SickthingsUK: Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa is one of the most prolific composers/performers ever. He released around 100 albums before his untimely death from prostate cancer on December 4th 1993. This page is only to highlight Zappa's connection to Alice Cooper. For more specific information, a good starting point would be www.zappa.com although there are many excellent Zappa sites on the net.

Frank Zappa signed the Alice Cooper Group to their first record contract, signing them to his then newly created 'Straight Records' through which they released their first albums. The story of the band auditioning for Zappa has gone into rock folklore. Alice's original version from 'Me, Alice':

"The GTOs were close friends with Frank Zappa. In 1969 Frank Zappa was still a teen hero. He was my teen hero at least, and Zappa really just about supported the GTOs. There wasn't a zanier entourage in existence. Miss Christine was practically his social secretary, and after much begging and cajoling she promised me an audience with Frank. One night Miss Christine took me to a party and Zappa was there sitting on a sofa drinking wine, his mustache bigger than life. The moment we met we hit it off. Zappa had never been a huge commercial success himself. He was regarded unofficially as a drug freak, a nut, but that wasn't the case at all. Zany, maybe, but he never touched drugs and he was the straightest, strictest businessman I ever dealt with. He told me that he was starting his own record company and looking for acts to sign, especially comedy and psychedelic acts that nobody else would take a chance on. I asked if he would come hear us at the Cheetah, but he put me off saying he was too busy, but I didn't take no for an answer. As the party went on and he got drunker, I got more insistent. Finally he said, "All right. Come by in the morning and I'll listen.

I suppose he meant we should bring a tape, or maybe he forgot the next day was Sunday. Miss Christine let us into his house at the break of dawn, and we set up our equipment and lights in his basement and started playing. Zappa came rushing downstairs, naked, holding his ears. "All right, all right, I'll sign you! I'll sign you! Just stop playing!"

Zappa wasn't kidding. Just like that, out of the clear blue sky, he told us to come to his office on Monday and talk to his business manager, Herbie Cohen. Cohen offered us a six-thousand-dollar advance for our first three record albums to be released on Zappa's newly formed Straight-Bizarre label distributed by Warner Brothers.

Zappa's business guys took the Cooper's to court over their contract and I think there was a bit of a falling out after that. I think more on Zappa's part - Alice remained a huge fan of course. We tried very hard to get Zappa for 'Prime Cuts' but he was too sick.
(Renfield, August 1995)


In 'Snakes, Guillotines, Electric Chairs' Dennis Dunaway has a slighty difffernet version:

"The GTOs' place of residence said everything. They were lodged in the basement of Frank Zappa's Laurel Canyon fortress. The historic old house, built by cowboy star Tom Mix from the silent movie days, was known as the Log Cabin. Alongside the row of rooms occupied by the girls was a single bowling lane.
One day Alice and I were lounging around the basement, helping Miss Christine baby-sit the littlest Zappa, Moon Unit. Zappa and his band, the Mothers of Invention, were off touring. Their records 'Freak Out!' and 'Absolutely Free' were getting a lot of attention, especially with those who liked it freaky. You could look at Zappa and see nothing but a clownish character, and hear nothing but a dense sound collage. But as Alice would later point out, the guy was a maestro—and he was not a little intimidating.
So Alice was playing with the baby when he turned to kiss Miss Christine's hand and said imploringly, "Can you get Zappa to give us a record deal?"
She laughed nervously.
"Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty please with sugar on it?" Alice continued, working his old magic.
"Good God," Miss Christine said. "I'll ask Mr. Zappa if he'll come to hear you play at the Cheetah."
Mister Zappa? Okay! Alice and I walked all the way back to Topanga Canyon talking nonstop about our breakthrough.

[Our next show was] at the old Wrigley Field in downtown Los Angeles. It was June 27, 1968, and the afternoon concert was billed as "Phantasamagoria: The Community Effort." It was a benefit for a free medical clinic. We walked into the locker room and were surprised to see Zappa sitting on the floor playing a stream of remarkable licks on his unplugged Les Paul.
"Hi, Frank," Alice said. "We didn't know the Mothers were playing here."
"I'm just the emcee," Zappa said. "And so we finally meet."
Alice enthusiastically started pitching our Cage of Fire act, but Zappa said he couldn't stay. He walked out to his car, and Alice went with him, talking us up.

