Jimmy Carl Black
In the mid 1960s, Jimmy Carl Black was drumming for the Soul Giants, alongside vocalist Ray Collins and Roy Estrada on bass. When guitarist Ray Hunt quit, Collins contacted his old friend from Pal Studios (Zappa), who took over the band and renamed them the Mothers – promising them fame and fortune.
He achieved the former as ‘the Indian of the group’ who pops up throughout the We're Only In It For The Money album (1968).
Black plays on all of the 'original' Mothers albums recorded in the 1960s, appears in the movie 200 Motels (1971) and can be heard on the posthumous live release Road Tapes, Venue #1 (2012).
When Zappa split the original Mothers up in 1969, Black went on to form Geronimo Black and, later, the Grandmothers. Both would feature a number of former Zappa sidemen.
As 'Indian Ink', Black was the second drummer in the short-lived Magic Band that Captain Beefheart put together for his Knebworth Festival (UK) and Roxy (US) shows in July 1975.
In 1993, Black hooked up with Liverpool's Muffin Men, with whom he would tour for the rest of his days, playing Zappa, Beefheart and more.
I first met Black in October 1993, when the Jack & Jim Show (Black with Eugene Chadbourne on guitar, banjo and umbrella) played The Swan pub opposite Fulham Broadway underground station in London. He let me buy him a drink or two (yeah, drinking beer with one of the idols of my youth near the home of my favourite football team – nirvana).
A few months later, the Grandmothers played Dingwalls near Camden Lock. So there’s me sat in the middle of this darkened room when up pops Jimmy – singles me out, comes over, says, “Hi Andy, how are ya?”, put his arm around me... how special did that make me feel?
And thus started our friendship.
I had regular contact with Black via email and saw him whenever he toured the UK – including when the Grandmothers played the London Astoria on 13 March 1998.
I thought it would be nice to ‘illustrate’ a review I was writing for the resultant album, Eating The Astoria (2000), with a few quotes from the boys in the band. Black responded by saying, “Why don’t you do an interview with me via email?” In for a penny and all that. I quickly tossed off... some questions and here is the result of the first of three interviews I would conduct with Black.
What sort of music were the Soul Giants playing prior to becoming The Mothers?
The Soul Giants were mainly an R&B band but we played a few current hits because we were playing in bars mostly. We did do a few songs by Frank. You know we had Ray Collins as the lead singer and he is one of the best R&B singers around, in my opinion.
Do you have any specific recollections of recording with the GTOs?
I played the drums on most of that LP along with Roy on bass. I do remember that about that time, the Jeff Beck Band was hanging around at Frank’s house and I believe that a couple of the members played on a little of the record. Ronnie Wood comes to mind.
Was there much animosity towards Frank when he disbanded the Mothers in 1969 – as you and Don returned on a number of subsequent occasions, I assume not from you until the lawsuit in 1985?[i]
Yes, there was some heavy feelings from the band at the time. It was not the disbandment but the way it was done. I called Frank on the phone for something or another and after about ten minutes of talking, he said that he had decided to break up the band and our salaries (they were really draws, since according to the contract at the time, we all were pardners) had stopped as of last week. It would have been better if he would have given a date, say like six months and then we all could have made better plans.
I felt the same way as the rest of the guys at the time, but didn’t hold a grudge against Frank like some of the guys did. I did the later things with Frank, not for him but for myself.
Martin Lickert seems to think you enjoy a drink or three. He told me about some of Keith Moon’s antics during the recording of 200 Motels – any stories from that period that you can recall and would care to relate?
He’s right, I used to enjoy a drink or a hundred, but I don’t drink anymore at all. I wouldn’t be able to do all this touring if I was still tilting like I used to. So it’s better that I don’t drink at all now. I had a birthday while we were filming 200 Motels and Ringo gave me a huge birthday cake and a couple of bottles and the whole crew enjoyed that party. Me, being as big of a Beatle fan as I was and still am, that was the best thing that ever happened to me. Ringo is a very nice man. Moony was crazy, but a great fellow to party with – and I did, mucho!
