anything about his brief tenure as a beat poet – using the name Vincent Beldon?
I don’t remember that specifically. That could have been at the time I was finishing up in high school and he had got married and they had a little apartment up in Ontario.
Did you know Kay?
Yes, that was his first wife. She worked at a bank in Ontario. And I attended a couple of parties at that apartment, which was upstairs – just a couple of blocks from a music store, which I don’t think is there anymore, but Frank used to hang there.
Yes, I remember Kay. But I’m sure I haven’t talked to her in fifty or sixty years – probably since she and Frank got divorced.
I think she accompanied Frank to Bob’s first wedding, which would have been after they had separated.
Anyway, Bob’s widow Diane says you thought Bob had some musical talent – was it eclipsed by Frank...?
My recollection is that Bobby was a better guitar player than Frank was when I first met them. I think he’d been playing guitar longer than Frank, because I remember I was attempting to play guitar and Bobby and I would go to a neighbourhood school, which had big long hallways in it which gave a natural echo and we would play the same songs over and over. I always thought that Bobby had some potential as a musician, but I think he decided early on that he probably didn’t want to compete with his brother because he could see that by the time we were getting out of high school that Frank had gotten pretty focussed on the music scene.
So what sort of stuff were you playing with Bob, when you were trying to learn guitar?
I would guess folkie stuff – you know, Kingston Trio stuff from the era. I’d have to think about that, but I’m sure it would be folkie oriented
What I didn’t realise was that you were around when Frank was at what later became Studio Z – did you record anything there?
Why yes, Andrew – I did [laughs]. In the beginning of the unique experience of hanging around Frank, I spent several evenings at the studio – because it was only a few minutes drive from where I lived to go out there. We did two songs that I recollect – maybe a third or fourth. I was a member of the group called Baby Ray & The Ferns: I did the “Chee poppa doodly woppa, chee poppa doodly woppa”. We did The World’s Greatest Sinner and How’s Your Bird. The World’s Greatest Sinner was to go along with the release of the movie made by Timothy Carey, who was a character actor and actually played a part in the what I think was the beginning of the current genre of Westerns where the bad guy wasn’t always bad and the good guy wasn’t always good: that was a film called One-Eyed Jacks. It starred Marlon Brando and they called each other terrible names and there was real violence in the fight scenes.
Anyway, so Timothy Carey decided to make a film. It was awful! But Frank was real happy to get paid a few bucks and do the soundtrack, which was kind of jazzy.
So that was a fun experience, and I’m pretty sure opening night was at a tiny theatre in Claremont where we grew up. And it was not well received.
So that would have been around 1963-64?
I’m thinking that. It would have been post-high school for me, and pre-Freak Out! for Frank. I’m actually named on that album – with a whole bunch of people. I don’t think I saw any of those sessions.
So was it in 1967 when you came back into his orbit – when he was in New York?
What happened was: I was graduating from college and another lifelong friend of both of us, but particularly Bobby, a guy named Bill Harris, who went on to be a movie host on Showtime or one of the big cable television channels...anyway, Frank said to the three of us. “Hey, why don’t you guys come and spend the summer here: I’ll get you work – you can work for me or whatever.” So we took somebody’s Volkswagen Beetle and did a road trip from southern California to New York City. And we get there and Frank says, “Oh, Bobby and Bill: you’re gonna be the ticket takers at the Garrick Theater,” where Frank’s band was playing five nights a week, right down on Bleecker Street. So I said, “Well what about me?” And he said, “Oh, we’ve got another plan: you’re gonna help out this guy,” who managed this place called the Cafe Au Go Go, which was similar to the Whisky A Go Go in LA, where all the new bands were playing.
I had been listening to jazz like Miles Davis and stuff, when I was throwing pots in college – me, artsy? Anyhow, I had only been in town for a couple of days, and I ended up being the assistant manager of the Cafe Au Go Go , not knowing what I was getting into. And I’m with Frank walking down the street, and Frank says, “Here, let me introduce you to somebody – he’s playing this weekend: they play really loud, I think you’ll like them.” And here’s this black guy with frizzed out hair, feather boas and concho belts and moccasins. And Frank says, “Hey, Richard – meet Jimi!” And I’m thinking, ‘Oh my Lord – what have I gotten myself into?’
