the ray collins interview

part three


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RC:     Yeah, right.  It's a lot of fun.  In fact, I've ruined a couple of Frank's tunes.

DP:     I was going to ask you about that.  In ABSOLUTELY FREE, it lists Side 1, Side 2, and the "3: PRUUNE: Ray Collins."

RC:     Yeah, well -- Frank had this very beautiful tune called And Very True, and when we went in to record it, being a little crazy at the time, after all these years still, I just ad-libbed on the spot.  The original lyrics I think were "Moonbeam through the night," something very loving, although Frank doesn't like love songs, and I said, "Moonbeam through the prune, in June, I can see your tits."  Can I say "tits"?  I can't say "tits"--

DP:     You just did, but don't say it again.

RC:     OK, I won't.  And, so anyway I just made it up on the spot.  So later, after we recorded it-- you can hear Frank cracking up on the record-- it's a lot of fun; it was fun-- in fact, that's my favorite Mothers album, the ABSOLUTELY FREE album-- so later, after we recorded it, I told Frank, "Well, you know, I just made up those lyrics, as we went along, so if not money," although I didn't say "Don't pay me" "so if not money I should at least get album credit for it."  So he says,"Well, just tell me what you want to put on the album."  And so a couple days later, I said, "Well, just put 'Prune: Ray Collins.'"  And he put the "Side 3" part.  That was out of his own mind.

DP:     I always wondered if there was a third side, one of those floppy discs--

RC:     There probably is.  I think it's the "cosmic" side because "3" is the "God" sign/number.  That's actually what it is, but we don't have to talk about that.  That's another story altogether.

DP:     No, we have a Wednesday morning program that can go into that.

RC:     By the way, I think everybody should run to their window and yell, "I'm not sick," or-- what was that line from that movie?

DP:     I'm mad as hell"?

RC:     Yeah, right.  But this time, go up to the window and yell, "I'm not mad at anything, and I'll continue to take it from now on!"

DP:     Well, the piece I have cued up here is Duke Of Prunes, and this is the one that you improvised the line to?

RC:     Yeah, right.  A lot of lines are just on the spot, made up.

DP:     And we will hear that now.  My guest this morning is Ray Collins, vocalist and former member of the original Mothers-- still performing, aren't you?

RC:     Yes.  Right here on the spot!

DP:     Well, this is radio-- it's a good thing this isn't television, they'd see what we look like! (both laugh)


DP:     Welcome to all my new and old listeners this morning.  With me in the studio is Ray Collins, who has sung with Little Julian Herrera and The Tigers, The Mothers, and-- what was the name of that band last night that you-- that you're working with currently?

RC:     None that I can recall.

DP:     Well, the guy who produced the record, I forgot what his name was, who did the Grandmothers--

RC:     Oh, Andy Cahan.  I sang with a band that he plays with the other night out in Covina, called "Flashback."  They do all '50's tunes.  And I did Memories of El Monte, a tune Frank and I wrote for The Penguins.

DP:     We started with Duke Of Prunes, which is almost all of side 1 of ABSOLUTELY FREE, which is the second Mothers album, then we heard Oh No, that's on WEASLES RIPPED MY FLESH, and that was Ray Collins on vocals, which let up to 1973, recorded with Geronimo Black, Mayonaisse Mountain, by Ray Collins, and then, just for fun, we heard "Ned and Nelda", doing Hey Nelda and Surf Along.  And that's Ray Collins as Nelda and none other as Ned--

RC:     Francis Vincent Zappa!

DP:     Back before he had his larynx crushed in 1971.  That's about 1962, isn't it?

RC:     Yeah, right.  It was a lot of fun.  You can hear Frank crackin' up at the-- on the Surf Along with Ned And Nelda he went out of control, laughing, which makes the record even more fun.

DP:     Yeah.  Whoever has a nice, pristine copy of that, I'd like to get hold of it, 'cause I had to do a lot of work on that!  And I'm glad I did-- just because of my guest coming in.  You-- basically-- you've been gifted with what a friend of mine said is a very innocent-sounding voice. When someone throws a comment like that at you, what do you say?

RC:     (pause) I'm innocent!

DP:     You're innocent!