Do you recall your 'guest appearance' on the Bongo Fury tour in El Paso? What were relations like between Zappa and Van Vliet at that time?
I sure do. I sang So Fine and Lonely, Lonely, Nights and had a great time with the guys. I didn’t know all the guys in the band, but Denny Walley and George Duke I knew from before. By the time Frank and Don got to El Paso, they weren’t even speaking to each other anymore. Seems that Don was drawing too many pictures of Frank in his drawing book and Frank didn’t like it. I saw some of the pictures and I thought they were pretty funny. Frank didn’t. That is where Beefheart hired me to join the Magic Band.
How did the Harder Than Your Husband session come about?
Denny Walley called me in 1980 and said Frank wanted me to call him. So I did and he asked me if I would like to come to California and record a new country type song that was going to be on his new album. I was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the time and said that I would like that very much.
So the next day there was an airplane ticket waiting for me at the airport and off I went. Frank put me up in a very nice hotel and then had his driver pick me up in his Rolls Royce and took me to his new studio in his house. I sang the song and he asked if I could stay a few more days so I could do some more tracks on the album and I did. I think I wound up recording four or five more songs on that album. It is one of my favourite albums of Frank’s.
Any plans to release the live tracks from Looking Up Granny’s Dress, from the Grandmothers European tour of 1981 on CD?
I have a tape of Zappa allegedly teaching Geronimo Black a tune called Falling In Love Is A Stupid Habit. He subsequently denied it was him – in which case, are you gonna record it as you won’t have to pay any royalties to Gail!?
He wasn’t teaching Geronimo Black that tune but he was playing it for me. He said that I could have the song and we even discussed the instruments that would sound good on it. It was Frank playing the piano in his studio with Andy Cahan and me there. The year was 1981 and I was in California rehearsing for the first Grandmothers tour of Europe. I don’t even have a copy of that tape anymore, but if you want to make me a copy, I might do the song. Although if I did it, I’ll bet Gail would remember the song and probably not let me release it.
You told me that your son was a better-than-Dweezil guitarist. Is he pursuing a musical career?
I should have said as-good-as-Dweezil guitarist and I still think he is. Yes, he is pursuing a musical career with his two brothers and possibly his dad as vocalist. We have been writing songs for a CD that I’ve personally wanted to do for a long time. He wants to use the name Geronimo Black and I think he should since that is his name. His brother, Darrell, is on drums and his other brother, Gary, is on percussion and trumpet. They could also be called The Brothers of Intention.
Talking of guitarists, what led to Roland St. Germain's departure from the Grandmothers?
He didn’t like Don Preston because of personal reasons. Egos get in the way of music a lot of the time, if you know what I mean. I’m really glad he left because it brought us Sandro Oliva, which is much more in the style of what the Grannies are doing.
I think it would be good for the Grandmothers to play more original material – certainly stuff like The Great White Buffalo always gets a good reception – but you obviously can’t abandon Frank’s music completely. What about including a little more Beefheart, as you do with the Muffin Men?
In live performances we will always play a certain amount of Zappa music, but we don’t want to record any more of it. After all, Frank did it pretty well, don’t you think? I have a new Indian song called Chief Old Fox that I just wrote with my old writing pardner, Dawayne Bailey, who co-wrote The Great White Buffalo with me and it sounds really good. We will record that one for sure. We might do some Beefheart music in the future; as you know, I really like doing and can do.
Do you know how the Captain is these days?
I really don’t know how he is doing since I live here in Europe and don’t go to the States very often. But when the Grannies tour of the States in August, September and October starts, maybe I’ll find out and then I will be able to say for sure.
What are Roy Estrada, Motorhead Sherwood and Ray Collins up to these days?
I don’t know what Roy or Ray are doing or even exactly where they are, but I’m in touch with Motorhead – and also Billy Mundi. Motor lives in San Jose, California and Billy lives in Lake Oroville, California. Neither one is playing music now. I know Roy isn’t anymore and hasn’t in almost twenty years. Too bad, since he was a great bass player. Maybe we can get him to at least sing with us when we play in LA later this summer - if Bunk can find him.
