press reviews


DE VOLKSKRAUT, NETHERLANDS, 8.12.93

the Grandmothers in Parker's, Amsterdam

 

Not with a minute of silence, but with a minute of chaos roaring into the room drummer Jimmy Carl Black, saxophonist Bunk Gardner and keyboardist Don Preston commemorated on Monday night in Amsterdam their former employer Frank Zappa who died the previous weekend.

"Thanks Frank for teaching us this", spoke Don Preston with a devote tongue-in-cheek. An appropriate farewell considering the mixed feelings shared by many early Zappa bandmembers, about this person: there is no lack of horror stories about his dictatorial leadership, "but we love his music and that's why we keep playing it" said Preston after wich the Grandmothers burst out in a red hot version of the Zappa classic 'Hot' Rats (-it was Willy The Pimp- S.O) .

The temperature in the packed house immidiatly rose to high. Cheers and a scala of inside jokes (Suzy Creamcheese) suggested a Zappa-party happening instead of a funeral. And it really was like that. The Grandmothers played their interpretations with heart and soul in an atmosphere where they proved the quality of the early Zappa repertoire.

Grandmothers is the collective name for a changing group of musicians, who have in common having once been part of the first editions of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention and having been fired by the leader for whatever reason. Ex-Mothers carry with them an unconfortable inheritance: they are sick of always being connected with Zappa, but they realize of course that it is this reference that gives them work. And the pride of having once belonged to the real pioneers of the Zappa music only increases over the years.

The Grandmothers are real rock veterans; greying fiftiers, who have seen all the terrors of life on the road, and who don't blink an eye when seeing a dressing room looking like a zoo. Expecially the beautiful pirate-face of drummer Jimmy Carl Black ('the Indian of the group') shows the years of rock and roll.

* * * * * * * *

Over the last years a number of groups popped out covering only Zappa music. Now that he is gone this will only increase. This edition of the Grandmothers lays yet a convincing claim on the rich years between 1966 and 1970.

It's unlikely that we will hear again the otrageus rendition of 'King Kong' with the assistance of four Dutch tenor players, but there's no doubt that a live recording at Parker's will be worth having.

by Eric van den Berg


T'MERSHI DWEEN n.43

The Grandmothers: St.Helens Citadel 11.12.94 (Mike Kidson)

During 1994 I heard a lot of savage comments about the Grandmothers' gigs from numerous Continental hardcores. No names, no pack drill, but the general opinion seemed that they were crap and not worth seeing again. I admit to being biased: I like these guys and I love to hear them play, even when they're ragged (as they certainly were at that London hell-hole they played in August 1993). But after witnessing this gig, I'm almost left wondering if the Europeans fans had been to see the same band.

Their ninety minute continuous set had a small but sufficient audience heaving and rocking with delight as they worked their way through 'The Big Medley' (during wich I almost lost it - there can be few experiences in live music so visceral as 'The Orange County Lumber Truck' being driven relentlessly along by the Jimmy Carl Black backbeat), 'King Kong', 'Trouble Every Day' (they're now doing the 1974 arrangement, for some reason), 'Who Are The Brain Police?', Jonny Guitar Watson's 'Lonely Lonely Nights' and many more that I can't remember - hey, I was dancing, not taking notes. Oh yes, and 'Brown Shoes Don't Make It', the wole thing, including the twisted ending, breezed through as if it was just another doo-wop number. The sound was clear and confortable, the playing excellent. Special mention for the quiet man of the group Ener Bladezipper, an astoundingly inventive bassist who discreetly helds the whole thing together. To top the cake, there were plenty of those improvised vocal interludes, sounding good enough to prove that they can do it without Frank there to direct them. A killer gig; roll on next tour.


The Grandmothers Whelan's

 

From The Irish Times, December 19, 1994

By KEVIN COURTNEY

 

BETWEEN 1966 and 1969, The Mothers Of Invention provided the avant garde jazz/ rock backing

for Frank Zappa's wild and wacky musical concepts, and three of its key members, Jimmy Carl Black,

Don Preston and Bunk Gardner, are now trading under the name The Grandmothers.

Since Zappa's troupe never made it to Dublin, this gig at Whelan's constitutes the first time a Mother

Of Invention has actually played here, and so all the Zap heads were out in force to hear stuff from such

classic albums as Freak Out!, Absolutely Free and Burnt Weenie Sandwich.

 

Nobody could replace the late, great Zappa, and the Grandmothers certainly don't try, but you can't help

noting the resemblance between Italian guitarist Sandro Oliva and the band's erstwhile leader.

It must be the handlebar mustache, or the regal way in which he conducts the rest of the band during a

particularly tricky musical passage, or maybe it's just wishful thinking.

The line up is completed by a Dutch bassist, the wonderfully named Enzer Bladezipper.

 

The crowd calls out for Zappa favourites, and the Grandmothers oblige with early gems like Trouble

Every Day, Who Are The Brain Police?, Brown Shoes Don't Make It and Lonesome Cowboy Burt.

As their name suggests, the band are no spring chickens, but their musical prowess is well up to the

demands of Zappa's complex, tangential and offbeat compositions.

Every track is a comedic mini symphony, replete with musical jokes (and lyrical ones too), and the

Grandmothers hold tightly to the reins as they buck and leap through endless time changes and

variations. The emphasis is on the music rather than the comedy, although there is a rather unnecessary

theatrical interlude during which keyboard player Don Preston produces a rubber hand from his

trousers and then shoots it.

 

While it's probably true that the Grandmothers are trading on past glories, at least they're not grave

robbing; in fact, they're furthering the cause of jazz/rock/blues/classical experimentation by staying

firmly on the outer fringes of nostalgia.


Summer '97


Saw the Grandmothers yesterday in Brussels...

They were EXCELLENT! (whatever happened in Amsterdam and whatever Frank said about them in the past).

About 400 people were there I guesstimate...

Lineup:

Don Preston: keyboards, vocals

Jimmy Carl Black: drums, vocals, cowboy hat

Bunk Gardner: saxes, flute, vocals, "Wait A Minute, That's IMPOSSIBLE!"

Sandro Levo (sp???): guitar, vocals

Xxxx Yyyy (???): bass, vocals

- The guitar player Sandro is an Italian: remarkably Zappa look-, move-, and play-alike...

If his voice had a lower pitch and if he wouldn't have his Italian accent, you'd swear you had the master before you...

His guitar sound and style are pure Zappa and very okay!

- Bunk Gardner's sax was amazing.

- Jimmy's typical drum sound was really authentic.

- Don Preston's lead singing was super.

- Good bass by Xxxx Yyyy (sorry about the name).

Sound quality was extremely good: much and much and very very much better than what the Muffin Men had to offer.

The group played and sang very disciplined and they seemed to have a very good time.

Songs:

Willie The Pimp

King Kong

Little House I Used To Live In

Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich

Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown

Aybe Sea

Who Are The Brain Police?

Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder

Trouble Every Day

The Dog Breath Variations

Mother People

Plastic People

Big Leg Emma

Big Swifty (not sure about this one!) (and you're damn right!!! never played it!!! S.O.)

Invocation And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin

Bobby Brown (just a few measures)

Peaches En Regalia

Let's Make The Water Turn Black

Oh No

The Orange County Lumber Truck

Lonesome Cowboy Burt (encore #1)

Help, I'm A Rock (encore #2)

Brown Shoes Don't Make It

and, some very good own material

Pretty impressive list if I may say so... Some of the songs were complete, some were just fragments.

All in all this was an excellent concert (2.5 hours of playing).

Those who weren't there because Frank once said they were pitiful, were dead wrong.

If you have a chance to go see them in Paris or where ever, go see them. No excuse!

(FOUND SOMEWHERE IN THE WEB)


Eislingen (D), tour '98


A peach of a regalia

(the Grandmothers Live at the Brook, Southampton, March 15 1998)

 

 

So from the opening cinematic roll of drums which brings in the most glorious anthem to knock anything that McCartney or that Andrew Lloyd Webber bloke has orchestrated into the dust.

