NAPOLEON MURPHY BROCK
BIO: Get the bio information in conversation:
On April 29th, 2002, Napoleon sat down with Andrew Greenaway (a.k.a.the Idiot Bastard) at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Here is the interesting part of that conversation.
IB: How did you first get into music?
NMB: I've been into music all of my life. I started when I was about five gospel, in church. My grandparents, who I lived with, were very religious the Baptist church. Everyone in the family sang that's what we did, they started us off very young. And for some reason they thought I should be singing in all the choirs. And that was basically how I got started. I got to Junior high school and it was the same you know, the choirs. Then in high school, it went full blown; I started playing the clarinet when I was a sophomore. Then I got into tenor saxophone. I was in the concert band, I sang in the jazz band, I was in a marching band, in the orchestra, and I sang in all the choirs. I've been doing it since then.
IB: I understand you were playing sax in a bar in Hawaii when Frank discovered you.
NMB: Well, actually, I was in a six-piece band we did our own little tours in different cities in the United States.
IB: What sort of music were you playing?
NMB: We were playing cover music you know, top 40, whatever was popular at the time. And then we mixed some jazz in with it if it was suitable for the venue we were playing. Dance music mostly, because people liked to dance and we liked to see them have a good time.
IB: So how did the meeting with Frank come about?
NMB: As I understand it, he had just finished touring Australia, and they were getting ready to go to Europe a week or two after that. And he was taking a little break with his wife, Gail. They stopped off in Hawaii for a week or so. And his road manager, Marty Perellis, set them up in a hotel and went out walking around in Hawaii probably to see if he could get lucky or something! If you want a good time, what better place to do it than in Hawaii? Hawaii is literally paradise. And he came to a show of mine outside a nightclub at the Coral Reef hotel and got curious as to why there was a line of people waiting to get into a place on a Wednesday night. He didn't recognise the name of the band, so he thought he'd get in line and come in and see why everybody was queuing up.
IB: What was the name of your band?
NMB: Gregarious Movement'happy people who like happy people who like happy people' something like that to define the word gregarious. We wanted to start a movement here. We were picking up happy people along the way and making other people who were sad happy. But mostly the music that we were playing was happy music. Anyway, he came into the club and saw us playing didn't recognise us, because no one knew about us except the club owners that hired us and the people who came to see us. He ran back to the hotel, woke Frank up and said, Hey, get your clothes on: I just found your new lead vocalist. Because Frank had just fired Sal Marquez they'd had some sort of squabble in Australia and he was without a lead vocalist, because Sal was the lead vocalist at the time. Frank got up, came by to the hotel, stood in line like anybody else and once he got in he sat at the back of the room there weren't any seats. We were quite popular there, because we were a band from the mainland. In Hawaii, a band from the mainland if you play halfway decent music you're like a star, you have star status over there. And also the music in Hawaii is like a month behind.
IB: So you were playing the hits before they were hits?
NMB: You got it. We were playing Santana's `Evil Ways' before it got over there. As a matter of fact, we were playing it before Santana put it out because I had heard this other guy namedwhat was this drummer's name? Willie Bobo. Willie Bobo put it out on one of his albums and I heard it and said "Wow! This is a very good song" and so I had the band learn it and we started playing it. We were playing it for something like 5 months, and all of a sudden it came out on the radio and everyone says, "Hey, we heard your hit on the radio although it's by Santana. Who's he?"! We would do that, we would learn all these hit songs because after doing it for a while I was able to tell which ones were going to make it and move right up the charts. So we would learn the top 15 or 20 songs and we would go to Hawaii and, after we'd been there a couple of months, they'd start playing them on the radio. And all these people would come running in saying, "We hear your music on the radio!" It was just really funny. But anyway, during one of the intermissions, Marty Perellis walked up to me and said, "Someone wants to meet you." And I said, "Well, I've only got 15 minutes. Is it important? What's it about you want to hear songs? Tell me which song you wanna hear and I'll play it for you." And he said, "No, he actually wants to meet you." And I said, "Who is it? I only have 15 minutes." He said "It's Frank Zappa." And I said "Okay, who's Frank Zappa?" And he said, "You don't know who Frank Zappa is?" and I went " Well, no. Is he a musician?" "Yes." "Well, what does he play?" "He plays guitar" " Does he record? I've never heard of him. He doesn't play jazz because I would have heard of him. And he doesn't play top 40 because I'm knowledgeable about who plays top 40. So what kind of music does he play? Where is he?" And he pointed to him; he was in the back there. And my vision was much better then, and I said, "He looks like a guy I saw on a poster a music store in Haight Ashbury sitting on a toilet flipping the bird. Is that him?" He says, "Well, yeah." I said, "Well what does he want with me?" "Well, he wants to talk to you." And I thought `Okay, but that's not a very good endorsement some weird guy sitting on the toilet wonder what he wants with me?'
