Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention – Whisky a Go Go, 1968 (Zappa/Ume)

Fifty-six years ago Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention threw a party and everybody came…or at least they had a really good time. Now, finally we can hear what went down on July 23, 1968 at the Whisky a Go Go.

Frank ZappaWhere were you on July 23, 1968? I was three days away from my 13th birthday and my first record…a 45 of Tiny Tim’s Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips. At the time I was completely unaware of Mr. Zappa and the sounds his Mothers made although, it turns out Tiny Tim does get a mention in the liner notes of this 3-CD set featuring almost three hours of live music performed by Frank and his band and his friends.

Zappa’s plan was to take over LA’s infamous Whisky a Go Go for a night, billing the evening as “Mothers Of Invention – Recording Session”. The show was to be recorded for a live album which, is finally, being released now. I will note that various bits and pieces have seen the light of day over the intervening years, but this is the first time for much of it.

The show went on for 5 hours with opening acts Alice Cooper and Wild Man Fischer (and a guy named Joe Piresanti).

The openers aren’t included here, although the Alice Cooper set has popped up elsewhere.

To give some perspective, The Mothers had just released their third album, We’re Only In It For The Money, a few months earlier, Zappa had just started his own label, Bizarre/Straight and signed Fischer and Alice Cooper, along with The G.T.O.’s (Girls Together Outrageously) who had just formed and never perform publicly before.

What could go wrong?

Fortunately, The Mothers were at full strength with original members such as Ray Collins, Roy Estrada and Jimmy Carl Black on board along with Don Preston, Ian Underwood and Bunk Gardner.

Frank ZappaThe show itself had been well-hyped with a huge line forming waiting to get in and “celebrities” such as Kim Fowley, John Mayall, members of The Turtles and The Rolling Stones allegedly in attendance. Fowley, of course, couldn’t resist jumping on stage and adding his vocals to a few songs. The others were called upon by Frank but never materialized.

Zappa, being something of a sound geek, made sure the show was recorded properly and now we can finally hear these live version of Mothers classics like Help, I’m A Rock, Hungry Freak, Daddy and Brown Shoes Don’t Make It in all their glory. And they do sound great!

Things did get loose on stage and there was much “jamming” which actually results in some of the sets finest moments as these were very good players, and Zappa demanded the best from them. The billing of this being a recording session made it possible for a few multiple takes, to meet Frank’s standards.

Sure, some of this is tedious and self-indulgent, but a lot of it is very, very good. For every doo-wop parody and piss-take of a teen hit, there are moments of pure brilliance. In fact, most of the highlights can be heard among the lengthy tracks titled Whisky Improvisation: Episode 1, 2 , 3.  Once this band starts cooking, there is no telling where they will go and that’s the joy of this package.

Along with the 3 discs we get liner notes from Zappa archivist Joe Travers and remembrances from two of the participants, Pamela Des Barres of The G.T.O.’s and a transcribed interview with Alice Cooper conducted by Frank’s son Ahmet who get into some interesting details about the making of the first Alice Cooper album, Pretties For You.

There’s something for everyone here…all you need is an open mind and a willingness to Freak Out!

…now where’s my Tiny Tim record?

Marty Duda

Whisky a Go Go, 1968 is released Friday, June 21st.

Watch this series of video clips: