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This whole monstruousity was originally conveived
February through March 2001 by the members of The Big Note - a Frank Zappa
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April 11 2001. True to the essence of collaborative effort, these people
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Jamming With Our Hero
An adaptation of a story as told by Morgan Agren
Morgan Agren has been a drummer since age four. Born in Ume, Sweden in 1967, Morgan was spotted as an outstanding talent at a young age (as he began performing publicly at age seven).
"In 1981 when I was 14 years old, I received a very important telephone call from a lady that was organizing a concert in a little village outside UmeĀ. She needed a drummer, because there was this little 10-year-old kid named Mats, blind since birth, who sang and played the piano, but didn't have anyone to play with! She told me that she knew about me, that I might be the right one for Mats - same musical taste maybe, and close to the same age!"
A childhood keyboard prodigy and self-proclaimed music-nut, Mats Oberg counts among his early influences Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire. Born into a musical family in 1971, Mats has always been surrounded by the best that music has to offer. He began playing keyboards at the age of 3 and was already making live appearances before he was 10. Blind since birth, Mats had nonetheless assembled an enormous musical repertoire.
"Mats had problems finding people close to his age with any interest whatsoever in playing the music that he liked. You see, Mats was listening to Miles Davis before he could even walk! [He also enjoyed the] Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa, etc. I know that Mats even forced his parents to buy him the latest Earth Wind & Fire record once, otherwise he would jump up and down the stairs at home - he was seven."
"I told her I was interested in playing with Mats, and a few days later we met. Mats walked towards me with his dad, and LOOKED like he was seven years old - or less. We shook hands, and started to discuss what to play (this was only about two hours before our show). Mats asked me 'Do you know Frank Zappa?' I said, ' I can do "Bobby Brown". Without any rehearsal, we had one song!"
The pair also decided upon Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster", and The Beatles' "Help" for their first ever gig.
"We were only suppose to play about 20 min, so we had enough material. When we started to play, I watched Mats in complete disbelief - I mean, he was TEN years old! But he played unbelievable, and sang the lyrics with perfect pronunciation. After we finished, my dad was almost in tears. Mats daddy was also really amazed, and said something like, 'maybe you should...you could, I mean, meet and play together some more? We have a Drum set in our basement."
They formed 'Hot Rats' together in '81 and later formed Zappsteetoot in 1984 - a band internationally known for performing Zappa's music.
Jamming With Our Hero
"In 1988, when Frank came to Stockholm with the "Broadway the Hard Way" tour, me and Mats got to meet and play with Zappa on his gig in Stockholm, as guests! Mats' uncle (jazz pianist Bernt Egerbladh) had contacted Frank's tour leader and informed him about us: that we were in this band called Zappsteetoot, that Mats had listened to Frank's music since he was 8 years old, and that he knew all of Zappa's music. So when Frank heard about us, he said he wanted to meet us."
Morgan and Mats attended FZ's sound check and afterward Frank's tour leader came out and told the pair that Frank was waiting for them backstage.
"We walked to Frank's room and there he was - our teenage idol and major influence! We shook hands, and sat down on a couch. Frank asked us how we were doing, which of his material we knew, etc. Mats & I ended up playing on our knees and singing. Frank said: "do you know this, have you played that?" After a while he said: " well I'm amazed that two young guys from a little town called UmeĀ, knows so much about my music."
Then turning to Mats he said, "You have listened to my music so much, - you should know what I look like." Frank took Mats hand and laid it on his forehead and Mats began to feel how Frank looked. And Frank said, " Don't forget the famous nose!"
Frank was so incredibly nice to us and we had a wonderful time. We gave him a tape with our own music, which included one Zappa piece, "T'Mershi Duween". This surprised Frank because it hadn't been released at the time, but we knew it from a bootleg. Frank didn't listen to the tape; there wasn't even a tape recorder there, but he said: "Maybe we should do something". We didn't have a clue what he was thinking.
He scratched his head and said, "Would you like to come up and play T'Mershi Duween as guests? We're gonna do "Big Swifty" tonight and in the middle section of the song there is this open part were anything can happen. So if you walk behind the stage when you hear the Big Swifty theme, I'll introduce you after a while, okay?""
This meeting took place a mere 30 minutes before the show began, the audience was already inside the hall and there was no time for the pair to get familiar with the keyboards, or the drums. "What sound will be set on the keyboard?" "What kind of sticks does Chad use?" Questions, questions, questions, natural for any musician to ask themselves, before going up on stage with Frank Zappa and facing a crowd of 10.000 people.
"For me, most of Frank's show was hard to enjoy - I had other things on my mind. We were soon supposed to go up and play and I couldn't even remember the fucking song that well, so I had to think about how it really went. We had only played it once before, a year earlier - the version we gave to Frank on tape."
