Lorraine Belcher Chamberlain
In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa refers to “a girl I met in a restaurant in Hollywood” in 1964, before relaying the story of his bust at Studio Z in Cucamonga for ‘conspiracy to commit pornography’ . As any fule kno, the girl – referred to as “his buxom red-haired companion” in the Ontario Daily Report – was Lorraine Belcher.
In April 2010, Nigey Lennon told me she was about to interview Belcher for a Zappathon on WUSB 90.1FM – did I have any questions for her? Of course, but not as many as I should have. Not helped by the ‘official’ airbrushing of history [i], I didn’t appreciate that Zappa’s friendship with Belcher lasted right up until just before his death.
The interview on WUSB was very entertaining – Belcher is a natural raconteur. With the possibility of an autobiography at some point in the future, the following gives just a brief glimpse into her amazing life.
Tell me a little about your background – and how, in all the towns in all the world, you walked into that particular ‘gin joint’ in 1964 and met Zappa!
I was born in Tacoma Washington. At age 15, I moved to Ohio to live with my real father, but after a few months returned home to find the house sold and empty. As a result, I ended up a ward of the court and was in a series of reform schools until four months after I turned 18. I flew to Santa Barbara then and enrolled in college. That lasted a year, after getting pregnant and then giving the child up for adoption.
It was a couple of months after giving birth that I met Frank in the Carolina Pines, a coffee shop/late night hangout on Sunset & La Brea in Hollywood.
Tell us about that first meeting.
It was about 4 o’clock in the morning and my friend was talking to somebody in there she knew – some guy – and I was getting a little bored. I looked across the room and sitting in a booth was Frank in a little striped t-shirt with a guy in iridescent green suit with iridescent green Bobby Rydell hair and another guy who turned out to be Captain Beefheart.
I looked right at Frank and he – with his very intense gaze – looked right back at me and crooked his finger, beckoning me over. I gave him my back. But after a few minutes, I was getting a little bored, so I thought I’d take a peek at him again. He kind of tilted his head to the side and grinned at me and waved at me again to come over. I thought, ‘Oh, what the hell,’ and I got up.
As I was strolling across the restaurant, he was very smart and took another chair from another booth and put it on the outside of his booth so that I wouldn’t get squeezed in with them. As I got there, Frank said, “Pleasure looking at ya!” And as I sat down I said, “Likewise.” I thought he was fantastically attractive and so ridiculous looking! He had beautiful eyes and such an odd manner.
We sat their laughing and talking for at least an hour before my friend noticed I was gone. Anyway, he ended up driving us both to Cucamonga.
Did you say your friend was later one of a number of Suzy Creamcheeses?
I always thought Lauren Irell was one of the early Suzy Creamcheeses. Later it was Pamela Zarubica. I could be wrong.
Did you know Pamela?
I met Pamela, yes. She always claimed to be the muse behind Lenny Bruce, Phil Spector and Frank Zappa. Like they would have been nothing without her. I found these claims to be embarrassing. I liked her, but felt she was mostly hype. I was in awe of anyone having that much self-confidence... or maybe self-delusion.
So, did you immediately embark on a sexual relationship with Frank in Cucamonga?
I slept with Frank off and on for a couple of months before we ever had sex. Then, one morning, he woke me up and said, “I think it’s time for your morning orgasm!” We went on from there. He was so patient and understanding and told me later it was well worth the wait.
What was Studio Z like?
Studio Z had blacked out storefront windows.
Upon entering, there was an office to the left, control room to the right, then double swinging doors which led to the recording area, which was a huge room. To the left were dilapidated couches, to the right a grand piano. Musical instruments and drum sets, cords running everywhere. Past the piano was a long rectangular area where he projected films on the back wall. Past the couches there was a wall with a window and door that led into the bedroom, which was festooned with a myriad of wacky items, including a huge aquarium filled with decapitated dolls...heads and arms filling it to the brim. On the back wall was a glittering jukebox. That was the door to the bathroom. You could open it up and had to duck to get in there. I thought it was quite cosy.
Who else was living there?
No one else lived there, except towards the end when my friend Theo, from reform school, moved in with her baby boy. That ended when the bust happened.
Was that the ‘white girl with a black baby’?
Yes, Theo was the white girl with black baby, Todd.
Can you recall any of the sessions that occurred during you tenure at Studio Z?
No one recorded while I was there, as I frequently left for weeks at a time to go stay in my little place in Laguna Beach. Mostly the Mothers would rehearse there.
The ‘party tape’ aside, did you appear on any Studio Z recordings?
Frank recorded me singing quite a bit at one point. He told me he thought I had a range somewhere between John Lee Hooker and Minnie Riperton and wanted me to sing with the Mothers. But the minute he wanted me to sing alone, with him at the piano, I would freeze and go off pitch. He wasn’t patient enough to put up with that. I could only sing when he was out of the room – and he was listening to me sing through the mike, in the control room. Not good. So we gave up.