And it was quite a weekend to see Jimi Hendrix in a tiny club, three nights, two shows a night. I called friends in LA and said, “You know what: I think this rock and roll’s gonna get very big,” watching the audience watch Jimi Hendrix.
Fantastic! Was Howard Solomon the guy you co-managed the Cafe Au Go Go with?
I recollect that Howard Solomon was the person who owned the property where the Cafe Au Go Go and the Garrick Theater were located. He was not actively involved in the Cafe Au Go Go; I think the guy I worked for was named Berry? I recollect that Howard Solomon and Herb Cohen were friends, which is how Frank ended up playing at the Garrick Theater and my connection to the Cafe Au Go Go.
Didn’t Frank want Bob to be his personal assistant, but instead you became Frank’s road manager. How did that come about?
Let me see. Somewhere in there, Bobby joined the Marine Corps. I think he felt like he did not want to get into Frank’s world. You know, he had quite a successful career in the publishing business – which is how he met Diane. And I think Frank knew that I was kind of business oriented, and I was not intimidated...I had met members of the band during the Studio Z sessions: I’d met Jimmy Carl Black and Roy Estrada and Ray Collins. And I was not offended by their – at the time – pretty terrifying appearance!
I was lucky enough to get to know Jimmy quite well toward the end of his life, and he was a lovely chap.
He was. But during his height, he was pretty terrifying for people: he was tall and always dressed in just jeans, with long hair...but he was the nicest guy. And I would say that was true of almost all of Frank’s band members.
That’s right. So once you became their road manager, it was quite an eventful first few years. What are your memories of the riot in Berlin in 1968?
Oh yeah – it was very memorable! So we played in the Sportpalast – which was like an oval shape, where you could play hockey or something like that. It was, by our early standards, a pretty big venue. We were set up on one of the long sides, playing across the short part of the room. The promoter was a guy named Fritz Rau, of Lippmann and Rau, who was quite the character – he’d been a promoter forever, done everybody – so he knew what was in the works. I think it was the SDS[iii] who was gonna come in and cause trouble. So we were prepared. We went on stage and played for I think only for 30 or 40 minutes, if that, and things started to cut loose. They had these crowd control fences set up in front of the stage, and when the crowd started throwing those up on the stage, we thought, ‘We’re in trouble here!’ So we took the equipment off a little bit at a time, and I think we kept the sound system, which at that time was all on the stage, and we plugged Frank into more speakers as the players left. Then at the last minute, we grabbed everything and ran backstage, where there were about 200 cops with dogs – because Fritz Rau thought it would be unwise to have them become visible as we’d just whip the crowd into a frenzy. And it turned out there was a bunch of American GIs on one side real close to us, and they came up and helped.
I don’t remember being terrified at the time, but when you look back you think, ‘Oh, that was scary.’ And it’s my first tour!
Did you get a medal? Frank or Herb produced a badge or a medal for all of you, I think?
I think, yeah – I can’t remember exactly.
A lot of my thought process over the years was to watch Frank – and other people on stage – and think, if the crowd turns against you...it’s pretty daunting. And I know there were times when Frank came off stage exhausted or shaken, because it’s a big deal. I remember we had a few shows where we played big basketball venues where there might be 20,000 people and I remember – I think it was Madison Square Garden or somewhere in the New York area – where we had a big venue sold out. And when you come on stage and everybody lights their cigarette lighter, you think if that happened every night, it could have some affect on your whole ego and attitude.
So the following year, he disbanded the original Mothers. Did you know he was going to do that, or did it just come out the blue?
I think he’d had some discussion about that and just felt it was time to have different musicians – a little like Sting did when he left The Police. And Frank had had the experience of recruiting new musicians, like Ian Underwood and Art Tripp.
There were two instances I remember: one of them with Ian; and one with Art Tripp. Frank would write some score and say, ‘Can you play this?’ And in Ian’s case, wrote some woodwind parts and some keyboard parts, and of course Ian just breezed through it, and he thought, ‘Okay, I’ll hire him.’
