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This whole monstruousity was originally conveived February through March 2001 by the members of The Big Note - a Frank Zappa YahooGroup. After an arduous gestation period, this site was birthed on April 11 2001. True to the essence of collaborative effort, these people are held responsible.
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The Impossible Dream
FZ Essay by Arthur Barrow
I became an avid Zappa listener as a teenager in the 60's. At first, I related mostly to his lyrics; then gradually realized that some quite interesting music was going on as well. The first album I really got into was "We're only In It For the Money". I learned how to play a lot of the songs by ear. Of course I also loved "Hot Rats", and thought that "Peaches En Regalia" was just about the coolest thing I'd ever heard. When I saw the Mothers with Flo and Eddie live in San Antonio in 1970, I was blown away, and became a big fan. I went out and bought - or borrowed - every Zappa album I could get my hands on. It was through Zappa that I started listening to composers like Stravinsky and Bartok, who now are among my favorites.Zappa was the reason I took up playing the bass guitar. I decided I wanted to play in his band, but I didn't think he'd hire me on guitar, because at that time he was usually the only guitar player in the band (and I knew that my keyboard playing could never rank in the same league as someone like George Duke). I figured the bass was my best shot at getting in. I liked the feeling of playing bass when I'd tried it in the past, so I bought a Fender Precision and went to work. When I graduated from NTSU in 1975, I headed for LA - because that was where Zappa lived.
I got to LA in June of 1975, and started looking for work as a musician. This meant playing in top 40 bands, but at least it was music. One day, when I was responding to an ad for a musician, I was surprised to hear the singer on the other end of the line (General Hospital actor Bruce Powers) say that the keyboard player in the band was going to be Don Preston of the Mothers. I got excited, and made sure that I passed the audition and got in the band, though I was puzzled that someone so famous (at least to me) was groveling for lame gigs like I was. I still had a lot to learn about the music business.
By this point, I had Frank's home phone number, which I held onto and did not dial until the time was right. That time came when a friend called to tell me that Zappa had fired Bozzio and O'Hearn, and was auditioning drummers and bass players. I got up the nerve to call Frank on the phone, and I told him that I had learned the melody to Inca Roads by ear from the record to use as a bass exercise. I don't think he believed me at first. He asked if I was familiar with the instrumental melody in the middle of Saint Alfonso. When I said yes, he told me to learn it off the record and then play it for him at an audition in two days. As soon as I got off the phone, I made a reel to reel tape recording of the cut from Apostrophe, slowed it down to half speed so that I could pick out all those fast, funny little notes, and wrote it out and started practicing it. It is not so easy on the bass!
My audition was on Wednesday, June 15, 1978, at 4:00 PM. I got to the Culver City address early, and got to know a couple of the guys in the road crew a little. They got me set up into the bass amp that was already there and I started warming up. When Frank came in, I introduced myself and said, "Here's that melody from Saint Alfonso that you asked me to learn." Then I 'whipped it out'. Zappa said, "Well, you got a few wrong notes in there, but you show promise." He had me stick around for the rest of the day and come back the next. Denny Walley was there, also auditioning. He was very encouraging to me, saying that he could tell Frank liked me and I would likely get the gig.
Sure enough, Frank asked me to come back the next day, and - after some more playing- hired me on a trial basis (I was to rehearse for one week and then he would decide if I made the grade). We were to begin right away. The next day (Friday), he brought in some sheet music for a little sight-reading test. I must have done pretty well, because after a couple of hours, he took me aside, smiled broadly, shook my hand and said "You don't have to wait until the end of the week - you're hired. You are one of the best bass players I've ever played with." I was so thrilled I remember feeling like I could have jumped 30 feet into the air!