Send in the Clones
FZ Essay by Arthur Barrow
Being the "Clonemeister" was about the hardest thing I ever did in my whole life. I won't go into details, but there were conflicts within the band that were accentuated by my being thrust into the position of clonemeister. It's a tricky job with all of the egos that have to be dealt with...
A lot of us have played in bands, right? And a lot of times you'll get in a band and there's been one guy, maybe he's the bass player or the guitar player who is a really brilliant and great player, but he's got a got a weird and twisted personality, and he's screwed up and makes dumb decisions, his life is messed up and he's egotistical. A great musician, but he's really whacked out. Well, imagine a band full of those guys...that's what it was like with the Zappa band.
Clonemeister was Zappa's term for the rehearsal director. I guess the term "clone" in the word clonemeister refers to one aspect of the job, which was to transcribe from the albums, and perfectly teach to the band, the songs that Frank wanted to perform. "Clonemeistering" takes time away from your personal life. That was a 24/7 job, but I didn't mind all that much as far as the musical side of it was concerned. I ate it up.
Rehearsals lasted 8 to 10 hours a day, with the Clonemeister running things for the first half or so and Frank taking over when he arrived for the second half. I still had to worry about my own bass and vocal parts; as clonemeister, I had to know everyone else's parts as well.
It was a quite a difficult job, especially when I first took over. I had a portable cassette recorder, and taped the parts of rehearsal when Frank was there. At night, after rehearsal, I would listen to the tapes, and make notes or transcriptions of what Frank had come up with that day. The next day I would drill the band on the previous day's changes and additions. Frank changed his mind a lot, so it was hard to keep up with all of that constantly shifting information. It was enormous pressure, and Frank constantly talked about job security. He would say, "Your job security is in question here." He would talk that way to everybody constantly. "There're a lot of guys out there. I've got a whole filing cabinet full of letters from guys waiting to get your job." We'd hear that all the time. That was a concept everybody in Frank's band was familiar with.
There's a guy in Finland who's writing a book, and has interviewed quite a lot of Frank Zappa musicians. He told me that the consensus among them was that I was the best clonemeister. But Frank should have really given the job to Tommy, because Tommy had the most complete understanding of everything that was going on musically - more so than I ever did. Ed didn't want to do it any more. He did it one semester and quit. What can I tell you? Frank asked me to do it and I did it. Actually, I think we all would have preferred it if Frank had done it himself.
Somehow I lived through it, and in no way did it diminish my appreciation for the extremely grand privilege of being able to play in Frank's band. On the first day of rehearsals for the last tour I did, Frank brought in a list of about 200 songs that he wanted us to learn. I knew right away that it would be impossible for us to learn that many songs in the amount of time we had. I also knew from past experience that when Frank called for us to play a tune from the list and it sounded bad, he would often remove it from the list.
If the tune in question happened to be one that the band liked and wanted to continue to work on, the band would be begging him to please give a little more time to work on it some more and get it right. I think he used it as a threat to try to motivate the band. Bearing all this in mind, I decided to rehearse the band on only those songs, which were my personal favorites, and never bother with my less favorite ones. That way, we ended up with a body of work to perform that were all my favorites! I wonder if he ever knew...