And with Art Tripp, he wrote a score and sat him in front of a set of drums and said, ‘Can you play this?’ And of course Art would just sit down and go [mimes Art playing complex drum pattern] like that. And then he’d stop and Art would say, “Now I can play it that way, or would you rather have it more like swing here?” and goes [mimes Art playing complex drum pattern with more swing]. And Frank’s eyes are lighting up, because I’m sure he’d try and write them the most challenging stuff he could, and having two guys who could sight read his stuff first play and make it sound good was intoxicating for Frank. So that’s when I think he thought about getting more new players.
I got to meet Art at the Zappanale festival in Germany last year – again, a lovely fellow.
Yeah! I would say the only real jerk that Frank was involved with was Captain Beefheart. At the end of the Bongo Fury tour, Frank was saying, “Never again: I’m not taking him on the road again.”
I remember we were somewhere in Texas, and Beefheart somehow convinced the limo driver that he was in charge, and so he took the limo. We didn’t know where he went. He didn’t show up for soundcheck, and he finally shows up and he’d gone out and bought a big Stetson hat. I don’t think he had a lot of money at the time, because I know he was getting cash advances from me – I was the banker on the road. And Frank was pretty upset about that.
Going back in time again, you appeared in Frank’s movie, 200 Motels.
Yes, I was cast as a vacuum cleaner!
That was filmed over a very short period of time – do you remember any squabbles between him and the director, Tony Palmer?
Oh, all the time! And in fact, squabbles between Herb Cohen and me and Frank, because he had bare breasted women and all kinds of stuff, and we were afraid it was going to get R rated. But it’s absolutely benign compared to what appears on the screen anymore.
I remember when I first read the script, I thought this could be a fun thing. My feeling is that Frank was probably ADHD and he had a terrible time just saying, “You know what, it’s done: I’m gonna leave it that way.” Coz I felt like there were several times that he did stuff in the studio that I thought was really wonderful, but by the time he got done editing and overdubbing and everything, I didn’t think it was all that great.
So the film was the same thing: Frank wanted to be in charge and Tony Palmer, who had a lot of credits as a film director, had I think a different vision. In fact, I think everybody – almost everybody! – had a different vision of what that film would turn out to be. Lots of times I’d overhear people on the set going, “Hey, mate – I don’t understand: what are we doin’ this for?”
And of course, a great memory with Ringo Starr, who’s dressed up as Frank – and he looked very much like Frank. And he and several others are huddling around with a couple of English technicians off to the side, but within range to hear them, were saying, “I hear one of the Beatles is on this movie. Which guy is it anyway?” Ringo was right in the middle, and nobody knew him!
Now the following year, the Mothers returned to London. What are your memories of the incidents in Montreux and the Rainbow?
That tour was disastrous from the get-go. We hired a big truck out of England for all of our equipment. Our first show was in Stockholm, and then the next show was gonna be in Odense, Denmark – which is an island near Copenhagen. And it was late Fall – November, maybe? – and that big truck with all our equipment got down to Malmö, Sweden, which was the jumping off place to get on a ferry to get back to Copenhagen. And before it got there, they got the blizzard and the brakes froze up because they hadn’t taken the moisture out of the braking system.
So that was the beginning, and that truck then blew up on the freeway. That whole tour was jinxed. All of the previous ones had been relatively event free, but that tour was awful.
Do I remember Montreux? Absolutely. In fact, I went back there a few years ago, because they rebuilt the Casino and I wanted to see it.
When I thought about it afterwards, it really taught you a lesson about fire. Dweezil asked me about that – what was my impression? – because he’d heard that it was started, as the lyric says, by some crazy with a flare gun. I would argue that, because I thought I saw a chunk of the ceiling fall out near the sound desk and it was on fire. But I never remembered seeing a flare gun go off, which I think you wouldn’t miss. We started to get everybody out of the building and Frank, in his coolness, his on stage persona: wonderfully cool – he called the audience boys and girls a lot of the time –said, “Boys and girls, let’s all relax. I want everybody to be calm. We’ll leave the building and when the smoke clears, we’ll come back and finish the show. Everybody gonna do that?” And everybody got up walked out like it was the end of the show, and there were people passing out flyers for the next week’s show at the exits, people were taking flyers and just walking out like it was real normal. Otherwise it could have been disastrous.