IB: That was going to be my next question you obviously weren't familiar with his music at all.
NMB: I wasn't familiar with his work; I'd never even heard his name before. I was just a top 40 musician. So I went back and was introduced to him. He said, "I like the way you play. I like the way you sing."
IB: "I like the way you dance"?
NMB: He didn't bring that up then, you know (laughs). At the time I was playing organ, playing bongos with mallets, saxophone, flute, and singing and dancing. That was what I did; a little bit of whatever had to be done to get the song out. And he said, "I like the way you sing, and I like the way you play. I'd like you to come to Europe with me next week and do a European tour." I said, "I've got to be honest with you; as I told your road manager, I'm not familiar with your music." He said, "Well, that doesn't matter I'll come over and teach you everything you need to know on Monday." "Wellerr. Okay, who's in your band?" And he said "George Duke, Jean Luc Ponty" I said "Stop right there"
IB: You'd heard of those guys, obviously from the jazz world?
NMB: "I have all of George Duke's stuff with Cannonball Adderley. I have a couple of Jean Luc Ponty albums. There's nothing you can teach me in one day that's going to prepare me to play a tour or concert or engagement with George Duke and Jean Luc Ponty; it's not possible. And there's no way in the world that I would accept such an offer knowing the calibre of musician that they are. But if they play with you, you must be good. Because they're really good." And he says "Don't worry, we can do it." And I said, "It's not possible. Number one, I have a contract: I'm booked to be here for three months and we've only been here six weeks; we have another 6 weeks to play." "Well, I'll buy the contract." "That's not the point you can't buy this contract because it's not a written contract: it's a verbal one between two gentleman, the club owner and myself. He owns a couple of clubs and I go and play them all." The club was owned by a guy called Claude Hall he was the first Marlborough man. And Dickie Smothers one of the Smothers Brothers they owned a couple of clubs and we played their clubs. And they paid us quite well. They paid for our transportation whether by plane or by land. And they paid our hotel bills. Because we were quite good we bought them a lot of revenue. Every time we came to their clubs, they said, "When you're here, this is what we make. When you're not here, this I what we make." So I said "You can't buy the contract, because we have a gentleman's agreement." He says, "I wish you'd reconsider." "Well, I can't because I promised these guys. And this is paradise; why would I want to leave here to go and embarrass myself in front of two of my idols? That wouldn't be very smart. No, I'm sorry I'm going to have to decline your offer. I appreciate it and, because of the personnel in your band, I feel quite honoured for you to even suggest such a thing. But this is my number, and I'm not doing anything after October."
IB: This must've been in 1972?
NMB: It has to be 71 or 72 the late part of the year, because I started touring with him in late 72.
IB: He had the accident at the end of 71, when he was pushed off the stage.
