Train Wrecks & Solo Toilets – The Life Of Bogus Pomp
[Hallowe’en videos courtesy of Dennis Syrja]
We sat down with Rick Olson of Bogus Pomp to talk about the nearly 25-year-long life of a band.
Bogus Pomp is a Frank Zappa repertoire band out of St. Petersburg, Florida. They have played all over the world, and they have played with orchestras both in the United States and in Europe. They started in the 1990s and recently played their final show at Skipper’s Smokehouse after almost 25 years. This article is the result of a very long conversation about what it was like to have such a long and storied career with a band playing some of the most demanding music there is. It was August of 1994 when Rick Olson approached Jerry Outlaw about playing some music.
Olson takes over from here:
There was never really a plan or preconceived concept of what we wanted to do… Probably a lot of bands start just with that — two people saying “let’s play some music together.” We were sitting in my home studio jamming on Jimi Hendrix songs or whatever, and it was basically like “Hey do you know ‘Pygmy Twilight’?” We sort of said, “What would happen if we got a bass player and a drummer and put together some Zappa music and played it somewhere?”
There was a local music magazine, Players or Jam, same magazine but it changed names at some point. The managing editor was Bill Templeton. Known guy. They used to put blurbs out about who was doing what. Bill put about a square inch blurb that Rick and Jerry were doing something with Zappa music. Alex Pasut, bass player, read that. He called the magazine and asked how to get a hold of these guys in the magazine. They gave him Jerry’s number. We invited him over, and we recorded a version of “Keep It Greasy” with a drum machine. We had actually started out thinking we would just do it with a drum machine. We played “Keep It Greasy” over the phone for Alex. Shortly after we realized we needed a drummer, so we recruited Tom McCowan. We rehearsed for a month to put together an hour set.
Dolores Telescope offered an opening slot at Mr Joe’s in Madiera Beach on Halloween of 1994. Ronnie Dee sat in on that set for one song. Showed up in the middle of the song he was supposed to solo on – “The Torture Never Stops.” He stepped over the railing right about at the time he was supposed to take his solo. The timing was perfect.
What we didn’t expect was the response. A LOT of people showed up. I remember in front of the bandstand there were tripods and recorders and video cameras. It looked like a press conference! Dolores Telescope had their following, but there were a lot of people there to check out this new band playing Frank Zappa’s music. I remember they ran out of beer! They had to send someone to the grocery store to go buy a few cases of beer for the bar. Turns out our audience is a drinking crowd. After that we thought we should make something out of this. To do that though we wanted a horn section and a mallet player. That’s what the music required.
We played at Club Detroit after the new year. The very next year, 1995, was the first Zappaween at Jannus Landing. Zappaween 1. We only played maybe three gigs, but we rehearsed a LOT.
The first year we were a quartet. We talked about horn sections and what could we do. So we put a note up on the bulletin board in the hallway of the music department at St. Pete College. We thought we might get some students interested. Turns out Dave Manson, who is one of the department heads, called and said he’d like to get involved in this. In fact, he even put together the horn sections and was instrumental in making sure we had… we went through a series of horn players over the years… he brought in the horn players for us. He put together the charts and all that. So he really became much more than we ever thought it would.
Somewhere’s about ‘96 or so we got our first mallet player. A guy named Greg Grades, a USF student. He was with us for a short while. We went and played in Boston. Then Dave Coash came along by way of the connections we had made with Manson. George Bernardo played drums and mallets with us. Once we did that we stuck with the three-horn horn section, mallets, etc. I think in ‘97 we picked up Ross <Jobson> so we had two keyboards. There were an awful lot more voices that we needed. Zappa’s music a lot of times would have more than one keyboard player. The stuff we were doing required more than we had voices for. I had a lot to do back there! Having Ross there made a huge difference. He’s more of a pianist. He did a lot of those heavy piano parts.
It progressed of course, but we knew we were on to something right away but after the first Zappaween, which became an event really, we had our sound. That first Zappaween was really something. This was at the old Jannus Landing – the old dark and scary Jannus Landing. We had two big trucks full of gear – sound gear and lights. We had to do everything. It was just a stage, really, with lots of trash underneath. It was a really well-attended show and we thought “Alright, this is something.”
Zappa’s music is complicated to play. There were a lot of times when we would listen to a song and say, “We want to do this song, but Good Lord! How?” but then a few months later we’d have it in the can, and it sounded good so that gave us a lot of momentum to go forward. We can listen to a song that when you first hear it you can’t even stitch it together in your mind, but when you really start to sit down and pull it apart you can find a way.
There were two things we realized we had to do. We had to do the best we could to play the music correctly. It was never perfect but how do you play this tightly, correctly… as close to how you would do it if you had a chance to record it. That’s what Frank insisted on. We were kind of following his philosophy on what to do. But then you also have to sound like a live band when you play it live. There’s something about playing live where the audience is involved in the music and it sounds like it’s organic. It sounds like it’s coming out of you as if you didn’t rehearse it. You hear bands playing this stuff sometimes it comes across in such a way that you aren’t thinking, “Man, they must have spent a long time learning that song!” because it sounds really organic. So the question was “How do you be exceedingly well rehearsed but still sound kind of jammy? How do you bring that live but make it sound natural and unforced when actually it’s very unnatural and very forced and you’re sweating over these little bits and pieces that you are going to play?”
The Zappa audience, whom we were lucky enough to have come and see us, they are very demanding. They know this music really well. They know these tunes. We took a lot of liberties with them. We tried to make the tunes of Zappa’s that we played into our own versions, but you have to stick to a certain philosophy of how he did it. You’re not dumbing it down. You have to play it correctly, but THEN once you can play it correctly you can take some liberties with it instead of the other way around: instead of playing it differently because you can’t do it correctly. There are some things we abandoned because we played it a few times, and it’s just too much.
MFN: How do you keep a live performance fresh after doing this for 23 years?
There are certain things that over time become sort of ground in. Carved in stone the way you do certain things. What keeps it fresh… if you play in a bar band or typical cover band… you almost get to the point where you never have to rehearse because everyone just knows the songs. They are basic straight-ahead tunes or whatever. If you don’t constantly rehearse Zappa music, it drains out of you a lot quicker. We had over 100 songs in our repertoire, but we might do 35 at a given full four-hour show. If you come back to a song six months later, you are relearning it from scratch. It comes back quicker than when you originally learned it, but it’s almost a new experience. There are some songs that we’ve relearned a dozen times. We might decide to throw a song back into a show, and the first time we run through it, it is horrible. We’ve all forgotten it. Last time we played it – it was perfect. That’s just the way the tunes are. So that’s one way things stay fresh. The other thing that keeps it fresh is we put spontaneity into it. There are a lot of things that we did that sound like it was part of the arrangement, but we were lost! Improvisation not on purpose! Improvisation as a way to find your way back. It happens more in live music than people think.
Other times we might just take a song and say “OK, from here to here, we’ll decide what we are going to do when the moment comes.” There was a moment when we were playing at the Mahaffey Theater, one of the orchestra shows, right after Don Martin from Mad Magazine had died. We decided to do a little tribute to Don Martin. We weren’t quite sure what it was going to be. Napoleon Murphy Brock (from Zappa’s ’73-’74 band) was in the band at the time. We thought we’d do “What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body” and segue into “Black Napkins.” When it ended up happening, and Jerry just gets up to the microphone and says “A tribute to the greatest cartoonist ever – Don Martin. ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!” We had NO idea where that was going to lead! It just became this… a minute on stage time is a long time…. It became this minute-long total train wreck. Just everybody going off and doing whatever. Then it kind of died down, and there was this exchange of percussion back and forth, some bird chirping. Then we somehow found our way into the tunes we wanted to do. When you listen to the playback of the show it sounds like it was exactly what we intended to do, but we had no idea what was happening. It starts to become something that we can all connect with. We tried to perfect the art of the train wreck. The train wreck is a beautiful thing. Depending on how austere the audience is there is a direct correlation between the austerity of the audience and the length of the train wreck.
