Although Frank Zappa enoyed an extremely long and prolific career and is revered by most as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, the real Mothers of Invention was a very short-lived group. And while Zappa would go on to play with some of the most technically proficient musicians in rock (like guitarists Adrian Belew and Steve Vai and drummer Terry Bozzio), many believe he never had a better band than the original Mothers.
While sloppy and unkempt – okay, borderline filthy – in their personal appearance; the Mothers combined comedic chops with an incredible versatilty in rock, blues, soul, swing and jazz, even though half of them were classically trained and the other half couldn’t read music at all. They started to take off after a residency at the Garrick Theatre in New York City, where every show was a unique performance involving a revolving set of music, improvisational comedy and audience interaction. Their recordings seemed out of place for the times (AM radio pop and emerging hippie rock) and their label (Verve, a jazz imprint), but have stood the test of time as stone cold classics.
There are a lot of great books about Frank Zappa, but I really enjoyed Necessity Is by Billy James because it focused upon the early Mothers and let them speak for themselves. That’s also why I really enjoy the latest DVD documentary about the band, because I got to see and hear about it from Jimmy Carl Black and Don Preston and Bunk Gardner directly. If you’re a fan, you need to grab this now.
Read my review of the In the 1960’s DVD in Blurt.