From: Los Angeles, CA, USA
The Mothers Of Invention was an unconventional L.A. prog-rock band best known for being led by the now legendary musician and composer Frank Zappa. The group evolved out of the Soul Giants in 1965 when lead singer Ray Collins asked Zappa to take over as lead guitarist. Other original members included Jimmy Carl Black (percussion, drums, vocals) and Roy Estrada (bass). The band first renamed themselves the Blackouts, then Captain Glasspack & The Magic Mufflers before settling on the Mothers coincidently on Mother's Day. The newly formed ensemble then began to gradually gain attention on the burgeoning Los Angeles underground music scene under the management of Herb Cohen. In early 1966, the group was spotted by leading record producer Tom Wilson while hearing them perform 'Trouble Every Day', a song about the summer of 1965 Watts Riots. Wilson had earned acclaim as the producer for Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, and was notable as one of the few African-Americans working as a major label pop music producer at this time. Wilson signed the Mothers to the Verve division of MGM and insisted that the band officially rename themselves the Mothers Of Invention.
With Wilson as producer and new band member Elliot Ingber (guitar) on-board, the Mothers of Invention, augmented by a studio orchestra, released the groundbreaking debut LP 'Freak Out!' in the summer of 1966 which, after Dylan's 'Blonde On Blonde', was the second rock double-album ever released. It mixed R&B, doo-wop, musique concrete and experimental sound collages that captured the "freak" subculture of Los Angeles at that time. Although Zappa was dissatisfied with the final product, 'Freak Out!' immediately established him as a radical new voice in rock music, providing an antidote to the "relentless consumer culture of America". Most compositions on the record are Zappa's, which set a precedent for the rest of his recording career. He had full control over the arrangements and musical decisions and did most overdubs. Wilson provided the industry clout and connections and was able to provide the group with the financial resources needed. After a short promotional tour following the release of 'Freak Out!', Zappa met Adelaide Gail Sloatman. He fell in love within "a couple of minutes", and she moved in with him. They married in 1967, had four children and remained together until Zappa's death in 1993.
In late 1966, the band played in New York City and was eventually offered an extended contract at the Garrick Theatre in the spring of 1967 prompting them to relocate there for over a year. Their shows became a combination of improvised acts showcasing individual talents of the band as well as tight performances of Zappa's music. Everything was directed by Zappa's famous hand signals and guest performers and audience participation became a regular part of the shows. While in the Big Apple, the Mothers recorded a second LP ('We’re Only in It For The Money') which was released in early 1968 and is widely regarded as the pinnacle of the group's late 60s work. By this time Ingber had left the fold, but new added members included Don Preston (keyboards), Billy Mundi (drums, vocals), Bunck Gardner (woodwinds), Ian Underwood (piano, woodwinds) and Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood (saxophone). It was produced by Zappa, with Wilson credited as executive producer and from then on, Zappa produced all albums released by the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. 'We're Only In It For The Money' featured some of the most creative audio editing and production yet heard in pop music, and the songs ruthlessly satirized the hippie and flower power phenomena. The intended cover photo parodied that of the Beatles' 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and cover art was provided by Cal Schenkel whom Zappa met in New York. This initiated a lifelong collaboration in which Schenkel designed covers for numerous Zappa and Mothers albums. Zappa and the Mothers returned to Los Angeles in the summer of 1968 where Zappa eventually moved into a house that was to become his home for the rest of his life.
Reflecting Zappa's eclectic approach to music, the next album, 'Cruising With Ruben & The Jets' (issued in late 1968), was very different from its predecessors. It represented a collection of well-crafted 1950s doo-wop songs that listeners and critics were not sure was a satire or a tribute. The album is quite original and good with highlights that include 'How Could I Be Such A Fool', 'I'm Not Satisfied', the incredibly catchy 'Jelly Roll Gum Drop' and the outstanding ballad 'You Didn't Try To Call Me'. In late 1969, Zappa disbanded the original Mothers Of Invention citing financial strain as the main reason. Remaining recordings with the original Mothers from this period were collected on the LPs 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh' and 'Burnt Weeny Sandwich', both released in 1970 after the breakup.
Later in 1970, Zappa decided to form a new version of the Mothers with members Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (keyboards), Ian Underwood (woodwinds, keyboards), Jeff Simmons (bass, rhythm guitar), and three members of the recently defunct Turtles: Jim Pons (bass), and singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, who, due to persistent legal and contractual problems, adopted the stage names "The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie", or "Flo & Eddie". This version of the Mothers debuted on Zappa's next 1970 solo album 'Chunga's Revenge', which was followed by the double-album soundtrack to the 1971 movie '200 Motels', featuring the Mothers, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Theodore Bikel, and Keith Moon of the Who.
In late 1971, Zappa suffered two serious setbacks with the first occurring while performing at Casino de Montreux in Switzerland. The Mothers' equipment was destroyed when a flare set off by an audience member started a fire that burned down the casino and was immortalized in Deep Purple's classic song 'Smoke On The Water'. After a week's break, the Mothers played at the Rainbow Theatre in London with rented gear and during the encore an audience member pushed Zappa off the stage and into the concrete-floored orchestra pit. The band thought Zappa had been killed, but he survived suffering serious fractures, head trauma and injuries to his back, leg, and neck, as well as a crushed larynx, which ultimately caused his voice to drop a third after healing. This accident resulted in an extended period of wheelchair confinement, making touring impossible for over 6-months. Meanwhile, the Mothers were left in limbo and eventually formed the core of Flo and Eddie's band as they set out on their own.
Zappa focused on big-band and orchestral music while recovering from his injuries, and in 1973 formed the Mothers final lineup, which included Underwood, Duke, Ralph Humphrey (drums), Sal Marquez (trumpet), Tom Fowler (trombone), Bruce Fowler (bass) and Ruth Underwood (xylophone, percussion). The final album using the Mothers as a backing band, 1975's 'Bongo Fury', was a collaboration with Captain Beefheart and featured Denny Walley (guitar) and Terry Bozzio (drums), who continued to perform for Zappa on non-Mothers releases into the 80s.