Great Moments in TV Music History: Frank Zappa on The Dick Cavett Show

Those of a certain age remember back when television options were limited; it was always a treat to see live music pouring out of the TV. At first, there were lots of lip-sync shows such as Where the Action Is, and Shindig and Hullabaloo! seemed like a mixture of live and lip-synced performances.
By 1967-1968, there were more opportunities for real live music from artists who were changing the face of music, such as The Smothers Brothers Show and The Dick Cavett Show as well as the various late-night programs.

Special performances are the ones that grabbed you by the lapels and wouldn’t let you go; they are burned forever into the brain.

Frank Zappa had put together a new band late in 1970 that featured Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (keyboards), Ian Underwood (reeds), Jeff Simmons (bass, rhythm guitar), and Jim Pons (bass), who had been with The Turtles. On vocals were two more Turtles, initially identified as The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie; they were Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, two men with incredible pipes.

Frank Zappa with The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie

Most people are familiar with their comedy material on the two albums from that band issued in the ’70s: Fillmore East — June 1971 and Just Another Band from L.A. This is the band featured on most of Chunga’s Revenge, and they are stars in that hit movie 200 Motels (well, I love it). The 1992 album Playground Psychotics also features them, but the best example of what this band could do appears on Carnegie Hall 10.11.11, released 40 years after that show (the one my fraternity brothers DIDN’T take me to 10.11.71, even though it’s probably my own fault).

The band at this point included Don Preston (keyboards), Zappa, Dunbar, Pons, Underwood, Volman, and Kaylan. They had just finished their U.S. tour October 24 and were preparing to head to Europe for shows in November and December, including the infamous “Smoke on the Water” show at Montreux.

They appeared on The Dick Cavett Show on November 12, 1971. The clip included here is audio only (with the exception of a clip from 200 Motels). After some crowd noise, Zappa and The Mothers (as they were being billed at the time) performed “Sofa” (0:16-3:36), with an “Eddie, Are You Kidding Me?” coda. That song is sung in German, of course. As a side note, I had noted several years ago:

In 1971, The Mothers featured Flo and Eddie. They performed a routine similar to “The Groupie Routine” and “Billy the Mountain” called “Geff Mij Wat Vloer Bedekking Onder Deze Vette Zwevende Sofa (Gimme Some Floor Covering Under This Fat Floating Sofa).” The version on the bootleg album Poot Face Boogie notes that: “There is a piece of music on this album about God, his girlfriend, their pig, and the home movie they are making on a favourite sofa.”

Cavett asks Zappa about the lyrics, at which point Zappa whips out a sheet of lyrics and hands it to Cavett to read, which he does. Cavett then asks about Zappa not being on television “much,” which leads to a general discussion about censorship.

Cavett then points out that Zappa is 30 (would turn 31 December 21st) and that John Lennon is, too. He asks if they have met, and Zappa tells the story of the meeting and eventual jam at Fillmore East during the closing week (the encore of the Fillmore East — June 1971 show).

Next they talk about 200 Motels and why Ringo Starr is in it. Zappa explains, and then they play a clip of the movie with Ringo as Larry the Dwarf. The creator of this audio/video astutely inserts that actual clip, featuring Zappa’s brilliant and biting take on the music industry as delivered by Larry (11:00-13:18).

The band then returns for one of their best songs, a recreation of “Who Are the Brain Police?” featuring Volman and Kaylan and a fine guitar solo from Zappa (14:38-19:44).

I was fortunate to catch this one live at the fraternity house with those same guys who didn’t drag me to Carnegie Hall with them. My first Zappa shows would be the Grand Wazoo 20-piece orchestra 09.23.72 at The Felt Forum and then Halloween at The Capitol in Passaic (the first Halloween show since 1967 and the jump-start of the Halloween tradition).

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