I did sing back-up in the studio sometimes over the years... on The Mud Shark, with Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. It was just fun fooling around with him at the recording studio... I don’t know whatever made it in the mix besides The Mud Shark.
Did you overdub a live recording of that, or was that a separate studio recording?
Mark and Howard and I recorded over the live one, I think. We were in the studio adding tracks.
What are you memories of the Soul Giants/early Mothers?
I loved to listen to them rehearse, but didn’t speak to them much except for Beefheart, Motorhead and Jimmy Carl Black. I went to their gigs sometimes...at the Saints ‘N Sinners in Riverside, I think. Frank was always frustrated at having to play anything like Louie Louie and would always go off the cover band plan, playing his own stuff. Then people would start yelling.
The bikers from a club called the Comancheros loved Frank’s own material, though. They came to Studio Z many times to hang out with us. Great big scary guys playing marbles on the floor like children. Very funny.
Were you aware of Frank's brief tenure as a beat poet, writing under the pseudonym Vincent Beldon?
I seem to recall Frank telling me about various excursions into alternate artistic endeavours when I first met him...the Steve Allen show with the bicycle, etcetera. But I can't excavate Vincent Beldon out of my brain, really, even though that sounds familiar. I do have the original text he wrote of Trouble Every Day...he mailed it to me in Laguna Beach after reading it to me over the phone during the Watts Riots. I, too, had been watching the whole thing on TV. It's kind of wrinkled after all these years, but still such a fantastic piece. It stands as a great poem.
Why did Frank refer to you as ‘Pete’ on the Freak Out! sleeve?
When I first met Frank, I told him my name was Lorre, spelled like Peter Lorre. He never called me Lorre and went on with Pete from then on.
Are there any references to you in any of Frank’s songs?
No songs about me that I know of. I think it’s because I asked him to once in the early days, wanting him to write some kind of love song. Frank hated love songs!
In the recent radio interview with Nigey, you told the wonderful story behind Call Any Vegetable – care to relay that one more time for the world?
He told me that his wife never made a sound during sex. This made him feel bad.
One day, after he’d been on the road to a meeting in LA for a while, he realised he’d forgotten something and turned around. When he got home he found his wife passed out on the bed with a potato carved like a dildo. He was originally very upset, since she’d apparently been so satisfied she had to take a nap! Then he asked her to tell him about the potato. She had apparently tried all the other vegetables and found the potato to be the most harmonious with the vaginal canal... pH balance, etc. It didn’t produce any kind of infection or discharge and held up well.
That’s why he wrote Call Any Vegetable.
And ‘the bust’ story?
We were really broke and one day this guy came by pretending to be a used car dealer. They were going to have a bachelor party for someone who was getting married and, originally, he wanted a pornographic film. But Frank said he didn’t have the materials for that, but he could make a tape. So he said okay and he’d be back the next day to get it. So Frank pulled the bed out of the bedroom into the middle of the recording area and put up microphones. He said this is what we’re gonna do: you’re under age and I’ve picked you up in a bar and we’ve come to a motel. That was all I knew.
We were fully clothed, the lights were on and Theo played this background music. Frank said, “Well, little honey, have you graduated from high school yet?” And I looked at him and said, “NO, I graduate in June, but I’m gonna go to summer school.” He didn’t know what I was going to say, so he asked, “What are you going to study?” And I said, “Cosmetology!” And then we’d laugh.
It took about 45 minutes to an hour to record and then Theo said, “Okay, get down to business,” and we’d start moaning and groaning and carrying on. And laughing! Frank stayed up half the night editing what was a great comedy tape into a nasty little heavy breathing and moaning tape that lasted about five minutes.
In the morning, there was a knock at the door and this guy goes into the control room with Frank. I was with Theo and her baby in the bedroom. Then suddenly, the doors burst open – it sounded like a herd of elephants coming across the room – and there was Frank leading them saying, “Pete, Theo - we’re under arrest.” I had nothing on and I grabbed the sheet and pulled it up over me. There were eleven men in the bedroom and Detective Willis steps forward and says, “Identify yourself.” I said I’ll identify myself after you get out of here and let me get dressed. So they backed off.
I managed to brush my teeth and do my hair and make-up. When I eventually stepped out from the jukebox, Willis right away asked me, “Tell me, have you ever engaged in oral copulation with Mr Zappa?” I laughed and said, “I know that’s a felony in the state of California, but are you asking because it pertains to this little charade or for your own perverse curiosity?” I was very frightened, but I wasn’t about to let him see that.
Frank, knowing that I had been in reform school was just devastated. He was so worried and he was apologising to me. I did that little finger burst thing and said, “Oh, what the hell!” And we started laughing. He had his arms around me as the photographer kicked the door open. That’s where that photograph came from – it looked like we posed for it.
Then the band showed up to rehearse. They had them all in a line with their sleeves rolled up and I’ll never forget Motorhead looking over at me saying, “Pete, they’re looking for tracks!” He was so excited. Because he didn’t do drugs, he thought that was really exotic!
