Napoleon Murphy Brock

Napoleon Murphy Brock is a singer, saxophonist and flute player discovered by Frank in Hawaii in 1973. The two worked together from 1973 to 1984.
    As well as Balls, his solo album of all original material that featured Chester Thompson and Mike Keneally, Napoleon has also cut a few other non-Zappa tracks ‘after Frank’ – notably, Arthur Brown’s Fire (on The Great Un-American Songbook: Volume II by The Ed Palermo Big Band) and covers of Todd Rundgren’s Don’t You Ever Learn? (on ANT-BEE’s Electronic Church Muzik) and Emperor Of The Highway (on The Adventures Of Zodd Zundgren, also by The Ed Palermo Big Band).
    Napoleon plays on many of the ‘classic’ mid-1970s Zappa albums, provides background vocals on Sheik Yerbouti (1979)[i], sings on Thing-Fish (1984), appears in the home videos A Token Of His Extreme (2013) and Roxy–The Movie (2015), and can be heard on the posthumous releases FZ:OZ (2002), One Shot Deal (2008), Joe’s Menage (2008), Joe’s Camouflage (2014), Roxy By Proxy (2014), Frank Zappa For President (2016), The Roxy Performances (2018), Halloween 73 (2019), Zappa/Erie and Zappa ’75: Zagreb / Ljubljana (both 2022).
    Between 1976 and 1979, Napoleon also sang on a number of George Duke albums.
    He disappeared from the music scene for awhile, but since 1999 has performed Zappa’s music with Bogus Pomp, Project/Object, The Grandmothers, Ensemble Ambrosius, Mats Öberg, The Ed Palermo Big Band, Sheik Yerbouti, Inventionis Mater, Peach Noise, Frank Out!, Ensemble Musikfabrik and the Stinkfoot Orchestra. He also performs regularly at the Zappanale festival in Germany.
    In 2006, he was one of the ‘sternly accomplished special guests’ on the first Zappa Plays Zappa tour. In 2009, the band (including Napoleon) won the best rock instrumental performance Grammy for their rendition of Peaches En Regalia, from that first tour.
    Now let us rewind some twenty odd years.
    Billy James (aka the aforementioned ANT-BEE, who worked as Zappa’s copyist in the 1980s and wrote the book Necessity Is... The Early Years Of Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention) contacted me to say that NMB would be visiting England shortly, and “would like to do an interview for your website – are you interested?” Silly question! Arrangements were quickly made and before I knew it I was sitting face-to-face with one of my teenage heroes at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in The Mall, for what Mr James referred to as Napi’s ‘comeback interview’.
   Looking incredibly fit and healthy (Napoleon, that is – not me…in fact, he still does), here’s some of what went down on April 29, 2002.

How did you first get into music?
I’ve been into music all of my life. I started when I was about five – gospel, in church. My grandparents, who I lived with, were very religious – the Baptist church. Everyone in the family sang – that’s what we did, they started us off very young. For some reason, they thought I should be singing in all the choirs. That was basically how I got started. I got to Junior high school and it was the same – the choirs. Then in high school, it went full blown; I started playing the clarinet when I was a sophomore. Then I got into tenor saxophone. I was in the concert band, I sang in the jazz band, I was in a marching band, in the orchestra, and I sang in all the choirs. I’ve been doing it since then.

I understand you were playing sax in a bar in Hawaii when Frank discovered you? What sort of music were you playing?
We were playing cover music – you know, top 40…whatever was popular at the time. Then we mixed some jazz in with it if it was suitable for the venue we were playing. Dance music mostly, because people liked to dance and we liked to see them have a good time.

So how did the meeting with Frank come about?
As I understand it, he had just finished touring Australia and they were getting ready to go to Europe a week or two after that. He was taking a little break with his wife, Gail. They stopped off in Hawaii. His road manager, Marty Perellis, set them up in a hotel and went out walking in Hawaii – probably to see if he could get lucky or something! He came to a nightclub at the Coral Reef hotel, and got curious as to why there was a line of people waiting to get into a place on a Wednesday night. He didn’t recognise the name of the band, so he thought he’d get in line and come in and see why everybody was queuing up.

What was the name of your band?
Gregarious Movement… ‘happy people who like happy people who like happy people’ something like that to define the word gregarious. We wanted to start a movement here.
    Anyway, he came into the club and saw us playing – didn’t recognise us, because no one knew about us except the club owners that hired us and the people who came to see us. He ran back to the hotel, woke Frank up and said, “Hey, get your clothes on: I just found your new lead vocalist.” Because Frank had just fired Sal Marquez – they’d had some sort of squabble in Australia and he was without a lead vocalist. Frank got up, came by to the hotel, stood in line like anybody else and once he got in he sat at the back of the room. We were quite popular there, because we were a band from the mainland. In Hawaii, a band from the mainland – if you play halfway decent music – you have star status over there. Also, the music in Hawaii is like a month behind.

So you were playing the hits before they were hits?
You got it. We were playing Santana’s Evil Ways before it got over there. As a matter of fact, we were playing it before Santana put it out because Willie Bobo put it out on one of his albums and I heard it and said, “Wow! This is a very good song,” and so I had the band learn it and we started playing it. We were playing it for something like five months and all of a sudden it came out on the radio and everyone says, “Hey, we heard your hit on the radio – although it’s by Santana. Who’s he?” We would do that, we would learn all these hit songs because after doing it for a while I was able to tell which ones were going to make it and move right up the charts.
    Anyway, during one of the intermissions, Marty Perellis walked up to me and said, “Someone wants to meet you.”
I said, “Well, I’ve only got 15 minutes. Is it important? What’s it about – you want to hear songs? Tell me which song you wanna hear and I’ll play it for you.”
    He said, “No, he actually wants to meet you. It’s Frank Zappa.”
    And I said, “Okay, who’s Frank Zappa? Does he record? I’ve never heard of him. He doesn’t play jazz because I would have heard of him. And he doesn’t play top 40. What kind of music does he play? Where is he?”
    And he pointed to him; he was in the back there. My vision was much better then and I said, “He looks like a guy I saw on a poster, sitting on a toilet. Is that him?”
    He says, “Yeah, he wants to talk to you.” And I thought, that’s not a very good endorsement – some weird guy sitting on the toilet. Wonder what he wants with me?
    So I was introduced to him. He said, “I like the way you play. I like the way you sing. I’d like you to come to Europe with me next week and do a European tour.” I said, “I’m not familiar with your music.” He said, “Well, that doesn’t matter – I’ll come over and teach you everything you need to know on Monday.” “Okay, who’s in your band?” And he said “George Duke, Jean-Luc Ponty…” I said, “Stop right there…I have all of George Duke’s stuff – with Cannonball Adderley. I have a couple of Jean-Luc Ponty albums. There’s nothing you can teach me in one day that’s going to prepare me to play with George Duke and Jean-Luc Ponty; it’s not possible. But if they play with you, you must be good.” And he says “Don’t worry, we can do it.” And I said, “It’s not possible. I’m booked to be here for three months and we’ve only been here six weeks.” “Well, I’ll buy the contract.” “You can’t buy this contract because it’s not a written contract: it’s a verbal one between two gentlemen – the club owner and myself.”
    The club was owned by a guy called Claude Hall, he was the third Marlboro man, and Dickie Smothers, one of the Smothers Brothers: they owned a couple of clubs and we played their clubs. They paid us quite well. They paid for our transportation – whether by plane or by land. They paid our hotel bills. Because we were quite good – we brought them a lot of revenue.
    Frank said, “I wish you’d reconsider.” “Well, I can’t because I promised these guys. This is paradise; why would I want to leave here to go and embarrass myself in front of two of my idols? That wouldn’t be very smart. No, I’m sorry – I’m going to have to decline your offer. I appreciate it and, because of the personnel in your band, I feel quite honoured for you to even suggest such a thing. But this is my number and I’m not doing anything after October.”
    In October, I get a phone call. He says, “Hi, this is Frank Zappa. I’m at the airport.” I said, “I don’t really know what that means.” He said, “Well, I just got back from Europe. I just got off the plane. I’m at the airport. You told me to call you and I’m calling you.” I said, “Well, yeah. But I didn’t mean for you to call me at the airport – you could have waited until you got home.” He said, “No, it’s important. I want you to come down as soon as you can. Can you come down and make a rehearsal next week?” I said, “Sure.”
    So I went down to the audition. He introduced me to everyone: Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler and Bruce Fowler, Jean-Luc, George and Ralph Humphrey. He says, “Sit down and take a listen.” And they played about ten songs. I didn’t know where one stopped and the next started because of all the diverse time signatures.
    The next thing I knew, they’d finished and he came down and says, “What do you think?” And I’m like “Whoa! How did you do that?” He asked me, “Do you think you can do it?” I said, “Sure.” Because to me it was the same as a rock opera – it had all the characteristics of a Broadway musical, except it was a little weird. A lot of different time signatures and everything. That was the jazz element. I understood that all of the musicians were from the music conservatory, so that made sense. I said, “This is a real good opportunity for me.” Next thing I know, I get a big stack of charts: “This is what you’ll be singing”!

