INTERVIEW with the late JIMMY CARL BLACK
March 29, 2000
Part 1 (below)
by Steve Moore,
Mothers Of Invention fans worldwide will be delighted to learn that you are taking your group, The Grandmothers, out on tour this summer. Who's in the group these days, and what songs will be presented?
The Grandmothers today are: Sandro Oliva (guitar, vocals, and musical advisor); Ener Bladezipper (bass, vocals, and road manager); Mauro Andreoni (all keyboards and a sweet guy); Steve B. Rony (drums, vocals, and the group's teenage sex appeal); Bunk "Sweet Pants" Gardner (all woodwinds and Chef de Cuisine); Don Preston (keyboards, vocals, and -- until now -- formerly retired from touring). And, yours truly, Jimmy Carl Black (lead vocals, precussion, and "the Indian of the Group"). I'll be sending the songs that we will be performing later so you can post it on your website.
How difficult is it to work up the arrangements on the complex Zappa songs? Who decides how the songs are structured?
Well, let me tell you a little about the Grandmothers. We are not a Zappa cover band. We only play Frank's songs that were recorded by the Mothers of Invention (MOI). and I think a lot of those songs were complex. For example, we play "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," "Call Any Vegetable" (in it's complete form), "Sleeping in a Jar,", and "The Orange County Lumber Truck" We also do a lot of our own origional music - which is pretty complex in itself. As I stated before, Sandro is the musicial advisor and all of us have a say in the whole process.
Frank has been quoted as saying that many of the original Mothers of Invention fans seemed to have dropped out when he went with other players in the 70's and 80's, and, conversely, many of the younger fans of his later works didn't fully appreciate the earlier, classic MOI albums. Therefore, I wonder what the fan reaction has been to your touring these past 30 years with the many bands you have formed and/or played with? What have your audiences been like?
The fans have been very nice to me and I might say that all those fans that Frank said went away is not so. There are many old fans that come to see me play and a lot of his younger fans that have gotten into the old recordings of the M.O.I. They want to see where it all started from and are very cool people, in my opinion. Even when I play with my blues band, The Farrell/Black Band, there are a lot of M.O.I. fans that come out to see me play.
What drum set are you touring with? Do you still have any of your vintage drums that you used on the MOI recordings?
I play Fibes Drums since I`m an endorser of the new Fibes Drum Company My drums are wood shell and sound really great. The new Fibes are owned by a dear friend of mine in Austin, Texas, named Tommy Robertson. When he bought the rights to the name Fibes he asked me if I would play them in Eroupe. I like them MUCHO. And, yes, I still have my original set of Gretch drums that I used on all the recordings of the M.O.I. I bought that set of drums in 1958 -- new off the showroom floor for 450 dollars, including cymbals and cases. You can`t even get a cheap set of drums for that anymore.
Long-time fans first knew your personality by your repeated cheerful greeting "I'm Jimmy Carl Black, and I'm the Indian of the group" on "We're Only in it for the Money." Was everyone in the group fully behind Frank's bold move to parody Sgt. Pepper's and "the summer of love?" Did anyone feel like this might backfire?
First of all; Frank was the BOSS. We didn`t question any of his motives or decisions at the time. I, personally, didn`t think about whether (the parody) would backfire or not. After putting out FREAK OUT and "Absolutely Free" I didn`t think that the "Money" album was that much farther out than the previous albums.
Did you personally feel -- at the time -- like you were participating in what would become one the greatest recorded works of that era?
I had no idea that "We're Only In It For The Money" would be considered a classic piece of musical history and I don't think Frank did either.
How long did it take to record?It took off and on, probably six months. It was recorded and mixed in two or three places from New York City and then LA.
Obviously from my past questions, one of my favorite MOI albums is "Money." What is your favorite?
For the record; my favorite M.O.I. record is "Cruisin`with Ruben and the Jets" Ray Collins has always been one of my favorite singers in the world. I like "Uncle Meat" musically for it's adventurous direction. Hell, man, I like them all.
I've read about how Frank would hold long rehearsals for his later bands? Did he do that with the Mothers?
I think that the old Mothers started that trend of rehearsing long hours. We went as long as the later bands did except we didn't get paid for it like they did. We did it because we thought we were the best band in the world. Maybe we weren't as popular as other bands, but certainly, musically, we were the best and most expermintal band in the world. (Exception is Capt. Beefheart and the Magic Band, but more on that subject later).
How did the group resolve conflicts? Did you personally feel that Frank was a genius when he was hired to join the group?
Like I said before; Frank was the BOSS and was not open to anything that was not from his head. There were no arguments about music because if you did, he would show you where the door was. Period. As far as me knowing if Frank was a genius -- in those days, I thought Einstein was the only genius around. Hell, man, I`m from Texas and the only thing we had down there was "Good Ol' Boys". Since then, I have come to believe that he really was a musical genius!!!!
Where was the inside cover shot done for the "Money" album. Jimi Hendrix joined you for the album picture. Do you remember how he felt, or what his attitude was toward the Mothers in dresses, and the photo experience?
Some place on Fifth Ave. in New York City. I think the photographer was Faye Dunaway`s husband at the time. I don`t know how Jimi felt about the whole thing. I think it was good publicity for him. I know I didn`t like that dress 'cause it didn't fit but I thought it was a great picture. We weren`t the first band to do a picture in drag; The Rolling Stones were. If it was good enough for them then it had to be good enough for us.
