Hash’s Fave’s: “The Idiot Bastard Son”

17 Oct

We_re_Only_In_It_For_The_MoneyThis week’s pick is Frank Zappa’s “The Idiot Bastard Son,” from the 1968 Mothers Of Invention album ”We’re Only In It For The Money” (my memory was jogged because my old friend John Melnick sent me a copy of the extremely rare Frank Zappa Songbook, which I’m going to clean up and maybe put into Finale for him, and me). The version here is the original album version, although it’s slightly different from the version that I initially heard (explanation below). The primary performers are the original Mothers band – Zappa on guitar and vocals; Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood and Bunk Gardner, saxophones; Ian Underwood, keyboards and saxophones; Don Preston, keyboards; Roy Estrada, bass and vocals; and Billy Mundi and Jimmy Carl Black, drums and percussion.

Most of the recording sessions took place in New York city, after the Mothers relocated from L.A., pretty much fleeing what they perceived to be a repressive societal matrix where the police routinely harassed them and prevented them from playing gigs, but I wonder if some of the session were begun in L.A., and may have utilized members of L.A.’s ”Wrecking Crew” group of studio players. This record was part of a four-album conceptual suite, consisting of ”Lumpy Gravy,” “Cruisin’ With Ruben and The Jets” and ”Uncle Meat.” Cameo appearances by various members of the L.A. groupie scene as well as rock stars Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Tim Buckley in some of the musique concrete pieces foreshadow Zappa’s relation to the world of mainstream rock (Flo and Eddie, Lowell George, etc.); Jimi Hendrix also appears in the original cover photo, a parody of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” iconic photo.

The version of this song that I’m more familiar with (and the differences are slight, but definite) was from a sort of greatest hits compilation called ”Mothermania,” released by MGM/Verve. Several of the recordings on that record are either different mixes, different edits or different performances altogether than the albums from which they’re ostensibly drawn from; it’s all a bit confusing. Zappa had notoriously contentious relations with all of his record companies and was constantly getting into censorship trouble. The Mothermania compilation is worth seeking out if you’re a Zappa completist.

It angers me that so many people only think of Zappa in terms of his bathroom humor material (“Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow,” etc.). He was a sharp commentator on the social and cultural scene, and he was definitely a total non-conformist, just as disgusted with the hippies as he was with Nixon/Agnew et al. His song ”Trouble Every Day” is a scathing indictment of almost every aspect of American society, and should be played on every college radio station, every day. He had aspirations to be a classical music composer, and although many have mixed feelings about his work in that field, I’ve always enjoyed it. He had a well-known disdain for jazz (he literally hated the ii-V-I chord change, which is the bedrock of jazz), but he continually hired musicians either from the jazz world (George Duke, various Brubecks) or rock players with jazz chops (Steve Vai, Scott Thunes). In short, I always felt that he felt free to do whatever he felt was important regardless of how any action might contradict his perceived public persona.

I finally achieved one of my bucket list wishes, playing this song in John Kimsey’s Twisted Roots Ensemble. Thanks, John.

You can listen to it here:

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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