NMB: Yeah, 72. When I saw him, his leg was healed. He was walking okay. Next thing I know, in October, I get a phone call. He says, "Hi, this is Frank Zappa." I said "Oh, hi. How're you doing? I remember you." He says, "Well, I'm at the airport." And I said, "I don't really know what that means." He said " Well, I just got back from Europe. I just got off the plane. I'm at the airport. You told me to call you, and I'm calling you." And I said, "Well, yeah. But I didn't mean for you to call me at the airport you could have waited until you got home." He said, "No, it's important. I want you to come down as soon as you can. Can you come down and make a rehearsal next week?" I said, "Sure, I'm not busy right now I have no more engagements" So I went down to the audition. He introduced me to everyone: Ruth, Tom Fowler and Bruce Fowler, Jean Luc, George and Ralph Humphrey. He says, "Well, sit down and take a listen." And they played about ten songs without stopping. Seven or ten I forget how many because I couldn't separate them. I didn't know where one stopped and the next one started because of all the diverse time signatures that he uses in his music. But I knew there were at least seven different songs. The next thing I knew, they'd finished and he came down and says, "What do you think?" And I'm like "Whoa! How did you do that?" It's quite interesting, you know. Well, he asked me "Do you think you can do it?" I said, "Sure." Because to me it was the same as a rock opera it had all the characteristics of a Broadway musical, except it was a little weird. A lot of different time signatures and everything. That was the jazz element you know, with all the jazz musicians, I could understand that. And I understood that all of the musicians were from the music conservatory, so that made sense too. And I figured I could do this. I said, "This is a real good opportunity for me." And he says "Sure, let's do it." Next thing I know, "Here" I get a big stack of charts "this is what you'll be singing"!
IB: Presumably he also wanted you as a sax player?
NMB: Sax, flute and lead vocalistas it turned out, more a lead vocalist and front man. I could see when they played these songs they badly needed a front man someone to explain some of this stuff. Or to at least kind of physically describe what it felt like.
IB: You sounded like you had a ball during you first stint with Frank with Ruth Underwood, Jeff Simmons and George Duke. What are your fondest memories of those times? It was such a great band.
NMB: Jeff came along after the Roxy that's when I met Jeff Simmons. Before that it was one of the most difficult learning sessions I've ever been involved in in my life. Because here I am learning this music, memorising this music, reading these charts because he didn't allow music on stage. Didn't even allow lyric sheets on stage. They had to be memorised. It was a very difficult time for me becauseit would have been a lot easier if I had heard his music before, but it was very foreign to me. It was so completely different from any other music I had heard in my life and so I had to empty my memory banks of everything else that I had learned in my life to make room for this collage of really strange bizarre music. I was raised up with a 1-3-5 chord structure, and he was doing 1-2-4. I felt that was kind of strange, and I said, "Aren't you making it kinda difficult on yourself? Why are you doing it like this?" I learned later that's his signature this was basically one of the ways you were able to tell the difference between his music and others. You try to play the chords, you figure `this isn't it', and then you start to move a couple of notes and it's `Oh, that's what he's playing. But why?!'. What sticks in my mind most was learning his music. I had to spend a lot of time before the tour, during the tour, in hotel rooms just day and night. And Chester Thompson came in the next day, so him and I were basically on the same page as far as playing Frank's music. He had never played it before either. He would play with people like Webster Lewis, who were just basically jazz. But he had also graduated from the Berklee School of Music, so he was quite a good drummer. But him and I, we were just being introduced to the band at that time so we were collaborating, and we were going "Shit! Did you listen to that? Did you look at those charts? This is ridiculous!" That was the hardest part. And the most memorable, because when we started the tour, all of the members of the band would request that I be put in a room at the end of the hall as far away from them as possible.
IB: Why was that?
NMB: Because I'm up all night practising! He wouldn't let me play my saxophone and flute on stage until I memorised the parts. I said, "Well, why even bring them?" He says, "No, no, no, no, no. You need to learn it. And as you learn them, then you can play them." So I had my saxophone and flute on stage for the first couple of concerts that I didn't even play at all. I just set them up. Frank said, "Set `em up so that people get used to seeing them."
IB: You talk about learning the music. What about the vocals? There was a lot of improvisation there songs like `Dummy Up' and `Room Service'.
NMB: That came along later. First of all you've got to realise that he was a strong disciplinarian: every note had to be as written and as charted. The intonation had to be absolutely perfect. Fortunately for me, I'd had a lot of experience with light opera. I did light opera for about four or five years you had to articulate there, you had to be absolutely perfect. I mean with Rodgers and Hammerstein, you couldn't sing whatever notes you wanted. Oklahoma had a specific melody line all those plays, Oklahoma, Carousel, Guys & Dolls, Damn Yankees all of those had very acute melody lines that had to be adhered to. So I had the discipline already except I didn't know the level of the disciplinarian that I was getting involved with. Some of his melodies were very beautiful for example, `The Idiot Bastard Son'. But I thought it was kind of strange that he would put those words to such a beautiful melody. Then he would tell me the stories about how he created the songs that they were real-life experiences. I was not getting discouraged, but a little bit frightened about spending my spare time with this guy - I didn't want to be one of these experiences that he wrote a song about!
IB: You mentioned Marty Perellis of course he was the subject of quite a few of the improvisations.
NMB: Marty was quite a character. He was a very good road manager, but he was quite a character too. And he would have to be quite a character and very charismatic to deal with all the personalities that he had to deal with. So, many times he became the brunt of the joke of the day simply because of some of the things that he would do. You've seen the video, Dub Room Special?
NMB: You saw the gorilla that came up behind Chester?
IB: Oh, from the TV show A Token Of His Extreme?
NMB: Yeah. When Chester was playing, you saw the gorilla that came up with the clock and a comb? Well that was Marty Perellis in the gorilla outfit. And no one knew even Frank that he was gonna do that. He would do that impromptu to blow our minds. And as you saw, Chester was quite surprised and the rest of us were too...I looked back, "A gorilla?"but I got to the point were I was learning to expect just about anything from this organisation. And the whole thing about the `Room Service' routine, that was all ad-lib we ad-libbed that every day. There was a basic format: "You call me up and tell me what you want"; and we would bounce off of each other. By the time we did that, we had a camaraderie where we would challenge each other without saying "I'm gonna challenge you." We would just challenge each other. Because he would challenge me to see if I was gonna fuck up. And I would challenge him to say "Okay. Not only am I not gonna fuck up, but I'm gonna throw something different at you every day. Let's see if you can deal with it." We would kind of look at each other out of the corner of our eyes because we were basically challenging each other. At that point I was like "Okay, I've learned your music to the point where you're allowing me to ad-lib now. And so I'm gonna show you that you made the right decision when you chose me. Because, yes, I do have these qualities and abilities that you recognise that you have yourself. I'm not you, and you're not me, but I can do this and let's go. Here's another night, this is another show let's see where we can go." And so it wasn't so much a challenging thing as a game that we started to play to see if we could incorporate into the dialogue many of the events that took place the night before. And so the whole idea about me bringing up the dogsI said "What about the dogs?" He started to crack up, and said; "I didn't tell you about the dogs!" I said, "You didn't have to tell me I saw them when you registered." All of that was completely ad-libbed, but it was just the truth. It was what happened. "I saw you when you registered. I know those dogs were with someone." "Well, hell - they weren't with! They were with the guy with the gorilla outfit!" And so he made that quite clear right on tape. And I thought that was quite neat. But we did that a lot. And if you listen to different tapes of that performance, you'll see that it was different every time. It was a basic format, but anything that happened to the band the night before that was significant we would try and throw it into the show someplace. Like George on the Helsinki tape was saying something about Ruth having a party in her room with someone. And I would say, "Well, George made a tape of it." So Frank would say "Okay, we'll listen to it later!"
IB: Would it be right to say that any songs were written with you in mind? He used to tailor songs to the abilities of the musicians, so would you say that your flute was an inspiration for `Dupree's Paradise'?
