Frank Zappa: “Fifty-Fifty” Before ‘Overnite Sensation’

The glorious Frank Zappa album Overnite Sensation was released in September of 1973, and we were treated to seven amazing new songs. Five of those were already in rotation by the time the album came out. “Montana” first appeared 10.29.72 with the Petit Wazoo band. “I’m the Slime” and “Fifty-Fifty” surfaced first 02.23.73 with the band featuring FZ, Jean-Luc Ponty, violin; Tom Fowler, bass; Ralph Humphrey, drums; Ruth Underwood, percussion; Ian Underwood, alto saxophone, flute; George Duke, keyboards; Bruce Fowler, trombone; and Sal Marquez, trumpet.

“Camarillo Brillo” and “Zomby Woof” would debut 05.06.73. “Dinah Moe Hum” would not emerge until 07.20.74, and “Dirty Love” not until 11.08.75, when Norma Bell was with the band briefly on vocals (also in fall of 1976 with Lady Bianca on vocals).

Back to “Fifty-Fifty.” This was designed as a great vehicle for Jean-Luc Ponty, who of course takes the solo on the album. It was a fabulous instrumental tune. We were lucky to see the band with The Mahavishnu Orchestra 04.28.73 at The Spectrum (of blessed memory) in Philadelphia and then with If at The Capitol Theatre Passaic 05.09.73. “Fifty-Fifty” was on about half the setlists from February through the Pacific tour ending in July. Interestingly, although Ponty was with the band through the European leg of the tour into September, that song was not played again with that band.

On the album, we of course all remember the over-the-top vocals of Ricky Lancelotti, who also sang “Zomby Woof.” Kin Vassy, who sang on “Montana” and “Dinah-Moe Humm” and said “That’s right, folks, Don’t touch that dial” on “I’m the Slime,” toured with the band April 7 through May 1, undoubtedly making those versions vocal tunes.

This excellent recording comes from an unidentified show in May. Duke kicks it off with that funkier-than-funky electric piano, then Tom Fowler falls in with equally funky bass, and Humphrey punches the gas. Zappa’s tone is magical alongside Ponty’s violin. Duke is playing synths on the choruses.

Ponty solos first (2:10), followed by Ian Underwood on flute (3:22). Duke takes the next shift on synthesizer (4:29); seriously, best keyboard player I ever saw. Zappa steps in lightly at 5:45 with the band vamping behind him, and Ruth Underwood has the last word on mallets, with Tom Fowler really funking it up on bass. All the while, Humphrey is keeping everyone in line.

Most of the spring shows clock in between 70 and 120 minutes, with the exception of the Princeton show 04.27.73 — 165 minutes (why didn’t we know about that; oh, no internet). However, the show at The Capitol in Passaic was a thing apart (I know: the ticket says Capital). The band played two hours, then came back for an encore. It was a Wednesday night, and Zappa said, approximately, “We’re going to see if we can get good recording of some of these.” And the encore lasted an hour! I think the encore began with “Dog Breath,” and I know “Fifty-Fifty” was in the encore. Talk about right place, right time!

[FZ 05.09.73: soundcheck intro, RDNZL, Willie The Pimp (incl. Dental Floss speech), Montana, improvisations, Dupree’s Paradise, Camarillo Brillo, Yellow Snow Suite, Farther Oblivion, Cosmik Debris; E: Dog Meat, Fifty-Fifty, Big Swifty (incl. Sleep Dirt, Nowhere riff), Eat That Question, Zomby Woof, Mr Green Genes, King Kong, Chunga’s Revenge, Mr Green Genes]

Note that the Spectrum show references Frank Zappa; the Capitol show was listed as Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Tickets from that period bounced back and forth between the two.

This version comes from 06.25.73 in Sydney, Australia, at Hordern Pavilion. On this tighter, faster version, as the material became more familiar, solos are Marquez (1:54), Ian Underwood (2:48) on flute, Duke (3:43), FZ lite (4:43), Humphrey & Tom Fowler (5:20), and Ponty with an eight-second flourish at the end (5:57).

And the album version with vocals; the album was recorded between March 19 and June 1.  Duke opens with pipe organ before the opening vocals. He also solos first, again on pipe organ (1:38). Ponty goes next (2:37) before a focused, rockier FZ solo at (3:36). Lancelotti returns (4:40) before the band soars from 5:24 to the end.

 

 

 

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