So Frank spent ten days in Tank C, and shortly thereafter you left Studio Z – where did you then live?
I lived in Laguna for a while. Frank closed Studio Z and moved to Echo Park, where I would stay with him sometimes. It was a chaotic time.
Then I moved to Seattle for a while. Frank couldn’t find me. So he put out Lumpy Gravy, which was my nickname for him. There was a little cartoon guy inside the album cover saying, “write to us” with the address in New York. I had married some guy I’d only known for three weeks, to get away from the rock ‘n’ roll life in LA. I sent a little note to him saying, “I am married but still recognisable.” And he called a few days later. When I picked up the phone, Frank said, “I thought you’d see that.”
The Mothers then played Seattle three times in nine months. Frank and I would sit alone together backstage saying, “What are we going to do?” He had married Gail, who was pregnant with Moon. So he came up with the brilliant idea of me divorcing my husband and moving in with them in LA. Shocking. Even more shocking was, I did it! But I said, “I want my own room.”
We never touched each other the year I lived there with them. I moved back to Seattle for a few years, but we still saw each other, as I would fly down there sometimes for a visit.
It was five years before Frank and I were intimate again, which destroyed the relationship with Gail when she found out.
So what did Gail think about your friendship?
Gail acted very cool about me moving in. She was very friendly to me. I always tried to go on errands with her so Frank and I wouldn’t be alone in the house, making her wonder. It was an unspoken deal: Frank was not to sleep with anyone in LA where she and the children lived and not me anywhere in the world.
We broke that deal five years later when I went on the road with him out of Seattle. When she found out, she was furious. We barely spoke after that. She would make cryptic remarks to me only in passing.
I saw her here in San Francisco in 2004 at a Zappa film festival at the Castro Theater. When she finished taking questions from the audience after the movie, I jumped out into the aisle as she was passing by to give autographs in the lobby. She cried out, “Pete!” and threw her arms around me. It was a Friday night and she was going directly back to LA, returning for Sunday night with Moon. She wanted me to return on Sunday night so I could see Moon again (whom I loved so much and hadn’t seen since she was five).
I couldn’t return, but I wrote to her several times. She never replied. I believe she wasn’t so much thrilled to see me as shocked and said all that stuff because she was so stunned. I have given up trying to be in contact with her.
Did Frank ever talk to you about any other women in his life? We know about Nigey and Jenny Brown from Australia. In his autobiography, Ozzy Osbourne mentions “some Japanese chick that Frank was hanging out with” in the late 70s. He also allegedly had a one-night stand with Janis Joplin while Gail was pregnant with Moon.
He never spoke about anyone except that girl from Australia. At one point he was going to get an apartment in San Francisco, but never did it. I encouraged him to do whatever would make him happy, but he gave up.
When he and Gail met John Lennon, Gail got all mixed up with Primal Scream Therapy with them and said she was going to divorce Frank if he didn't do it too. That didn't last long. She gave up on both, of course.
After Cucamonga, did you have any further contact with Beefheart or Motorhead?
I used to see Beefheart and Motorhead all the time at Frank and Gail’s house. Sometimes, when he and Don were in a feud, he would come and visit me in the back yard... he wouldn’t come in the house, or maybe Frank wouldn’t LET him... I’m not sure. So we would just talk outside.
I moved to New York City in 1972 and saw Frank all the time, whenever he was in town... with or without the band. At those times, I saw Beefheart and Motorhead. I was in touch with Beefheart for many years, whenever he was in New York. I loved both of them.
I only connected with Motorhead again in 2001, when the Grandmothers were playing in San Francisco. It was a fantastic show and so great to see Don Preston and the boyz again after all those years. Motorhead and I have been in touch ever since and I went to his wedding in Stockton a few years ago.
When – and why – did your sexual relationship with Frank end?
My sexual relationship with Frank ended several times. Every time I had a serious boyfriend and during my marriage to the sculptor, John Chamberlain. Frank waited patiently and we still spent time together during those periods but just didn’t have sex. It was sort of a ‘same time next year’ relationship in later years.
He was always waiting for me to change my mind whenever I wouldn’t sleep with him, knowing eventually I would.
When did you last speak to him?
The last time I was with him was when he played Springfield, Connecticut [ii]. I was in NYC when I got his phone message and raced back to my house in Chester CT to change my clothes and zoom to his show there.
Afterwards, we spent the night in his hotel. I thought then that he looked tired.
Later, when they were going to do that big tribute for him at the Ritz and he called asking me to join him in New York, as he was going alone, but still refused to tell me how bad he was.
I was in my bedroom packing to go in to meet him in the city when the news came on the TV. Moon and Dweezil were being interviewed, saying their father was too ill to travel. That came as such a shock to me. I remember sitting down on the bed in tears. I was living in a dream world, though, thinking he was going to live another twenty years. In fact, I still thought that for a long time afterwards. That’s when I started writing him letters and tearing them up... his silence told it all.
