the ray collins interview

part two

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SP:     And we're going to be playing Love Of My Life by Ron Roman in just a minute, but I want to play Every Time I See You by The Heartbreakers. Now that's Zappa playing guitar on that?

RC:     You know,  I don't know.  I had nothing to do with that session, I wasn't there.  Frank and I sat down at the same piano in his house in Ontario, and wrote Every Time I See You, and then he just came one day and said these guys The Heartbreakers, had done the song in Cucamonga.

SP:     What was the idea for the song, when you wrote it?

RC:  Just thinking about a beautiful girl I see somewhere-- the usual.

SP:     "The usual"! In conversation with, and learning about the career of, Ray Collins.  Now, the name might not be a household word, but think of Ruben & The Jest and think of The Mothers Of Invention and think of  those early involvements with Frank Zappa.  Would you say you were Frank Zappa's first collaborator?

RC:     I probably was, actually.  Yeah.

SP:     Was it a good thing?

RC:     Uh-huh.

SP:     Good.  What do you think you brought to the collaboration?  What did he bring?

RC:     I brought the, well, the "style" of being raised in Pomona, California, being raised on the, probably on The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen, Frankie Lane, Frank Sinatra, Jesse Baldwin.  The early influences of R&B came into the Southern California area when I was probably in the tenth grade in high school.  And I remember Peter Potter, remember him?

SP:     Sure.

RC:     I remember Peter Potter's show, and I think I recall the first R&B tune on there was Oop-Shoop, I think it was.

SP:     Sure, sure.  They got some of The Queens.

RC:     Yeah, right.

SP:     I'd say that's the first girl-group record.

RC:     And Frank, he actually had more influences from the "Real blues", you know, like Muddy Waters, those kind of people.  But I wasn't into that in my early life.  I was in more of the "pop" culture, pop-radio things, and it's always been more of a favorite of mine than the early blues stuff-- although I love it, I love like John Lee Hooker 'n all those people.

SP:     Did you hit it off well, at the beginning?  Did you see that you know, this could be something that could go for a number of years--

RC:     --yeah--

SP:     --or was it like, "Let's write this song and get out of here"?

RC:     --no--

SP:     What was it?

RC:     I would say that in that area of the world, it was nice to run into somebody like Frank Zappa.  Because most of my life, at that time, was-- although I had already, when I met Frank, I had already recorded with The Tigers in a period at El Monte Legion Stadium, Long Beach Municipal Auditorium, on the different shows with the Johnny Otis band, the Chuck Higgins band, Joe Huston's band-- (pause) 

SP:     And your forte, other than vocals, is piano playing--

RC:     No, not really--

SP:     OK, so you would strictly be a vocalist--

RC:     Yeah, I was--

SP:     The high falsetto part--

RC:     Uh, yeah, and you know, the regular part, too.

SP:     Come on in, if you're such a hot vocalist, stay with the mic, OK? (chuckling)

RC:     OK.

SP:     Now, on Love Of My Life, and we're gonna get more into this early involvement with Zappa, now, you were songwriter collaborators, then you quit being collaborators, then you got together again with The Mothers, but a few years elapsed, and you had a group called The Soul Giants?

RC:     Right.

SP:     What was that about?  Tell me about that.

RC:     Well, I was living in Pomona again, Frank and I had parted after making records in Studio Z, and it was a period when I was just doing menial work as a carpenter and drinking away my paycheck every week, and I came upon some guys that were building a place called The Broadside-- a great club, a great concept for a club-- and he had other places and packed the people in.  And I used to go there.  And they hired a band called The Soul Giants, which had Roy Estrada (who became The Mothers' bass player), Jim Black, drums (The Mothers drummer), a horn player called Davy Coronado, a singer named Dave (I forgot his last name), and a guitar player named Ray Hunt.  I guess his name is Ray Hunt-- I had forgotten his name until I read it and what Frank said I said about him.  But anyway, the club owner-- I used to get up and sing.  Also, another band that was there was the Three Days & A Night-- Two Days-- Three Days & A Night, which had Henry Vestine, guitar--

SP:     Sure, of Canned Heat.

RC:  --and also of The Mothers-- he was in The Mothers for a while.  So I used to get and sing with them.

SP:     --go ahead--

RC:  --and I used to get up and sing with The Soul Giants, and the club owner, Skip, liked my singing better than he liked Dave's singing with The Soul Giants, so he told The Soul Giants they could stay, but Dave had to go, and I would become the lead singer.  I always felt kind of bad about that, actually, but you know, I wanted to sing, so I got up and sang, and became a part of The Soul Giants.

