Sunday, April 10, 2016

Frank Zappa - 1972 - Just Another Band From LA

Frank Zappa
Just Another Band From LA

01. Billy the Mountain (24:47)
02. Call Any Vegetable (7:22)
03. Eddie, Are You Kidding? (3:10)
04. Magdalena (6:24)
05. Dog Breath (3:39)

The original covers of this album feature the text;
"Any visual similarity between the cover of this album and the 'Uncle Meat' illustrated booklet (not to mention Ruben & The Jets) is thoroughly intentional and contains 4 secret clues".
In addition, the actual full title of the album;
"LAS MOTHERS - Just Another Band From LA - RIFA"
This adds a Pachuco cruisin' style to the appearance, whilst "Rifa" references Zappa's roots in Glendale and the Tooner Ville Rifa.

In December 1971 Zappa was pushed from the stage of the Rainbow Theatre, London. He broke a leg and suffered permanent vocal damage, his voice dropping by a third in pitch. Zappa was confined to a wheelchair through most of 1972 and this is the first of 3 albums produced in that period.

- Frank Zappa / guitar & vocals
- Mark Volman / lead vocals
- Howard Kaylan / lead vocals
- Ian Underwood / winds, keyboards, vocals
- Aynsley Dunbar / drums
- Don Preston / keyboards, mini-moog
- Jim Pons / bass, vocals

 Fun and more fun, but of course the music was great too and cleverly composed as well. Lots of Frank Zappa fans complain about the singing from Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman but I´ve always enjoyed their vocal approach and funny commetaries on and off stage. This is pivotal to the question of how much you will like this album as Just Another Band From L.A. is dominated by the singing from the two former Turtles frontmen. The rest of the band is more or less like the one playing on Fillmore East, June 1971. Frank Zappa on guitar and vocals, Ian Underwood on Winds, Keyboards and vocals, Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Don Preston on keyboards and mini-moog and Jim Pons on bass and vocals.

Just Another Band From L.A. is a live album recorded live in Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA on the 7th of August 1971 and it was released on the 26th of March 1972. The album consists of five songs. Three new ones in the 24:47 minutes long Billy the Mountain, Eddie are you Kidding? and Magdalena and two re-worked Mothers of Invention songs in Call Any Vegetable from Absolutely Free and Dog Breath from Uncle Meat. To those of you who don´t know Frank Zappa he primarely play rock with avant garde tendencies.

Billy the Mountain starts the album and it´s such an excellent track. Hilarius ( and weird)lyrics and an overall great humour, brilliantly composed and above all brilliantly played. Billy the Mountain has all the ingredients that makes Frank Zappa so unique. The lyrics are about a mountain who has a small wooden wife growing of off his shoulder. He is drafted for the US army but refuse and then the trouble starts which includes Billy and his small wooden wife Ethel´s trip to Las Vegas, the destruction of Edwards Air force base and a fantastic superhero called Studebaker Hawk. Does this sound crazy to you ? Well it better. Don´t be fooled here though as Zappa of course mixes some more serious opinions with all the fun and weirdness. For example there is a critique here of the US governments fear of communism. At least that´s how I see it. Billy the Mountain is one of my favorite Frank Zappa tracks.

Call Any Vegetable is a re-worked version of the song that first appeared on The Mothers of Invention´s Absolutely Free. This version of course features the dominant vocals from Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman but Frank Zappa also contributes to the general madness of this song and the strange lyrics about vegetables. I think it´s a great re-worked version where there is also some great brass included.

Eddie, Are You Kidding? is a very vocal dominated song and it´s here that Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman really show what they are capable of. It´s such an enjoyable song with lots of great vocal harmonies. The humour of the lyrics are of course great too.

Magdalena is another great song. Some might say that the lyrics are a bit insensitive to the subject of incest, but done the Zappa way it will always offend someone and it´s intended to. I still think that there is a grain of seriousness to the song that you shouldn´t ignore. Again the vocal work is astonishing.

Dog Breath from Uncle Meat has been given the Rock´n´roll treatment and has ended up being a really powerful tune. Some great guitar soloing from Frank Zappa makes this song excellent. It´s very different from the original. The musicianship is just excellent throughout the album. You can feel that this incarnation of Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention were at their peak. The performance is thight but as always with Zappa there is room for improvesation.

The sound quality given that this is a live recording is good for the time. It´s not the best I´ve heard but it has it´s charm and it´s certainly better than the sound quality on Fillmore East, June 1971.

This would be the last album with Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman still in the band. This version of the Mothers of Invention would be disbanded after Frank Zappa was pushed of the stage at the Rainbow Theatre in London in December 1971 by a member of the audience who alledgedly claimed that Zappa had been sending eyes at his girlfriend ( of course he was. He is a rock star. What did the idiot expect ?). Zappa was severely hurt when he hit the concrete floor of the orchestra pit and suffered damage to his head, back, leg, neck as well as a crushed larynx. Upon recovery this caused his voice to drop a third which is clearly heard on his first vocal performance after the accident which is Overnight Sensation. He would also have problems with his back and leg for the rest of his life.

