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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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© TheBigNote 2001-2004
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No Commercial Potential: an Excerpt

Hungry Freaks Daddy

The early Sixties was a boom of sorts, though still in its developing stages. Folk music was being resurrected from the Forties' old left wobbly culture — the folk music of the American Negro and the redneck, Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Woody Guthrie — by the Kingston Trio, who burst upon placid middle class youth culture with crew cuts, madras, and shiny Gibsons ready to homogenize. ran articles on guitars. The Beat period was leading on — coffee house blues, black stockings, poetry readings in dark basements of Greenwich Village, Sausalito, and North Beach. A time for ashes in the hair and no directions home.

It was all there, the alienation and the revival of urban folk. Its centers were Boston, the Greenwich Village coffee houses, the Sausalito and North Beach of the Beats, and Venice, California — a twenty-minute drive to Sunset Strip, but worlds away from the processed sheen of Johnny Rivers and the nylon nightmare. The cigar-smokers and Tinpan Alley moguls fo the Brill Building in New York had the music trends psyched out — what they couldn't steal, they could manufacture. (...)

The Beatles arrived in 1964, with all the power the press agents and media monsters could muster. That made three schools of music — folk with its steel-rimmed ethnic honesty, Beatlemusic with all that urgent energy, and escape bop done to a turn by Frankie Avalon, Annette, Bobby Darin, or Neil Sedaka — American bandstand was still rocking all over the nation.

In LA it was clubs. Sunset Strip in 1964 was folk city, the outcroppings of a coffee house scene started six years before, indirectly, by one man: Herb Cohen. Herb Cohen would reappear after many transmigrations as HERBIE COHEN, Frank Zappa's master of Bizarre business. But Herb had been busy already for many years.

While the Sixties were developing transitional consciousness, Herb Cohen was working hard and taking his knocks. Born in New York in 1933, Herb lived there until the age of seventeen when he joined the merchant marines. (...) From age eithteen to twenty-two Herb went on the bum — until the army caught up with im. After eight months in uniform he was tossed out for incompatibility with army life.

While Herb served time in the army in San Francisco, he was also living with Odetta and becoming involved in the local folk music scene — not due to achieve prominence for at least another seven years. In 1954, he migrated to Los Angeles. During the heights of McCarthy communist paranoia, he held concerts featuring Pete Seeger and the Weavers, obvious "communist" sympathizers. It was a daring move, but Herb was used to taking chances. Herb even went to college for a few years. He majored in history but soon left: "They were just fucking lying. I was wasting more time arguing with the teachers and they wouldn't talk to me." When a club called The Purple Onion opened in L.A. in 1956, Herb was asked to run it. He immediately transformed it into a folk club which became a showcase for performers like Theodore Bikel, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGee. Although he made a lot of money, the club owner wanted to give the place some class by demanding patrons wear ties and jackets. "Being that I've never worn a tie in my life I figured 'Oh fuck that.' " Herb was out on the street again in late 1957. Still interested in folk music, he borrowed money from Theodore Bikel and opened a little place on Sunset Strip, next to where the Whiskey a Go-Go is now, called the Unicorn.

The timing was perfect. 1958 was the height of the Beat period, and within a year sixty four other coffee houses opened in the Los Angeles area. Characteristically, Herb wasn't thinking exclusively about the cultural aspects of it. "It was just something to do at the time... it was better than working at Lockheed."

Excerpt from David Walley's book "No Commercial Potential - The Saga of Frank Zappa (Updated Edition)" — pages 45 through 48; used with the author's permission. More D. Walley books at

Frank Zappa

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