NMB: I don't know if it was or not. I didn't hear it until I came along that was the first I'd heard of the song. I was just trying to hold up my end. Here comes another song, "Oh, great!" But the whole Evil Prince thing we developed together. We did that before he did Thing-Fish, because he hadn't even met Ike Willis yet. It wasn't even conceivable that here was a character that we could incorporate into an idea that he had that talked like Kingfish from the Amos & Andy Show. That was one of Ike's things, he had this deep voice and he used to mimic Kingfish. And Frank, anytime he saw something like that, he'd go "I can use this over here," and would structure something and utilise it to suit the new band's style. The whole idea of the Evil Prince came just by chance. We were doing a tour with Terry Bozzio, Roy Estrada and Andre Lewis. And one of the new songs we started doing was `The Torture Never Stops', about this little cave where this mad scientist was doing all these nasty things. Now by this time, it was easy for me to elaborate on a concept. I would look at the lyrics and I'd know what he was trying to say. And I was spending a lot of time at second-hand clothing stores. So for each song I would get some clothes and develop a character. I would wear these white gymnastic pants with American flag suspenders. With these pants I could put on a jacket and a hat and I'd be a new character. Every jacket was a different colour. So while he was singing, "Flies all green and buzzin', in his dungeon of despair" I would turn into this person who was a mad scientist that I found out later was called the Evil Prince. That's what I was doing on stage; he would have a song and I would develop a character to go with the song. He allowed me to do that because he trusted my ability to ad-lib his creations at that time. If you listen to any of the bootleg stuff either from when George and Ruth were in the band, or the other band with Terry and Roy Estrada you heard a lot of ad-lib stuff. He started allowing me to do that after I'd learnt all of the music, and I didn't have to read the charts any more and I could play my parts on every song. Sax. Flute. Whatever. I knew the music and he was comfortable with it and then he allowed me to ad-lib. Because that was one of the qualities that he really hired me for. I did a lot of that when he first saw me. When I put together songs for the bands I was working with, I would extend them because they would be too short for the people who wanted to dance. They were usually only a couple of minutes long. So what I would do was say, "Okay, here's a song by Sly & The Family Stone. But this is what they should have done. They should've just continued on and taken it over here. Because this is what the song really suggests." So the rest of this would be all ad-lib, but it was connected to the original creation. So I guess he must have heard that when he first saw me. And he was probably familiar with the material himself because I found out later that he loved rhythm and blues; he was really enthused by Afro-American music. But anyway, he started allowing me to ad-lib and he would give me sections of a song and he'd just let me go on. But I would taper it because I didn't want him to stop. I didn't overdo it, and I kept it within the context of his original but at the same time, I extended it: `This is fine right here. But if you're gonna have this space here where you're playing this funk vamp, this is what goes here.' And I used it, because I had to have something to do while I was dancing around all over the place.
IB: So that's how things like `Ruthie Ruthie' came about.
NMB: Yeah, all thatthe `Velvet Sunrise'
IB: That was on the Beefheart tour. What are your memories of the Bongo Fury tour?
NMB: Van Vliet whew! Deep. Quite a funny guy. Within his own right, a genius for what he does. I've read some of his lyrics; after you dissect them, it's really saying something quite powerful. He spent a lot of time in the bathroom (laughs). That's what I remember. He used to come into my room and spent a lot of time in the bathroom. The rest of us were in there talking about whatever, and he'd be in the bathroom. He liked to do that. I don't know why.
IB: There are stories about him drawing all the time on that tour even on stage.
NMB: He used to do his drawing. And him and Frank!
IB: They're relationship was a bit strained at that time?
NMB: Yes it was. As you can tell by the picture on the cover of the album!
IB: Tell me about your departure from the Mothers you went off and worked with George Duke?
NMB: Well, no I went home and de-programmed myself from his music first. I spent about 6 months doing that. To do his music, you can't listen to anything else.
IB: Terry Bozzio said the same thing that it's pretty much 24 hours a day.
NMB: It's all encompassing. You can't hear anything else. Everything else sounds wrong or so different that it just disturbs you. And it doesn't allow you to perform other music because it is 24/7 as Terry says. So I went home and de-programmed myself. I knew I had to do that, because every time I tried to listen to music I just heard his. It's so overwhelming. I did that, and I started writing my own music. That was the way I pushed his out and allowed mine to come through.
IB: How would you describe your music?
NMB: My music is happy music. I write about things that you're familiar with, that you would recognise. I write songs about happy situations very positive. So I allowed that to come through and immediately after I did that, I went out and got a bunch of musicians together and recorded it. As a matter of fact, six of those songs are gonna be six of the songs I'm gonna release. As we speak, they're being transferred from 8-track to Pro-tool. And I'm gonna go into the studio and brush them up a little bit add a few things here and there but basically they're almost ready to be released now. It's raw, but it's real. It's really real.