Soon, I could write nothing, thinking about how Gail would hate to see my missives arriving in the mailbox while her husband was dying. I have regretted that ever since. I don’t know why the hell I was thinking about her at such a time instead of writing to Frank!
I bought a card once to send to him during that year which said, “I heard you are sick...” and on the inside it said, “...if you die, can I have all your stuff?” Obviously a card for someone with a cold. I threw it away, of course, even though I knew he would have laughed. It was too close to the bone for me.
When I saw Gail at the Castro and she was onstage answering questions from the audience, I told Wilson [iii] I was going to stand up and shout from my seat saying, “Gail! I’m kind of broke! Did Frank leave me anything in his will?” He was scared I might actually do it. I have a sick sense of humour, but I’m not that sick. I just like cooking these things up, but not actually following through. I learned of his passing one morning on the radio. I was alone and grieving. It was awful.
Aside from the meeting at the Castro Theater, have you had any other contact with Gail since his death?
She never replied to my few attempts at contact. Also, a few years ago when I was in LA, I drove to the house and buzzed the gate. Her assistant came down to talk with me and I handed her a note for Gail which I’d written in the car in case she wasn’t home. She did not respond to that either.
When did you first meet the great American underground cartoonist, S. Clay Wilson?
I met S Clay Wilson in 1968 in the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle. We had mutual friends. We’ve been flirting ever since, but were never single at the same time until 2000, when I met up with him in Colorado, gave him a ride home to SF and never left. (I was on my way to southern California to live.)
We had visited one another many times over the years and spent hours on the phone despite our mates’ disapproval. We have corresponded all this time and both of us saved every letter and postcard. I have all of our letters now in one box. I should do a book, as they are very funny and all of his are illustrated... even the envelopes.
Interview conducted on Friday 7th May 2010. The complete interview can be found in Andrew’s book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa’s Other People (Wymer UK, 2017). Photo of Frank and Lorraine in the late 70s ‘borrowed’ from the SoHo Weekly News.
[i] In a May 2016 comment on Moon Zappa’s Facebook page. Belcher claims Zappa’s wife Gail "insisted he not use my name, nor tell the truth about our relationship" in The Real Frank Zappa Book.
[ii] See Zappa The Hard Way (Wymer UK, 2010) for Chamberlain’s account of this final meeting.
[iii] S. Clay Wilson, an American underground cartoonist, who married Chamberlain on 10 August 2010.
Having remained in touch with Lorraine (she’s so funny – it’s easy to see why Frank was so fond of her!), seven years after our first interview I asked her a few more questions.
In his book, Frankie & Bobby: Growing Up Zappa, Bob Zappa describes the nineteen year old you as someone who would try to convince anyone who listened that you were a witch. What's your take on that?
At first, I wrote a nice note to Bobby, asking why he had written that condescending piece of fiction. He admitted that it was Frank who was always claiming I was a witch at that time.
Frank was always impressed by what he perceived to be my ‘paranormal gifts’.
I woke him up in the night, telling him all four tyres on his car were flat. The next day, he went out to discover it was true. Someone had slashed them! We suspected the Baptist freaks across the street.
There were numerous episodes like that, where I would dream something, tell him and then it would happen. Including the bust for pornography... I woke him up in the night, asking if we could get arrested for that silly audio tape. Because I saw us getting put in handcuffs! He said he didn't know. Neither of us knew it was illegal. We went back to sleep and the cops burst in the doors the next morning, after Frank was paid the $100. So go figure.
I dreamt stuff all the time that happened. Frank talked about it, not me! He was fascinated by this side of me, because it really happened a lot.
I also asked Bobby why he wrote about me with such an attitude when I was actually the only person who was nice to him! And what right he had to say that my relationship with Frank ran its course, just fizzled out or something, when actually we weren't allowed to be together without a chaperone until I turned 21!
I was 19. I didn't have a job. We had no money. We always had to have Motorhead or Motorhead’s mom with us! It was hard to keep asking that of them. I didn't know what else to do but go up to Seattle and stay with Theo.
Frank and I never fell out of love. Bobby never mentions how odd it must have been, years later, to come visit Frank – and Gail and Moon – and find me living there. Guess it hadn't ‘fizzled out’ after all?
Or did he forget he saw me? Even though Gail flounced through the house, spotted Bobby, flipped her hair at him and walked back out, saying nothing [i].
Essra Mohawk told me that when Frank got Gail pregnant with Moon, he asked her what he should do. She told him to marry Gail. Any thoughts on that?
Frank told me he hunted for me while Gail followed him all over the country, pointing at her growing belly, telling him he had to marry her. It was only later, after Lumpy Gravy came out, that I wrote that note after seeing his invitation to write to him on the inside cover.
He always told me he didn't love her. It was Moon: he couldn't leave her.
Essra also told me that when Frank awoke, he always said, “Another day, another dollar!” – every day.
Never! We were always sexy first thing, then allowed the realities of the day to begin. But also... in the early years, when we were together, we were poor!