Another example of keeping things fresh is doing different things in different ways. For example, at Jannus Landing there used to be a lot of junk underneath the stage. The stage was all just scaffolding and plywood. There was an old toilet under there. We dragged that toilet out of there and put it up on the stage. We used a lot of non-music stage theatrics. Things happening on stage. For this particular gig, if you were listening to the recording you wouldn’t know what’s going on, but if you were watching – we had one of those blow-up sex dolls with a gas mask and a dildo all attached to it and Ward <Smith> was shoving her head in the toilet… all this debauchery. We decided it was going to be the ‘Solo Toilet.’ We put it down at the front of the stage, and if it was your turn to do a solo, you would walk over and plop down on the toilet. I did a harmonica solo during that set. So things that we decided to do were just because we wanted to have fun. We didn’t want to just stand there and play. We had a lot of ideas that we couldn’t possibly do.
When we played Mahaffey we wondered what it would look like it we dropped about a hundred chickens from the catwalk up there with strobe lights all over. A chicken drop! It would just be total pandemonium in the place. Well, chickens can’t fly, and there’s probably something illegal about it so… but we would think of things like that. Most of it we never did. There were things we did do though like video screens in the background or we made a life-sized doll out of bedsheets called Joey Dangerous. It was stuffed with what we called ‘Bogus Pomp Trailmix.’ It was mostly crushed-up newspaper but also condoms, cough drops and Halloween candy. We threw that out over the crowd at a Zappaween. It crowd-surfed for a while. Then it finally just disappeared into the crowd, and it just basically exploded. Stuff everywhere! Walking around after the show there were condom wrappers, candy wrappers and cough drop wrappers just all over the place. The question of ‘What happened here?!’ is great.
So anyway, we kept it fresh by just mixing things up like that but also by changing the arrangements a lot. Frank would do this – he would have a tune where he would insert something in the middle of, like another song. There’s a song called “Dupree’s Paradise” where he would insert bits of classical pieces. We did the same thing – “1812 Overture,” The “Carmen” theme – little vignettes in the middle. You have the license to do whatever you want with some of those… We would sometimes throw in the “Mission Impossible” theme, segue into “Chattanooga Choo Choo” or something like that, and then go back into the song. Mixing it up that way kind of keeps things fresh, too.
MFN: Zappa’s music is very precise, very specific. How did Bogus Pomp come to the idea of fusing together various versions of a song into one composition when you play it live? You’ve said before that you might insert the 1994 live version of a guitar solo into a song that is otherwise based on the 1974 arrangement, etc.
Well the good thing about it is Frank did the same thing. If you study Frank’s catalog – which I think if you study Frank’s catalog from end-to-end you deserve a degree of some sort. A Master’s Degree in Frank-ology! So much of what he did way in the beginning – I’m talking like the mid-60s – were the same tunes that were so well developed years later. If you listen to the album Uncle Meat there are like 10 different versions of “King Kong” on that one album. He would keep trying new ways of doing the same songs. The same songs from his formative years would be developed over time, and you would see how he was mixing things up. He’s actually calling on parts from other songs to become a central part of other songs. So he was really cutting things up and putting them back together again. What we had was the ability, we had this whole discography… before he died he released himself about 70 albums. Then there are all the bootlegs, recordings of full concerts. So what you can do is say, “Well we like the intro from this version, we like the arrangement of this version, but let’s do the solo section from this other version. While we are at it, let’s just throw something of our own, a twist.”
Then there are the segues which are a really important part of Frank’s music. It’s very much of a standout part. You segue 45 minutes worth of music together. Those little segues are like little compositions. What they do are get you from one piece to the next in a seamless way. Frank was famous for that. So we did that because that’s what he did with his music. We would play maybe five or six pieces… we used to call it a slab… we would say, “We’re gonna do the Cleveland Slab.” That was “Let’s Move To Cleveland” with a whole bunch of other stuff, and then maybe we would hit the head on the way out of it 45 minutes later. That was what Frank did, so that was what we did. So you have a lot of leeway to pick and choose how you’re going to assemble arrangements. It’s almost expected that you should do that instead of trying to copy everything.