Presumably he also wanted you as a sax player?
Sax, flute and lead vocalist… as it turned out, more a lead vocalist and front man. I could see when they played these songs they badly needed a front man – someone to explain some of this stuff. Or to at least kind of physically describe what it felt like.

You sounded like you had a ball during you first stint with Frank – with Ruth and George Duke. What are your fondest memories of those times? It was such a great band.
It was one of the most difficult learning sessions I’ve ever been involved in in my life. Because here I am learning this music, memorising this music, reading these charts – because he didn’t allow music on stage. Didn’t even allow lyric sheets on stage. They had to be memorised. It was a very difficult time for me because it was so completely different from any other music I had heard in my life and so I had to empty my memory banks of everything else that I had learned in my life to make room for this collage of really strange bizarre music.
    I was raised up with a 1-3-5 chord structure and he was doing 1-2-4. I felt that was kind of strange and I said, “Aren’t you making it kinda difficult on yourself? Why are you doing it like this?” I learned later that’s his signature – this was basically one of the ways you were able to tell the difference between his music and others. You try to play the chords, you figure ‘this isn’t it’ and then you start to move a couple of notes and it’s ‘Oh, that’s what he’s playing. But why?’ What sticks in my mind most was learning his music. I had to spend a lot of time before the tour, during the tour, in hotel rooms just day and night. Chester Thompson came in the next day, so him and I were basically on the same page as far as playing Frank’s music. He had never played it before either. He would play with people like Webster Lewis, who were just basically jazz. But he had also graduated from the Berklee School of Music, so he was quite a good drummer.
    But him and I, we were just being introduced to the band at that time so we were collaborating and we were going, “Shit! Did you listen to that? Did you look at those charts? This is ridiculous!” That was the hardest part and the most memorable, because when we started the tour, all of the members of the band would request that I be put in a room at the end of the hall – as far away from them as possible, because I’m up all night practising! He wouldn’t let me play my saxophone and flute on stage until I memorised the parts. I said, “Well, why even bring them?” He says, “No, you need to learn it. As you learn them, then you can play them.” So I had my saxophone and flute on stage for the first couple of concerts that I didn’t even play at all. I just set them up. Frank said, “Set ‘em up so that people get used to seeing them.”