Later, when he was on the road and we got to spend a few days together, he never once said anything like that. It would have just sounded... ridiculous? Not anything that was on his mind when waking up with me. It's an old cliché, of course and one Chamberlain used to say by changing it to, "Another day, another donut hole.”
If Frank had said that, I'd have laughed!
Interview conducted on Wednesday 24th May 2017. The complete interview can be found in my book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa’s Other People (Wymer UK, 2017). Caricature of Lorraine by Antero Valério.
[i] In October 2015, I asked Bob Zappa why he didn’t write much about ‘Pete’ in his book. He told me, “I did know about Frank and Pete's relationship but in writing that part of the story I did not want to focus on their time together beyond when they left our apartment. I also knew about a few others, but his relationships with other women was not a part of our story that I want readers to know.”
I first interviewed Lorraine in 2010 – a few months before she married American underground cartoonist, S. Clay Wilson. Sadly, Wilson passed away last year, but Lorraine is keeping his memory alive via regular blogs at www.sclaywilson.com. He was the third and final love of her life – FZ being the first. Having remained in touch with ‘Pete’ for the past 12 years, I thought it was about time I pinged a few more questions at her about her time with Frank.
While you lived with the Zappas, did you ever see Frank buy Gail a present - on her birthday or at Xmas?
I never saw Frank bestow any gifts on Gail. He once sent Smothers (Frank’s bodyguard...a dignified, BigBlackBaldWALL of a gentle man) downstairs in the Waldorf to buy three vibrators in descending sizes, though. The smallest one was the size of my baby finger – called ‘BeautyPop’ – written in Comic Font. Frank amused himself by inserting it inside me before we headed downtown to CBGB’s, in a limo. I was mortified, once seated in such close proximity to the respectful Smothers – and everyone else – certain they could hear it buzzing away in its secret hiding place. I hastened to the bathroom the minute we arrived and removed it.
The following morning, I laughed when I spotted them on top the TV like the Holy Trinity, turned on low – humming as they progressed imperceptibly towards the edge.
As we were leaving, Frank said, “Take them, please. My gift!” I stood there and briefly considered it – then straightened the line-up neatly, as one would a place setting, and said. “Oh let’s leave ‘em for the maid. My tip!”
I wonder how long it took for anyone to notice them?
Oh my goodness! That’s a stonker of a first answer!
Ha! You just can’t take me anywhere!
Okay, tell me about meeting Barry Miles at the house.
I was living with Frank & Gail & Moon in 1969. (I know…bizarre.) Biographer Barry Miles visited numerous times that July, to interview Frank. He’d descend to the basement for a couple of hours, then seek me out for a friendly chat before leaving. He knew me only as Pete, never questioned it, nor asked my last name. We had great fun together, talking about everything except who I was and what the hell I was doing there! His pal from London, a nebbishy guy also named Barry, a DJ, accompanied him sometimes, and we’d entertain ourselves up by the pool, or visit Janet (Moon’s Nanny) in the guest cottage. There was abundant laughter in those weeks, and soon the two Barrys invited me to join them on a road trip they planned to take across America in a Rolls Royce, to Woodstock NY for ‘some music festival’. It sounded like great fun, and I was considering it till Frank privately said, “I don’t want you to go.” Disappointed, they tried once more to convince me before leaving town, but I declined with no real explanation. I saw DJ Barry in London a couple of years later, when he invited me on a pub and club crawl around town with a few of his friends. I’d lost touch with the handsome Miles, and learned Barry tragically died not long after I’d seen him.
In 2004, (living with the late Zap cartoonist S. Clay Wilson in San Francisco) Wilson gave me Miles’ Zappa biography for Xmas. Thrilled, I looked for my name in the glossary, and found the passages about the ‘bust’ at Studio Z, in Cucamonga, and a brief description of our early relationship. Not a WORD about meeting me while living with Frank and Gail, years later!
I soon discovered Barry Miles was still alive, and was mutual friends with people both Wilson and I knew. I emailed him with profound excitement, eager to tell him about the MISSING PART in his fabulous biography. The part where I returned to Frank in the middle of his marriage, became friends with Gail and fell madly in love with Moon…and visited them for five years after I moved out (after staying for a year) until I finally DID join him on the road, and Gail was VERY mad….(We didn’t speak for 25 years until I saw her at a Zappa film festival at the Castro around 2002 and she THREW her arms around me, shouting “PETE! Where have you been?”) Wait….what?
And that Frank and I had a close relationship and resumed our love affair in NYC from 1972 – whenever I was single…till he became too sick to travel...and then died.
It’s too bad Miles’ book took so many years to come out! And that our paths never crossed in all that time. I could’ve told him that the girl he met in Frank’s house named ‘Pete’ was that infamous girl named Lorraine Belcher….the ‘buxom, red-haired companion’ that nobody could ever find, to interview.
I stayed quiet, trying to stay out of photos with him so Gail wouldn’t get upset with Frank again. The OLDY TIMES, before cell phones and social media!
It truly is a small, very weird world.
Where you still there when Frank was in a wheelchair after the incident at the Rainbow?
