New Mothers

By Todd Everett

Creem, October 1970

I’d like to clean you boys up a bit and mold you. I believe I could make you big as the Turtles.
– A NOTED L.A. DISC JOCKEY, quoted in the liner notes to Freak Out.

The present-day Turtle refuses to die!
– Howard Kaylan, August, 1970

Never caught without a surprise or two, Frank Zappa unveiled the most recent incarnation of his Mothers of Invention at Los Angeles’ Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Friday, August 21. The occasion did not include the rumored appearance of Jeff Beck, but was certainly interesting enough to merit special attention anyway.

The band was comprised of two former Tertles, vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. British drummer Aynsley Dunbar., bassist Jeff Simmons, George Duke on keyboards and long-time Mother Ian Underwood on keyboards and guitar. Plus, of course, Zappa. Most noteworthy in the instrumental line-up was the absence of horns; possibly as a result, most of the selections were vocals. Long-time Mothers fans will recall that traditionally most of the long blowing passages have gone to the group’s virtuoso reed-and-woodwind men.

For the first half of the program, the group stuck to what might be considered a none-too-adventurous run-through of some of the Mothers’ Greatest Hits – “Call Any Vegetable”, “Air”, “You Didn‘t Try‘to Call Me”, “Mother People”, “Dog’ Breath” and a couple others. The highlight, certainly, of that segment was what started with a drum solo by Dunbar (who was consistently fine throughout the show) and ended in an hilarious duet between himself and Duke on vocal percussion effects. During the first half of the program, Volman and Kaylan seemed slightly nervous, ambling about and picking up various percussion instruments. Volman went through an extended striptease routine, first removing his jacket, then tie, then shirt. Well, it was warm up there. The vocals were quite good, if not particularly inspired.

“This is the part we’ve been worrying about”, announced Zappa, explaining that they would next perform some songs written to supplement their 200 Motels, the concert piece debuted in L.A. a couple of months ago and scheduled for performance in Amsterdam this Fall. As was soon evident, there was nothing to worry about at all. The songs, forming the best pop-oratorio since A Quick One, While He’s Away (and perhaps better even than that), detailed an episode in the life of a pop-star on the road somewhere. Kaylan and Volman, acting out the parts of star and “im-am-not-a-groupie”, were achingly accurate in their roles. “Baby, have you ever been in a Holiday Inn?”, “If your disc is a monster, with a bullet, we’ll give you our hearts”, “My dick is a legend”, “I am not a groupie – and neither is my hare lipped girlfriend.” Following that tour-de-force were two more new songs, one called “Will You Go All The Way (“Lift your dress if the answer is ’no’ ”), and one about musicians’ unions (”Hi! Howdy doody! I’m the Union man – you can call me Rudy”).

The encore consisted of a rock and toll song by Simmons, “Rhino [Wino] Man” and “Concentration Moon”. The show was, certainly, the group’s best local performance in quite time, and indicates that that group split announced earlier this year was nothing to worry about nothing at all.