I didn’t realise that Steve B. Roney was also former Muffin Men drummer Stefano Baldasseroni. Does your partnership signal the end of JCB’s career as a drummer?
Yes, Steve played the drums on God Shave the Queen CD with the Muffins in 1998 and did a great job on it, in my opinion. He is one of the best drummers I have ever heard. I have a lot of respect for him, even though he’s just a kid. No, it doesn’t signal the end of my drumming career, but I really don’t want to do it much anymore. I still play with my blues band and take jobs if someone needs a drummer. I’m just tired of carrying them around and having to set up and tear down after the gig. Singing is much more satisfying to me and I really enjoy it.
What are your plans for the future - any more UK dates with Jack, the Muffins or the Grannies?
I’m going to America on tour with the Grandmothers in August, September and October for a 60-city tour of the whole USA. Don Preston and Bunk Gardner will join Sandro, Steve, Ener Bladezipper and me for that tour. I am going to do a tour next year with Eugene Chadbourne, but I don’t know if it will be in England. I’m coming to the UK with the Muffins at the beginning of November before we go to Germany. The Grandmothers are planning a spring tour, but I’m not sure if it will include the UK. Maybe. I will do a tour with the Farrell/Black Band right after I return from the States.
Once again, if you’re interested in what I’m up to, keep reading my website. And please, if you’re interested in new CDs, I have them for sale in my little online mail order record shop. I want to thank Andy for letting me do this interview. Remember: Music makes the world go round, especially creative Music.
Interview conducted on Friday 23rd June 2000. The complete interview can be found in my book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa's Other People (Wymer UK, 2017). Photo of Jimmy taken by The Idiot Bastard at The Manor, Biggin Hill on 10 November 2002.
[i] In his posthumous memoir For Mother's Sake: The Memoirs And Recollections Of Jimmy Carl Black 1938-2008 (Inkanish Publications, 2013), Black talks of how he and other members of the original Mothers tried to ensure they were paid artist royalties when Zappa re-issued their early recordings on CD in the mid-1980s: "The whole lawsuit thing had started in 1985 but it didn’t go to arbitration until 1990. Originally, the lawsuit was a Class Action Suit for $150,000. As the years went by, people started to drop out. I can’t remember exactly how many of us there were at the beginning but at the end there was myself, Don, Bunk, Art Tripp, Ray Collins and Jim Fielder...that lawsuit cost Frank quite a bit of money."
By 2003, Black was a regular feature of Muffin Men shows around Europe. The band decided to celebrate their thirteenth year of operation and were invited to play two sets at the annual Zappa Festival, Zappanale (one with Napoleon Murphy Brock and Ike Willis; one with Black). This prompted another brief chat with Black.
Ever had any close encounters with a Beatle?
As you know, I did the movie with Ringo Starr and it was a very heartening experience for me – being a huge Beatles fan. I really enjoyed spending the time I got with Ringo. He even gave me a birthday celebration on 1st February 1971 at Pinewood Studios, where the movie was filmed.
How many spoons do you own?
Oh, about a thousand – not counting the ones my wife, Moni, has.
If the Muffin Men were the seven dwarfs, who would you be?
Boxers or briefs?
Sexy briefs, including ones that look like leopard skin.
Cats or dogs?
Both. However, I really prefer cats; they’re much cleaner and don’t stink.
Spielberg or Scorsese?
Spielberg and the guy that did the Lord Of The Rings series. I don’t know his name but he’s dynamite.
What has Inkanish Records achieved in its first year of operation? And what do you hope it'll achieve in the future?
We’ve released three officially and about ten unofficially. And I’m still broke – I guess I don’t have any ‘commercial potential’. I will keep releasing things that I think should be out there for real music lovers.
I hope to release my sons’ new CD, entitled Geronimo Black, when they finish it; that should be in the summer. I still want to do a new solo CD with the boys in the Muffins sometime this year as soon as I have the money together. It’s really hard to do much when you don’t have the money available for the project. Anyway, ONWARD AND UPWARD!!!!
How’s your autobiography coming along[i]?
Talk to Rod. I know nothing.