I believe that you have reported that you had a chance to share the bill with Jimi Hendrix. Did you ever actually play with him on stage?
We played a bunch of times with Jimi in the 60's. He jammed with the Mothers at NYC's Garrick Theater a few times before he made it at Monterey Festival. Hell, nobody knew who he was at that time in the states. He was big in England. We all became good friends and I am still in touch with Noel Redding (original bass player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience).
Of the many great performers you have known, or played with during your career, which ones have had the greatest influence on you? Which ones did you like the most?
The Howlin'Wolf. I also have a great amount of respect for Don Van Vliet aka Capt. Beefheart and I liked -- and was a good friend -- of Janis Joplin
What is your preference? Performing live, or studio work?
I really like playing live and don't mind being on the road, if it's with the right band. I do like creating in the studio and enjoy the end results.
Your hilarious scenes in the 200 Motels movie ("Lonesome Cowboy Burt") are, in my view, the highlights of that movie. Did you think at the time that this might be a beginning of a stage or movie career? Did you try out for anything?
I was hoping for it to be possibly a movie career as I still would like to see that happen. I enjoyed making 200 Motels and did try out for a few things when I lived in LA, but nothing ever happened. I'm still hoping though. If any producers or agents read this - I`m available.
When 200 Motels was filmed, the original MOI had disbanded. How did you feel about participating in that movie while knowing that Frank was taking his band -- and recording career -- to a different place, and that you would not be included?
I was hired as an actor for that movie and didn`t care who was playing with Frank. I had a good time with the people in the movie. I had my band, Geronimo Black, going and was thinking that the movie could help promote it. And it did.
Did you get a chance to talk with Ringo Starr about drumming during the filming of 200 Motels?
Ringo was one of the nicest people I have ever had the privilege of working with. We didn`t discuss drum playing much at all, except that I told him how big a fan I was of what his drumming contributed to the Beatles. They are still my all time favorite band.
What has been your worst professional experience?
That is a whole chapter of a book and I will address it at a later date. OK? I`d just soon forget about it altogether.
Of all the Zappa compositions, what is your personal favorite?
I have several, but "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" comes to mind.
Of all the recorded drumming you did on the many Mothers albums, what do you feel is your best drumming work?
All of it. Because I gave everything I had on all of them.
Your web page, www.jimmycarlblack.com/ is really nice. Do you do any of the web work yourself?
No, my webmaster lives in Munich and is a very dear friend of mine. He is doing a great job on the site and it is constantly being updated and always will. I use Windows; `98 second edition and it works very good for me. You know, I just started on the computer about 9 months ago and am fascinated with the possibilities. I don`t know what I would do without it now.
What's your personal life like these days?
I got married about three years ago again to a wonderful German woman. Her name is Monika and she is beautiful. She is one of the biggest women Zappa fans I have ever met in my life. She has all the albums of Frank`s and when we first met, she had been looking at my picture on LP`s for 25 years. She says she`s been in love with my picture for that long. AMAZING. My home is my castle and there is a lot of stuff around to remind me of the old days -thanks to Miss Monika. Every morning I go into my living room and the first thing I look at is the picture of Frank sitting on the toilet. I am also a sculptor of soapstone for relaxation and have had exibitions of my art work.. I have sold quite a few pieces. I have a section -which is almost ready for expansion soon on my website - under Art Works. I have six children living mostly in Texas. Three sons, Gary (41), Darrell (39), and Geronimo (32) and three daughters, Kim (36), Gina (34) and Gabby (24) and eleven grand kids I have two step kids Tommy and Melleni from Monika. My three sons are planning to record a CD hopefully at the end of this year. They`re very talented musicians in their own right. We`ll call the band "The Brothers of Intention."
Do you hear from any of the former MOI members who are NOT touring with you?
I am in contact with Billy Mundi quite often and Moterhead Sherwood also. Once in a while I talk to Roy Estrada and Art Tripp. I haven`t seen or spoken to Ray Collins in at least 10 years so I don`t even know if he`s alive. I hope so. I don`t think they are playing music anymore. I know they`re playing with themselves - cause they're ex-mothers. You know how perverted we all were.
Do you still get nice royalties from the Mother's recordings?
Shit NO. We never got anything out of the recordings. I'm still as broke as I was when I was with the Mothers. That is why I hope your readers will buy some of my products for sale on my website --so maybe I can at least semi-retire.
Did you think that Frank accurately portrayed the story of the Mothers in his book, The Real Frank Zappa?
I don`t know how Frank presented the old Mothers, since I never read the book. There might be some opinions on what he said, but I -- or anyone else -- could not make any corrections to anything Frank did.
Did you get a chance to talk with Frank before he died? If not, then what would you have liked to have said to him?
No, I wasn`t allowed to talk to Frank before he died. I was in Eroupe at the time and hadn`t been in the states in 2 years before he passed on. There were troubles with Mrs. Zappa, so no contact was made. I would have told him that I appreciated his friendship through the years and that I had learned a lot from him. I really loved Frank like you do a brother.
Go To Interview Part Two where Jimmy Carl discusses the Muffin Men, "Gentlemen of Color," Farrell and Black, upcoming news on the Grandmother's summer tour, and more memories of working with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
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