You talk about learning the music. What about the vocals? There was a lot of improvisation there – things like Room Service.
That came along later. First of all you’ve got to realise that he was a strong disciplinarian: every note had to be as written. The intonation had to be absolutely perfect. Fortunately for me, I’d had a lot of experience with light opera…you had to articulate – you had to be absolutely perfect. I mean with Rodgers and Hammerstein, you couldn’t sing whatever notes you wanted. All of those plays – Oklahoma, Carousel, Guys & Dolls, Damn Yankees – had very acute melody lines that had to be adhered to.
    So I had the discipline already – except I didn’t know the level of the disciplinarian that I was getting involved with. Some of his melodies were very beautiful – for example, The Idiot Bastard Son. But I thought it was kind of strange that he would put those words to such a beautiful melody. Then he would tell me the stories about how he created the songs – that they were real-life experiences. I was not getting discouraged, but a little bit frightened about spending my spare time with this guy – I didn’t want to be one of these experiences that he wrote a song about!

You mentioned Marty Perellis – of course he was the subject of quite a few of the improvisations.
Marty was quite a character. He was a very good road manager, but he was quite a character too. He would have to be quite a character and very charismatic to deal with all the personalities that he had to deal with. So, many times he became the brunt of the joke of the day – simply because of some of the things that he would do. You’ve seen the video, The Dub Room Special!?

You saw the gorilla that came up behind Chester?

Oh, from the TV show – A Token Of His Extreme?
Yeah. When Chester was playing, you saw the gorilla that came up with the clock and a comb? Well that was Marty Perellis in the gorilla outfit. No one knew – even Frank – that he was gonna do that. He would do that impromptu to blow our minds. As you saw, Chester was quite surprised – and the rest of us were too... I looked back, “A gorilla?”… but I got to the point where I was learning to expect just about anything from this organisation.
    And the whole thing about the Room Service routine, that was all ad-lib – we ad-libbed that every day. There was a basic format: “You call me up and tell me what you want,” and we would bounce off of each other. At that point I was like, “Okay, I’ve learned your music to the point where you’re allowing me to ad-lib now. So I’m gonna show you that you made the right decision when you chose me. Because, yes, I do have these qualities and abilities that you recognise that you have yourself. I’m not you and you’re not me, but I can do this and let’s go. Here’s another night, this is another show – let’s see where we can go.”
    So it was a game that we started to play to see if we could incorporate into the dialogue many of the events that took place the night before.
    I said, “What about the dogs?” He started to crack up and said; “I didn’t tell you about the dogs!” I said, “You didn’t have to tell me – I saw them when you registered.” All of that was completely ad-libbed, but it was just the truth. It was what happened. “Well, hell - they weren’t with me! They were with the guy with the gorilla outfit!” And so he made that quite clear right on tape. I thought that was quite neat.
    But we did that a lot. If you listen to different tapes of that, you’ll see that it was different every time. It was a basic format, but anything that happened to the band the night before that was significant – we would try and throw it into the show someplace. Like George on the Helsinki concert tape was saying something about Ruth having a party in her room with someone. I would say, “Well, George made a tape of it.” So Frank would say “Okay, we’ll listen to it later!”