SP:     That's show biz.  (both chuckle).  Now, were you on Love of My Life with Ron Roman?

RC:     Yeah.  Actually, Ron Roman-- I think Dave Arny recorded Ron Roman's voice on top of a track that Frank and I and Paul Buff had done already that already existed, so I'm on there doing falsetto and background vocals.

SP:     So there is no lead vocal on that track you wrote in search of a lead singer?-- or--

RC:     I think either they took my lead off, or I was going to put one on later.  I think I did record a lead on that.  A different version.

SP:     And the same song came to life again on the Ruben & The Jets LP, right?

RC:     yeah.

SP:     And you're doing what on Love Of My Life by Ruben & The Jets?

RC:     Probably 3 background vocals and the lead.

SP:     OK, we're going to hear that, and after we hear that, we'd like to take some phone calls... because I think listeners are gonna be able to ask you more informed questions about your career than I can.  There's so many questions, that I want to have some listener input as to your career with Frank Zappa, The Mothers  Of Invention, Ruben & The Jets.  You were there, helping to start it all.  How much of the ideas were your ideas, how much were Frank's ideas?  I mean, is it 50/50, 60/40, 36/70, whatever--- (both laugh)

RC:     Well, a lot of the "maybe-major" things were my ideas; I would say, Frank, obviously being the leader of the band, if you wanted to put it percentagewise, I'd probably say 20/80 in Frank's favor.

SP:     OK.  Well, then, that's-- since it was-- it did sort of revolutionize rock and roll.

RC:     Yeah.  Right, right.

SP:     --after this song, a remake of Love Of My Life, the Ron Roman original, and you were on both of them?

RC:     Right.

SP:     OK.  (Songs play.)  Page 65 of "The Real Frank Zappa Book," newly-issued, Chapter 4, "Are We Having A Good Time Yet?"  "During the early days when Paul Buff still owned the studio, I met Ray Collins.  Ray had sung with a number of R&B groups since the mid-50's and had recorded with Little Julian Herrera and The Tigers.  In 1964 he was supporting himself by working as a carpenter.  On weekends he sang with a group called The Soul Giants in a bar in Pomona called The Broadside."  Well, some of that's correct, I don't think you sang with a number of groups--

RC:  No, uh-uh.

SP:     You sang with a group.  I guess the number was one.  "Apparently he got into a fight with the guitar player, Ray Hunt, punched him out, and the guitar player quit. They needed a substitute so I [FZ] filled in for the weekend." True or false?

RC:  Absolutely not.  I never touched Ray Hunt, I don't even remember shaking his hand.

SP:     No, it said you punched him.

RC:  I know, that's what I mean.  I never touched him in any manner, shape or form.

DP:     Why did he leave the group?

RC:     He didn't like me for some reason.  The Soul Giants at that time were Roy Estrada on bass, Jim Black on drums, Davy Coronado on saxophone, and Ray Hunt on guitar.  And he used to play the wrong thing behind me-- the wrong chord-changes or something-- so finally I mentioned it to Roy and Jim, 'cause Roy and I had gotten pretty close by then-- what was going on.  And Roy said, "Yeah, I noticed it too."  So it all came down to the fact that Ray Hunt didn't want to be part of the band, so we just got together after the show one night, and said, "OK, Ray, you're not doing it right-- so don't do it."  So he said, "Great, so I'm leaving."  So I said, "Don't worry about it, 'cause I know a guy that I worked with before from Ontario/ Cucamonga named Frank Zappa, and I think maybe he'd like to be in  the band."  So I called Frank and he became part of the band.  But that's very strange that out of all Frank's memory-banks, he should pull out something like that, which isn't true at all, actually. 

DP:     That's very-- I don't know how to put it-- it's "interesting," to use the word in a bad sense,-- that what became The Mothers was a band that Frank came into as a replacement for.  It was a pre-existing band. And yet-- the way things worked out-- the band he came into, became the band "The Mothers" that sort of started his professional career off in the record world.

RC:     Yeah, that's true.

DP:     Odd how things happen.

RC:     Yeah, I know.  And then, from what I hear from his book, it's like the band almost didn't exist or something, you know.

DP:     -- he really seems to have a-- bad feeling about his association with you, for some reason.  Do you have any idea-- is it just that-- the personality clash, or something or--

RC:     I don't know.  I've always walked away from things that were threatening, authority-wise-- that's one of the greatest things in the world, to walk away from a job.  Isn't that fun?

DP:     YES!