In fact, that raises a point I’d like to make particular note of: We were not a tribute band. We were not a cover band. We were a repertoire band. Here’s the difference: If you’re a Kiss tribute band, Kiss is one band. They have their thing – it’s one band. As a tribute band you would try to recreate who they were. If you were sitting in the audience watching this you’d be thinking ‘I know this is other guys, but this feels like a Kiss show’ or Pink Floyd or whomever. Zappa was a composer. You could say there are orchestras that specialize in Mozart. No one calls them a Mozart tribute orchestra though! They just focused on the work of a composer. Every tour Frank had a different band. Aside from the earliest years when he had The Mothers he was just Frank Zappa. In fact many of his concerts he spent most of the time just conducting the members of the band. So we like to say that we are a repertoire ensemble that focuses on the work of a specific 20th century composer – Frank Zappa. It’s not like tribute act is a bad word, and I understand why it’s used but that’s our differentiation. There’s no one in the band with the mustache or anything.
What we would do is, there are a couple of eras of Zappa’s music and we would focus on a specific era. There was the Superband Era. That’s probably our favorite era. That was the ’73-’74 Era with George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock, the Fowler Brothers. The album that is the epitome of that era is One Size Fits All. Then there was the Wazoo era which was before that, when he got into his big band thing. The Grand Wazoo kind of epitomizes that. Then there’s the later ’70s up to Joe’s Garage that I would call the Baby Snakes era. Adrian Belew was in the band, Terry Bozzio. Most of what we focused on was the Superband Era. There were a whole bunch of albums in the early ’80s that were really vocal heavy, like Them Or Us. Then there were albums that came out that stood alone, like Thingfish. Thingfish was an opera. It was really dark. We covered a couple of themes off that. Mostly though it was the early ’70s, from 1970 to 1975. A few things we liked from the Joe’s Garage era, but the superband era was our favorite. We got to have Napoleon Murphy Brock and Ike Willis play with us at different times. A few other alumni members played with us: Robert Martin, Jimmy Carl Black and Eugene Chadbourne at the same time. I was amazed at how well Eugene Chadbourne plays Zappa’s music on banjo! We also got Denny Walley.
There are hair-standing up moments we’ve had with this band. Denny Walley was a slide-guitar player. He has such a unique, heavy tone. We went up to Atlanta, to play and he played with us. He had this Telecaster that had this big sort of oven-knob on the back of it. Signatures all over it. It was the guitar he played on Bongo Fury. I’m looking at it and thinking, “This is the guitar that I listened to in high school. That nasty slide guitar tone. THIS is that instrument!.” I asked him about the knob on the back, and he said Frank had it modified. He wanted Denny to be able to blend between a tele sound and a Gibson tone. So he had guys mod this. And I realized that’s why his slide guitar tone sounds like no one else. It just has this one-of-a-kind sound. And there it was. We were playing “Advanced Romance,” and he’s doing the solo, and it’s the exact tone!!
When we first played with Napolean – he hadn’t really been playing much for years. We flew him down here. He played with us at The Mahaffey Theater. No one really knew he was here. Mahaffey had a good attendance that night. The theater has a curtain that opens so you have that good drama. You listen to the tape you hear when the curtain opens the audience yells and cheers and then it starts to die down. Then you hear the audience roar again. The song was “Son Of Orange County.” Napoleon comes walking out of the gloom after the song started, and everyone realized who it was as he came out. I remember sitting there in the back and listening to him singing these songs that I listened to in high school. There are those moments that are seared into you. Here he is, right in front of me. We got to have a few of those types of moments.
MFN: As you grew in popularity and notoriety, you started touring around the country and even around the world. As you gained this level of attention, did you encounter any obstacles from, say, the Zappa family or other issues that arise from playing someone else’s material?
For the vast majority of our gigs, we really still just were a “St. Pete group.” We played at Skipper’s and stuff, but we were a St. Pete band, and we were proud of that. We didn’t travel really. There’s another band – they are all friends of ours – called Project/Object. They were doing kind of the same thing, but they were from New York. They were a bunch of guys in a van travelling in a van across the country. They got a lot more crap from Gail <Zappa>, intimidation-wise, than we ever did. We would get a cease-and-desist letter every now and then from her. In fact we got one one time – a demand letter – where it said we needed to send her every photograph, every video tape, every CD, every piece of recorded and photographed material that we had and send it all to her. Everything we’ve ever produced. She demanded it be crated up and sent to her. Our response was a legal version of ‘fuck you,’ because there’s nothing she could do. What we found out was that when we played venues, either the venue paid ASCAP fees or we did if we had rented the plays. The reason you have ASCAP and BMI is so that there can be cover bands. Now there was a time at the beginning of it where she was actually OK with it. She said we couldn’t use the phrase ‘The music of Frank Zappa’, but we could use the phrase ‘Frank Zappa’s music’. <Ed Note: Insert moment of silence and blank stares at each other here> Don’t ask me why. It’s just a thing, and I guess to her there’s a difference. I think one implies a stronger sense of ownership. She kind of gave us her blessing. I think as she really started to hear about us she became a little bit more tough to deal with. She would send us cease-and-desist letters. She was doing the same thing to Project/Object and others. She would intimidate the venues.