IB: So that wasn't the songs George Duke produced?
NMB: No, that's another set of songs. After that first band I put together, I reformed Gregarious Movement and we started playing again and that's when George called me and asked me to join his band. The reason I left Frank was because I told him I'd stay with him for about four or five years no less than four, no more than five and it ended up about four years and it was time to go. He was having some internal conflict with Herb Cohen they were getting ready to separate and it was affecting the band too. So I thought it was a good time to leave.
IB: So you went away and worked with your own band.
NMB: Yeah, I started playing with Gregarious Movement again after I'd recorded my originals and put them away in the vault. Because it wasn't time to release them then. The record companies would never have given me a contract for that music because it wasn't mainstream. You'll hear it; I plan to release it this summer. I'm gonna sell them at concerts and on the Internet.
IB: If it's your music, you're free to do that.
NMB: That's the beauty about that. I'm going to copyright it to protect it with the Library of Congress. I'm gonna put it out and if you like one song, then I'll be happy. Anyway, George asked me to join his band, and I accepted. He had Leon Ndugu Chancler on drums, Sheila E on percussion; Josie James was female lead vocalist, Byron Miller on bass, and Charles "Icarus" Johnson on guitar. I thought `Here's another nice opportunity for me.' I knew I'd already made history with Frank, because by the time I went to that audition, I'd checked him out and I learned he was a genius. And I said "Thank you." Here's an opportunity for me to get into the music business with someone who's really respected in the industry away from the top 40, away from the mainstream. Here's something that has cult status. Most music you like today and it's gone tomorrow. But this kind of stuff will go on forever. Then I heard about his European connection and how much the people in Europe loved him, and I thought `I've never been to Europe before. This is my destiny.' And George asked me to do in his band what I did in Frank's which was to be the front man, do a lot of dancing around, and doing lead vocals. Which I didn't understand because I thought George had one of the most beautiful voices I'd ever heard in my life why did he want me to sing lead vocals?
IB: Well, some of the songs you do together `Village Of The Sun'
NMB: This is true. So you know. He was thinking of the order of what you're saying: creating with his own music the kind of vocal camaraderie that we had developed within Frank's band. So I went `Okay, I understand that.' And the first thing we did was an album. And I thought `Okay, that's a good way to get started.' And he had me singing most of the songs which weren't his style. They were his creation, but they weren't for his voice. He has a very pure, natural falsetto. Not many people have that, but George Duke does. I'd give my eyeteeth to have that. And if I had his voice too! So I joined his band, did a few albums, did a few tours. It was destiny, too. And that stuff is now coming full circle now the opportunity is now coming for me to utilise that. What better way to go out to a ready made audience people who love George Duke, and people who love Frank Zappa sing the songs that they love and stick mine in the middle. If they like me, then they'll like my music too, I hope.
IB: How did you get back with Frank?
NMB: Frank called me in 83 and he says "Listen, I'm doing this Broadway play called Thing-Fish, and I've got a part here that's perfect for you. Would you like to come down and audition for it?" I said "Sure, why not?" So I went down and said, "What's the part?" He says, "It's called the Evil Prince." And he told me all about it. And I said, "Oh, wait a minute that's the character that we created when we used to do `The Torture Never Stops'." He said, "That's right. You're perfect for the part." I said "Okay, well where's the music?" And he said, "Well, I haven't written it yet. I was waiting for you to come here." And he described the Evil Prince as this part time theatrical critic and mad scientist who was hired by the Government to create this vaccine, this stuff called Galoot Cologna. And what it really is is AIDS.
IB: And this was really before it was full blown.