Would it be right to say that any songs were written with you in mind? He used to tailor songs to suit the abilities of the musicians, so would you say that your flute was an inspiration for Dupree’s Paradise?
I don’t know if it was or not. I didn’t hear it until I came along – that was the first I’d heard of the song. I was just trying to hold up my end. Here comes another song, “Oh, great!”
    But the whole Evil Prince thing we developed together. We did that before he did Thing-Fish, because he hadn’t even met Ike Willis yet. It wasn’t even conceivable that here was a character that we could incorporate into an idea that he had that talked like Kingfish from The Amos ‘N’ Andy Show. That was one of Ike’s things, he had this deep voice and he used to mimic Kingfish. And Frank, anytime he saw something like that, he’d go “I can use this over here,” and would structure something and utilise it to suit the new band’s style.
    The whole idea of the Evil Prince came just by chance. We were doing a tour with Terry Bozzio, Roy Estrada and André Lewis. One of the new songs we started doing was The Torture Never Stops, about this little cave where this mad scientist was doing all these nasty things. Now by this time, it was easy for me to elaborate on a concept. I would look at the lyrics and I’d know what he was trying to say. I was spending a lot of time at second-hand clothing stores. So for each song I would get some clothes and develop a character. I would wear these white gym pants with American flag suspenders. With these pants I could put on a jacket and a hat and I’d be a new character. Every jacket was a different colour. So while he was singing, “Flies all green and buzzin’…” I would turn into this person who was a mad scientist that I found out later was called the Evil Prince.
    That’s what I was doing on stage; he would have a song and I would develop a character to go with the song. He allowed me to do that because he trusted my ability to ad-lib his creations at that time. If you listen to any of the bootleg stuff – either from when George and Ruth were in the band, or the other band with Terry and Roy – you heard a lot of ad-lib stuff. He started allowing me to do that after I’d learnt all of the music and I didn’t have to read the charts anymore and I could play my parts on every song. Sax. Flute. Whatever. I knew the music and he was comfortable with it and allowed me to ad-lib. Because that was one of the qualities that he really hired me for. I did a lot of that when he first saw me.
    When I put together songs for the bands I was working with, I would extend them because they would be too short for the people who wanted to dance. They were usually only a couple of minutes long. So what I would do was say, “Okay, here’s a song by Sly & The Family Stone. But this is what they should have done. They should’ve just continued on and taken it over here. Because this is what the song really suggests.” So the rest of this would be all ad-lib, but it was connected to the original creation. So I guess he must have heard that when he first saw me. He was probably familiar with the material himself because I found out later that he loved rhythm and blues; he was really enthused by Afro-American music.
    But anyway, he started allowing me to ad-lib and he would give me sections of a song and he’d just let me go on. But I would taper it because I didn’t want him to stop. I didn’t overdo it and I kept it within the context of his original – but at the same time, I extended it: “This is fine right here. But if you’re gonna have this space here where you’re playing this funk vamp, this is what goes here.” I used it, because I had to have something to do while I was dancing around all over the place.

So that’s how things like Ruthie Ruthie came about?
Yeah, all that… The Velvet Sunrise

That was on the Beefheart tour. What are your memories of the Bongo Fury tour?
Van Vliet – whew! Deep. Quite a funny guy. Within his own right, a genius for what he does. I’ve read some of his lyrics; after you dissect them, it’s really saying something quite powerful. He spent a lot of time in the bathroom [laughs]. That’s what I remember. He used to come into my room and spent a lot of time in the bathroom. The rest of us were in there talking about whatever and he’d be in the bathroom. He liked to do that. I don’t know why.

There are stories about him drawing all the time on that tour – even on stage.
He used to do his drawing. Him and Frank…

...their relationship was a bit strained at that time?
Yes it was. As you can tell by the picture on the cover of the album!

Tell me about your departure from the Mothers – you went off and worked with George Duke?
Well, no – I went home and de-programmed myself from his music first. I spent about six months doing that. To do his music, you can’t listen to anything else.

Terry Bozzio said the same thing – that it’s pretty much 24 hours a day.
It’s all encompassing. You can’t hear anything else. Everything else sounds wrong or so different that it just disturbs you. It doesn’t allow you to perform other music because it is 24/7 – as Terry says. So I went home and de-programmed myself. And then I started writing my own music. That was the way I pushed his out and allowed mine to come through.

How would you describe your own music?
My music is happy music. I write about things that you’re familiar with, that you would recognise. I write songs about happy situations – very positive. So I allowed that to come through and immediately after I did that, I went out and got a bunch of musicians together and recorded it. As a matter of fact, six of those songs are gonna be six of the songs I’m gonna release. As we speak, they’re being transferred from 8-track to Pro Tools. I’m gonna go into the studio and brush them up a little bit – add a few things here and there – but basically they’re almost ready to be released now. It’s raw, but it’s real.

