When Zappa passed in 1993, one of the few genuinely touching obituaries that appeared in the UK press was written by Nigey Lennon (for The Independent). Most Zappa fans had not heard of Lennon, despite her claim that she had once been a Mother.
It subsequently transpired that she had been a little more than this and, although her onstage appearances with the Mothers were few, her offstage antics with Zappa became the topic of much debate and speculation among the online Zappa community – fuelled by her memoir, Being Frank: My Time With Frank Zappa published in 1995.
It's clear that she did have some sort of meaningful relationship with Zappa and it’s certainly true that she was a very accomplished musician and writer (as well as Being Frank, she published a number of other books including Sagebrush Bohemian: Mark Twain In California (1982) and Alfred Jarry: The Man With The Axe (1984)).
When I first interviewed Lennon in 2000, she was on the verge of unleashing her first album, Reinventing The Wheel. We quickly became friends after that and met a couple of years later at Zappanale 13 (a gig I had some part in helping her secure).
I interviewed her again in 2013 with Scott Parker for the ZappaCast, ostensibly to promote the issue of Reinventing The Wheel Reinvented, and was very saddened to learn of her sudden passing on 14 November 2016 due to complications from the radiation therapy she received for cancer in 1998.
She was always very sweet and incredibly funny and I will miss her a lot.
In your book, you don’t dwell too much on the specifics of your ‘optional recreational activities’ with Frank, but you do refer to him as a degenerate – care to elaborate now?
There was a TV documentary done on Frank for, I think, the Arts & Entertainment network here in the U.S. It was shot during the last few months of his life and it ended with a great valedictory scene. You see Frank sitting in his work chair at UMRK and he looks spectral, skinny, gray-haired, very tired and his voice is barely audible – but there’s a wicked gleam in his eye as he whispers, “I’m unrepentant.”
Frank’s energy was perverse. He loved being ‘bad’ – and doing whatever he wasn’t supposed to be doing. In a very real sense, he turned the polarity of negative energy around and it kept him going, gave him a sense of purpose in life.
He was a Catholic, what can I say?
Gail has said that she won’t read Being Frank. If the purple shoe were on the other foot, do you think you could say the same?
Hard to say. I can’t imagine being in that position.
She says she anticipated books like yours and she’s sure other people are thinking of doing them – “but it doesn’t necessarily imply there was an ongoing relationship”. Obviously there was. She appears a few times in the book, so must’ve known of your existence. Can you give any more details about any encounters with Gail?
I avoided her. It was the right thing to do under the circumstances, don’t you think?
I do. You obviously feel you deserved a credit on Over-Nite Sensation - can you be more specific about your contribution? Is that you on the extended version of Dinah Moe-Humm on Have I Offended Someone?
If you mean the vocal on Dinah-Moe Humm, the moaning and groaning stuff, I believe that’s Bianca Thornton.
I contributed the following to the tracks on Over-Nite Sensation: keyboard and rhythm guitar parts on Dirty Love; guitar on Camarillo Brillo; back-up vocals on Dirty Love, which were later re-recorded by Tina Turner; back-up vocals on Camarillo Brillo, which were not used; and a few VSO’d vocals on Camarillo Brillo, which are audible.
These tracks were recorded at Whitney Studios in Glendale. On Camarillo Brillo, Frank basically came into the studio with some lyrics and a simple chordal riff – V, IV, I, etc. It was late at night and the band had gone home, so he asked me to sit down at the piano and play some chords to help him flesh out the song – he was basically a one-fingered keyboard player. I ended up adding a minor-chord change and fleshing out the voicings and suggesting a rhythm guitar part, which he then asked me to play on his guitar. He had tape rolling during both the piano and guitar parts and later he copied the parts exactly.
I also recorded three back-up vocals, which were nice, although I didn’t expect him to keep them because the pitches weren’t great.
On Dirty Love he had a series of basic instrumental tracks and the lead vocal up on the board, including a harpsichord part by George Duke, which he said he didn’t like the tonality of. Duke’s keyboards were set up in the studio and I sat at the clavinet and played another part. As far as I can tell, that’s the same part that was released on the album.
I’m also fairly sure my rhythm guitar part on Dirty Love is intact, although it’s extremely low in the mix.
I’ve already explained in Being Frank about the back-up vocals on Dirty Love. I came up with the parts and recorded them, but they sounded so white-bread that Frank and I were rolling on the floor laughing. A little later when Frank was doing sessions at Bolic Studios in Inglewood, which was Ike Turner’s studio, he got Tina Turner and a couple of the Ikettes to re-record them.
I think it would have been appropriate under the circumstances for Frank to have given me a credit, even if it was just a ‘thanks to’. It really used to bug me, though I think I’ve gotten over it. Hell, it was a long time ago.
Apart from the ‘thong rind’ in Andy, what other references to your relationship are there in Zappa’s work?
The song Muffin Man seemed to refer to what he believed was a relationship I was having with Ray ‘muffins...pumpkins...vegetables, etc.’ Collins.
While he was recording Apostrophe ('), he called me and asked if I could ask Ray to contact him about doing some vocals. Ray was out of work at the time and was living in a fleabag hotel, the St. Moritz, which was next door to Frank’s office and rehearsal complex on Sunset Boulevard. Frank apparently didn’t want to call, or have someone ‘official’ call Ray at the St. Moritz. I told him I thought that was kind of cowardly and he got pissed off and the next thing I knew he’d recorded Muffin Man – “girl, you thought he was a man, but he was a muffin.”
Interview conducted on Thursday 15th 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 Nigey, with John Tabacco, at Zappanale #13 taken by the late Peter Mackay.