But by the time I got to the stage, yelled at the sound guys, “Leave it, get out of here, let’s go,” and then we had to go downstairs and out through a tunnel to the parking lot which was where our two trucks and the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio were, the roof was going off of that four storey building. So I’m thinking that fire started way up inside the building.
I recollect that the attacker at the Rainbow Theatre was some screwball who thought his girlfriend was having an affair with Frank – which was totally false.
It was a chaotic time
And after Montreux, all of the equipment was gone?
Everything. All of his guitars...Ian grabbed one or two of his cases with his woodwinds in, and I think that’s the only thing that survived. We went back that evening when the fire had gone out – and by the way, I still have that image in my mind of going back to the hotel, which was walking distance, and looking back and seeing the smoke coming out of the building and going up maybe a thousand feet, and then the wind caught it and took it out, and thinking how fitting Deep Purple’s lyrics for Smoke On The Water were.
I often wonder, maybe you’ve heard, whether they wrote that as kind of a novelty song – as kind of a story – but did they ever realise it that would become so popular?
I don’t think so.
It’s one of those things where somebody has a song and they release it and they never realise it’s going to sell millions. I think for Deep Purple, it made their career life long
Yeah. I was a fan of Deep Purple before then and I got the album and thought it was great, but then Smoke On The Water just took it somewhere else.
Now, there was a lady with Frank at that time – Karen Sperling. Do you remember her?
You know, there were a few ladies [laughs]! But I don’t remember anybody being with us at that time, because in Europe we were pretty picky about any extra people coz we were having to go through customs all the time. And you know Frank was very anti-drug and the policy in the band was if you got busted on the road you were immediately fired and on your own, which means here’s your ticket home, we’re out of here.
So I just remember several other band members at various times having befriended some attractive young ladies would beg could they come along, but Frank was pretty hard-nosed, he didn’t want that, because he felt that increased the risk of causing problems.
I was recently talking to a long time friend who I went to college with. She was an American Airlines cabin attendant and she met us on the road one time – and I think she flew with us from Copenhagen to London, and she was very straight looking, very attractive and kind of young looking, even though she was in her twenties. And she said she remembered going through customs with us, and the English customs guy said, “Does your mother know where you are?” [laughs]. Great looking – she didn’t look like a band member or a groupie!
Frank used to tease her, coz he got to know her real good. She would wear a round metal pin, which I don’t think was a sign of virginity, but ‘I’m pretty straight’ sort of thing. And one time when she was visiting the log cabin, where I lived for six or eight months, I said here’s my friend, she enjoys your music and she plays the cello. And Frank goes, “Oh man – let’s get a pick-up and put it on the cello; she can play in the band!” And Frank was serious, and she was thinking about it. But when Gail found out about it, oh...! Already then, I think Gail was very aware that Frank always had his eye out for pretty young ladies.
So I don’t remember her...was her name Elana?
No, I was talking about a filmmaker called Karen Sperling.
A number of the women were very attractive, very well spoken, well educated and stuff, but I don’t remember any in particular who were with us at that event. But I could be wrong.
Well, there’s footage of Karen with Frank on the stopover in Paris between Montreux and the Rainbow. So she certainly was around.
Now you see, we were scheduled to go to Paris.
The first phone call I made was to Herb Cohen – in the middle of the night. Herb was as much as a colourful personality as Frank was – even more so in some ways. He had a New York accent, and he was saying “So what are you calling me for? What’s up?” I said, “Well, we just went through a fire here in Montreux.” “Well what about the fucking equipment, man?” I said, “It’s all gone.” “What the fuck? What do you mean?” He couldn’t believe it. And so he said, “Can you guys get to France?” I said, “I doubt it – seriously, man. Because we’ve got no equipment. Where are we gonna get the equipment?” That was the major consideration. And he said, “Well, you’re over there: you call the fucking promoters and tell them you can’t come!” I was left to do the dirty work! So the second I call I made was to this guy in Paris who was putting on all of the shows in France.
Now it’s my recollection, but I could be wrong...Frank actually said, “Put me on the first plane home,” and the members of the band – particularly the two Turtles – were saying ‘the show must go on’ and talked him into it. Now I don’t think we went to Paris: I think we went directly to London. But I could be wrong.
