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» Essra Mohawk in interview with Andrew Greenaway

Andrew Greenaway (aka The Idiot Bastard) has been interviewing Essra Mohawk (aka Sandy Hurvitz) ahead of her appearance at Zappanale. Here’s an extract. The full transcript will appear at www.idiotbastard.com shortly.

Andrew Greenaway: How and where did you first meet Frank?

Essra Mohawk: I was visiting NY with two friends from LA that I had met in Philly when they came to see Cal Schenkel. We were walking down Bleeker Street in the Village when we saw Frank Zappa coming our way. He was headed towards the Garrick Theater, where he and the Mothers were playing every night. The LA girls yelled out, “Ben Frank’s! Cantors!”, two popular hangs in LA that Frank was familiar with, so he let us all in for free and that’s how we met!

AG: What attracted you to him?

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Andrew Greenaway (aka The Idiot Bastard) has been interviewing Essra Mohawk (aka Sandy Hurvitz) ahead of her appearance at Zappanale. Here’s an extract. The full transcript will appear at www.idiotbastard.com shortly.

 

Andrew Greenaway: How and where did you first meet Frank?

Essra Mohawk: I was visiting NY with two friends from LA that I had met in Philly when they came to see Cal Schenkel. We were walking down Bleeker Street in the Village when we saw Frank Zappa coming our way. He was headed towards the Garrick Theater, where he and the Mothers were playing every night. The LA girls yelled out, “Ben Frank’s! Cantors!”, two popular hangs in LA that Frank was familiar with, so he let us all in for free and that’s how we met!

AG: What attracted you to him?

EM: His music, his performance, his band, his whole deal! I loved Freak Out! the first time I heard it and I was blown away after hearing the Mothers live in NY a year before meeting Frank and being asked to join the band!

AG: What are your memories of that period - the individual Mothers?

EM: I’ll start with Ray Collins, the smooth lead voice of the Mothers. His demeanour and spirit were as gentle as that velvety voice. He’s who came up with the name, ‘Uncle Meat’ at one of our rehearsals, telling Frank that he thought it was a great name for a rock star. Frank immediately spun around and pointing at me, he proclaimed, “You’re Uncle Meat!”

Bunky Gardner was the gentleman of the band. His hair and beard distinctive and well-groomed. His playing was perfection. He was extremely talented like the rest of the band but not as crazy! A Taurus like myself, he was down to earth but never down and dirty. Bunk always seemed to have it together. He was the most refined member of the Mothers. A kind and friendly man. I can’t remember him ever losing his cool.

Jimmy Carl Black was also down to earth while at the same time stretching up to the moon! He was bigger than life. A great performer, full of fun and mischief! When I first joined the band, he handed me a fat joint to give Frank (knowing Frank didn’t smoke pot and would freak out at the sight of a joint!). “Tell him it’s from the guys!” he said, and I, unsuspecting, complied. After Frank screamed for me to take the unlit joint away, I did so running back into Jimmy who was having a good laugh with the other guys over the prank! I loved Jimmy. He was one of a kind! I last saw him in 2000 when The Grandmothers came to Tennessee. Half of the band stayed at my house here in Nashville while they readied themselves for their US tour. There’s a great photo of me and Jimmy taken in Memphis! It’s hard to believe that he’s no longer with us. It’s a huge loss.

Billy Mundi used to call me Peanut. He was a kind friend and we remain friends to this day. He has been through a lot with his health for years due to advanced diabetes. He’s had heart attacks and amputations, facing it all with courage and a smile (and his loyal wife and caregiver, Patti). It was over Billy’s playing that Frank and I disagreed the first day we started tracking my album with the Mothers. Billy really started to cook during the ride out after the charts that Frank had written ended, so I asked Frank very respectfully if we could record it again with Billy playing like that from the top so that the track would cook right away rather than having to wait till the end of the song. Frank’s response was less than supportive. Let’s just say the session ended badly. I ended up walking out. I was an inexperienced youth of 19 and many years away from learning patience, tolerance and restraint. By the way, the song we began recording was the one we performed every night at the Garrick: Archgodliness Of Purpleful Magic. I can still remember Frank’s guitar line, which I’ll be teaching to Sandro for Zappanale where the song will be heard as close as possible to how the Mothers played it, for the first time since 1968! It was quite an honour to have my song included in the Mothers’ set. The only other song in the set not written by Frank, was a beautiful instrumental called Epistle To Thomas composed by keyboardist Don Preston in memory of his son who had died as an infant. The piece was progressive and celestial. Slow and exquisite. Of all the songs performed nightly by the Mothers, it was my favourite! Don Preston is a unique and sensitive musician.

AG: I’d love to hear Epistle To Thomas!

EM: I truly wish I could hear it again. It was so incredibly beautiful.[1]

AG: And Sandro? You mean former Grandmother Sandro Oliva? He’ll be playing with you at Zappanale?

EM: Yes, that very Sandro! He is a great guy and a great musician; I call him the Italian Frank Zappa!

AG: Fantastic!