Gail sued the Zappanale Festival in Germany, because their logo is a bird, but it’s a moustache and little beard. But she lost that, and now they own it. We even had to rent the musical scores from her for the orchestral shows. The first show they showed up the day of the first rehearsal. It was a mess, too. They showed up in a box all a mess. So that led to us creating our own orchestra book. We had met Tom Trapp. He’s this young kid (at the time); we were playing Tropical Heatwave. This kid comes up to us and says, “Hey I’m Tom. I’m a drummer. I want to play in your band.” I invited him to come play with us. He shows up at my house. He brought this drum kit with him, this piece of crap kit. Like powder blue-painted thing. He sets it up and he says, “What would you guys like to play?” I forget what we said; I think Jerry called out a tune. Tom says, “What version? The original version, the ’72 version, ’77 version, the one off the bootleg or what?” We kept throwing songs at him, and he knew every version of every song. So we said, yeah, you can play in the band.
Drums was his third instrument. One night he brought over to my house one of those long file boxes. Opened it up, and it was full front-to-back of sheet music. They were chamber orchestra compositions that he had handwritten himself! So here’s an 18-year-old kid with this huge collection. So we asked him if he’d consider writing us a book. We had tunes we wanted to orchestrate. We paid him, but it was a fraction of what an arranger would actually get paid. It took him about three months, but he came out with parts for all the players in the orchestra and a big fat conductor’s score. It’s about a 500-page conductor’s score written for 24 pieces. In 2003 we played a big concert at Tampa Theater. We had this whole orchestra group together. We had a conductor fly in for this. After the rehearsal the cello player comes up and said the charts were flawless. He even has page turns at different parts in the music for different instruments. We still have all that stuff. Now he’s moved to the Netherlands, he’s part of the Metropole Orkest (Orchestra), and looks like Beethoven.
There was the rock band, then there was the Chamber Music Bogus Pomp Orchestra, then we had the Bogus Pomp Acoustic Band. The idea of that was that there were no electric instruments. No instruments that required electricity to play. Ross played a piano. I played a pump organ and a melodica. It really did sound good. You can hear it on our soundcloud page Soundcloud/bogus-pomp. Not only the rock band stuff plus the orchestra stuff plus the acoustic stuff. So that’s how we kept it fresh over the years; we just kept trying new things.
MFN: Bands are like families – they are living organisms, and things aren’t always perfectly smooth. After years and years of playing, I assume there were struggles along the way, yes?
From time to time, like anybody would, we had our moments. But we were arguing over what we were playing. There was never really any personal drama. There was never that animosity really. We all loved each other. We got along great. We spent more time joking around than we did any issues. We had a good time! We did have some artistic differences, but compared to what it could be it was extremely mild. The vast majority of the time we hung together, we played together, we screwed things up royally together, we hit it hard and tight together. But we always worked well together. What I think is weird about it is everybody is from different backgrounds, and you don’t usually see those kinds of people in the same band. For instance, Jerry (Outlaw) and I – we are just bar-band rock-and-rollers, you know? Then you’ve got guys like (Dave) Coash and David Manson… Manson has a PhD, and so does Coash. These guys are orchestral musicians. David Pate – jazz musicians, orchestral musicians. They don’t play in rock bands. But they played in this one because Frank’s music requires all those different disciplines. I think maybe we all got along so well because we all came from different parts of the music world. Also because there was NO, I mean ZERO, substance abuse in the band, ever. There was no drinking other than the occasional beer at the bar, no drunks, nobody smoked. It just was no drama, no issues, no substance issues was a thing in the band.