Meeting Zappa really emboldened Alice. He kept working on Miss Christine. Even though she was worried that Mr. Zappa was always very busy, one day she said, "I'll ask him if it's all right for you to come over tomorrow."
Alice immediately interpreted "Ask him if it's all right" as "Yes! You have an appointment!"
He was now on fire. "He'll have to love us," he said as we walked along Ocean Beach Parkway through Malibu, "because he's as crazy as we are."
I was dubious. I couldn't remember Miss Christine saying anything about our bringing instruments for the meeting, which Alice assumed was nine in the morning. It seemed a doubtful hour for a nighthawk like Zappa.
We stayed up all night working on our song list. We boiled our guitar strings to refresh their brilliance. We worked up some cool remarks for Zappa.

Norma rounded up a car for us, and the next morning, bright and early, we were hauling our gear up Zappa's steep driveway. Michael knocked on the Log Cabin's door until a sleepyheaded Miss Christine peered out. After one flabbergasted look, she shushed us and whispered, "What are you doing here? I haven't even asked him yet!"
But the wheels were already in motion. We barged right in. Miss Christine frantically ran ahead of us to block a door down the hall. When we began setting up our equipment in the hallway, she threw her hands in the air and said, "F**k!"

As soon as we were ready, we started playing "No Longer Umpire" to Zappa's bedroom door. Within a minute, the door cracked open and a hand emerged motioning for us to stop. We stopped. Zappa stuck his head out. In a calm voice, he said, "Just let me get some coffee and then I'll listen."

Miss Christine hurried to the kitchen. Zappa emerged, quietly closed the bedroom door behind him, and leaned against it.
"Good morning, Frank," Alice said. Zappa nodded and remained quiet. He did have a slight smile, however, so it seemed he appreciated our boldness. We hoped. Miss Christine returned with a jumbo mug of black coffee and a saucer of cookies. Mike Allen set up a card table, and Zappa sat down and blew into his steaming cup. At last he said, "Let's hear it."

So the Alice Cooper assault ensued. Even in the confined hallway, we managed to jump around a bit. After the fourth song, Zappa again signaled us to stop. He had an encouraging gleam in his eyes. "You guys play things that I couldn't get the Mothers to play," he said.
I knew that couldn't be true, but it was a great compliment.
"I have my own record label called Bizarre," he said. "If we can work it out, I would like to record you guys."
Even Alice and Michael stood speechless. Miss Christine smiled in relief.
"Do you have a manager?" Zappa asked.
We all said, "Nope."
"You'll have to find one. If you can't, then my manager might do it, but it would be better if you found your own."
We showered him with thanks and departed. As our car snaked down Laurel Canyon, Neal said, "Where the f**k are we gonna find a manager?"


Unfortunatly while the band did get to release their albums on Straight Records, their relationship with Zappa didn't really last that long. His first idea was to change the name of the band to 'Alice Cookies', with the album released on cookie size vinyl in tin cans... Luckily the idea would have been too expensive so they got to keep their name.

They expected Zappa to produce their first record 'Pretties For You' but he was rarely there, instead leaving the job to Mothers Of Invention keybooardist Ian Underwood. Then, just as the band figured they were ready to start the actual recording he appeared and declared "That's it, the album will be ready in a week!". The band were crushed.

He had even less involvement in the second Straight Records album, with David Briggs in the producers chair. Briggs reportedly hated them.

By the time they were ready to record their third album, 'Love It To Death', Zappa was almost completely out of the picture. While very early copies of the record sport a Straight Records label by then the company was in the hands of Warner Brothers.

In later years the contract they signed with Zappa came back to haunt them. Court cases with Zappa's partner and Straight Records co-owner Herb Cohen cost them dearly. It's believed they lost certain royalty rights to everything before 'Billion Dollar Babies', which if correct would by now account for millions of dollars. Zappa however wasn't involved.

From Entertainment Weekly at the time of Frank's Death:

"Zappa never adapted to American culture or wavered from his complex music. You'd think his stuff was all improvised, but his sheet music included every little squeak, bump, howl, and yodel that was played. Unbelievable. Zappa was also the best guitar player I've ever seen. I saw him play one night at a club with Hendrix. Frank got up and did an imitation of him. I'm looking at Hendrix and his mouth was open."
Alice Cooper