EM: Getting back to Billy, several years ago, he visited me here in Nashville. I took him to a studio where he could produce a singer he was working with. While we were at that studio, something very mystical happened. As we sat on the couch during someone else’s session, suddenly, in the middle of the song they were recording, the two horn players began jamming, transforming the music into exactly how the Mothers sounded when they improvised at the Garrick Theater in 1967! Billy and I looked at each other in amazement. We both recognised and knew what we were hearing. It was as if the spirit of Frank had taken over the room. We marvel about it to this day. It was so beautiful. Transcendent and orgasmic! It was nothing short of the unique sound of Frank Zappa and the original Mothers of Invention. So it felt like my heart was being ripped out when the people whose session it was erased over it and in its place recorded a very bland and unmemorable horn line. There was nothing we could do. It wasn’t our session. Billy and I both agreed that special moment of music existed briefly just for us, commemorating our reunion after over three decades since we had played together in the Mothers! We almost got to be in another band together - Rhinoceros - but that’s another story.

Roy Estrada used to close his eyes while he played his bass on stage with the Mothers. Every now and then he’d open his eyes, look around confused, and ask, “What show is this?” I was never sure if he was kidding or he actually was playing in his sleep. He never missed a note so my guess is he was awake! Meanwhile, after all these years, I will be seeing him again at Rochefort-en-Accords where we may get the chance to play together again for the first time since 1968! Thinking about the possibility of us jamming together at Rochefort brought tears to my eyes. If it happens, I hope someone videos it. Music history in the making!

The Mother I’ve had the most contact with over the years is Don Preston and, even though we haven’t been in touch lately, I consider him a close and lifelong friend. I hear he’s in Europe playing with Roy. It’s because Don didn’t feel well when the new keyboard arrived that Frank asked me to play it for him so he could hear how it sounded. The only music I knew how to play was my own. As I began playing, I started to sing along. That’s all Frank had to hear. He instantly recruited me for the Mothers!

AG: I know you’re unhappy with Sandy’s Album Is Here At Last; can you tell me a little about the recording of that and what led to Frank ‘sabotaging’ production?

EM: Not long after I walked out of that first session, Frank delegated the production to the newest member of the Mothers, Ian Underwood. In Ian, Frank found an obedient soldier, albeit not the most inspired musician. In all of my over 40 years of recording experience, I’ve never witnessed a more inept or insensitive ‘producer’. Ian was good at only one thing: wasting studio time. He actually erased one of my best vocals for no rational reason. I was with a friend who witnessed it and was shocked when Ian gave the lamest reason I ever heard. He said he couldn’t mix it, which, of course, is absurd as it wasn’t a mixing session. We were recording my vocals. He would spend days putting down his own horn parts and then erasing them over and over! Not a single note of his noodling (thank goodness) ever ended up on the album. Production ended before the album was even close to being finished. A raw demo, it was released after I left Zappa, the Mothers, and New York for LA and a deal with Reprise being offered to me by Mo Ostin, with David Geffen offering to help. My second album was finished to my satisfaction and released on Reprise in 1970. Ultimately, I forgave Ian. He was young and didn’t know any better. I ran into him years later in LA. He seemed surprised, and appreciated that I treated him kindly and forgave him for screwing up my first album all those years ago. It still has merit, even though it’s so bare bones, as it shows the songs I wrote and my voice and piano playing at 19 and 20.

AG: Tell me about the track Bizarre Beginnings on your Revelations of the Secret Diva album.

EM: Frank was demoing a bunch of my songs in a row to consider for the album and we were just finishing up recording Woman (which appears on the album) when I got silly during the ride out, so Frank joined in with his “Bo, bo, bo,” and kissed me three times at the end in time to the music. It was the beginning of our romance.

AG: How do you feel about the ‘hit’ interpretations of Change Of Heart and Stronger Than the Wind?

EM: I think they both did a great job. Especially Cyndi who released Change Of Heart as a single that went to Number Three! That was a dynamic recording! Tina did a beautiful job on Stronger Than the Wind too. It was recorded in London to the tune of $50,000. A lush recording, but it was dropped from the album (Foreign Affair) after it was originally going to be the statement song of the album. It finally became the B-side on three different singles; one in England; one in Germany; and it was the B-side of Look Me In The Heart in the US, which is what led me to nickname it, ‘Stronger Than The A-Side’! Both singers stayed pretty true to the way I sang the songs on the original demos. I’m very happy with both of their versions. Years later I sat down at the piano and rewrote Change Of Heart, transforming it from an up-tempo 80s pop song to an R&B ballad. The new version is on my Essie Mae Hawk Meets The Killer Groove Band CD (available at CDbaby.com).

AG: Any chance we’ll hear you and Gary Lucas play The Devil’s Gotta Move Along at Zappanale?

EM: You betcha! Gary and I were just talkin’ about it on the phone and on his Facebook wall! We’re both looking forward to it!



[1] Don Preston subsequently told Andrew: “The name of the song Essra was speaking of is the first song I ever wrote, called ‘Aegospotomas’, named after a Greek river. It's on the CD called ‘Retrospective’ on Crossfire.” A version with Bunk Gardner appears on Don’s ‘Vile Foamy Ectoplasm’, also available from Crossfire Publications (www.crossfirepublications.com).

 

 

 

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Letzte Änderung amMontag, 27 Juni 2011 15:01

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