When the "Big Swifty" theme came around, the pair left their seats, walked backstage, and convinced the guards that they were about to go up and play with Frank. But there was a problem; Morgan had to go to the toilet.
"I had lost the ability to feel needs like that - I had other things to think about. Another 5 minutes passed and I really had to go. I started to feel pain, I got totally confused; what would happen if Frank introduced us to 10,000 people and I was at the toilet unable to even hear him?"
"But I just had to do it! I was in such pain; I probably wouldn't have played properly. I told Mats, "I got to go, you wait here." Mats was sitting on a case just behind the stage. I ran backstage, and found a toilet. I finished my business and, just as I opened the door, I heard Frank introducing us. I ran like a maniac, grabbed Mats arm and we went up on stage. Lucky us I was fast!"
A huge round of applause welcomed the boys. After all, they were at home and a lot of people knew about them. The applause got even louder as Morgan walked Mats over to Bobby Martins keyboards.
Bobby said, "Here's a Yamaha DX-9 and here is the Yamaha Electric Grand - good luck..."
"The band kept a reggae beat going during our entrance, which was good; if it had just been silence, it would have felt strange, but now we could sort of start our jam from the groove already going. I led Mats behind the keyboards and adjusted the mike stand a little, and then I walked to the drum set. A guy from the crew came from nowhere and put a new pair of drumsticks in my hands. Luckily they were the same model I used to play at the time. When Chad saw me coming he stood up, but kept the beat on the hi-hat.
I sat down, and continued where Chad left off, but Mats and I soon started to loosen up into something else. We had to do our thing, so we just jammed for a couple minutes, like we always used to. The drums felt okay - the keyboards too, I think. I felt high up there, it was just totally amazing. I don't like using standard phrases like "a religious feeling" but this was something else, it really was. I was in heaven, much because of the fact I could see Frank standing in front of the drum set with a BIG smile, holding his conductor stick.
He really liked what we were doing and that gave us a big kick. We missed a little during the "T'Mershi Duween" theme, but we had probably never played as good before as we did then. Scott played along a little and so did Ed and Mike.
After we finished, I left the drum seat, and ran to get Mats away from the keyboards because the "Big Swifty" theme had just started again and Bobby Martin was about to play again, but Mats were sitting in his way. I got Mats, and passed Frank as we were leaving the stage. Frank stopped conducting just for a second to applaud us and the audience followed with even more applause than before. We walked off the stage and got back to our seats to see the rest of the show."
At the end of the show, Frank introduced the band as always: "Ike Willis, Scott Thunes, etc. - AND, Mats ÷berg & Morgan ?gren! Thanks for coming to the show, hope you liked it. Good night!"
"We were sitting in the audience listening to Frank Zappa - introducing us! When the band came back for an encore, Frank grabbed the microphone and said, "Those guys were great!" So guess you could say we were excited!"
After the encores, the boys met in Frank's dressing room backstage again.
"He said, "We have to do this again sometime." and we exchanged addresses. Frank told us that he was looking for a new drummer, and keyboard player and then he just kind of stared at us without really saying anything more. I think he wanted to tease us a little bit too, because he was obviously talking about Mats and me. Frank even wrote down some notes on a piece of paper that showed his way of notating drums; he gave it to me and told me to get used to it. Then it was time to go home - go home and wait for the phone to ring...
The "Broadway The Hardway" - tour was cancelled halfway through and it would be the last tour Frank ever did. Two years later, in October 1990, Morgan went to Los Angeles hoping to connect with Frank (no, the phone never rang in that two years). Morgan called Mike Keneally the day after he arrived to say hello. Mike called Frank and told him that Morgan was in town. Frank said, "Great, bring him over so we can listen to some tapes."
"I walked with Mike to the entrance. A video camera watched us, behind a prison-like looking gate. Mike announced through the intercom that we had arrived and the big gate opened. There was a lot of bushes and trees around the stairway and at the end of it, another big door opened, - and there was Frank!
I felt just like a little kid. We hugged, and walked into the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen. I can hardly explain how great it felt to be there. I had been waiting for two years to hear from him. Frank was ever so nice. There was music in the background; I'm pretty sure he was working on "Civilization Phase 3".
A gold record of "One Size Fits All" laid on the floor, as well as the original version of "Zappa in New York". Frank, Mike, and I listened to tapes for a couple of hours, including our guest performance from the Stockholm '88 show. Just before it was time to go home, Frank asked me where I was staying and I was going to spend the night in a youth hostel. Frank said I shouldn't have to stay in a youth hostel. He picked up the phone, and asked somebody upstairs if the guestroom was vacant. It was and I could stay.
Frank told me it was no problem for me to stay there, but that he wasn't going to be much company, since he was about to continue working in the basement, as usual. Which I didn't mind; I was happy just being around!"