The Class of 1970: The Mothers of Invention — ‘Weasels Ripped My Flesh’
1970 was a red-letter year for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. After five albums on the Verve label from 1966-68, Zappa took his business to Warner Brothers, creating his own Bizarre label and another called Straight. In 1969, The Mothers of Invention released the amazing double-album Uncle Meat and his landmark solo effort Hot Rats. All this occurred despite the fact that, by 1969, The Mothers had been disbanded.
As was Zappa’s habit, he kept a voluminous library of recorded music and studio tracks, which he intermixed in stunning permutations and combinations. That accounted for the three albums issued in 1970:
02/09/70 MOI: Burnt Weeny Sandwich — recorded 1967-69
08/10/70 MOI: Weasels Ripped My Flesh — recorded 1967-69
10/23/70 FZ: Chunga’s Revenge — recorded 1969-70
We’ll tackle these one at a time.
Zappa was kind enough to explain in the liner notes for Weasels Ripped My Flesh the sources for all the music:
Material contained herein represents different aspects of our work from 1967-1969.
DIDJA GET ANY ONYA was recorded live at the Philadelphia Arena 03/02/69.
PRELUDE TO THE AFTERNOON OF A SEXUALLY AROUSED GAS MASK was recorded live at Festival Hall in London 10/25/68.
The second half of TOADS OF THE SHORT FOREST was recorded at Thee Image in Miami 02/07-08/69.
GET A LITTLE was recorded at the Factory in the Bronx 02/13/69.
THE ORANGE COUNTY LUMBER TRUCK was recorded live at Festival Hall in London 10/25/68.
WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH was recorded live at a concert at Town Hall, Birmingham (England) 05/30/69.
DIRECTLY FROM MY HEART TO YOU was cut at T.T.G. in Hollywood 07/30/69.
The first part of TOADS OF THE SHORT FOREST was cut at Whitney Studios, Glendale 08/69.
ERIC DOLPHY MEMORIAL BARBECUE was cut at A&R Studios in New York 06/69.
DWARF NEBULA PROCESSIONAL MARCH & DWARF NEBULA was cut at Apostolic Studios in New York 12/67-02/68, along with OH NO.
MY GUITAR WANTS TO KILL YOUR MAMA is the original version from Criteria Studios in Miami 02/69 with final overdubs at T.T.G. and Whitney 08/69.
Frank Zappa, lead guitar, vocal (“My Guitar”); Ian Underwood, alto sax, clarinet, flute; Bunk Gardner, tenor sax; Motorhead Sherwood, baritone sax, snorks; Buzz Gardner, trumpet, fluegelhorn; Roy Estrada, bass, vocal (“Gas Mask”); Jimmy Carl Black, drums; Art Tripp, drums; Don Preston, piano, organ, electronic effects; Ray Collins, vocal (“Oh No”); Don “Sugarcane” Harris, electric violin, vocal (“Directly from My Heart to You”); Jimmy Carl Black, drums; and Lowell George, guitar, vocal ((“Didja Get Any Onya”)
That Iconic Cover
Cover first, music second. Wikipedia shared this paragraph from “the big nOte files,” Black Page. April 2005:
Frank Zappa recruited artist Neon Park to create a subversive image based on a cover story from the September 1956 issue of Man’s Life, a men’s adventure magazine. The magazine’s cover story depicts a shirtless man being attacked by numerous weasels, above the caption “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” After showing Neon a copy of the magazine, Zappa inquired, “This is it. What can you do that’s worse than this?” Neon’s answer was to craft a parody of an advertisement for Schick brand electric razor based on the “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” theme.
One more thing: Park stylized the art after album covers such as Tony Martin’s 10-inch album on Mercury. And we will recall that, on Zappa’s appearance on Miami Vice as a drug baron, he referred to cocaine as ‘weasel dust.’
Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Zappa’s love of avant-garde jazz and classical music is well known. The jazz jumps out immediately on “Didja Get Any Onya,” Buzz Gardner’s trumpet playing over complex percussion. Underwood on alto (or Bunk Gardner on tenor) makes a series of honks as Preston’s organ accompanies. Estrada lays down a great bass line, and then George (later with Little Feat) begins some vocalizing, followed by an odd story told in a German accent. There are several tempo changes, and at the end George and Estrada harmonize… after a fashion. This sort of performance event was de rigueur for the Mothers of that period.
“Directly from My Heart to You” comes from the Hot Rats Sessions. The 50th anniversary box set has the complete 10:18 song, but this edit is perfect. Estrada and Jimmy Carl Black lay down the bluesy rhythm, and Zappa plays the best rhythm guitar of his career in support of Don “Sugarcane” Harris, who collaborated for two days and produced this track and several others truly iconic in the Zappa canon, especially “Willie the Pimp,” “Big Legs” (edited as “The Gumbo Variations”), and “Another Waltz” (edited as the swing portions of “Little House I Used to Live In”).