And there were supposed to be a few more dates in the UK after the Rainbow.
That’s right. And there was always the financial end of it, because the pay wasn’t great in Europe. Although my guesstimate is that he was more popular per capita in the towns and cities of Europe than anywhere else.
That’s still the case today, I think.
So what was your relationship with Gail like?
Initially it was fine. You know she really was kind of a groupie. She’d been with a couple of other musicians – you probably know more than me. I think they were of some note.
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was allegedly one.
Oh, yeah, Anyway, I knew a couple of her sisters and stuff like that. But by the mid-70s, it was pretty apparent to me that Gail wanted to be in charge. So I could see the handwriting on the wall. And by that time, I’d had enough. It’s tough, touring all of the time.
I tell the story: so were touring in the Chicago-Midwest area, and I wake up in the middle of the night, and I’m in the hotel room, and I can’t find the light – for like, a minute. I’m up, out of bed, trying to find the light. And finally, I found the light and turned it on and I went, “Oh my God: we’re at the Kensington Gardens in London!” Too many days in a row – that great line out of the Jackson Browne song about being on the road: “We do so many shows in a row, these towns all look the same.”[iv] Are we in LA, Chicago or whatever!
And then of course, more and more, Gail would pretty much isolate Frank. Did I have any contact with Frank after I left? No. Even Bobby couldn’t talk to him. And I’m sure you’ve read some of the bizarreness to do with the Zappa Family Trust, what she did with that and how she screwed the kids – particularly Dweezil and Moon. So there was a part of Gail that, no, I didn’t like.
So was the Bongo Fury the last tour you did with Frank?
I think so. You know, everything gets all blurred at that point. And I was already spending time with another group we were trying to develop out of Herb Cohen’s office. I didn’t enjoy some of the music that was happening by the mid-70s. And prior to being on the road with Frank, I wasn’t dreaming of the day I could be on the road with a band. I thought I would teach fourth grade. But that’s what happened: we spent the summer there in 1967, and it was quite an eye-opener for me because I got to see all kinds of great acts...who was this kid that everybody was so excited about? He came in and played one night and I didn’t think he could sing very well. He had frizzy hair. But everybody was so excited by him. What was his name?
Oh, Bob Dylan – yeah, that’s right!
Anyway, Bobby told me at one point in his last few years that he really appreciated that I stayed with Frank as long as I did.
I was going to ask whether you ever got the sense from Bob that he was happy you were there with Frank when all of these horrible things were happening when he couldn’t be?
I think that is very possible. You see, for a lot of that period, Bob was in the Marine Corps.
But for the most part, I got along with Frank fine. But he could be demanding: not in a prima donna way – once in awhile, yes. And it was a pain in the ass that we had to do sound-checks every night.
During the time that Frank was off after the Rainbow incident – and even prior to that, because Frank would only work 30 days; he didn’t want to be out on the road for more than 30 days and then he wanted to be off 30 days – I did some tours with Linda Ronstadt, I did one or two with the Moody Blues, Tom Waits, and other groups. And they were much more relaxed about sound-checks and all that kind of stuff. They were confident they could go out on stage and do just fine. And of course the Moody Blues did a set you could set your watch by!
And it depressed me after Frank and his compulsive sound-checks that went on some times as much as two hours.
Do you know if Kanzus J. Kanzus[v] is still alive?
I have not had any contact with Kanzus J. Kanzus since the late 70s when he did visit my wife and I in Upland California where we lived. I think he was living in Switzerland at the time and I keep meaning to contact John Mayall to see if he knows where Kanzus is. Kanzus worked for Mayall before he joined the Zappa fun.
I'll let you know if I find anything.
Please do! Have you seen the Alex Winter documentary?
I have not, but several people have said I should see it.
And probably this interview will change it, but for a long time that stuff didn’t interest me. I did recently see a very similar documentary on Linda Ronstadt, that was really nice.
I guess part of it might be I’d see things in there that I felt weren’t accurate or whatever. And there’s part of that whole memory: it was gruelling work.
