Random FUQ

For those of you who might not know…about Napi n’ Nolan

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.

American R&B singer and songwriter Nolan Porter, who married Frank’s sister ‘Candy’ in 2007, was once related to Napoleon: Nolan told me, “My mother was married to his uncle, between 1959-1961. So it was just by marriage.” His maternal uncle was also the legendary jazz musician/composer, Charles Mingus. Ah-um.

Porter’s 1970 debut album No Apologies featured former Mothers Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada and Lowell George – as well as Richie Hayward and Bill Payne. Estrada, George, Hayward and Payne would then go on to form Little Feat – a name suggested to them by Black due to the size of George’s tootsies. In his memoir, Jimmy Carl Black says, “Nolan wanted me to stay with him and start touring, and I thought about it too because I really liked what he was doing and he was a great singer. I decided to stay with the Geronimo Black thing. As it turned out the tour didn’t really happen because the album wasn’t really a hit – it didn’t do anything!”

In 1971, Nolan recorded his song (co-written with producer Gabriel Mekler) I Like What You Give, with Hot Rats’ drummer Paul Humphrey. The song would be covered by Napoleon in 1973 – though his version has never been released. (José Feliciano also covered it for his 1974 album For My Love... Mother Music.)

In 1978, a fledgling Joy Division were urged by an A&R man at RCA to record a cover of Nolan’s 1971 single, Keep On Keeping On. Says the band’s bassist, Peter Hook, “We did do it in a way: we learned the riff – that’s as far as we could get – and we used it on Interzone,” which appeared on the band’s 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures.

Also in 1971, Paul Humphrey And The Cool Aid Chemists recorded what would become a big R&B hit, Funky L.A., which was written by Nolan, who also shared lead vocal duties with Humphrey on the track.

Nolan’s second solo album, titled simply Nolan (1973), spawned the UK northern soul hit If I Could Only Be Sure – featuring Johnny “Guitar” Watson on guitar and background vocals, with Jim Gordon on drums. Paul Weller would cover the song on Studio 150, his seventh solo studio album, in 2004.

In 2005, Nolan would appear alongside Napoleon (though not on the same tracks) on Greg Russo’s Neonfire album, which also featured contributions from Candy, The Tornadoes and the late Nigey Lennon.

The club where Frank first saw Napi perform in Hawaii was owned by Claude Hall, the third man to be used in the Marlboro Man TV adverts. Hall was later the subject of a book called Hazardous To My Health: The Marlboro Man I Knew (2010) by Marcia N. Hill. The book details Hill’s abduction, rape and extreme abusive violence at the hands of Hall.

As well as Balls, his solo album of all original material that featured drummer 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, featuring musical contributions from Bunk Gardner, Don Preston and Moogy Klingman) 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 ), 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).

Via Nick Chargin of the wonderful Stinkfoot Orchestra, I asked Napi how the Magic Fingers outro rap on the Halloween 73 rehearsal disc came about. (It seemed to me that, like Anything You Wanna Do at the end of Be-Bop Tango, it was something Napi ad-libbed.) Sure enough, Napi confirmed to Nick that it was an improvisation and that every time they played the song, it was followed by that blues jam – and each time Napi concocted lyrics based on recent tour experiences.

Between 1976 and 1979, Napoleon sang on a number of George Duke albums.

Since 1999, Napi has performed Frank’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.

Napoleon appeared in the 2005 film Rock School, a documentary about The Paul Green School of Rock Music, a music programme he has supported for several years.

In 2006, he was one of the ‘sternly accomplished special guests’ on Dweezil's first Zappa Plays Zappa tour. The band (including Napi) later won the best rock instrumental performance Grammy for their rendition of Peaches En Regalia from that first tour.

Also in 2006, Candy Zappa received an email from someone in Wales asking if Nolan was still alive! This led to Porter playing gigs in the UK on the Northern Soul circuit and his meeting with the 8-piece Midlands-based band Stone Foundation. They would become his official British backing group, with whom he would tour and record during his final years.

In 2015, a career highlight came when Paul Weller invited Nolan to join him on stage in LA for an encore of the Holland–Dozier–Holland classic Heat Wave.

Sadly, Nolan Porter died at his home in Los Angeles in 2021 at the age of 71. A book curated by his widow Candy was published posthumously. If I Could Only Be Sure: The Life Of Nolan Porter reveals Nolan's accomplishments, struggles, and his outstanding service to his fellow man and to the music industry.

This article can also be found in my new Frank Zappa FUQ book, and the latest edition of the Arf Dossier. Photo of Napoleon taken at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2002 by the Idiot Bastard. A lengthy excerpt from my interview with Napoleon at the ICA can be read here. And here are a couple of Spotify playlists where you can check out the work of both of these fine gentlemen: