You never can be sure just what sort of a band Frank Zappa will show up with. If you figure he will bring a quartet, an orchestra will arrive. Bet it will be jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll will appear. In fact, the only things you can count on are that the band will be tight, that they will be super performers, and that the show will be unlike any you have ever seen.
Tampa was the third date at the beginning of a grueling tour for Zappa and his band, a tour which would eventually stretch across the U.S., Europe and Australia. The band was brand new. Drummer Terry Bozzio was the only one who had been with Zappa for any length of time (two years). Eddie Jobson, keyboard and violin wizard for Curved Air and Roxy Music, was invited to join the group a couple of months ago. Zappa filled out the rest of the band by holding auditions. Lots of people “tried out” for the band, but initially only the bass player, Patrick O’Hearn, was picked for the upcoming tour.
It was not until the middle of September that Frank discovered Ray White, a vocalist and guitarist, and Bianca, who sings and plays keys. Both Ray and Bianca are black, and it is interesting to note that Frank has had blacks in his band ever since Ian Underwood went back to playing reeds to make room for George Duke at the keyboards. Since that time, Chester Thompson and Napoleon Murphy Brock played with the Mothers. [Ed. Note: Add Andre Lewis to that list.] The selection of Ray and Bianca was of course not a political one but rather a selection which indicates the musical directions in which Frank has always been heading (witness Zappa’s soliloquy in “Trouble Every Day” – in many senses he is a black man).
“First, let’s introduce the members of our rocking teenage combo,” Zappa grinned. Fait accompli, he proceeded directly to the business of the evening with a treatise on smelly shoes better known as “Stinkfoot.” It was a good song with which to lead off, because it is taken from Apostrophe, Zappa’s most popular album. Before long, he got involved in a long discussion about the creation story as it related to Poodles, which was a perfect preface for “Dirty Love.” It was a consummate rendition, with Bianca singing the incredible lead vocals. This tour marks the first time that a female singer has ever fronted a band for Zappa. Ruth Underwood was a mainstay for years on mallets and percussion, and several string players were members of the Grand Wazoo band (circa 1972), but never were there any lead vocalists (not counting Mark Volman dressed up as one). Bianca sang with the power and authority of Aretha Franklin and with at least as much gospel feel. The effect of “Dirty Love” was stunning, realizing its full potential.
Zappa then tried out three new songs: “Wind Up Workin’ In a Gas Station,” “The Torture Never Stops” and “Tiny Is” [Ed. Note: “City of Tiny Lites”]. “Wind Up” was a fun song with some very intricate time changes, abruptly falling into “The Torture Never Stops,” a long blues piece about dungeons, whips, chains and other nice things, with Frank on lead vocal. “Tiny Is” was an odd little tune, but the vocals by Ray White were for the most part inaudible.
After Bianca accompanied herself on electric piano singing a soft “You Didn’t Try to Call Me,” Zappa put the query to Tampa.
“We have to vote for what kind of audience you are,” he intoned. “We have some new stuff we want to try out. Do you want to hear ‘tweezed poot’ or rock and roll?” ‘Tweezed poot’ won the vote, so the band launched into a wild event titled “Mars Needs Women” [Ed. Note: “Manx Needs Women”, and I think this is where “Titties ‘n Beer” appeared.].
“Black Napkins,” a “love” song, slowed the pace up a bit, featuring a melodic, slow blues guitar intro, Bianca on vocal and Eddie Jobson introducing his “clear violin,” which consisted of a plexiglass neck which ran the length of the instrument, the body given shape by a metal tube frame.
Bianca handled the vocals on “Advance Romance,” and then Frank sang a tune about a girl who gave head. It was right after that when Zappa dug back into his wealth of past material to knock the real fans right out of their seats with “Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink” and “Would you Go All the Way?” from his brilliant Chunga’s Revenge. The readings were a little different from the originals, of course, but just as great.
The hits just kept on coming, too. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” from 200 Motels was followed by “What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?”, a tune nobody ever really expected to hear live again. That one featured Bianca singing the famous “I get off being juked with a baby octopus, and spewed upon with creamed corn…” and also some fun was poked at rock star Steve Tyler.
There was more. “Dinah Moe Humm” made more sense with a lady handling half the vocals. At its conclusion, they immediately swung into a faithful rendition of Nervous Norvus’ “Stranded in the Jungle” [Ed. Note: wrong! The Cadets], a novelty-type hit single from the Fifties (“Meanwhile, back in the States…”). Terry Bozzio took the mike to sing “You’re So Cute,” a real kick-ass song which called to mind the kind of songs Don Brewer sings for Grand Funk. Eddie Jobson again stepped down from his skyscraper of synthesizers to stretch out on violin.