When Frank was thrown off the stage in London, I didn’t see him for over a year.
He was unable to fly back to LA for awhile and was disabled for a long time once he got home.
Finally he started preparing for his instrumental concert without the Mothers, at the Hollywood Bowl. About ten days before the show, he sent for me to come down from Seattle to rehearsals and then to the performance.
I was stunned to see him using crutches, conducting rehearsals in a cramped storefront in a strip mall, with a back door leading out to an alley.
Frank was positioned next to a load-bearing post, with a chair behind him, music stand in front of him and aluminium crutches clasped around his forearms. He was focused and a bit stern….the bassoonist struggling with sheet music so complex and heavily-laden with notes the pages were nearly black.
At one point he dropped his baton. It went skittering away from him and everybody froze. No one lunged to pick it up. The room went silent.
Exasperated, Frank sat on the spindly chair, rattling his crutches, and laid way off to the side, jabbing at the baton with a crutch, trying to scoot it close enough to pick up. A precarious position at best, but he managed to retrieve it and struggle to his feet. You could hear them finally take a breath…or was I the only one doing that?
During a break I said, “When are you going back on tour? It’s the only way you’re ever really going to walk again.” He wasn’t dedicated to doing serious exercising…his legs were still weak.
That night was beautiful at the Bowl, with stars in the sky and each musician seated at rounded, glowing orchestra stands. I sat in a boxed off area, up in the centre of the audience, with all the Mothers. Glorious!
Suddenly, Frank emerged from stage left and strode to the centre WITHOUT CRUTCHES! He raised his baton and began. He never turned around, made faces, nor amusing remarks. The programme was spectacular.
During intermission, I skipped over to the bathroom. Inside, some young women were complaining in the mirror, saying, “Let’s GO, let’s get out of here.” I asked them why they were leaving: “He won’t even TURN AROUND,” one said. “We can’t even see his FACE, and he’s not talking or anything.”
At the end of the concert, Frank turned around and bowed to the audience as the applause surged. Then he strode offstage.
When I reached him, he was still standing, surrounded by people, holding himself up on crutches again. He looked exhausted.
I put my arms around him, wishing I could lift him up, and he jerked his head back and smirked. “Thanks, Pete!” he grinned.
“Some young female Mothers fans left early,” I said. “You’re going to have to wear a mask of your own face on the back of your head. Either that or turnaround once in awhile.”
It wasn’t long before he was back out on tour again.
Perhaps he just needed an extra little push.
You mentioned Janet Ferguson Hof – so she around while you lived with the Zappa’s?
Yes, Janet was Moon’s nanny the whole time I was there. She lived in an adorable guest cottage about 50ft from the back door, nestled under and shaded by palm trees and giant banana leaf plants. A tropical little wonderland.
I loved her. She and Miss Lucy were hilarious together!
Once, in a brightly lit elevator, going up to a recording studio, I noticed she looked ghostly …like white powder was even on her eyelashes.
I said something about it, and in her deep, whiskey voice and NY deadpan delivery, she almost smiled and said. “Yeah. Sometimes I like to look pale…like I’m about sick to DEATH.”
I’m laughing now, remembering her eccentric attitude, in the midst of the city that made TANNING mandatory.
Did you ever meet Cynthia PlasterCaster?
Yes. I didn’t realise Cynthia died recently. I’ll never forget when her mom was coming to visit her in LA, and she brought all her ‘statuettes’ over to Frank’s house – to hide them from her mom!
Gail put them away for safekeeping, and she returned two weeks later when the coast was clear. I only saw part of the collection, when she came bouncing into the house with a boxful, took two out and twirled them around like batons. WOW!
Sorry to hear she’s passed.
You introduced your new husband to FZ backstage at Halloween 1976. How did that go?
The Mothers were playing Madison Square Garden. I’d been with John Chamberlain for about a year. 20 years older than me, this handsome old reprobate chose to dress like a homeless bum, wearing a houndstooth jacket, an ugly sweater vest, wrinkled shirt and old wide-wale cords. He was drunk. And LATE. They’d finished, and some people were milling around in the wide, cinder block hallway where even elephants walked when Ringling Circus was in town. There were some long folding tables by the wall outside the green room, and when I brought Frank back there to meet him, John had somehow managed to get up on a table and pass out with his mouth hanging open.
Was he snoring? Drooling? I’m not sure, but he might as well have been!
I was mortified.
Frank stood there, pressing on the centre of my back and said, “I’m sorry.”
I said, “Well…he will be, too….tomorrow.”
But they did meet other times, and Chamberlain was fine. He was just nervous about that first meeting with the former boyfriend/rock star and ducked into a bar on the way. For a couple of HOURS.
Oh dear….first impressions.
Tell me about some of Frank’s band members that you met.
We all went to CBGB’s once – Frank had never been – and I introduced Terry Bozzio to The Ramones at the bar. I didn’t know them well, but they knew my late son, drummer Jesse Chamberlain of the Necessaries. Terry came back to the table a gushing fan!