Interview conducted on Sunday 2nd March 2003.The complete interview can be found in my book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa's Other People (Wymer UK, 2017). Caricature of Jimmy by Antero Valério.
[i] Jimmy had been talking about writing and publishing his autobiography for a number of years. He was still working on it when he succumbed to cancer in 2008. His last wish was that his book be finished, and it was finally published in 2013 as For Mother's Sake: The Memoirs And Recollections Of Jimmy Carl Black 1938-2008 (Inkanish Publications). The first part of the book (the “Memoirs”) was transcribed and edited by Roddie Gilliard from audio recordings made when Black was on the road with the Muffin Men, and covered the period up to 1994.
When I saw the Muffin Men at The Boardwalk in Sheffield in May 2008, Black and I had agreed it was about time we conducted another interview.
I last spoke with Black on the phone in August 2008, as he was preparing to leave hospital having been told he had inoperable lung cancer. He said he actually felt okay, but had been told that he wasn’t. It seemed that it was just the chemo he’d been undergoing these past few years for his leukaemia that made him “feel like shit”.
With my late friend Dave McMann, I helped organise a concert to raise funds for his mounting medical bills, which he was of course happy about. Sadly, he passed away just over a week before the concert took place at the Bridge House II in London’s Canning Town on 9 November 2008.
This interview was completed before our last telephone conversation. Much of it was used in the ‘Recollections’ part of Black’s posthumous autobiography.
You’ve been battling leukaemia for a few years now?
I have had leukaemia since 2001 and have gone through five months of chemotherapy and this April I started and completed ten weeks of radiation therapy, which was a drag. The therapy wasn’t bad; it was the after effects that weren’t good. I am still reeling from that shit. Three weeks ago the doctors found a pretty big tumour on my right lung that looked like cancer to them. I went into the hospital two weeks ago and had three biopsies done on that tumour. All three tests came back saying that the tumour wasn’t cancerous. The doctors can’t believe it. On the 20th of this month, I am going back into the hospital and having an operation to either remove it or something. I have to say that this has not been a good year so far for me health wise. I hope it gets better from now on.
I’ll drink to that. Do you plan to record the song you wrote late last year while undergoing chemotherapy?
I do plan to record the song and in fact the guy I have been playing with in Italy – his name is Bruno Marini – has got the song now and is coming up with an arrangement for it. The music to the song was written by my old friend Tom Leavey. He was the bass player in the original Geronimo Black band and I think it will be a great song.
Talking about Geronimo Black, what are your memories of your first encounter with Denny Walley?
Denny is one of my all-time greatest friends. He was Tom Leavey’s brother-in-law. The boys were married to a couple of sisters from Coney Island. I still think that Geronimo Black was a great band and always will. I am very proud of the music we played and of the musicians that played it.
The Zappanale this year should be very good with Denny being there. By the way, he just called me yesterday and wished me good tidings with my operation.
You’ve just released a CD called Freedom Jazz Dance on the Italian Azzurra Music label with Bruno – how did that come about?
Bruno called me up last year and asked me to come to Verona, Italy and go into the studio and record this CD. I think that the CD came out very interesting since I have never done anything like it before. I really enjoyed playing with all the players that participated on the recording. Valentina Black – no relation – is a wonderful and absolutely beautiful woman and singer. Bruno arranged all the horn parts, which sound great and he also played flute and Hammond organ.
Tell me about the recording of Strange News From Mars.
Strange News From Mars is a very interesting recording by Jon Larsen, who is a very talented guitarist and songwriter. I went to Oslo, Norway and went into the studio the second morning and did my talking parts and a little percussion on a few tracks. He then took the tracks to Los Angeles and got Arthur Barrow, Tommy Mars and Bruce Fowler to play on most of the songs. I really like the sound of the recording, as it sounds very Zappa-like.
I have since then gone back to Oslo and done another recording with Jon and the CD is called The Jimmy Carl Black Story. It is due out anytime. I basically went into the studio one night and told my life story. It took me about one and a half hours to do it. He then used some blues players from Oslo and also some of the guys from the Strange News CD for the background music.
Of course, you played with Tommy Mars in Sardinia in 1995 – how did that happen?
