Frank Zappa - From Straight To Bizarre

For an artist who operated way out on the fringes of commercial and critical success for most of his career, there are now an inordinate amount of Frank Zappa DVDs on the market – at least ten, by my reckoning. Although conforming to the talking heads format we’ve become familiar with, 'From Straight To Bizarre’ is one of the best of the FZ documentaries available. Not only does it contain rare vintage footage of the Mothers, Beefheart, The GTOs, Wild Man Fischer and other weird and wonderful artists signed to Frank’s labels, but there are also many recent interviews with the surviving musicians. Zappa ran Straight and Bizarre as a kind of freaks' refuge/social experiment and while most of the signings are now just footnotes in rock history, Alice Cooper and Beefheart went on to much bigger things. The GTOs and Jeff Simmons chapters alone make this 161 minute documentary an essential purchase for Zappa fans, but historians will also enjoy the Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce footage.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
'Baby Snakes', 'The Torture Never Stops' and all the other Zappa DVDs now on sale in your local record store.


Sounds interesting. What's the best Zappa documentary DVD Mojo?

I love Zappa but it has to be said that Alice Cooper went on to bigger things as soon as they got away from Frank and hooked up with Bob Ezrin. I've got the two albums they did on Straight and they're not easy listens. The jump from them to Love it to Death is pretty big.

Yes, they definitely got more commercial after they left Zappa. Actually Love It To Death was also a Straight label album, although it had both the Warner Bros and Straight logos on the label.

In terms of quality and the fact it's officially endorsed by the Zappa Family Trust I'd have to say the Classic Albums Apostrophe/Overnite Sensation DVD (middle right, below) is by far the best, closely followed by Baby Snakes which is mostly live footage.

But they are all good in their own way.

Some Zappa DVDs yesterday.

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Here's a picture of Zappa and his parents, taken at Frank's house. As can be seen, Ed Beardsley's original artwork for the Alice Cooper album Pretties For You hangs on the wall. Frank's wife Gail claims that the artwork was later stolen.

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I made earlier:

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Great program. Is it on YouTube? I remember The Late Show doing a lot of good review shows in that period; they had on one Batman which was easily the best comics documentary I've seen.

I went to the trouble of transferring it from video to DVD years ago and now it's everywhere in perfect quality:

It's a very well-made programme, however.

Just when I promised the GLW I'd stop buying stuff...

When she sees it on the shelf and says "Is that a new Zappa DVD?"

Quick as a flash you come back with "That old thing? No, I've had that for simply ages".

Then tell her it was on special offer and go on endlessly about how much money you've saved.

Sound familiar chaps?

so will bail me up at some stage and say "what's this you bought on Amazon?" However it might be at a wonderful record shop in the city called - um, Mojo, so maybe I'll scrape together some cash and get it there.

formerly run by Neville?

of buying it off the shelves in cosmopolitan Sydney or Melbourne.

I had to get it on t'net.

I used to keep a stock of peelable sale price stickers at work. Bought album, binned receipt, replaced price sticker, took home. Thriftiness duly applauded. "Full price albums are such a rip-off! I won't buy 'em!"

used to put much higher price stickers on present for father's day

just watched all of it.

Guitar buffs will enjoy the discussion at 34 minutes. Certainly didn't expect to see Paddy Moloney and the Chieftains jamming in Frank's studio.

As an asthmatic, I couldn't help watching his breathing between cigarettes...rooted.

Frank invited the Chieftains, Johnny Guitar Watson and some Mongolian Throat Singers to his house and they all played together.

Here's a longer version. I found it really touching how Dweezil fusses around Frank, handing him his guitars and so on.

I remember Johnny Guitar Watson going over to give Frank a hug at the end of the session. A lot of love in the room.

It was very sad, yet somehow heart-warming.

The Alash Ensemble are from Tuva. Like Huun-Huur-Tu

Next door to Mongolia

in the review is that the Straight and Bizarre labels were co-owned by Zappa and his then-manager Herb Cohen. It's easy to tell who signed the particular artists, because early on you have the likes of Wild Man Fischer and the GTOs who were clearly Frank's little social experiments. But as Zappa gradually lost interest Cohen brought in comparatively mainstream artists such as Tim Buckley and the duo Henske & Yester (Jerry Yester had been in the Lovin' Spoonful of course and Judy Henske was folkie in the Judy Collins style). Frank had little or no involvement with the records by these later signings.

Herb Cohen took Tim Buckley to Zappa's next label DiscReet where he made another 2 or 3 albums.

It's probably a good job that Frank didn't have much to do with the later signings as I think Farewell Aldebaran by Henske & Yester is a wonderful album. I don't think talent management was one of Frank's strengths.

and little upsie for Rosebud.

and it's all discussed in the film.

For example Beefheart was deeply unhappy to be marketed alongside freaks and nutters (my word) like the GTOs and Wild Man Fischer and didn't want his tracks to appear on the two Bizarre samplers Zapped for that reason.

Likewise there was some bad feeling with Alice Cooper (the band) toward the end and they say in the documentary that they felt Zappa was holding them back by the third album.

Nobody looks this great any more.

And he looked like that in 1968.

Here's another favourite:

Beefheart (and The Magic Band) were deeply unimpressed with Zappa's 'field recording' of 'Trout Mask Replica'. They'd have preferred more time dedicated to the production of a work that they'd spent nine months rehearsing. Instead, they were fobbed off with just a few hours recording time. None of them were happy with the result and all felt they had been rushed.