From the very first notes from Harris with deep accompaniment by Zappa, it’s plain to see where they are taking this R.W. Penniman (Little Richard) classic. Harris’ voice is magnificent in this context. Harris takes a superb solo as Estrada and Black keep the pace slow and steady, Preston’s organ in the background. Harris’ second solo at the end seals the deal.
“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask” is more performance art, odd sounds and nasty guitars playing before more avant-garde jazz. Estrada sings, then laughs, prompting more laughs and choruses of sounds from the band. Preston on RMI electric piano tinkles as Estrada makes sounds and Zappa says, “Play your harmonica, son.” This track comes from the same show that produced “The Orange County Lumber Truck.” This song was not part of the album Ahead of Their Time. The title parodies DeBussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”
The first half of “Toads of the Short Forest” is such a lovely tune — for one minute; Zappa enthusiast Ed Palermo fleshed it out to seven minutes on his The Ed Palermo Big Band Plays the Music of Frank Zappa. Tweezed onto the track is part two, live from Thee Image. Another extravaganza, the drums play this nasty rhythm as Motorhead, Bunk Gardner, and Underwood honk and squeak. Zappa explains:
At this very moment on stage, we have drummer A playing in 7/8, drummer B playing in 3/4, the bass playing in 3/4, the organ playing in 5/8, the tambourine playing in 3/4, and the alto sax… blowing his nose…
Which Underwood proceeds to do, as the band continues to engage in jazzy madness. Near the end, Underwood quotes “You Ought to Be in Pictures” briefly.
A brief conversation of sexual crudeness accompanied by someone coughing introduces “Get a Little,” a slow instrumental highlighting Zappa’s guitar atop bass and drums with Preston adding sounds in the background. And then FZ says, “We’ll be back in a little while.”
Eric Dolphy was a true jazz titan, capable of playing inside and outside, a master on alto sax, bass clarinet, and flute. Zappa admired Dolphy and others of the period; Dolphy died just after his 36th birthday of undiagnosed diabetes. “Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue” is a tribute to him and to the free jazz movement.
The plodding first section is defined by gorgeous work on vibes (Estrada?), bass and drums. Keyboards and reeds fall in, there’s a brief percussion break, and then horror-movie evil-sounding music emerges, then trumpet, reeds, and more percussion. Suddenly, they swing way uptempo before the end of the song. At 6:51, it’s the longest track on the album. There is a great version from the 1988 band on The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life.
“Dwarf Nebula Processional March and Dwarf Nebula” is a studio creation using snippets of gorgeous reeds, including clarinets and flutes, and trippy piano before a series of electronic tape maneuvers takes over. The original cut-and-paste.
There was this clown on WSAN back in the day who didn’t listen to the music he played and tried in vain to be cool. When he announced this as “My Guitar Wants to Kill YOU, Mama,” I was ready to drive to the station to give him what-for. “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” is Zappa’s only vocal here, a great rock song with really tripped-out reeds taking brief solos before Zappa’s acoustic guitar solo! He takes a short electric solo at the end. The rhythm here is so tight.
“Oh No” first appeared as part of the beautiful music on 1967’s Lumpy Gravy, all instrumentals; it gets loving treatment twice on “Part One.” The version here is sheer magnificence featuring the voice of Ray Collins, the original Mothers singer. At 1:46, it is all too short and precious nonetheless. In the chorus section, Zappa makes his voice sound like a cartoon. The bass here is so simple and simultaneously so perfect.
“Oh No” leads directly into “The Orange County Lumber Truck.” At the time, these two songs were inextricably linked. Zappa fans got really charged up when a bootleg titled Trick or Treat slithered out with full color cover and a Bizarre label (pretty good imitation). Side two featured music from the 1968 Royal Festival Hall show, and the last track was “The Big Medley.” When Make a Jazz Noise Here was issued in 1991 featuring the 1988 12-piece band, it contained a tribute to “The Big Medley”: “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black > Harry, You’re a Beast > The Orange County Lumber Truck > Oh No > Theme from Lumpy Gravy > Eat That Question > Black Napkins.”
Two years later, the album some consider the epitome of Zappa’s live music, Ahead of Their Time, was released, featuring 67 minutes from the Royal Festival Hall show 10/25/68. The last 30 minutes are stunning: “Transylvania Boogie > Pound for a Brown > Sleeping in a Jar > Let’s Make the Water Turn Black > Harry, You’re a Beast > The Orange County Lumber Truck (Part I) > Oh No > The Orange County Lumber Truck (Part II).
“The Orange County Lumber Truck” is tweezed from the first 3:17 of “Part II” (10:40). Zappa overdubbed his solo here. I would argue that Zappa was in the forefront of the fusion scene with Miles Davis, and this track is Exhibit A. The dual drummers and incredible horns are mind-blowing, and when they shove the song into overdrive, Zappa’s wah-wah expertise comes to the fore. And those drums! The track is deliberately cut abruptly, leading to…
one more piece of performance art: “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” This is cacophony, electric style. What a way to end a show! As Zappa always said live, this one is tagged with “Thank you for coming to our concert.”
No, Frank. THANK YOU!
Check out Concentration Moon for much more where this outstanding graphic came from!