Well, I got a call from Sandro Oliva saying that this promoter was interested in doing a night of Zappa music and would me and Ener Bladezipper be interested in playing with Sandro and Tommy Mars. I had met Tommy on a number of occasions through Denny Walley and Frank. I asked Ener, who was living in Amsterdam, if he wanted to do it and he said okay. The money was great so we did it.
As it turned out we had only two hours to rehearse and one of the songs we pulled off was Brown Shoes Don’t Make It, the Tinsel Town Rebellion version because Tommy knew that way. All in all, it was a great concert and a great time in Sardinia.
How did your collaboration with Ella Guru – on The First Album, a really nice, dreamy record – come about?
Those guys are big fans of The Muffin Men and always came to our gigs in Liverpool. I met singer/guitarist John Yates at The Cavern when we played there and he asked me if I would be willing to sing on two tracks of their new CD. I said sure and I did. It is a very nice CD, although I wasn’t expecting that type of recordings with the name Ella Guru. I thought that they played more like Captain Beefheart, but that wasn’t the case.
Tell me about the Black Brown Stone Trio.
When I played that festival with Dr. Chadbourne in France in 2006, I met and played with Steven De Bruyn who is a harp player from Belgium. He later asked me if I was interested in coming to Brussels and recording a CD with him and a guy named Jos Steen in the Belgium National Radio studio. I said sure, so I went and recorded with them. The pay was good and they paid all my expenses from Germany. It is a very interesting recording that fans would enjoy.
As a Grandmother, how do you feel about the current line-up[i]?
You mean an original Grandmother. I really don’t think about it too much. I think that it was wrong to fire Bunk the way that happened as he was also there from the beginning. I never have heard any music from this particular line-up so I can’t say. I am sure that they play good, as Napi, Don and Roy are strong players. I don’t know the other two guys.
What were the circumstances of Bunk's dismissal?
I really don’t know since I was in Europe and they were in California. What Bunk told me was, he asked Roy something like “What about loyalty?” and Roy said and I quote Bunk, “Then was then and now is now.” Unquote. In my opinion, that is pretty cold, especially saying that to one of the founding members of The Grandmothers. Roy certainly is not a founding member. The founding members of the Grandmothers are: Don Preston, Bunk Gardner and Jimmy Carl Black.
Of course, this is all hearsay to me since I wasn’t there. I will say that I am very happy to be playing with The Muffin Men. I get my fill of Zappa music with them and they also do some of my songs. But then again, so did the Grannies.
What's your take on the We're Only In It For The Money remix? Why did Frank say the original drum and bass tracks were unusable and then was able to remaster and reissue it later?
I don’t know why Frank said that the drum and bass tracks were ruined. He didn’t remaster and reissue the correct version of the album. That was Rykodisc after they bought the catalogue from the ZFT. That is the version that the fans wanted and finally got. Unfortunately, it was not the case on Cruising With Ruben And The Jets. I wished it were.
Those two guys that replaced the tracks on those albums got $10,000 each for doing that. We, being the Mothers Of Invention, on the other hand, got paid $300 dollars for doing both albums in 1967 while we were living in New York.
Dr Chadbourne mentioned a story that We're Only In It For The Money didn't actually feature the Mothers, but a bunch of session musicians. What was that all about?
That wasn’t a story that he said. That was from an e-mail he got from Gail about us trying to release Mom And Dad and Willie The Pimp on the CD, Hearing Is Believing. She told the guy from Boxholder Records that I wasn’t even on Mom And Dad and in fact wasn’t even on the We're Only In It For The Money album. The good Doctor then asked her if Frank had hired Rich Little (a famous comedian, who does impressions) to do “Hi, boys and girls - I’m Jimmy Carl Black and I’m the Indian of the group”. Well, that stopped her in her tracks.
It is ironic that she could say something like that when she wasn’t even allowed to come down to the studio. I was there almost at every one of the sessions that happened at Mayfair Studios[ii].
Have you heard the MOFO CD set? Any surprises for you?
I have heard the CD as Roddie gave it to me as a birthday present on my 69th birthday. I have to say that I really enjoyed the whole CD. It is great to hear all the tracks in various forms and then the whole thing together.
How was Japan?
Japan was a wonderful trip for me, although I wasn’t feeling very well. I had just finished ten weeks of radiation treatments about three weeks before I left for Japan. Actually, that was way too soon for me to go. Man, that shit really knocked the piss out of me. Here it is in August and I am still not completely recovered from that shit. Anyway, we were in Tokyo for eight days and played three gigs.
The first gig was a Captain Beefheart night and so we played mostly Beefheart songs. The second gig was a Zappa night, so we played mostly Zappa songs - and, by the way, we made sure that JASRAC the equivalent to the GEMA (collecting society for collective rights management) in Japan paid for the songs. The fourth gig was in Nagoya and we got an excellent recording of that show which is now out on CD. I really enjoyed the food over there and was surprised to find so many Mothers Of Invention fans at every show. It really made me feel good to know that I am still loved for the music that I was a part of.
The tour was a short one, which I was grateful for since the way I was feeling and my best friend, Eugene Chadbourne, was patient with me and did take pretty damn good care of me. I would like to go back sometime but, as you know, I don’t know how much more time I have with all the shit medically going on with me. I hope a few years. When I pass on, maybe people will start buying my music and that way help my sweet little wife through hard times. Greg Russo is doing his part, thank God.
Yes, Greg’s doing a marvellous job remastering and issuing some of your older material. What’s next from Crossfire Publications?
While I was in Italy, this last time before I went into the hospital, I was in the studio and did my vocal parts to Stolen Cadillac that will feature Candy Zappa also singing the other part of the song. That is one of the new songs on the next CD which, I think, is going to be called If We Were Only Living In California. You can confirm that with Greg. It sounds to me like a great CD.
You know that I really let him have a free reign on what he puts on these CD. He always sends me the product for approval first but I really trust him and really enjoy working with him. He is a very dear friend of mine.
So, what of the For Mother’s Sake book?!
I am working slowly now on the book as I only have two chapters left to do. I am going to finish it very soon as I don’t know what will happen to me health wise in the near future.
How do you come up with the songs you cover in the Jack & Jim Show – DMX’s One More Road To Cross, for example?
Jack usually just starts playing a new song and I pick up on it within a couple of bars and we have a new song in the set. We will then try to play it on every gig of that particular tour until it is the way he likes it. We have a new CD out called Think 69 from our very successful tour of the USA last year that has a new song called Mr. Spooky. That song came from my little granddaughter, Lisa Maria, here in Germany. She’s five years old and that is what she calls me, Mr. Spooky. It is a very funny song and the people love it.
Will we see you at “that quote-unquote festival slash event slash what the fuck”[iii] in Bad Doberan again?
Not this year, but the festival wants me to play possibly next year since it is the 20th anniversary of the festival and I would love to do that. I really would like to do it with the Jack And Jim Show.
What are your feelings about the Zappa Family Trust’s recent ‘aggressive action’ against tribute bands?
Zappa Plays Zappa says that Dweezil is the real thing but in reality Frank is the real thing and everything else is tribute bands, period.
Yes, I have to admit it’s all getting a bit silly: the ZFT bangs on about protecting ‘the intent of the composer’ on the one hand, then on the other licenses Frank’s unreleased music to producers and artists; I can’t believe he ever intended to wind up on Gene Simmons’ Asshole.
How’s Bunk these days – and what’s he up to?
The last time I talked to him, which was about a month ago, he was doing very good. He’s still teaching and he also has beaten prostate cancer and doing well. I would really love to play with him again, probably for the last time in this life, one more time. I wish it could be at the Zappanale 20. He would fit in perfectly with the Jack And Jim Show band since he has played with Chadbourne before.
A video clip by John Cline of you performing with Frank in Albuquerque in October 1980 has just appeared online – can you tell me a little about that?
John Cline is a good friend of mine from Albuquerque. I was living up there at the time I went to California and Frank’s studio and recorded Harder Than Your Husband.