On the other hand, I got to see all of the major bands that first came on the scene during that period. And I would joke to myself and others – not to Frank – that these bands would open for us – like the Doobie Brothers who opened a couple of shows for us – and I’d chat with the promoters and we’d agree that they would be headlining their own shows in the very near future.
I wanted to mention that, because I’ve always enjoyed a number of English bands. The first one would be Traffic. I think I heard their album when I was in New York City, and I thought it was The Band From Big Pink, because of the high harmonies. I really liked that first album, Mr. Fantasy. And another band, who opened for us several times over their career was Fleetwood Mac. But I enjoyed it when it was Peter Green’s time, and i’m glad to see that he’s getting the credit for being the leader of that band now. They were so great live. They opened for us a couple of times when the girls joined in, and we didn’t think it was going to do well, but I guess we didn’t know what we were talking about then! Because we were used to the old band, and thinking, ‘Oh this is...’ you know!
Going back to the Log Cabin: do you remember Frank’s secretary, Pauline Butcher?
I do. I only recently got on Facebook and her name popped up, and I keep thinking I should contact her. I did not read her book but, yeah, she was fun. You’ve done interviews with her?
Oh yeah. I consider her a good friend.
Well, there’s another reason I ought to go on Facebook and say, “Here I am!” There’s a few old Mothers who’ve tried to get to me on Facebook.
In the Alex Winter documentary, Ruth Underwood – who’s probably the star of the film, other than Frank, obviously – she talks about the way Frank was so focussed on making music that he would sort of dismiss people: she would do her piece and Frank would turn his back – wouldn’t say goodbye, thank you, kiss my arse or anything. And Bunk Gardner says Frank shook his hand once and said “Good job,” and that was it.
Yeah, Frank was...what’s the word? I would say: if you knew his dad, you would understand why Frank was not real sociable.
So you knew his dad as well?
Oh yeah. I had dinner at their house a couple of times. In fact, I knew them when they lived in two different houses in Claremont. His dad was a very unusual character.
I clearly remember two incidents at the Log Cabin – I don’t know how the invitation occurred, but somehow Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful showed up. And Gail, who was an Army brat, wasn’t very socially with it either. So they asked them did they want a drink, and whatever it was Mick wanted, they didn’t have.
They weren’t anti-social, but they didn’t have the social graces.
On the other hand, Bobby – who of course mingled in high places in the corporate level – was very charming.
And the other example was Roger Waters of the Pink Floyd...I think people would get themselves invited because they were curious to meet Frank and see the Log Cabin. But they found out he was not the engaging kind of social person they expected. So it doesn’t surprise me that Ruth would feel that way.
Yeah. He didn’t seem to have many close friends.
No. And I have this theory that people who are very successful – in business or music or the arts – lots of times are so focussed on what they’re doing – so that they can succeed – that other parts of a normal person’s life are let go, whether it’s social or intellectual stuff or whatever. I have found some people who are extremely talented in one area are kind of lost in other areas.
That leads me to my final question, which was when was the last time you spoke with Frank? It seems to me that you knew him at a very early age, was working with him for a good few years up through the mid-70s, but you didn’t stay in touch much after that.
You know, I think a tour ended, and then he decided he was not going to work for a while. And I’d kinda gotten ready to go my way, and all of a sudden it was very difficult to get through to Frank because of his wife. And I think the discussion had already started that he was going to leave Herb Cohen, but I was already on my way before that actually happened. So yeah, there were no goodbyes, no thank yous – it just kind of fell apart. Maybe it was because I’d met a woman that I ended up marrying, and I think my life was changing. And I’m sure Frank’s was too.
You know, Bobby couldn’t talk to him. None of us could.
Yeah. And you obviously remained in touch with Bob.
Oh yeah. Bobby and I enjoyed communication and laughter, and I met his wife a couple of years before they married – did you read her book?
Yes. And Bob’s too.
So you’ll understand that whole situation.
I went and spent a couple of days with Bobby in his home in New Jersey after his first wife Marsha died, and then met Diane that same time; we drove into the city and had dinner, with her.
I’m sure we discussed old times over the years, but I just felt like if Bob – his brother – can’t get through, then why do I even want to call him.
Frank didn’t seem to be a sentimental person.