So that wasn’t the songs George Duke produced?
No, that’s another set of songs. After that first band I put together, I reformed Gregarious Movement and we started playing again and that’s when George called me and asked me to join his band. The reason I left Frank was because I told him I’d stay with him for about four or five years – no less than four, no more than five – and it ended up about four years and it was time to go. He was having some internal conflict with Herb Cohen – and it was affecting the band too. So I thought it was a good time to leave.

So you went away and worked with your own band.
Yeah, I started playing with Gregarious Movement again – after I’d recorded my originals and put them away in the vault. Because it wasn’t time to release them then. The record companies would never have given me a contract for that music because it wasn’t mainstream. I plan to release it this summer.

If it’s your music, you’re free to do that.
That’s the beauty about that. I’m going to copyright it – to protect it – with the Library of Congress. I’m gonna put it out and if you like one song, then I’ll be happy. Anyway, George asked me to join his band and I accepted. He had Leon Ndugu Chancler on drums, Sheila E on percussion; Josie James was female lead vocalist, Byron Miller on bass and Charles “Icarus” Johnson on guitar. I thought ‘Here’s another nice opportunity for me.’ I knew I’d already made history with Frank.
    Then I heard about his European connection and how much the people in Europe loved him and I thought ‘I’ve never been to Europe before. This is my destiny.’ George asked me to do in his band what I did in Frank’s – which was to be the front man, do a lot of dancing around and lead vocals...which I didn’t understand because I thought George had one of the most beautiful voices I’d ever heard in my life – why did he want me to sing lead vocals?

Well, some of the songs you did together…
This is true. He was thinking of the order of what you’re saying: creating with his own music the kind of vocal camaraderie that we had developed within Frank’s band. So I went ‘Okay, I understand that.’ The first thing we did was an album.
    He had me singing most of the songs – which weren’t his style. They were his creation, but they weren’t for his voice. He has a very pure, natural falsetto. Not many people have that, but George Duke does. I’d give my eyeteeth to have that.
    So I joined his band, did a few albums, did a few tours. That stuff is now coming full circle – now the opportunity is now coming for me to utilise that. What better way to go out to a ready-made audience – people who love George Duke and people who love Frank Zappa – sing the songs that they love and stick mine in the middle. If they like me, then they’ll like my music too, I hope.

How did you get back with Frank?
Frank called me in 1983 and he says, “Listen, I’m doing this Broadway play and I’ve got a part here that’s perfect for you. Would you like to come down and audition for it?” I said, “Sure, why not?”
    I went down and said, “What’s the part?” He says, “It’s called the Evil Prince.” He told me all about it. I said, “Oh, wait a minute – that’s the character that we created when we used to do The Torture Never Stops.” He said, “That’s right. You’re perfect for the part.” I said, “Okay, well where’s the music?” He said, “Well, I haven’t written it yet. I was waiting for you to come here.”
    He described the Evil Prince as this part-time theatrical critic, mad scientist and fake opera singer who was hired by the Government to create this vaccine, this stuff called Galoot Cologna – which is really AIDS.

And this was really before it was full blown.
Yeah. His theory was that the Government hired these scientists to create it to get rid of gay people. The way they wanted to find out if this serum worked was to try it on prisoners in state penitentiaries. If they died, that means they were gay and if they lived they weren’t gay, but they turned into what they call a Mammy Nun: they’ve got a head like a potato, a mouth like a duck, feet like a duck and they dressed in nun outfits. They talked like Ike Willis. That was the side effect of the drug – it didn’t kill you, but it turned you into a Mammy Nun.
    Now Frank knew that I used to work in light opera and you know: light opera/fake opera singer – that kind of goes together. He knows there had been times where I had used my little opera voice. So he knew I could do this before he called me, but he made it like, “You want to try out for this?” But knowing all the time that he wrote it with me in mind.
    So he’d send everybody else home and say, “Okay, come on, into my studio to the piano and we’re gonna do the song The Evil Prince.” He says, “Bring your tape recorder,” which I always did. I put it on. He says, “Here are the lyrics, now I’m gonna play the notes. I’m creating it right now and I need you to tape it so you can learn it and when you come back I’ll have the tracks ready and you can sing on it.” So he played one line at a time, then I’d record it. That’s how we did the whole song. And it’s a very long song.
    Have you heard the album Thing-Fish?