MFN: Reading through various articles and interviews that exist, I was noticing four or five pieces that cover about ten years all at one point or another mention something along the lines of “This may be the last Bogus Pomp concert!” Was there a constant threat of breaking up or this ride coming to an end, or was that all just wild media speculation?
There were a few times, and I don’t think it’s an unusual thing, where we thought that we had done everything we intended to do. Where we thought, “Have we had enough of this?” We would have that conversation from time to time. Sometimes it would kind of get out. But we always said we would never say this is it, because we didn’t want to carve anything in stone. There was also speculation simply because we would go a long time without playing. For example 2004 we didn’t play a gig between Zappaween events. But this last time we talked about it – we made it so. We decided this was it.
MFN: Did it make it difficult to keep this large ensemble cohesive when there is talk like that going around?
We talked about those kinds of things actually quite a bit. You can kinda take the pulse of the room though, and you would know very quickly that everybody is still really liking this. Sometimes things would come along that would give us a renewed sense of enthusiasm. After we’d already gone through and done all the Orchestral shows, and we’ve played with numerous alumni, we were kind of wondering what to do next. Then came Germany and the Zappanale Festival. We were invited to come to Germany to play this festival devoted to Frank Zappa’s music and the music in the vein of Zappa. Those three trips to Germany really kept us motivated.
MFN: So what do you think it was that finally started winding this down?
I think it’s different things for different people. It takes a lot of energy to keep this up. It takes a lot of practice and time. It’s been 23 years. Dogs don’t even live that long. Early shows people would bring their teenaged kids. Now those kids are bringing THEIR teenaged kids. For me personally I didn’t want to fade away. I didn’t want to rot on the vine. I think we all together decided, “When would be a better time?”
MFN: Was there one specific conversation where that came up, or was it more of a general organic realization?
I think the closest we came that was… we did… we had 23 years of history. We did 21 Zappaweens. Zappaween was an institution. Every Saturday before Halloween, everyone knew Zappaween was coming. We missed a year around Zappaween 10, which was a bummer. We got bumped at the last minute by The State Theater. They had a contract with some management company and didn’t have a choice. That was unfortunate, but it happened. Then we did Zappaween 20 in 2015, but then I was diagnosed with cancer, and that took over so we missed 2016. But I’m still here! So we kind of thought that we were kind of finished. We didn’t do any gigs or anything else at all. I was still playing with Jerry <Ed Note: a band called The Hubb Tones>, and this past spring Jerry wondered aloud about doing one more Zappaween. I said, “Yeah and let’s see if any of the other guys were interested.” Skipper’s offered us Saturday night; we’ve always done well there. Everyone was pretty into it. Jerry can be a really persuasive guy. He definitely has that skill. Then our drummer broke his thumb. We’re in the middle of rehearsal, and our drummer only has one hand. And we’re not doing Def Leppard tunes! So we had to scramble around, and it became this other thing where we started looking to bring in some of our other drummers we’ve had over the years. So we had that kind of blast-from-the-past of our old guys. Coash couldn’t do it because he had an orchestra gig, but he showed up at the very end, so it became a good time to make it official. We called it ‘Zappaween 21: 21 and done!’ There is a consensus now that this is done. Although there is a little bit of the post-partum ‘Is it really over?’ When I look at this band and all of the things… it’s humbling. So much of what we did we never expected to ever happen. We’re just a bunch of local rock band guys. What we would do, though, is just say, “Gee, I wonder if we could play with the Florida Orchestra? Let’s ask ‘em!” and then they said, “Let’s talk about it.” Instead of wondering what could be, just ask. Give it a try. You never know. All they can say is no thanks. Or they may say it’s a great idea.
It’s still incredibly humbling. Our success was just the satisfaction of saying we just like to play Frank’s music in front of enough people to justify doing it. In the end that’s really all it was. Suppose we played at The State Theater and three or four hundred people come. We know a lot of the people and it’s almost like we’re all together in it for the same reason. It just happens to be we’re the ones holding the instruments and you’re the ones drinking and talking to each other and digging it, but we’re all there for the same reason. It’s almost like a big family gathering in a way, because we all have this shared interest in the subject matter. The intent was just to get together and have a bunch of fun and make Zappa noises.