The Brook is filled wall to wall with Peaches En Regalia and Bunk Gardner is blowing tenor saxophone like a one man orchestra. Pull my jaw off the floor.

On strides Jimmy Carl Black with his audience still looking dazed and gobsmacked by the opener. He introduces the entire band which confirms that the guy with the goatee and beret on keyboards is not Don Preston unless he's been under a California shrink to stem the ageing process. "And I'm Jimmy Carl Black, the Indian of the group," grins the most famous Apache since Geronimo.

The Grandmothers kick off into something that sounds like one of their own songs. Jimmy Carl Black slams a tambourine against his jeans.

When he opens his mouth he snarls into the microphone like he's been gargling with cactus juice. It's a gnarled growl, the kind that Howling Wolf handed down to Captain Beefheart.

The band are driving it with a rhythm straight out of Bakersfield, circa 1964.

Oldsmobile tyres on the highway with r'n'b crackling on the radio. All darkness and headlights out in the desert night.

The band are already playing off the planet. Just as Duke Ellington brought his orchestra to the Palladium in 1933 and took Max Jones head off.

"They played like men from Mars," he recalled. Off the planet, I tell you when Bunk Gardner breezed in with a tenor saxophone solo you had to make that off the f******* galaxy. It was like I've always imagined Paul Gonzales fifty six chorus stonker to have been at the Newport Festival in 1957. (the night the old man of jazz Duke Ellington howed the young kids how it was done).

Bunk flew in, effortless, like cruising a Harley down a desert highway, clicked her up a gear and wound the throttle all the way up. Like Tim Buckley at his most unfettered, wild and gorgeously in control.

In the under populated Brook tonight people were shaking their heads in disbelief, standing with wide grins breaking across their faces.

By the time Bunk throttled down and the tune had subsided into mass applause my hands were red raw from clapping. My head good and blown and I was fired and ready to let 'em come at me again.

Come they did. A relentless song after song barrage comprised of Mother of Invention classics and the Grandmothers own cracked calico bar room tunes.

They hardly stopped for breath. The drummer so fired that no sooner had he ended one tune he was starting another. His rim shots and smashes at the cymbals as rumbuctious as a saloon brawl.

The keyboard player, from the Lower East Side of New York, jazz alley and some, was delightfully laid back and right on the case. Just sat there playing killer solos without breaking sweat.

Enr Bladezipper, has a name that Captain Beefheart would chuckle at. The big Dutchman stands with his baseball hat turned peak backwards tucking back his blonde hair and playing bass that is tight. Drum skin tight.

Then stage to my right stands a guy who looks a dead ringer for Salvador Dali, aged thirty. Never mind the Frank Zappa lookalike claims, this is Dali, a large beret falling over his outflow of long hair. His moustache whirled and waxed like the painters. Sandro Oliva, one of the Italians of the group. The guitar solo's mine the Frank Zappa guitar book but don't sound tribute band contrived. Just sweet.

This was a set that slipped effortlessly between old Mothers of Invention classics and Grandmother's favourites and the odd cover. Odd, I reckon one was by the Searchers, the other was Help by the Beatles. All fitted into this superb 'movie for the ears'.

I did not have time to recover from Bunk's awesome soloing on the second number before the band kicked off into Call Any Vegetable as though we are back in Greenwich Village circa 1968.

Time changes to make those with heads stuck in Sad FM and practising Oasis riffs against bedroom walls just gape. Bunk and Sandro and the piano player trading licks like flipping cards from the deck.

The one that had me back in every main street in America was Hungry Freaks Daddy.

Boy did I laugh myself silly at that. I'd sung those lyrics in every place I found myself in, San Francisco, Austin, Houston, Nashville, Memphis, Chicago, St. Louis, Albuquerque and tonight like a birthday request Jimmy Carl Black is pumping those places rough my head as he sings:

 

"Mr America walk on by

Your supermarket dream

Mr. America walk on by

The liquer stores supreme . . ."

 

To reach the high notes Jimmy Carl Black applies several quick hand chops to his throat before returning to his voice to its bottom of the well growl.

From Hungry Freaks Daddy they fell into a long loping cactus trail song called The Great White Buffalo.

It sounded like it should have been on the first Mallard album. Everytime Bunk draws that tenor sax close to his mouth my spine shivers. Sandro is careering guitar licks all over the place. The drummer (Steve Briony) is just bombarding the front line. The piano fills are jazzy and oh oh so sweet.

Uncle Frank was a solid Beatles fan and so are the Grandmothers, particularly Sandro Oliva.

Help is a classic version as only a band with so much class can deliver. They follow it with Trouble Coming Every Day that awesome Freak Out classic. Like Charly Patton's High Water Everywhere that documented a Mississippi River flood, Trouble Coming Every Day is a classic documentary song. East LA burns again under Sandro's tortured guitar solos, cymbals crack like gunfire, JCB sings as dark as Robert Johnson, the keyboard player slips notes in like drops of petrol and Bunk Gardner comes through to torch the lot. Whew.

Time to lighten up. "This is a song written in 1956, the first one that Frank let me sing on, never did a thing . . ." laments Jimmy Carl Black. Another rare Mother's take, the single, Big Leg Emma. Burlesque saxophone, singalong choruses, a band swinging like bitches. Having broken a string on Trouble Coming Every Day Sandro Oliva has switched guitars. As Big Leg Emma ends to more riotous applause Sandro drops to his knees to fix a string.

In steps Bunk to keep the music moving. I split my sides. Go see Baby Boom with Diane Keeton. That bit in the film when her plumber turns up on tage playing saxophone doing Moonlight On Vermont. Bunk Gardner doing Moonlight on Vermont solo. Not the Trout Mask Replica howling snarling one but the kind of stuff that makes Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow a notch up from those pretentious milk limp operetta's that Lloyd Webber comes up with. Audience with him on every chorus.

Strings rewound, guitar tuned, band fidgeting to get rolling again. Straight into a full length version of Brown Shoes Don't Make It. One for the bow tie johnnies to debate in the lecture halls. Time signatures flying all over the place, lyrics ramming the hypocrisy of City Hall types and their sexual mores right back in their faces. Kind of fitting for my Millenium dome rants. Frank Zappa at his most cynical.

By now any four four band would have thrown in the towel. Those that fancied their chances would have been floored by the next onslaught. Sandro Oliva introduced one of his own songs called "Junk Food from a CD called 'Who the fuck is Sandro Oliva anyway?'," he laughs. Junk Food turns out to be a glorious mix of Sandro's own tune with Mother's classics like Holiday In Berlin Full Blown, Help I'm A Rock and Oh No (I don't believe it) and it's a long time since I heard it but I think something like King Kong.

The highlights overflowed like a busted water pipe. I was now upstairs at the Brook leaning over the balcony right over the keyboard player whose hands are playing different time signatures. The walls are starting to melt under Sandro's inspired solos, Bunk Gardner's gone into overdrive. Jimmy Carl Black's wandering around the stage hitting tambourine and nodding to the keyboard player about the drummer whose ripping up the drums like Billy Cobham. I am just stunned. The drumming is relentless, chock full of changing rhythms. More twists than a corkscrew.

Bunk's switching to flute as the tunes weave in and out. On the back burner stuff the drummer switches to the padded sticks. Does this a couple times through this great long sweep of a tune. Then the nerve ends start to jangle as he drops them and picks up the sticks. He's still beating time, rat a tatting the bass drum like a demented woodpecker, so tight, so in sync to make it sound like a tape loop. Bunk lifts the tenor to his mouth, Ener Bladezipper nods, the drummer signals they are off again with an almighty belt on the rims and the whole band moves up a gear and leaves all else in the dirt. Jimmy Carl Black is still shaking his head at the drummer and grinning like a drunk bear. As the final number it nailed my admiration right to their mast.

What else can follow that? Two encores. "We're going to do a country tune," announces Jimmy Carl Black on the band's return to the stage. "Only it's from Frank Zappa country . . ." Lonesome Cowboy Burt, JCB's grizzled old cowboy persona fitting the song like it was tailored made. Not one likely to make it onto the pages of the Country Music yee hah glossies or the Grand Old Opry. "In Germany we can play on all night," challenges JCB "but hey you guys have to go home now," he laments.

So the band end it up with a stonking version of Willie The Pimp. Black sounding more like Beefheart than the Captain did on this one. Stellar guitar stuff and everyone just right there to the end. Bunk Gardner still blowing like the saxophone colossus that he is. I take my pork pie hat off to him.

 

Mike Plumbley

 


Hilversum (NL), tour '98

 


 

THE GRANDMOTHERS

August 30, 2000, ATHENS, GE (USA)

Georgia Theatre

 

Ever since Frank Zappa's untimely death, I have wondered what chances were of getting any closer to the Duke of Prunes

other than watching videos and listening to his records. Little did I know some of those original Mothers were still touring as

"The Grandmothers." Last night I had the rare opportunity to switch from the video and compact disc player for the real

thing.

Shortly before the circus got underway, I asked to take a picture of Jimmy Carl Black. And where might the "Indian" of the

group be? He was suddenly grinning at my lens as if he had just popped out of the cover of We're Only In It For The Money. Unreal.

The band took the stage with a lengthy rendition of "Call Any Vegetable," walking in and out of the song with great ease and

precision. It featured all the studio antics one might miss during a live performance: vocal tightness, as well as disciplined, yet organic,

playing that makes for signature Zappa. Black fronted the whole thing with his unmistakable vocals, a somewhat cleaner Beefheart

gargle, preaching the goodness of vegetables amidst a quirky musical bazaar. A great opener since this song can stand as the flagship

of all Motherly songs.

Don Preston and Bunk Gardner, the two other original Mothers-turned-Grandmothers on stage, juggled their art like perfect and

creative musicians do. They put my ears on a musical rollercoaster full of surprises- fat riffs, sudden tempo changes and terrific solos.

People stumbled over their own feet in trying to keep up with the cheating music. Sandro Oliva's guitar playing was surprisingly

appropriate in a Zappa way: like jelly on a hot-dog, often so close to the original licks I couldn't help but wonder about the man's true

origins: a guy from Italy, looking, acting and playing as if he was Frank's twin brother. I wasn't looking for Zappa when I came to

this show, but this guy sure made it hard not to believe in the living dead!

Most of the concert featured lush arrangements of work from the first three Mothers-albums, all their hit singles as it were: "Plastic

People," "Big Leg Emma," "Who Are The Brain Police," and a dozen more-many of them incorporating themes from later Zappa.

Preston opened the second half sporting a wig and cape doing a piece of impromptu theater, his trademark and extensively featured in

"Uncle Meat." There were many of these theatrical breaks fueling an already good show, and when Preston started playing his

keyboards with the rubber glove that was sticking out of his fly I knew old age hadn't eroded these guys' wacky brand of humor yet.

I definitely have to mention the strong backbone to this crazy orchestra provided by the slap-you-with-a-wet-fish-drumming of the

Italian percussionist and Ener Bladezipper's solid bass playing (he squealed the famous line "What would you do, Daddy?" from

"Brown Shoes Don't Make It" and that by itself was worth the admission!). They gave Black, Preston, Gardner and Oliva the flexible

framework needed for this kind of music. "Lonesome Cowboy Burt," Black's zany appearance in 200 Motels, made for part of the

encore and the show ended in a 10-minute wild ride in the Beefheart vein. No "Suzy Creamcheese" this time, but plenty of rutabagas

and other vegetables were called upon by a gang of Grandmothers who still hold a place all their own in the great Zappa legacy.

Bart Van Art


Of course, the band had less favoreable reviews too (only till '94.......no bad ones in the '98 tour, sorry!!!):

look somewhere else on the web for the bad ones.


sandroliva@tiscali.it