Of course!
Then you know The Evil Prince [ii]. But did you hear the one called Amnerika?

I’ve never heard you sing that. I’ve seen the lyrics and I’ve heard someone else sing them, but Frank only ever released Synclavier and orchestral versions.
I don’t know why he didn’t put it on there because it’s brilliant. You’ve got to hear me sing it and then you’ll appreciate it more.

So will you be doing that live when you tour?
I’m going to do it on tour with Bogus Pomp and Project Object; I’m going to have them learn it. Because no one knows about it. You’ve heard the music, but you haven’t really heard it until you’ve heard me sing it – because we created it together. I still have the tape… it’s so funny. He’s laughing because he’s putting this melody to those words: “You’re crazy!” and he’s going, “Yeah. Isn’t it cool?”

And it is a beautiful melody.
Oh, it’s an incredible melody. No one’s doing anything from the Thing-Fish album live. There is a version of The Evil Prince that I did from that small tour I did with the 1984 band. I sang it, and after he had Ray White sing it. He did all right, you know [laughs].

I was going to ask you about the 1984 tour. As you say, it was a short tour for you.
Yeah, I could only do the short American leg. I couldn’t do Europe and the rest of the tour. When we got back together for the Thing-Fish album and some things for Them Or Us, Frank said “Why don’t you come and do the tour with us?” I said, “Well I can’t do the whole thing, but I’ll do what I can.”

I don’t think he released any recordings from that early part of the tour. He’s released lots from the subsequent part and I have to say it’s some of my least favourite stuff. So I’d loved to have heard you with them.
He was trying so hard to keep them happy. I was playing flute, alto sax, tenor sax and baritone sax. So I wasn’t doing a lot of singing.

And after the 1984 tour, you lived in England for a while?
Yeah, I came over here with my wife and stayed with her for a while. Then I wrote a lot of other songs.

I heard a story that you were training poodles?
No! English Staffordshire pit bull terriers. They all carried two tennis balls in their mouths – which will be the cover of my CD.

So there’s that old conceptual continuity thing – dogs figure hugely in Zappa’s work.
Yeah. I had raised dogs before I met Frank. German shepherds. I love dogs. I love intelligent animals. I know that animals are more intelligent than most people think they are. I would raise these animals and I would train them and I would give them to my relatives and friends – to protect them and to protect their children. At that time, pit bulls in the United States were getting a bad rap. So I would raise them with children and cats.
    I was gonna do a documentary to show people that these dogs – the ones that are bad – it’s not the dogs, it’s the people that raise them. That’s what I was doing then. At the same time, I was writing a bunch of music. I never worked with poodles. I think poodles are stupid [laughs]. They’re not as intelligent as English Staffordshire pit bull terriers.

