Somebody at Guitar Player Interviews Arthur Barrow - 1994
%%%%%%% Transcribed 03.29.95 by email@example.com %%%%%%%
This interview-ette is from the margins of "A Definitive Tribute To
Frank Zappa" (1994), which was produced by the publishers of Guitar
Player and Keyboard magazines.
THE CLONEMEISTER SPEAKS
Frank Zappa's daily work schedule was legendary, consuming nearly
every waking moment. Almost as grueling was the rehearsal schedule he
set for his band, which amounted to eight hours a day when they were
preparing for a tour. After bassist Arthur Barrows' first tour with
the band in 1978, Zappa bestowed upon him the title of Clonemeister,
which carried with it the awesome responsibility of running rehearsals
in Frank's abscence. Here Barrows recounts some Mothers stories and
reveals his, uh . . . advanced rehearsal techniques:
"Frank would always show up for the last four hours of rehearsal, and
I would tape that part. He'd say to various band members 'Okay, now
you do this here, and you make that fart noise there, and you do that
here.' So after the rehearsal I'd sit down with a notebook, listen to
the tape again, and make notes about who was supposed to make what
fart noises and stuff. The next day, we'd start to rehearse that song,
and of course everybody had forgotten where they were supposed to make
the fart noises. So I'd stop and say, 'Now don't forget, you were
supposed to make that noise here,' and they'd say, 'Oh, right.' You
run it three or four times until everybody remembers where to put
their noises. It was like being a drill sergeant, kind of.
"One tour, Frank gave us this huge song list, with some ridiculous
number of songs, like 200 songs. It was absurd, and I knew there was
no chance in hell that we'd ever learn them all. Of course, my
assignment was to teach them all to the band. I knew Frank well enough
by then to know that he'd come in, look at the song list, pick a song,
and say, 'Let me hear THAT song.' We'd play it, and if it sounded
crummy, he'd say, 'Well, you can just take that one off the list!' So
I rehearsed the band only on those songs that I liked. The songs that
I didn't care for were way down on my list, since I knew I couldn't do
them all anyway. Sure enough, he came in and asked for a tune that we
hadn't rehearsed. It stank, and he said, 'Well, that sounds like shit.
You can just take that off the list.' And I'd go, 'All right, great!'
So we ended up with this tour of all my favorite Frank Zappa songs,
like 'Florentine Pogen,' 'Inca Roads,' and a bunch of other real cool
"When Frank was there at the rehearsal and inspired, he would write
with the band the way someone else might write at the piano, or with a
piece of score paper, or at a computer. He would yell out stuff, like
do this, do that, go to A minor. After the band had been together
awhile, it was like being able to talk to a computer and tell it how
you want the song to go. It was really amazing how quickly he could
get stuff together, and get really good players to interpret it and
make it sound like Frank Zappa music.
"He'd always keep us on our toes. About a month into the tour, you'd
think, 'Okay, I've got this down, I can do it in my sleep.' But just
then, 'Band meeting in Frank's room!' Frank would tell us, 'You guys
are getting too comfortable with this. We're going to change the whole
show tonight.' So we'd do all this stuff that we hadn't done since
rehearsals a month before, and suddenly put together a whole new show.
"Frank's just about the only guy who did not compromise his music at
all, and still made a living at it. That's pretty amazing. Now that
he's gone, I don't know if anyone else could do it. I didn't always
like what he did, but by God, he was doing it his way."
Ski back to Nanooks igloo