RC:     Great!  I don't know-- maybe I kind of think, sometimes, that-- Frank used to say, I heard him actually say it to other people that, in conversation, that "Yeah, Ray" (talking about me) "gets all these great ideas and then I use them, I do them."  But I noticed over the years that, either someone told him or he realized it himself, that that's not a good thing, to go around telling somebody else that somebody else has a lot of ideas that you had.  So it could be, possibly, that Frank doesn't want to say anything, and sort of keep it cool, keep it quiet, keep it down, and then he can be "Francis Vincent Zappa, genius of Laurel Canyon," you know. But who knows?  I don't know that that's it.  I do know that he says a lot fo good things about me, too.  So I got to look at both sides of it.

DP:     I know he's very demanding, and I know in the (so-called) "classical" world, there's a lot of people who don't like demanding musical leaders.  And there's a lot fo people who can just-- it rolls right off their backs.

RC:     Don't most great conductors and band leaders, Duke Ellington and all those people, most of them have a reputation for being pretty hard to get along with?  I believe they're very demanding.

DP:     People like Fritz Reiner, Stravinsky, Cab Calloway, too, Buddy Rich.  And Miles, Miles Davis.

RC:     Maybe everyone is, or anyone is, if they get that kind of authority to be able to hire and fire people.  Maybe they do all get crazy like that.  Maybe I would, maybe you would!  By the way, David, you're fired!

DP:     Oh!  Here, you get to run the board!  I know, working on tapes, I'm very much a perfectionist, in my own work, like Frank says in the book-- machines are not people, a live band is not a Synclavier, and they do different things.  This is a good hour to go into thos, before we go into our next musical selection.  There is-- well, here.  Why should I paraphrase?  I'm no going to do too much of this, but I thought since this is in a book, and it's talking about someone else, we should have that other person comment on it.  This is in "The Real Frank Zappa Book," and it's in the section "Are We Having  a Good Time Yet?," and it's under the subheading "What's in a Name?".  This is what Frank has to say about a meeting, and he really gives it to Ray, and I'd like to give Ray the opportunity to give his side of an event.

"Freak Out! by 'The Mothers Of Invention' finally hit the street. Listeners at the time were convinced that I [FZ] was up to my eyebrows in chemical refreshment.  No way.  As a matter of fact, I had several arguments with the guys in the band who were into 'consciousness-altering entertainment products.'  The whole thing blew up at a band meeting when Herb Cohen wanted to get rid of Mark Cheka.  Cohen said we could continue to give Mark a percentage, but he wanted to take over since, basically, Mark didn't know squat about the management business. 
'Well, as long as we're cleaning house here,' some of the guys thought, 'let's get rid of that Zappa asshole too.'  Yes, folks, some members of the band wanted me to go away and leave them alone because (don't laugh) I wasn't using drugs."

Now this is where you come in.

"The classic line of the meeting was delivered by Ray Collins:  'You need to go to Big Sur and take acid with someone who believes in God!' Undaunted by this fascinating suggestion, I continued my duties as resident-- "  arschloch.  ('Cause you can't say that word-- the FCC does not like Pacifica to say words like that!)  Now--that's Frank's rememberence.  Would you care to elaborate on that?

RC:     Well, I didn't recall that Herbie wanted to get rid of Mark Cheka, but I agree.  I didn't understand why Mark, other than the fact that he was a friend of Frank's, had anything to do with The Mothers anyway, because he wasn't, to my way of looking at it, an actual manager, although a very  nice person.  As far as anyone, I can't speak for the other Mothers, but as far as wanting Frank out of the band because he didn't take drugs, it's total nonsense!  I can't imagine anyone, even someone who's totally on drugs, wanting someone out of their way because they don't use drugs.  The reason-- that was a great meeting; I wish somebody had recorded it, it would have been a great album-- I wanted Frank not to be the leader of the Mothers Of Invention because I didn't like what he was doing with the band, and his control.  Like, the Mothers albums, as good or as bad as they are, are Frank's version of the Mothers of Invention.  I suggested at that meeting that we take any member of the band besides Frank or myself-- would become the leader of the band.  That way it would take the leadership away from him, and I wouldn't be taking it, giving  it to myself.  It wasn't like I wanted to be the leader of it, I just wanted an equal say in what happened with the band.