Okay. So how did you come to link up with Bogus Pomp?
All this time I was writing music and I was waiting for the right time. Because I believe timing is the most important element of anything that has yet to evolve. You must prepare yourself and be ready. But you must wait until the time is right.
    Bogus Pomp had this guy looking for me. This girl that I was going with at the time, her sister wanted to find out who I was. She was trying to protect her sister and she wanted to find out who her new boyfriend was. So she went on the Internet. She called her sister and asked, “Do you know who you’re going out with?” She said, “Sure. I’m going out with Napoleon.” “No, do you know who he is?” “Yeah. He plays in a night club at the weekends…” She says, “Well, no. Not just that. Listen, I’m gonna send you some stuff off the Internet.”
    Anyway, the guy who was looking for me also searched the Internet all the time and he saw that my girlfriend’s sister was trying to find out about me and he called her and got my address. He sent me this long letter. It was so sincere, that I called him. He sent me a CD and a video and said they’d love me to play with them. So I checked them out.
    At first I said no – I have to rehearse with someone before I can decide whether I want to play with them or not. Anyway, I figured that with a little coaching from myself – because they have to play the music right – I figured this would be a good opportunity for me to get out there and play this music again. They don’t play long tours and I thought it would be quite good.

And then you played with Project Object – and more recently, the ANT-BEE.
Yes, I have a beneficial relationship with Billy James. We both believe in the same things. We believe in destiny. We believe in fate. We believe that fate brought us together for something that’s very important for both of our futures. We’re very excited about it and he’s really helping me a lot. Without him, I wouldn’t be here with you.

That’s true. So next it’s the Grandmothers. I assume that came about through working with Project Object?
Well Billy put me in touch with Don Preston again.

Of course, you two played together on the 10th Anniversary Tour in 1974.
That’s right. Anyway, we’ll be playing some dates in Germany in the summer. I think all of these things – and the live in Australia album, the Roxy DVD – are making it the right time for me to get back into music full time. I’ve looked after myself and my voice is now more disciplined, more mature…just better. I know what works and what doesn’t. I have another CD planned with more originals that I recorded with Ed Mann and Peter Wolf. Some of that is pretty wild and probably closer to Frank’s music than anything else I’ve done.[iii]

Sounds great – I hope it gets released some day.
    Okay, can I have your final thoughts on Frank?
The last time I spoke to Frank was when I finished the 1984 tour. But we were still friends. I’ll never forget creating songs like Kreegah Bondola with him – me on alto sax, him on guitar and overdubbing George’s vocal on Village Of The Sun for the Roxy & Elsewhere album. A lot of people don’t realise that that’s all me, because you can harmonise best with your own voice.
    On Inca Roads on One Size Fits All, George sang that solo, but on The Dub Room Special video we sang it as a duet. I also remember taking various women through some of the songs for the Hunchentoot project. Did he ever release that?

Well, some of it turned up on the Sleep Dirt and Them Or Us albums, but that’s about it. Thana Harris finally did the female vocals.
Well, he had me sing the songs for these women, then we would do them together, then they would sing them on their own – and it was like “Next!” He was such a hard taskmaster![iv]


Interview conducted on Monday 29th April 2002. The complete interview can be found in the book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa’s Other People (Wymer UK, 2017). Photo of Napi with The Idiot Bastard taken surreptitiously by Thomas Dippel backstage at Zappanale in 2005.


[i] Ed Mann told me: “We did all the back-up vocals together – that was about one week in the studio in 1978.”

[ii] On the album, this song is part of the track The ‘Torchum’ Never Stops.

[iii] The project was called Exit. Other players included Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, the bass player from Napi's band Communication Plus (Larry 'Grover' Jones), Peter Wolf’s wife on backing vocals and guitarist Jeff Richman. Ed, Peter and Napi each brought in a song (Napi wrote a melody and put it over an instrumental brought in by Richman) and laid down their track accompanied by Vinnie and Larry Jones. Each then wrote their own parts for each others' songs. They did complete them, but only recorded the three songs.

[iv] Various ladies auditioned for the part of Drakma. Nigey Lennon was one, and she told me: “I remember Napi as a very nice guy. When I auditioned for Drakma, Queen of the Universe, I didn’t have a lead sheet to work from so I had to basically do it by ear: a nightmare. Napoleon knew the melody already and stood there and helped me – note by note – when I’d get stuck. He was sweet.”

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