MFN: The last note hits at Zappaween 21. What were your feelings?
It was emotional. We all were. It was hard to tell, because we were all having fun, and Jerry had pie all over his face. There was a lot of emotion that night. In some cases it was because a lot of us hadn’t gotten to play together in a long time. Like George Bernardo; he was back in the ’90s when he played with us. To be back there, him on drums, to be playing with George again. It made me emotional to think that how much I love those guys, and that among the band the feeling is mutual. We were like family. We were brought together by this project, but we went through a lot. Pretty much the same group for 23 years. I also think, though, it’s the big exhale. It’s running the race and crossing the finish line… it’s complete. I’d rather call it complete rather than over. It didn’t fall apart. It never deteriorated. It had to be freshly polished before every gig, but it never deteriorated. It was fairly well planned out, and the last gig was done in a way that was a good way to say goodbye. I have a dual sensation about this. I loved what we did for 23 years. I never in my life expected to do something like this, ever. I’m sure all the other guys in the band would say the same thing. We never expected it to be what it was. We enjoyed the ride. We all still love the music and still play it, but I think Bogus Pomp is happily retired now.
There’s so much in those 23 years… you could never really cover it all. So many experiences… I tell you what, though, more than anything else, it was an education. It was an incredible music education. We had to figure out how to play these songs. The first album I bought was Bongo Fury. I’ll never forget this – it sticks in my mind as a big moment. There’s a song on the album called “Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy.” It’s the second song on the record. He <Zappa> launches into a guitar solo, and it hit me like a hammer. I was like: THAT is guitar playing. Something grabbed me. Holy shit, I’ve never heard anything like it before. Then 20 years later saying let’s make a band to do this stuff. Seeing all that music again in a completely different way. He had this concept called Conceptual Continuity. There are multiple threads running through his entire body of work connecting it all together. Frank was above everything a melody writer. His chord changes were actually quite simple. Part of his genius was he focused so much on the melody. Sometimes they are brutally difficult because his sense of timing was just… More than anything what I got out of playing that all that time was an education that you can’t get in a classroom. You can only get it by spending so much time doing. Sort of exploring rather than being educated. Finding things yourself.
I hope somebody else around here comes along and does this. We practiced six, seven nights a week for like two years at my house. Every night those guys were there. We would agonize over it. We might spend an entire night on a two-bar phrase. These were long practices too, like 7 to midnight. We would play and play and play. Those first couple of years were what made the rest of it possible. That first really aggressive deep focus where we didn’t do anything else. We just practiced this stuff. That kind of set the stage for everything else after that. That gave us the head start we needed, the muscle memory, the understanding of what we were getting into. A few songs that we always wanted to do that we never got to. A couple things I had on my list that I really wanted to do, and we just never got around to doing them. My favorite pieces in the band were the big pieces. The “Inca Roads,” “Strictly Genteel.” They are really rewarding to play. There are a couple of those pieces, they are really hard to do. I would have loved to have done “Alien Orifice”. That’s a brutally difficult tune but I know we could have played it. Other songs like “Packard Goose.” I think Frank had something twelve or thirteen hundred compositions. You could go on forever saying we should do this, or this.
MFN: Any final thoughts?
I don’t know. I don’t want be all sappy or anything. I think I can probably speak for everybody in the band – we are both humble and grateful for people coming out and see us. People liking this music enough to see us have a go at it. I… I think that if someone doesn’t listen to Frank Zappa music I absolutely recommend listening to as much as you can. I think he’s one of the 20th century’s greatest composers. So it’s worth it to listen to his music.
MFN: One statement to sum up 23 years of Bogus Pomp?
We’ve had our fill. I was listening to Frank at work today, though! I will never stop listening, but the band Bogus Pomp has lived its natural life.
Rick Olson – Keyboard/Vox
Jerry Outlaw – Guitar/Vox
Ward Smith – Vox
Pat Buffo – Vox
Alex Pasut – Bass
David Coash – Vibe/Marimba/Percussion
David Pate – Saxophone/Flute
Royse Bassham – Drums
Jim Hall – Trombone