When they did the tour, one of the first gigs was in Albuquerque at the university. Frank asked me if I would sing the song live and, of course, I said I would. John then asked Frank for permission to videotape the song and to my surprise, Frank gave him permission. It really is a good video. I had never seen it until it appeared on YouTube.
Did your sons ever release their planned Geronimo Black CD?
Not yet, but I hope so soon. It is sort of out on my label, Inkanish Records, but not as an official release since I have no money to release it properly. They are going back into the studio soon and doing another CD that I hope will be released since Geronimo is writing a lot of new songs now. They are playing a lot at the moment. They play almost every weekend in El Paso.
How did you select the songs you covered on How Blue Can You Get?
We just got together before the recording started and ask each other what songs each wanted to do and we went in and recorded them. We didn’t want to do any original songs on this CD. Just songs we liked.
I understand you’re about to be interviewed for a new documentary on FZ & Mothers Of Invention in the 60s, being produced by Chrome Dreams[iv]?
Yeah, the boys are coming this afternoon to my house where we will do the interview. I didn’t know it was being produced by Chrome Dreams. I thought it was Prism Films, although they are probably working together. It should be interesting since it looks like I am the only original Mother to be interviewed.
Do you know what prompted Walter Becker's lobbying of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to get you included as a founding member of the Mothers?
I have no idea why except that I am very grateful to him. I am a big fan of Steely Dan. I wished all of the Mothers of Invention could and should have been inducted at the time Frank was inducted. I am sure that Gail was very happy that we weren’t and, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had something to do with it.
Any thoughts on the passing of the former Senator from North Carolina, Jesse Helms?
One less member of the famed KKK gone. What else is there to say about that elixir?
Finally, can we talk a little bit more about your private life – how did you meet Moni?
I was playing a gig in Traunstein, Germany, with The Farrell/Black Blues Band and she was in the front row just staring at me. At the time, I didn’t know just how big of a fan of the Mothers she was. She had been looking at my picture on all those album covers – she has all the original albums – for the last twenty-five years. She was absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t believe such a beautiful woman would be interested in an old fart like me – I was fifty-eight, then.
I tried to get to know her after the concert but she didn’t speak any English at that time and, of course, I didn’t speak any German. So that was the beginning of our relationship. I have to say that eleven months later that year, I married that girl and am the happiest I have ever been in all my life - still. She takes very good care of me and she still loves Zappa music.
She loves going to the Zappanale and hopefully we will go next year. That would be a finale of my career as a guy that was fortunate enough to play in the best band in the world from the 1960s. I really believed that and still do.
Interview conducted on Thursday 7th August 2008. The complete interview can be found in my book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa's Other People(Wymer UK, 2017). Photo of Jimmy courtesy of Roddie Gilliard.
[i] After a lengthy tour of North America in 2000 - with Preston and Oliva both vying to be the band's musical director - The Grandmothers split in two: Preston initially formed a short-lived US version featuring Billy Mundi, before settling on a line-up that included Gardner, Estrada and Napoleon Murphy Brock; Black attempted to form an 'EU Grandmothers' with the remaining band members plus Zappa's sister Candy Zappa. In 2002, both bands planned to tour Europe which, according to Oliva, caused "a lot of confusion with promoters and venues that were already dealing with our tour." So the EU version called it a day. The Grandmothers West (with Preston, Gardner, Brock, Estrada and special guest Bob Harris) headlined Zappanale 13. Black did briefly guest with them, but was incensed at being sidelined by Preston, with whom he never worked again.
[ii] At Zappa.com, Gail Zappa wrote the following note about 'the Mothers today', listed on the original sleeve of the We’re Only In It For The Money album in 1968: "This is different than the actual players on this record - not unlike all the other people pictured on the album art who did not perform hereon. The actual players are Frank Zappa, Ian Underwood, Roy Estrada, Billy Mundi. Fuck off. Word."
[iii] Zappanale, as described to Der Spiegel by Gail Zappa.
[iv] The DVD Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention In The 1960s was issued by Chrome Dreams in 2008 and included the last filmed interview with Black. It also included new interviews with fellow Mothers Don Preston, Bunk Gardner and Art Tripp.