DP:     This comment sounds more like-- it's a "Lighten up, Frank," comment, rather than a literal suggestion--

RC:     Yeah, right.  And that's when the "take acid and go to Big Sur"-- that came, that's out of context, of course.  I mean, there's a lot of things said, and that's what that was too.  You know, "lighten up, Frank." I'm not sure that-- I mena, what is "someone who believes in God"?  If you sit with someone who believes in "God," you're sitting with someone who believes in what they believe God is.  So how would I know to say that he-- what I'm saying is "Take it easy, Frank."  It's not a major event. The first time I ever took LSD, Frank Zappa took me to get the LSD, in Hollywood on Sunset boulevard.  It was induced into my mouth by way of an eyedropper out of a vial.  Frank didn't take any to my knowledge at the time.  But he took me to get the LSD.  So it seems a bit ironic that he should make this kind fo statement about me.  And he also was quoted in another  book called "No Commercial Potential" saying that I was an "archetypal acid-burnout victim."

DP:     What is that, anyway?

RC:     I have no idea, I don't know.

DP:     I'm not understanding this "burnout" thing.  Maybe burning out on society.  I always wondered how people use that.  I'm serious.  I'm throwing that out as an academic question, too.  If anyone would like to call in and tell us what a "burnout victim" is, I would like to know what a definition is.

RC:     I think we're all burnout victims.

DP:     After 8 years of "Uncle Ron"-- who wouldn't be?  And "Uncle Duke" up there--

RC:     Right--

DP:     You also said, while we're on the subject of this-- you also said you smoked a proscribed substance with Frank.

RC:     Yeah, right.

DP:     What was like, when he was loaded?

RC:     It was a long time ago, it was on the way to the airport.  Henry Vestine, who went on to make Canned Heat, was in our band at the time.  He and Frank and I smoked a joint on the way to the airport, I think the first time we were going to San Francisco.  And Frank was, if I remember right, a bit giddy, and maybe paranoid.  You know, I was probably giddy and paranoid, too!  Maybe we all were. 

DP:     Sam Yorty was mayor then--

RC:     But I really do believe Frank when he says he doesn't do drugs.

DP:     He brings up the fact that he smoked maybe a dozen joints.

RC:     Oh, he does?

DP:     Yeah, he brings it up in-- he's talking mostly about beer in the chapter.  But he brings that up.  In fact, he says if he had liked it-- apparantly he's just one fo those metabolisms that just doesn't take to it-- which is simply a fact of biology-- he said if he had liked it, he'd probably be smoking it today, because he likes to smoke.

RC:     Oh yeah?

DP:     Actually, I think he has a very enlightened, libertarian attitude towards it.

RC:     Yeah.  So do I.  Frank does take care of his health.  He always had the look to me of a yoga.  He always could get into the lotus position really easy;  he always looked to me like he did yoga or believed in Zen, maybe inside himself more than he did publicly.  Where he just really takes care of his body but doesn't want to make a public issue out of it, I'm probably wrong-- he probably eats steak every night, I don't know.

DP:     But I wanted to clear up that thing about-- it seems like he felt he was being persecuted, but I really don't think that's the case, myself. 

RC:     No, not at all.

DP:     I'm glad you were able to give us another side of it.

RC:     Yeah, right.  I'm sure the other Mothers have another side.

DP:     Probably one for every member fo the band.

RC:     yeah, really.

        (Musical selections)

DP:     We started off with two versions of How Could I Be Such A Fool, from FREAK OUT! and "Cruising With Ruben & The Jets," then we heard the original Studio Z, Cucamonga, 1962 version of Deseri, then we heard How's Yer Bird?, also recorded at Studio Z... Ray, who wrote some of these? 

RC:     How Could I Be Such A Fool was written by Frank Zappa.  Deseri-- Paul Buff owned Studio Z in Cucamonga before Frank took it, and he had a track with no vocal, and it was sort of like a Four Seasons foot-stomp background kind of a track, and he didn't know exactly what to do with it, so I said, "Well, give it to me, I'll take it home and write a song," and so I wrote Deseri on top of it.  And like we were talking about earlier, I believe the original old version is better than The Mothers' "too clean" version.

DP:     Who's the drummer on that, by the way?

RC:     I think Francis Vincent Zappa, if I remember right.  He's on foot-stomps, too.  Or shoe-stomps-- I think he didn't use his feet, just his shoes.

DP:     You mentioned last night, on Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder, that you had some input on that.

RC:     Oh yeah.  I think I was thinking about my ex-wife, if I remember right.  So Frank and I were in Cucamonga, and so I said, "Oh, I got this idea about, 'Don't bother me,' 'Go away,' ''Go cry on somebody else's shoulder.'"  He said, "Great!"  So I sat down at the piano and started playing it, and Frank joined in, and we created Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder.  And then of course, the spoken part that's on the Mothers' album, is all just ad-libbed, right in the studio, about the khakis, and the Mexican input.

DP:     You used to do a lot of ad-libbing.

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