“You people don’t feel any discomfort at all, do you?” Zappa asked. With that, the band played a crazy avant garde classical piece called “Discomfort,” which fit its title to a T. The vocal style especially drew from the work of Zappa idol Edgard Varese. Then they quickly ran through a bluesy “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama” and an abbreviated “Apostrophe.”
For an encore, Zappa returned again to Chunga’s Revenge for the marvelous “Road Ladies,” then turned to an adapted “Cruisin’ for Burgers” from Uncle Meat. He took plenty of time on the guitar, proving that he is one of a handful of guitar players you could consider to be “the best,” jumping next into a short “Camarillo Brillo” and on the show-ending rocker “Muffin Man.”
Backstage before the concert, Zappa was characteristically generous with his time in answering questions from several interviewers. About projects and works in progress, he made these remarks. His TV special ran prime time several places in Europe, but nobody here seems to want to touch it. He has completed an orchestral album, but “Columbia Masterworks wouldn’t agree to my terms,” he explained, “so they aren’t going to get it.”
Zappa is no longer associated with DiscReet and Herb Cohen, and he will make the big adios from Warner Brothers at the first available opportunity. His 12-record set is still a possibility, but Warners wants “albums that make money,” with the implication clear that such a set would not be a million-seller. As regards his status as a producer, Zappa said that lots of big groups and lots of big money want his talent at their mixing boards, but he really is not interested. He agreed with this reviewer’s evaluation that on his Grand Funk project, his job involved adding to the sound less than it involved eliminating a lot of “crap.”
Frank Zappa is pleased with his current band, a great collection of musicians and a wonderful group of individuals. Patrick O’Hearn played one of his best moments during the afternoon sound check, executing a straightforward duet with Zappa on Miles’ “So What.” The backbone of the group is drummer Bozzio, the first rock drummer Zappa has had in five years. Eddie Jobson had some big shoes to fill with the departure of George Duke, but what he lacks in funk he makes up for in enthusiasm. He is relishing the chance to stretch out in ways he could not do under the tutelage of Brian Ferry.
And of course the band is pleased with Frank. In talking with Ray White, I said that if I were a musician, my ultimate would be to play with Frank. Ray said, “That’s exactly the way I feel!” Bianca said it was the greatest opportunity.
And Tampa should be pleased, because the audience was treated to a first-rate performance by one of the masters of our music today. Pleased too that in Veri-Blan Productions we have a new promoter interested in bringing quality entertainment to the Bay Area.
Dear Frank Zappa: Please don’t wait another two years before you come back!
[This review was originally published in Music Media, a free magazine billed as “Progressive Music Guide for Central Florida.” It ran in the December 1976 issue, Vol. 1, No. 10. Additional notes added below.]
Sadly, FZ did NOT “hear my plea:” the next show was not until 09.16.78.
Bianca Thornton Odin made it through 11.11.76. I saw her perform in the spring of 1996, but she did not have much to say about the experience at the time, certainly not to match her liner notes for philly ’76.
Fred Bellet, a fine photographer who excelled in sports and concert photography for the Tampa Tribune, was present that day and took lots of pictures. 20-some years later, he asked if I had any of his photos from that day; sadly, I did not. [Wonderfully, I was wrong! I just found a box of 44 slides from that show. I will return them and hope to include pictures here later.] Fred was the subject of a Weather Channel program about the No-Name Storm of 1993, when he lost all of his photos when a totally unexpected storm surge rose more than 12 feet, devastating the beach areas where it hit. You can find an excellent story here.
Nobody seems to have a definitive setlist for this show. Mine has gaps. I cannot imagine that they didn’t play “Titties and Beer” at this show; it is on every other setlist from that period. It is certainly similar to all of the shows in that run, including the fine bootleg recording from Boston (10.24.76, late show) and the posthumous release philly ’76 (10.29.76), right before the MSG Felt Forum shows.
The Purple Lagoon, Stinkfoot, The Poodle Lecture, Dirty Love, Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station, The Torture Never Stops, City Of Tiny Lites, You Didn’t Try To Call Me, Manx Needs Women, [Titties ‘n Beer,] Black Napkins, Advance Romance, Honey Don’t You Want A Man Like Me?, Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink, Would You Go All The Way?, Daddy Daddy Daddy, What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?, Dinah-Moe Humm, Stranded In The Jungle, You’re So Cute, Discomfort, My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama, Apostrophe
Encore: Road Ladies, Cruisin’ for Burgers, Camarillo Brillo, Muffin Man
P.P.S. In a meeting, a chance meeting this evening (June 7, 2016) at the studios of WMNF radio, I meet a man who had a framed poster of this show. I said, “I published a review of that show!” To which he responded, “I wasn’t sure if this show ever existed (there are fake concert posters everywhere), so I went on line last Friday, and your review came up!” He had printed it out. And he had reproductions made of that original concert poster. Thank you, Chris Harvey! Here it is!