Terry and I used to have some laughs!
Was Dale Bozzio around then? She talks about Frank in her memoir like he was a kindly uncle.
No, I never met Dale Bozzio!
Okay. I always found FZ’s relationship with Ruth Underwood curious. Some say she was in love with him and, assuming so, he clearly played on this – like in the Roxy movie, when he gooses her. But she ended up with one of his road crew. What’s your take?
I adored Ruth from our first meeting. She was warm and humble. A serious, talented musician, she was never stuffy, and could concentrate with laser focus in the midst of onstage chaos without getting frazzled. When I saw her percussion setup, covering a third of the stage, I saw a classical symphony musician playing Frank’s complex charts in a little halter top and tight jeans. Ruth commanded attention by playing well, regardless of her considerably generous physical attributes. She was GLORIOUS!
“And on marimba, kettle drum, bells, etc. Ladies & gentlemen we have RUTH and her TWO FRIENDS!” Frank introduced her like a circus barker, in his Master of Ceremonies voice.
Ruth would then bow, head down, her blushing face hidden by that ocean of curly hair.
He teased her mercilessly, then laughed wickedly with a lascivious chuckle.
I didn’t have the impression she was in love with Frank, but perhaps she had the grace to conceal it in my presence. I’ll never know.
Frank loved to gossip. When Ruth married Ian Underwood, the wind instrument maestro of the band, he regaled me with their wedding night hijinks.
“When they got to their hotel room, Ian serenaded his bride by playing a saxophone between her legs!” he said. The desk clerk called their room with a noise complaint when Ruth’s vocal expressions of ecstasy rivalled that of the horn, and they were reprimanded for disturbing the other guests.
I always wondered just who in the world had reported them.
I recently got to send Ruth some questions: she’s notoriously private, but I learned that she bought a copy of my Frank Talk book of interviews – and then answered most of my questions! But sadly she then decided to keep it all to herself for her long awaited memoir. I am chuffed that she even knows I exist, to be honest.
Anyway...you told me that Alex Winter wanted to record an interview with you for the Zappa movie?
Andrew, I shoulda called you to convince me! They came to San Francisco to interview me, but Wilson was just out of the ICU and I just couldn’t. I feel terrible about it. One of them waited in town for five days and kept calling. Bad timing. It was just before they needed to do the final edit. Phooey!
Now, I still haven’t watched the movie. People are always asking why I’m not in it. It’ll drive me nuts not to’ve told the stories and be the Missing Person in this film.
Oh, you definitely need to see the movie: Ruth had the crew in tears when she filmed her interview.
Okay. When I met Ahmet, he said he hasn’t realised what a cock-smith his dad was. And Moon has said she believes he fathered a further four children with three different women. What do you think?
I’ve never been a competitive nor possessive person. I’m not jealous, a nag, or particularly inquisitive. I don’t ask where you’re going nor when you’ll be back.
I don’t read anybody else’s mail, postcards, or look in your medicine cabinet. I wouldn’t dream of looking at anyone’s emails, texts, or snoop in their phone. It’s not from an excess of principles – though I DO feel that’s wrong – and I don’t feel especially PROUD for having these boundaries. In fact, many men have been exasperated by it, wondering if I even CARE, wanting me to establish some rules and expectations, like most women do. I care about what you’re doing with ME, in my presence. I only care about who you talk to if you want to tell me about it – because I love it when we talk together. Not because I’m investigating! I’m snoopy about my friends’ lives but not actively SNOOPING on my partner. I want to tell you everything! So I love it when you do it, too.
Of course I care! I just don’t think others are my property – nor my child. Of course there’s having MANNERS…and not making someone WORRY. I’m not just some animal, roaming around at will, hoping to bump in to my mate by coincidence. I communicate. I just don’t ASSUME nor OWN another functioning human being with things to do. I’m glad to be called, invited, looked after, updated, missed, included, informed and enjoyed.
I reciprocate willingly.
Frank found my attitude a little astonishing, after his life with Kay. I was probably more like a wild animal than a domesticated house pet…my own freedom was a natural state of being. I’m not a clingy person…
That’s why I’d be surprised if Frank had four secret children around the world he failed to ever once mention. Or make known provisions for, even MEET in his last year of life. He loved talking about the first four, so why not the others? I wouldn’t judge...unless he wasn’t contributing to their welfare, if needed, or denying they exist out of shame. If he was careless, and didn’t CARE, then he SHOULD be scolded. Told to grow UP. But not excommunicated.
He might have been protecting his kids with Gail. I don’t think they’d be too pleased. They longed to be closer to him as it was. Sharing him with four others might not be ideal before or after his passing.
I’m surprised Ahmet refers to him as a ‘cock-smith’ – an abhorrent term. Or was that your word?
No, that’s Ahmet’s expression.
