By Will Romano
What occupies most of the Trust’s time are CD and DVD releases on the labels Zappa (largely for material Zappa himself produced), Vaulternative (devoted to recently discovered or rediscovered gems from the Vault) and Honker Home Video.
In the last few years, The Trust has released such records as Buffalo (culled from a live show Zappa did in Western New York circa 1980), The MOFO Project/Object (released as two- and four-disc sets, respectively, the latter being an “audio documentary” which contains material appearing on the original Freak Out! double album, as well as alternate takes, basic tracks, master overdubs and conversation snippets meant to educate the listener as to how and why Zappa created what he did) and the guitar-solo heavy One Shot Deal, which seamlessly mixes Zappa music from different time periods and band lineups. (It should be noted that the song, “It Just Might Be A One-Shot Deal”, appeared on Waka/Jawaka, an album that itself had featured extensive instrumental work.)
One Shot Deal (which numbers 83 of all official Zappa releases, in case you’re counting), largely pulls largely from Zappa’s mid-’70s live material, which has never appeared on CD. “One Shot Deal was literally that,” says Gail. “It was like, ‘Come on, Joe. How fast can we make a record?’ I think we put that together in a week. … I heard the [guitar] solo [in ‘Occam’s Razor’], and I said, I have to put this out.’”
Travers and Gail sometimes have strong and different opinions about the details of certain projects. Eventually, they may both end up on the same page, but their individual ideas for new records sometimes pull them in opposite creative directions during the research and production process.
“[Joe] is archival and I’m archrival, because [Travers] likes to have everything in sequence in a time frame,” says Gail. “… I’m much more one who doesn’t care about the timeframe. … So it is a question of, ‘OK, you hear [something] and then you say, ‘Oh, what can we put with this? We need to bookend it.’ I kind of made a sandwich. You want things to match in a certain way.”
Travers attempts to bring order to the chaos a vault full of tapes poses: “Things were always in a constant state of flux with [Zappa],” says Travers, “and it was rare that he ever put anything to bed. Even regarding older records, he would want to redo things.”
Gail admits that she has an obligation to release material that Zappa himself edited and/or produced when he was alive. 2006’s Imaginary Diseases (a title taken from a familiar line in the song “Stink Foot”), 2007’s The Dub Room Special! (drawing on material from 1974 and 1981 and taken largely from an intended television program titled “A Token To His Extreme,” which was released as a mail-order only VHS tape in 1985 called “The Dub Room Special!”), and the 2008 DVD “An Evening with Frank Zappa” during which “… The Torture Never Stops” were of priority to the Zappa Family Trust’s release schedule.
“We always try to prioritize the stuff according to the material Frank liked or had worked with at one time or another, because those things are stronger than the scraps that are left on the side,” adds Travers.
“The Torture Never Stops,” filmed at the Palladium in New York City on Halloween, 1981, and available for the first time on DVD (originally broadcast on MTV and edited by Zappa himself), exemplifies The Trust’s commitment to Frank’s work.
“… That is Frank’s edit, just so you know,” says Gail. “… [T]he way I see things is, first, I have an obligation to put out Frank’s original piece, whatever it is.”
Once Frank’s original vision infiltrates our consciousness, Gail and Travers can start to explore and tinker. “What we’re planning to do is to take [‘The Torture…’ and ‘The Dub Room Special!’] and mix them in surround,” says Gail. “… We’ve already started working on mixing that stuff. So, there’ll be a new edit of those two concerts, and they’ll come out eventually.”
The Corsaga, arguably one of the Vault’s most realized projects, is a concept Gail had created that, as Travers says, specializes in “little windows of Frank’s career that we immortalize.”
Joe’s Corsage kicked off the series and it has continued with Joe’s Domage and Joe’s XMASage — all a play on the title (and episodic logic) of Zappa’s 1979 three-part rock opera Joe’s Garage.
“[Joe’s Corsage] stands on its own as a record,” says Gail. “From that I got the idea to do a series. … I am just fond of it because it was the first project we had our way with from the Vault.”
Even though each release in the Corsaga represents different time periods, Gail maintains that the musical concepts interrelate. “…When you put it all together, it is going to be a kind of landscape of [music] from all over Frank’s career,” says Gail. “That is epitome of ‘the torture never stops’, because those [types of releases] are all made out of things Frank was listening to at one point … [H]e was going to do something with [it], but we don’t know what. We figured that if Frank can stand it, so can you.”
The latest installment of the Corsaga series, 2008’s Joe’s Menage, might be near and dear to Gail’s heart but possesses a convoluted provenance. In a nutshell: An obsessed Zappa fan from Denmark, Ole Lysgaard, was given three audio cassettes in 1978 by Zappa, one of them of marked “William and Mary.” Lysgaard, who had held onto the tapes for 25-plus years, contacted The Zappa Family Trust when he recognized a section of his beloved concerts on a posthumous Vault release.
“The [third] cassette was … a 45-minute excerpt from a concert at The College of William and Mary in Virginia in 1975,” says Travers. “Frank must have liked the show because he made a cassette dub from the reel-to-reel master, and he brought it around with him. … I went and got the master tape for the William and Mary show and I transferred the master tape digitally and made a mirror of Frank’s cassette. So, basically, what you have on Joe’s Menage is what Frank dubbed from the original master with better sound.”
“A few years later, I got a rehearsal tape from Aug. 12, 1981,” writes Lysgaard for the Joe’s Menage liner notes, “and in the middle of ‘Montana,’ Frank suddenly says, ‘Everybody on the counts, ’cause there are guys like Ole, who sits out there in the audience with a calculator to see if you are playing it just like the record.’”
While Zappa was known to have a love-hate relationship with so-called fans, this was one contact, at least, that proved fruitful (some 30 years later) for the Trust and die-hard fans, like Ole himself.
“[Joe’s Menage] has a lineup that Frank never released anything from,” says Travers. “It’s Roy Estrada [bass/vocals], Napoleon Murphy Brock [vocals, tenor sax], Norma Jean Bell [vocals, alto sax], who was only in the band for about a month, Terry Bozzio [drums, vocals], and Frank [guitar, vocals]. It was right around the Halloween run of 1975. … There is some good stuff in there.”