NMB: Yeah. And his theory was that the Government hired these scientists to create it to get rid of gay people. And the way they wanted to find out if this serum or whatever it was worked, was to try it on prisoners in state penitentiaries. And if they died, that means they were gay, and if they lived they weren't gay but they turned into what they call a Mammy Nun: they've got a head like a potato, a mouth like a duck, feet like a duck, and they dressed in nun outfits. And they talked like Ike Willis. That was the side effect of the drug it didn't kill you, but it turned you into a Mammy Nun. Anyway, this scientist the Government hired, he was called the Evil Prince but he was a mad scientist, a part time theatrical critic and a fake opera singer. And he said, "This is the character." Now Frank knew that I used to work in light opera and you know: light opera, fake opera singer - that kind of goes together. And he knows there had been times where I had used my little opera voice (demonstrates). So he knew I could do this before he called me, but he made it like "You want to try out for this?" But knowing all the time that he wrote it with me in mind. So after going through all the stuff together that we would do together in his studio as far as singing, and things like that he'd send everybody else home and say "Okay, come on, into my studio to the piano, and we're gonna do the song `That Evil Prince'. He says "Bring your tape recorder" which I always did. And I put it on. And he says "Here are the lyrics, now I'm gonna play the notes. I'm creating it right now and I need you to tape it so you can learn it, and when you come back I'll have the tracks ready and you can sing on it." So he played one line at a time, then I'd record it. And that's how we did the whole song. And it's a very long song. Have you heard the album Thing-Fish?
IB: Of course!
NMB: Then you know `That Evil Prince'. But did you hear the one called `Amnerika'?
NMB: And that one too, the same way.
IB: I've never heard you sing that. I've seen the lyrics and I've heard someone else sing them, but Frank only ever released Synclavier and orchestral versions.
NMB: I don't know why he didn't put it on there because it's brilliant. You've got to hear me sing it, and then you'll appreciate it more.
IB: So will you be doing that live when you tour?
NMB: If I can get a band to learn it (laughs), the music's quite difficult. (To his friend, Cathy) I played it for you yesterday, remember? This is one thing about me with Frank: I used to tape everything. And so actually I'm going to do it on tour with Bogus Pomp and Project Object; I'm going to have them learn it. Because no one knows about it; you've heard the music, but there's no vocal performance. And you haven't really heard it until you've heard me sing it. Because we created it together. I mean, I still have the tape and it's funnyit's so funny. I mean him and I are cracking up. I'm laughing, and he's laughing because he's putting this melody to those words. "You're crazy!" and he's going "Yeah. Isn't it cool!"
IB: And it is a beautiful melody.
NMB: Oh, it's an incredible melody. I started touring with Project Object and playing with Bogus Pomp and I had them both learn `That Evil Prince' and the people just go crazy they can't imagine it. Because they never thought they'd ever hear it. And so that song in particular from the album Thing-Fishas a matter of fact, no one's doing anything from the album Thing-Fish live. And there is a live version that I did from that small tour I did with the 84 band. I did the small tour of America and I sang it then. And after he had Ray White sing it. He did all right, you know (laughs).
IB: I was going to ask you about the 84 tour. As you say, it was a short tour for you.
NMB: Yeah, I could only do the short American leg. I couldn't do Europe and the rest of the tour. When we got back together for the Thing-Fish album and some things for Them Or Us, Frank said "Why don't you come and do the tour with us?" And I said, "Well I can't do the whole thing, but I'll do what I can."
IB: I don't think he released any recordings from that early part of the tour. He's released lots from the subsequent part, and I have to say it's some of my least favourite stuff. So I'd loved to have heard you with them.
NMB: He was trying so hard to keep them happy. I was playing flute, alto sax, tenor sax, and baritone sax. So I wasn't doing a lot of singing.
IB: And after the 84 tour, you lived in England for a while?
NMB: Yeah, I came over here with my wife and stayed with her for a while. And then I wrote a lot of other songs.
IB: I heard a story that you were training poodles!
NMB: No! English Staffordshire pit bull terriers. And they all carried two tennis balls in their mouths which will be the cover of my CD.
IB: So there's that old conceptual continuity thing dogs figure hugely in Zappa's work.