It smacks of toxic masculinity. Frank was from another era, when groupies were Goddesses. He didn’t live long enough to modernise into the 21st century – and certainly not the #MeToo era. He was a budding sex addict – not a rapist, nor a manipulative prick. Women offered themselves to him as a rock star. He wasn’t so sure of himself before fame, but neither was he some creepy loner. He was ALWAYS a smart, funny, charming eccentric.
A soft spoken gentleman. Many women are attracted to that. I certainly am.
I hope the four are a myth. I don’t wish an absentee father on anyone.
If he hid them from me, I accept it even if a bit sad. As open as we were with each other, I don’t presume to have known everything.
He had many relationships in his life – a few of them were some FABULOUS dames.
I hope he told SOMEONE. And – whoever that is – will reveal the truth to the Fab Four, should they ever ask.
I just hope it wasn’t Gail. She took love withheld, secrets, madness and a triumphant bitterness to the grave with her.
If it’s still unconfirmed now, that means she didn’t even leave a note – excluding them even in death!
When I first interviewed you, you said the only other ‘dame’ Frank ever talked about was the girl from Australia. That is Jenny Brown, who recently penned liner notes for some of the official Zappa releases. When I quizzed Ahmet about this, he said he hadn’t been involved, but that seems a curious thing for the Zappa Trust to do, don’t you think?
Jenny Brown writing the liner notes?
Yes. Totally weird.
Unless Gail arranged it years ago.
She might have done that ‘friend’ thing with Jenny.
She did that with women who were a perceived threat, then might’ve stayed friends with her for years after Frank died.
I bet Pamela Des Barres might know.
Very likely. I have tried to interview her, but I suspect Gail may have warned her off after I met Pamela at Zappanale: GZ didn’t like me.
I was in touch with Miss Pamela recently. I love her! I’m dying to take her writing class. I’m dying to go down there and have an ice tea in her back yard. I’m dying to buy some of her costume jewellery. I’m dying to gossip with her and not tell ANYBODY ELSE what we said!
She is truly a fabulous dame who finishes what she starts. She landed a plum role on the Best CBS soap, opposite Michael Nouri, and after nine months SHE QUIT, saying she was “Going back to Cali”. I admired her for that. She was REALLY GOOD in that role. But she’s a California girl, and went back home. She coulda ended up in all those Meg Ryan movies, instead of Meg Ryan. She’s such a character!
And a great writer too.
Oh yes! I LOVE her writing.
Okay, finally: Moon’s memoir is due to be published next year, which should be an eye opener. Have you had any contact with her?
I was in touch with Moon by sending pictures of deer on Facebook, for her daughter, who is wild about deer – and so am I!
She always ‘liked’ them without realising who I was.
When Gail died, I wrote her a tender note, and explained I was ‘Pete’. I sent her some baby pictures of her napping with her cat, Pena, and pictures playing in the pool. Some of Dweezil at about nine months, then the black handprint she made for me at about age 4, with a scrawled ‘P E T E’ at the top and her ‘M O O N’ signed at the bottom. We started writing frequently after that, and I told her how much I always loved her. Then, about when I saw Gail here at the Castro and she promised to bring her back with her two days later. She didn’t.
A year later I was in LA and stopped by the house to surprise Gail. An assistant came down to the gate, saying no one was home. I’d written notes in advance, and gave them to her. One to Gail, one to Moon. Moon never got it, of course. Nor did she find all my letters to Frank and always my little notes to HER, over all those years from 1971 till he died. She saw none of them.
She came here about 6-7 years ago to a gig, and arranged for me to come!
I had someone to stay with Wilson so I could go, till I realized it was WEDNESDAY, not Thursday, and I couldn’t leave him! And she was on her way! Devastating!
So she flew back to LA late the same night, and we texted from the club all the way out to the airport. I was in heaven after such a disappointment.
We were in touch less the last two years as Wilson was declining. I rarely communicated with ANYONE, really. I sent her a note the day after he died, and she replied with a brief condolence. Then she went off messenger so, somehow, after several years of being so close it’s just suddenly gone POOF! But she was living while Wilson was busy dying.
I’m excited to read her memoir, of course. She’s such a gifted writer!
But I grieve the absence of her random sweet surprises. Last summer I splurged and bought the tea leaf ring she designed, from her Instagram page...it’s engraved ‘Moon’ on the inside. I wear it all the time it’s so lovely…just these leaves wrapping around my finger.
I wish her well. The last time I saw her she was six...running down the alley as fast as she could…then launched into my arms while I hugged her and we spun around and around.
The sweetest girl in the world. I do so love and admire the human she’s become.
Oh…have you heard her SING? Seriously. I’d buy her album!
There’s something about her voice that’s just such an unaffected, soulful tone.
I’m just blathering now... “Tell that old lady in the front to SIT DOWN and SHUT UP!”
Oh, sorry...that’s ME!
[Laughs] That’s great, Pete. Thanks so much for your time: let’s do this again in another few years!
Interview conducted on Tuesday 23rd August 2022. Photo of Lorraine – in a shower stall at the Felt Forum, Madison Square Garden – taken by FZ on Halloween.