“Freak Jazz, Movie Madness & Another Mothers” covers Frank Zappa’s pivotal years 1969-1973

By on September 15, 2017

Exhaustive and occasionally exhausting at just over two-and-a-half hours long, Freak Jazz, Movie Madness and Another Mothers: Frank Zappa 1969-1973 — just one of the thirty music documentary titles we’ve recently added to our collection over on Night Flight Plus — covers a truly pivotal period in Frank Zappa‘s musical career.

Hardcore Zappaphiles and true ’60s & ’70s classic rock fanatics will likely love this documentary, particularly with the inclusion of rarely-seen photos and rare onstage concert footage.

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Here’s what it says on the back of the DVD:

“In August 1969, to the dismay of many fans, Frank Zappa disbanded the original Mothers of Invention. Feeling constrained by the musical abilities of certain members, he cleaned the slate and set about assembling a new group. Hand-picking superior talent from a variety of musical genres, by 1970 the second incarnation of the band was unleashed.”

“This film focuses on the sophomore Mothers, looking too at the very different projects that book-ended their brief existence; Zappa had incorporated ideas from free jazz and fusion into his music to produce three eccentric albeit influential solo albums.

As the new decade dawned and the musical landscape shifted this prolific but often-overlooked period in Frank Zappa’s career remained a pioneering era for a modern day composer who often confounded both audiences and critics, but who refused to compromise.”

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“Featuring rare footage, archive and exclusive interviews, contributions from many who worked alongside Zappa during this period, rarely seen photographs, and a number of other features which all at once provide for the first documentary film to tackle this phase in the Zappa legend.

Includes new interviews with: George Duke, Aynsley Dunbar, Don Preston, Jeff Simmons, Mark Volman, Max Bennett, Sal Marquez, Ian Underwood plus 200 Motels director Tony Palmer, biographers Ben Watson and Billy James, and MOJO magazine’s Mark Paytress.”

Read more about Zappa & the Mothers Mach II below.

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The departure of the original Mothers that Zappa had cookin’ in his musical kitchen — Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, Art Tripp, Bunk Gardner, Buzz Gardner, Roy Estrada, Ian Underwood, and Motorhead Sherwood — marked an end of one of the most popular bands of the mid-to-late ’60s.

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Some of them were personally hurt by Zappa’s decision, particularly Jimmy Carl Black, who said: “It was pretty heavy, it was pretty cold, but he always said he was losing money.”

Don Preston — aware of the band’s dire financial situations — adds:

“Everybody was in complete shock… all of us had a really strong feeling of camaraderie… a group of people with special talents that was quite amazing.”

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Zappa’s fans, however, wouldn’t know about the personnel changes until the breakup was confirmed in an October 1969 press release, right around the same time his second solo album, Hot Rats, was being released (October 10, 1969).

Hot Rats — featuring one of Zappa’s finest-ever solo recordings, “Peaches En Regalia” — would only reach #173 on Billboard‘s album charts in the U.S., but the album actually did much better elsewhere in the world, especially in European countries the following winter.

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The recordings featured on Hot Rats — an all-instrumental album save for “Willie the Pimp,” featuring Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) on lead vocals — was an expansion on some of the musical ideas that Zappa had wanted to explore after his incredible experience playing onstage in April of ’69 with respected jazz horn master Rahsaan Roland Kirk at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival.

Saxophonist/keyboardist Ian Underwood and the great Lowell George (later leader of Little Feat) were the only two Mothers to appear on Hot Rats (Underwood would continue to the play with Zappa until the mid-Seventies).

Zappa, meanwhile, continued to use the Mothers name on tour posters and publicity stills until 1976 (including the variation Frank Zappa & the Mothers).

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This over-two hours documentary — directed by Tom O’Dell, and narrated, as always, by Thomas Arnold — is yet another fine release from the UK production company Sexy Intellectual, distributed in by Prism Films, and provided to Night Flight by our content partner, MVD.

Freak Jazz, Movie Madness and Another Mothers: Frank Zappa 1969-1973 covers Zappa’s jazz-fusion experimentation and his collaborations with jazz musicians for his solo albums (the Hot Rats/Chunga’s Revenge ’69/’70 era).

Zappa biographer Billy James also offers up insights about Zappa’s efforts to bring 200 Motels to the screen.

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We also learn about two live albums that were released in this ’69-’73 time period, Fillmore East – June 1971, and Just Another Band From L.A., the latter including the 20-minute track “Billy the Mountain,” Zappa’s satire on rock opera set in Southern California (it was actually one of his failed film ideas).

The doc also covers the creation of the Flo & Eddie-led Mothers, provided through incredible anecdotes by Mark Volman — one-half of Flo & Eddie, a.k.a. The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie — not to mention we also get to hear directly from Underwood, Aynsley Dunbar, George Duke and Jeff Simmons.

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Simmons, by the way, also released an incredible album of his own in ’69, Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up (Zappa plays guitar on two tracks, including the title track, one of the songs he wrote, or co-wrote, using the pseudonym “La Marr Bruister”).

We also hear about Frank Zappa and the Mothers’ disastrous European tour and that insane December 1971 concert when an overzealous fan rushed the stage and Zappa ended up breaking his ankle, rib and damaging his larynx, which led to Volman and Howard Kaylan getting their own Flo & Eddie record deal and Zappa spending most of 1972 in a wheelchair.

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Watch Freak Jazz, Movie Madness and Another Mothers: Frank Zappa 1969-1973 — and be sure to check out our ever-growing selection of music documentary titles that we’ve recently added to Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.