Thursday, May 10, 2012

Frank Zappa: From Straight To Bizarre DVD


Frank Zappa: From Straight to Bizarre


"Just what the world needs: Another record company." No, this is not the motto of Ripple Music, but the slogan that Frank Zappa used in 1968 to launch his record company Bizarre Records. Distributed through Warner Bros. because of a deal with Frank Sinatra's label Reprise, Bizarre and it's counterpart label Straight released some of the weirdest shit you've ever heard - Uncle Meat, Trout Mask Replica and Pretties For You are the three best known releases but there was a lotta other crazy stuff that's really hard to find.

If you like those records then you'll enjoy this DVD. If you don't, it will bore you to tears. It's about 2 hours long and pretty scholarly. Not surprising since it's narrated by and features interviews with British music journalists. American author/musician Billy James is also featured and has some interesting insights. He's worked on books with members of both Alice Cooper and Captain Beefheart. Although the commentary can be a bit dry at times, what makes it interesting is the first hand accounts from the artists themselves. I'm always interested in hearing Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway talk about their time with the original Alice Cooper group. They both talk about how thrilled they were to get accepted into Zappa's orbit and confirm that due to a misunderstanding they went to Frank's house to audition for him at 9 o'clock in the morning, not 9 at night. They're also honest in their appraisal that they were unhappy with the way their debut album turned out but admire it's uniqueness.

The same goes for John "Dumbo" French and Bill "Zoot Horn Rollo" Harkleroad of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. Their work on Trout Mask Replica remains truly one of a kind. Like it or not, there's no other album like it and it never would have happened if Zappa didn't give Beefheart complete creative freedom. They also confirm the legends surrounding it - most of it was done in a single 6 hour session; Beefheart insisted on putting cardboard over the cymbals, etc. Zappa even bailed them out of jail when the hungry musicians got busted for stealing food from a grocery store. Those guys were pretty freaky looking back then, it's no surprise they got caught.

Jeff Simmons was signed to Zappa's label when he was a member of the band Easy Chair but they broke up before recording anything. Simmons wound up doing the soundtrack to a biker movie called Naked Angels and eventually put out the solo album Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up. These are some of the most obscure albums on the label but the two songs were later recorded by Zappa. "Wonderful Wino" turned up on 1976's Zoot Allures and "Lucille…" closed the first chapter of 1979's Joe's Garage trilogy.

Then there's the notorious Permanent Damage album by the G.T.O.'s. This might be even more difficult to listen to than Trout Mask Replica. The vocalists were all well known Hollywood groupies at the time that Zappa encouraged to write about their activities. Pamela Des Barres is the best known member but the other ladies were all linked to heavyweight musicians and actors. The years have not been kind to this record. Not even guest spots from Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Lowell George and assorted Mothers can make their out of tune wailing something you want to hear more than once or twice. The dialogue in between songs is still pretty funny.

Other artists that released albums through Bizarre and Straight were comedians Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley. Zappa's manager Herb Cohen brought folk artists like Tim Buckley that are covered briefly. The Zappa family trust are very unwilling to work with outsiders so most of Zappa's own releases are not dealt with in detail. Too bad since Uncle Meat, Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Burnt Weeny Sandwich contain some of his greatest work. I'd love to hear stories about how he wrote the music and worked with the incredible Mothers of the late 60's. The label eventually ceased due to legal trouble with Herb Cohen and the amount of work that's required of dealing with running a record company but the Bizarre songs remain insane.


--Woody

Buy here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dvd-frank-zappa-from-straight-to-bizarre/23171108?ean=823564527291&itm=1&usri=823564527291


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