One of the most exciting things about following Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention is the sheer amount of music there is to discover. Known for his meticulous nature, Zappa not only wrote prolifically but also archived a wealth of recorded material. He had a habit of selecting talented musicians who, outside of ‘The Mothers’ worked on other fantastic projects. The Mothers of Invention launched many musical ships and the four pillars of The Grandmothers of Invention: saxophonist and flautist Bunk Gardner, keys and electronics wizard Don Preston, percussionist and keys player Ed Mann and drummer/percussionist Chris Garcia – were captains and crew aboard several. Ahead of The Grandmothers of Inventions’ farewell tour and show at Band on the Wall on 24th April, where they’ll play an assortment of music from the Zappa catalogue, we bring you four pieces of related listening that hint at the brilliance of these respective musicians.
Geronimo Black – Geronimo Black
The Mothers of Invention welcomed Bunk Gardner to the fold after the recording of debut LP Freak Out, unleashing his woodwinds on the follow up record, Absolutely Free. Following changes to the Mothers’ line-up in the late sixties – he and original drummer Jimmy Carl Black came together in Geronimo Black, releasing an eponymous debut album in 1972. The project was short-lived, with guitarist Denny Walley suggesting the group were a little too rowdy for their management and label to handle. However, their sole statement to the world is a diverse and accomplished effort, featuring gritty vocals atop R&B grooves (not dissimilar in tone to those of Leon Russell or Captain Beefheart) as well as far-out cuts, beefy yet sprightly saxophone jaunts ala King Crimson and even tender moments that recall classical and folk styles. It’s a fun, groovy and diverse record that’s well worth a listen if you enjoy West Coast rock from the ‘67-’72 period.
Tim Buckley – Starsailor
The most retrospectively commended album on this list – Buckley’s Starsailor was something of an experimental turn for the singer-songwriter. It may’ve contained Song to the Siren, but was otherwise largely more relatable to jazz and avant-garde music fans. Bunk Gardner’s woodwinds contribute subtly to the sonic tapestry, with his playing most prevalent on penultimate cut The healing festival. It’s a stand-out work in Buckley’s discography and also testament to the versatility of musicians such as Gardner.
Repercussion Unit – In Need Again
The sound of Repercussion Unit is a distant cry from that of ‘60s and ‘70s Zappa, but Ed Mann’s opening composition Dream Toon draws a clear link between the band and Zappa’s writing for marimba. The harmonic relationships Ruth Underwood highlighted in her analysis of Rollo’s Interior are evident, giving elements of the track that Zappa sound. However, the soft synth pads, unusual meter and array of different percussion make it an exhilarating and altogether different listen to Zappa, which fans may find refreshing and rewarding.
The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie – The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie
After Frank Zappa sustained debilitating injuries at the hands of a fan in London, 1971, members of his group found themselves at an impasse. Flo & Eddie, the vocalists and songwriters who’d began their musical careers with The Turtles and joined The Mothers of Invention in 1970, decided to record an album for Reprise while Zappa recovered and recruited many of The Mothers to join them in doing so. Don Preston, who had been playing keyboards for The Mothers since late ‘66, stepped in to do the same for Flo & Eddie. The pair are known for their outlandish humour and that is a vital ingredient to the record, but it’s by no means a comedy album. Some serious chops and songwriting are on display, as are killer keyboard licks from Preston, such as the one that ushers in Goodbye Surprise.