You know the backing music for The Blimp? That's actually The Mothers and not Beefheart's band at all. That section was edited out of the Weasels Ripped My Flesh track Didja Get Any Onya? and used for the Beefheart album.

The full version of Didja Get Any Onya? containing this section later appeared on the Rykodisc CD of Weasels... but I think the current Zappa label CD has reverted to the original, shorter LP version.

I was aware of that, though I've forgotten how the spoken part was done. Over the phone, but by whom? Checked Drumbo's autobiog and he claims they did all the backing tracks in the studio (apart from a few tracks that had been done at the Trout House) in less than five hours. Rockette claims they were 'dead tired' and Drumbo was pissed off that they were being rushed when FZ would 'piss away hours on one Wild Man Fischer track'.

Beefheart's vocal was recorded over the phone by Zappa.

In the documentary there is much talk of the amount of time and money Zappa spent recording Wild Man Fischer while neglecting the other acts on the label.

But in the case of Trout Mask, his hands-off (more of a brush-off) approach gives it a fantastic field recording quality. I can't imagine the album being produced in a conventional sense. What would you add? How would you sweeten it? It's perfect as it is - what you're hearing is basically live recordings after a nine-month gestation period. I can understand the band feeling short-changed, but I wouldn't have slid a single fader differently.

before I saw your post, Burt. I've always been a huge fan of TMR, but it was through knowing Drumbo (and Rockette) that I became aware of the frustrations they felt at being rushed and not being given enough time to relax into their playing. It sounds great to me - I'm only relaying their complaints. They were pleased when they heard the playback - they just felt they'd been a bit shortchanged as regards time spent on the recording and they also felt that the experiment in recording at the house had been a failure as Zappa had been promoting a 'high-jinks', wacky vibe.

the musicians needn't have worried. That feeling of being rushed was natural, after so long a rehearsal. Zappa could probably hear they'd nailed it, and knew that dragging it out with further takes wouldn't make it any better. Also, the music is by nature restless and hardly a relaxed groove - it's all discipline, with that feeling of being on the edge all the time. Steven Wright (a Great Man) said "you know that feeling when you tip back in a chair, just a little too far, and you have to catch yourself from falling? I feel like that all the time." That sums up Trout Mask for me. They never quite lose their balance, but it's touch and go. Many prefer "Decals" which maybe has the production sound Trout Mask could have had, but for me there will always be something a little stiff about that album, it's not the documentary of the moment that Trout Mask is.

Here's an obsessive's observation: I had the original US pressing of Trout Mask, with the lyric sheet. Later I bought one of the CD re-issues. On close paranoid comparison, the shrubbery/leafage at the top right hand corner of the back cover photograph was noticeably different in CD and vinyl. Same photograph. No noticeable cut-n-paste. The branches were different. This freaked me out me so much I had to utilise my secret Tibetan armpit breathing techniques to calm myself down. In all my investigations into the world of the paranormal, the weird, and the uncanny, this simple discrepancy is the hardest to explain. Suprnatural? Perhaps. Baloney? Perhaps not.

I've had my photo taken with Drumbo in the dip outside the house where the band photos were taken. I get what you mean about 'restless' though and it's a similar feeling I experience with 'Tarotplane' from the 'Mirror Man Sessions' where the music slows down and speeds up on several occasions. Apparently, as a result of the acid flowing through them.

He came across really well on the documentary. His 1970 album Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up is one of the best of the Straight/Bizarre releases outside of Frank's own LPs (and Beefheart, of course).

Zappa not only produced the album, but he plays guitar and wrote the title track (under the name La Marr Bruister) and co-wrote Wonderful Wino, both of which would be re-recorded for Frank's own records.

Surprisingly "straight" ahead little pop album, with one of the best titles ever. Geoff rocks the 'fro, too!

when he joined the Mothers, too. Here's Jeff with the Flo & Eddie line-up. There's Aynsley Dunbar, too.

Germaine Greer.

Also must be one of the few that bought this one at the same time.
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Thank god Frank never signed anyone called Lionel!

Any idea whether they recorded any other tunes other than 'Oh In the Sky' - seems a long way to come and a heck of a lot of logistics just for the one tune. Albeit it's glorious:

King Kong of course! I read that neither song were actually performed on Colour Me Pop, but went out on Late Night Line Up.

the posthumous releases by Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce that Zappa released on his labels. These LPs wouldn't have sold many copies, but it's great that Frank cared enough to put them out there.

I think of them as the "old geezer" threads, Threads in which guitar tunings, bootlegs, and beards are discussed in great detail, and obscure record covers displayed.

Thing is, I'm probably not that much younger than many of the contributors here, for example, yet I know little about (and therefore learn quite a bit from) the acts being discussed. I think it's just growing up on the other side of the Year Zero schism that occurred in the mid Seventies - you know after the dinosaurs of raawk were temporarily eclipsed by the little fluffy warm-blooded punk bands emerging from the primordial slime of Pub Rock and US punk. You would nev-er get to read about - for example - Wild Man Fischer in the NME after this point.

Anyhoo thanks for the insights guys, hope no-one's offended by being called old and smelling of socks, and here's some Kylie to cleanse the palate before the rocking continues. That is all, as they used to say on M*A*S*H.

and Larry's mother gets it:


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