NMB: Yeah. I had raised dogs before I met Frank. German shepherds. I love dogs. I love intelligent animals. And I know that animals are more intelligent than most people think they are. I would raise these animals, and I would train them, and I would give them to my relatives and friends to protect them, and to protect their children. I would raise English Staffordshire pit bull terriers. And at that time, pit bulls in the United States were getting a bad rap. And so I would raise them with children and cats. And their signature was they would all carry two tennis balls in their mouths. I have video footage of these dogs playing with kids, and sleeping with cats. And one day I plan to use that in my videos that I will make. I will use this footage to show peopleI was on a mission, I was gonna do a project, I was gonna do a documentary to show people that these dogs the ones that are bad it's not the dogs, it's the people that raised them. And that's what I was doing then. And at the same time I was writing a bunch of originals more music. That's what I was doing; I never worked with poodles. I think poodles are stupid (laughs). No, they're not as intelligent as English Staffordshire pit bull terriers.
IB: Okay. So how did you come to link up with Bogus Pomp?
NMB: All this time I was writing music, and I was waiting for the right time. Because I believe timing is the most important element of anything that has yet to evolve. You must prepare yourself and be ready. But you must wait until the time is right. Bogus Pomp had this guy looking for me. This girl that I was going with at the time, her sister wanted to find out who I was. She was trying to protect her sister, and she wanted to find out who her new boyfriend was. So she went on the Internet. She called her sister and asked, "Do you know who you're going out with?" She said, "Sure. I'm going out with Napoleon." "No, do you know who he is?" "Yeah. He plays in a night club at the weekends" She says, "Well, no. Not just that. Listen, I'm gonna send you some stuff off the Internet." Anyway, the guy who was looking for me also searched the Internet all the time and he saw that my girlfriend's sister was trying to find out about me and he called her and got my address. And he sent me this long letter. It was so sincere, that I called him. He sent me a CD and a video, and said they'd love me to play with them. So I checked them out. At first I said "No". I have to rehearse with someone before I can decide whether I want to play with them or not. Anyway, I figured that with a little coaching from myself because they have to play the music right I figured this would be a good opportunity for me to get out there and play this music again. They don't play long tours, and I thought it would be quite good.
IB: And then you played with Project Object and, more recently, the ANT-BEE.
NMB: Yes, I have a beneficial relationship with Billy James. We both believe in the same things. We believe in destiny. We believe in fate. And we believe that fate brought us together for something that's very important for both of our futures. We're very excited about it, and he's really helping me a lot. Without him, I wouldn't be here with you.
IB: That's true. So next it's the Grandmothers West. I assume that came about through working with Project Object?
NMB: Well Billy put me in touch with Don Preston again.
IB: Of course, you two played together in the Roxy band.
NMB: That's right. Anyway, we'll be playing some dates in Germany in the summer. And I think all of these things and the Live In Australia album, the Roxy DVD are making it the right time for me to get back into music full time. I've looked after myself, and my voice is now more disciplined, more maturejust better. And I know what works and what doesn't. I have another CD planned with more originals that I recorded with Ed Mann and Peter Wolf. Some of that is pretty wild and probably closer to Frank's music than anything else I've done.
IB: Well, I'll look forward to hearing that, and seeing you at Zappanale. Can I have your final thoughts on Frank.
NMB: The last time I spoke to Frank was when I finished the 84 tour. But we were still friends. I'll never forget creating songs like `Kreegah Bandolo' with him me on alto sax, him on guitar. And overdubbing George's vocal on `Village Of The Sun' for the Roxy album. A lot of people don't realise that that's all me, because you can harmonise best with your own voice. On `Inca Roads' on One Size Fits All, George sang that solo, but on the Dub Room Special video we sang it as a duet. I also remember taking various women through some of the songs for the Hunchentoot project. Did he ever release that?
IB: Well, some of it turned up on the Sleep Dirt and Them Or Us albums, but that's about it. Thana Harris finally did the female vocals, and she'll be performing some of those songs at Zappanale with Mike Keneally and Don Preston.
NMB: Well, he had me sing the songs for these women, then we would do them together, then they would sing them on their own and it was like "Next!" He was such a hard taskmaster.
Thanks to Andrew Greenaway for permission to reprint this text and please visit the Idiot Bastard himself.
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