This was not the only reason for disbanding The Mothers of Invention though. Just a week before Zappa´s accident in London all of The Mother´s gear was destroyed in fire that started while on stage at the Casino de Montreux in Switzerland. The fire not only destroyed The Mother´s gear but also burned down the entire Casino. The famous Deep purple song Smoke on the Water was written about this event as Deep Purple actually were present at this concert. So in addition to his accident Zappa didn´t feel it would be economically safe to continue. Zappa would of course do other things in his downtime from The Mothers of Invention ( Waka Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo).

This is not an essential Frank Zappa album but it´s a really excellent album and the best testimony to the incarnation of The Mothers of Invention which had Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman as lead vocalists.

Zappa heavily re-tweezed this album in 1986 for the second "Old Masters" box; it sounds nothing like the original, and some prefer this version, which is bright instead of muddy and bassy like the original LP (which was on the Old Masters LP and all pre-2012 CDs; however, those later CDs have some audio problems). The 2012 UMe CD is like the LP, but some people complain about it.

Original CD

The original CD was missing some artwork that had been on the vinyl; this was restored on the 1995 re-issue. Reports are that the stereo spectrum was altered and Zappa had seriously modified the equalization. This should be in the "bad batch," but I only hear major problems on one track: "Eddie, Are You Kidding?" The right channel flutters in and out. I don't hear the same problems on the Old Masters LP.  The 1995 CD re-issue includes a little new artwork: a behind-the-tray inlay of "Billy the Mountain hisself - fabricated storyboard [pencil] drawing (slightly visible over my head in interior photo)", as Cal Schenkel put it. Official Ryko statement: "New master. New timing sheet. Restored artwork."

2012 UMe CD

2012 remaster by Bob Ludwig. Supposedly reverts to the original LP mix, but some maintain that it sounds worse. Quotes from Kevin5brown:

The low end of the new one being boosted (in comparison) so much so as to overwhelm the entire balance of the CD. Brickwall freakin' Bob strikes again. He had no reason to compress this, but he did anyway. Too bad.

One thing I noticed, and I'm still comparing, and I can't quite figure out why this would be, but the multi-vocal parts at the beginning of Vegetable sound more recessed for the new one. More forward for the '95 (the one I have).

In general, the older CD sounds more balanced to me than the new one for JABFLA. The new one seems to have the (mid?) bass boosted some vs the older CD.
Rick Wood likes it, and points out a difference:

On JABFLA compare the end of the last track "Uncle Meat" on Ryko vs 2012 UmeCD. The 2012 track is 7 seconds longer, so you can hear Mark, Howard and FZ all say "Thank you very much", and a few keyboard clinks after applause. Also in this section there's a persistent humming noise on the Ryko (60 Hz onstage hum?), suppressed  on the 2012 CD. Much nicer.

Fillmore East, June 1971 Double Album
Just Another Band from LA Double Album (?)

Zappa did have plans for a double-LP version of Fillmore ... it would have included "Billy the Mountain" from the Fillmore (presumably the same version that's on Playground Psychotics) and the John & Yoko jam on the other two sides.

Yes, it's in circulation, though a very limited such. And will have to remain that way, I'm afraid. So-called "no-trade items" have always existed among collectors ...  A track listing would look extremely simple, like "Jam / Studebaker Hoch [a part of "Billy the Mountain" - Ed.] /Jam". Right now, though, I'm trying to find out ... if what I have on that tape really is the planned second Fillmore East LP. I'm actually thinking more and more that it's a second Just Another Band from LA LP.

We don't know for sure what was supposed to be on LP 1, but most certainly, it was not identical to the 1-LP Just Another Band from LA that was released, since, as you say, this would mean that some material would be repeated. My guess is that the double would look something like this:

Side A: "Billy the Mountain", part 1 (19:41)
Side B: "Call Any Vegetable"; "Eddie, Are You Kidding?"; "Magdalena"; "Dog Breath" (20:35)
Side C: solos (20:21)
Side D: "Billy the Mountain", part 2; solos (19:12)

The full "Billy the Mountain" from the Pauley Pavilion August7 1971 concert is over 33 minutes long, which surely was more than Frank wanted to stuff onto one LP side. Eventually, his solution to this problem was to edit out the two solos from the "Studebaker Hoch" section, but let's say that his original intention was to keep the solos, and split "Billy the Mountain" into two parts: part 1 (19:41) ending with "OUT OF THE PARKING LOT, AND INTO THE SKY!" (now, that's what I call a cliffhanger!), and part 2 (13:55) starting with "Studebaker Hoch".

Zappa did say somewhere that he had planned to make the Fillmore album a double, but the second disc would have consisted of the Lennon jam on one side and "Billy The Mountain" on the other ... The reason for scuttling the second disc of the Fillmore LP was trouble with Lennon's business manager, Allen Klein - this is why the Lennon jam ended up on a John & Yoko album at the time, but not on a Zappa album until two decades later.

"Billy The Mountain" Alternate

01 Billy The Mountain Pt. 1 (8/7/71 Pauley Pavilion, LA)
02 Billy The Mountain Pt. 2 (Unknown Location, possibly Fillmore East)

Length: 29:11
From the collection of Rob Samler

"Just Another Band From LA"
{Unreleased 2nd LP}

01 Billy The Mountain Pt. 2 (8/7/71 Pauley Pavilion)
02 The Subcutaneous Peril (10/11/71 Carnegie Hall)
03 An Easy Substitute For Eternity Itself (10/11/71 Carnegie Hall)

Length: 39:09
From the collection of Rob Samler

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