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This whole monstruousity was originally conveived
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Rehearsin' in Joe's Garage
FZ Essay by Arthur Barrow
Rehearsals were grueling and wonderful. We rehearsed at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 6 weeks before a tour. Once I was in the band, Frank instructed me to purchase a cassette recorder and a lot of blank tape to record the rehearsals, which I did. As a result, I own many hours of often interesting Zappa rehearsal recordings.
We usually rehearsed in big, Hollywood "sound stages" (gymnasium sized buildings, with ceilings high enough to set up the PA and lights). In 1980, however, we did rehearse for a while at the Zappa warehouse building that is now called Joes' Garage. Though mentally and physically very demanding, rehearsals were the most rewarding time spent in the band.
Frank was at his most creative at rehearsal, often writing new material on the spot. He seemed to love to see how far he could push the envelope of what the band could do technically. I improved as a musician in that circumstance far more than I could have otherwise - no matter how much I might have "woodshedded" on my own. When I was there with Frank and all those other fine players, I didn't want to be the one to mess up, so I worked hard at it.
Frank was often writing "on the band" (this means that he changed his mind a lot) which can really twist your head up when you're dealing with so much information to process. I would leave rehearsal sometimes feeling like my brain was convulsing inside my skull. But it was all worth it to be able to be part of the process and really get inside the way his musical mind worked. Sometimes he would come in with written music for us to play, which was another great way to see how his music worked. Often, we would learn a few short, but complex, notated pieces and then insert them into songs he would write later on. Examples of this are "Wet T-shirt Nite" and "Jumbo Go Away".
Joe's Garage was the first FZ album I played on, and is still one of my favorites. When I heard that Frank had died, this was the album I put on to hear "Guess you only get one chance in life to play a song that goes like..." I can remember being back stage with Frank and other band members at one of the last shows of the winter 1979 tour reminiscing about our various garage band experiences. I recall mentioning about the old Dodge in my garage, and everyone seemed to have a good garage band story. This was when Frank got the idea for the title song "Joe's Garage".
This was also about the same time Frank wrote "Catholic Girls". "Packard Goose" had been around since at least 1978 when I got in the band. "Why does it Hurt" was written early in the 1978 tour, as was "Wet T-shirt Night". "Keep it Greasy" was an older song, which got re-arranged for the album. In fact, the difficult middle sections of "Greasy" and "Catholic" were quickly thrown together in the studio right before we recorded them. For the "Catholic" middle section, Frank told Vinnie and I to work out the odd time changes on our own, which we did. "The Central Scrutinizer" actually started out as a new version of "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama". You can sing the words to "My Guitar" right over "Central" and the chord changes will happen in just the right spots.
I played Fender Jazz bass on all my tracks except for "Joe's Garage", which I came in later to overdub the final bass track on my Fender Precision - both basses stock, and going direct into the mixing board. I also had the privilege of playing the main "reetooreetooreetoo...' theme on my Stratocaster (with a whammy bar) on "Joe's", in a simultaneous overdub together with Warren. (Unfortunately, my guitar playing was not credited.) As I recall, the basic tracks were cut with Vinnie, Warren, Peter, Denny (on some cuts) and Frank or Ike on vocals.
Some of the songs that are segued together were actually recorded that way as basic tracks. Frank recorded the basic tracks to several songs in a single take, a recording studio rarity. An example is T-shirt/Toad/Why Does it - recorded in one chunk without edits. (Of course, there were overdubs later.) I was getting mighty tired during the long samba section of "Toad", I can tell you! During the recording of that basic track, there was no talking between Frank and Mary as there is on the final mix. Frank did not yet know what he was going to do there, so he just told us to do the vamp until he gave the signal to go into "Why Does It". We had no idea it would go on for nearly as long as it did!
Surprisingly, the track that was hardest to get to Frank's satisfaction was "Crew Slut". We did it over and over until Frank thought we had the right "feel". And I'll never forget standing next to Vinnie counting and praying during the incredible drum work in the middle of Goose. He was doing stuff that was turning my brains inside out - I could hardly believe we pulled it off.
I also remember hanging out with Captain Beefheart at the studio one night, and having a short conversation with him about Hendrix...
The FZ albums I appear on are:
- Joe's Garage,
- You Are What You Is,
- Tinseltown Rebellion,
- Shut up and Play Your Guitar,
- The Man From Utopia,
- Ship Arriving Too Late,
- Them or Us,
- You Can't do that on Stage Anymore,
- The Old Masters,
- Any Way the Wind Blows,
- Ahoy Rotterdam,
- Saarbrucken 1978,
- I Don't Want to Get Drafted (single).
I participated in concert tours of US and Europe in 1978, 1979, and 1980, and on the Saturday Nite Live TV show in 1978. My duties for Frank were Bass, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals, Stunt Vocals, Clonemeister (Rehearsal Director), Music Takedowns, and Chart Preparation.