You know, I think he was. But I think he maybe blocked it out – I don’t know what. And I think once Gail became in charge...I’ve no idea for sure, but suspect...even from talking to Dweezil a little bit: Dweezil didn’t know that people had tried to call Frank and wouldn’t get put through. The story he was told was that, ‘Oh, they just don’t care about you or Frank anymore.’
I think Gail became very unhappy, and very vicious. We wonder if she was very bitter about all the women over the years and was trying to cut that off too.
Yes, that has been said.
So, finally, tell me a bit about life post-Frank.
Many friends have told me I should write a book as I have some interesting stories about the music business, as well as my life after Zappa!
I have been very blessed with a very interesting life, including several diverse careers.
After Zappa, I dabbled for a time with several things.
I sold small airplanes, because I had my pilot's license which I got during the Zappa years. That proved to be more exciting and less financially rewarding than I had hoped.
Next I tried college administration in Claremont, where there are five colleges. That was interesting as I was involved in fundraising for the college and met several interesting and successful people who were members of the board of trustees. One of whom had about a dozen Mexican restaurants around the Southwest. He had started with one tiny hole in the wall place in Pasadena, California. I got interested in the restaurant business and pursued that working for others for several years and then with my own place in Claremont, California for about 10 years.
Before the music business I was training to be an elementary school teacher, so after the restaurant, I dabbled in teaching in Southern California. Southern California became too high population density for me, so I then explored other possibilities.
This included finding myself in school in Salt Lake City to become a truck driver, as opposed to being in school to teach kids. I drove a big rig around the US for two years and saw many of the towns and city's I had seen while touring in the music business.
The next chapter led me to Ely, Nevada to operate very large earth moving equipment in the copper mine which had been there since the turn of the century. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself driving giant dump trucks in an open pit copper mine, but it was a new adventure!
After a couple of years it was clear to me that the mine might close because we were making copper for 60 cents a pound and selling it for 50 cents a pound. That does not make for any profit. It did close not long after I began teaching.
I heard about a teaching position in tiny Baker, Nevada about 60 miles east of Ely, so I applied and got the job. I left the mine and began teaching a 3rd, 4th and 5th grade combination class of 15 children in tiny Baker, Nevada!
Alas all good things come to an end and when three families moved away from Baker and took eight kids out of the school, the school district decided there should only be one teacher there. So the other teacher that had been there for many years took the rest of the kids and I went to Ely Nevada to teach in a middle school, which was not my cup of tea.
Next phase was to return to mining, this time in Western Nevada at a large gold mine, again operating giant earth moving equipment. As the miners would say, "Who'd a thunk it?"
After seven years at the mine in Round Mountain, Nevada, I retired and moved back to Baker to build a house, which I did proudly complete. You would not think there would be many musicians in tiny Baker but there was enough for me to join a band. I had to wait till I was in my 70s to play music!
After much consideration I began to think that Baker Nevada, as much as I love being there, was a bit small, only about 150 people, for my retirement years. Also, all my day-to-day needs, like grocery shopping, medical services and my airplane were at least one hour drive away!
I had looked at several small towns in Southern Utah as possible places for retirement...but!
While visiting a friend in Wyoming, I discovered two small towns very close together with all the facilities that I felt I needed to be comfortable and a population of more than 1500 people, which seemed the rural environment that I liked with more people and services available within five minutes, including an airport, as I still enjoy flying. I also enjoy outdoor activities, and with the Grand Tetons and the Wind River Mountains, there are many lakes and rivers for fishing nearby.
I would encourage people to always be open to change because you never know where it might lead you!
Amen to that! Thanks for your time, Richard.
Interview completed on Monday 24th April 2023. Photo of Richard taken during our Skype call on 23rd August 2022.
[i] Lindley, the so-called ‘Prince of Polyester’, sadly passed away on March 3, 2023.
[ii] In 1960, Ronnie introduced FZ to Paul Buff. He later co-wrote and played drums and bass on The Masters’ 1961 song Breaktime. Thanks to his grandson, Williams became something of a Tik-Tok sensation in his final years, but sadly passed away in March 2021.
[iii] Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund.
[iv] The Load-Out from the album Running On Empty (1977).
[v] Roadie and technician for the Mothers during the 1960s. Real name Billy Porter.