RC:     Well, I believe I don't quite understand it, someone else has told me that before, too.  I don't quite understand that.  But I know that, like, when you're emotionally upset, it comes out in your voice, when you're excited, it comes out in your voice, when you throw up, it comes out in your voice, so I suppose if I sound "innocent," then I must be innocent!  Whatever that means, I don't know-- innocent of what?  Guilty of what?
        On Mayonaisse Mountain, Jim Black created the "Geronimo Black" band after he left The Mothers, and I ran into them at the Ashgrove one night, when I had just walked out of an apartment that I had to vacate 'cause I couldn't afford it, andd had absolutely no place to go.  So I walked  up there, and they were playing, and Jim said, "So why don't you join our band?"  I said, "All right! Great!"  So I joined Geronimo Black there, and they were in making a demo-- and this Mayonaisse Mountain is really just a demo tape, actually.  And so they had recorded what songs they were going to put on the demo, and they asked me for one so we actually created that song in the studio, and I called it Mayonaisse Mountain.  But that isn't really what "Mayonaisse Mountain" is-- Mayonaisse Mountain-- this is, I suppose, when you don't get the opportunity to put on recording, or be able to record all the ideas that you have in the world, you sort of throw them out any way you can.  What "Mayonaisse Mountain" really is, is a shopping car in a market, you know, which is piled with all the different things that people try to sell people, and are succesful at it-- you know, goo-goos and craggels and boggles, and cokes, whatever.  All the junk of the world, piled on top of the shopping cart.  That's what "Mayonaisse Mountain" really is. Otherwise, it's a semi-nice ballad.  I don't really like that record too well.  Like I say, it's a demo.

DP:     When was Mayonaisse Mountain done?

RC:     '73.  I think it was around '73, somewhere around there.

DP:     I put some reverb on it, I like that "wet" sound of the earlier albums. Well, I don't really want to harp on "Frank stories" too much, but you told me during the break a very funny one having to do with Frank and the band smoking on the road.

RC:     Yeah, when were were getting ready to go on tour, Billy Mundi was-- at the time, both he and Jim Black were drummers-- and we were in a waiting area to board a plane, and Frank had just-- I didn't smoke a lot-- just occasionally, when I was with the band, but I didn't smoke regularly, or take ANY kind of drugs, REGULARLY-- and Frank had just delivered, to the guys in the band, a monologue on why they should not smoke or take any drugs with us, and not to smoke on the tour, and all this same old stuff, not to do it.  "Don't do it, don't don't"-- rightfully so, obviously-- so after he gave this "talk" to everybody, we were in the airport, waiting there, waiting to board a pplane to go on tour, and he was sitting down, drinking a cup of coffee, and Billy Mundi was standing near him, reaching into his shirt pocket to pull out his cigarettes, and next to his cigarettes he had a marijuana cigarette, so when he pulled his cigarettes out, the marijuana cigarette flew out and into Frank's cup!

DP:     Did he drink the rest of the coffee?

RC:     Yeah, and he also cracked up.  It was so right on, especially, I'm sure, after delivering that talk to them, then ending up with a joint in his coffee!  It was so funny, and so right on, that how could you not?  It was a little too much.  It really happened. You know, I might get a little flak about that; I wonder, with things being the truth, doesn't always mean that it's alright to say it.  Like that thing about Frank-- now I'll probably get flak about that, saying "prove it."

DP:     In "The Real Frank Zappa Book", he talks about an appearance that the band did in Washington DC, for a television show called "Swingin' Time", and this is I guess 1966, and-- well, he says right here, they were going to have a "freak-out dance contest", and the weirdest guy int he room was wearing two different colored socks.  Really freaky.

RC:     (laughs)

DP:     In Detroit-- oh, this was different, that was in Washington DC, but here it is, in Detroit, "We did a television.  We were asked to do something perverted: lip-synch our hit.  We didn't have a hit, but the producer said, 'Lip-synch your hit or else.'  So I asked, 'Do you have a prop department here?'  Fortunately there was one.  From it I gathered an assortment of random objects and built a set.  We had been asked to pretend to play along to either How Could I Be Such A Fool or Who Are The Brain Police (which incidientally, I should say, are the shortest cuts on the album FREAk OUT!-- that's probably why they asked us to play one of those!)"
Frank continues, "So I suggested that each member of the group choose a
repeatable physical action, not necessarily in synch with, or even related to, the lyrics, and do it over and over until our spot on the show was concluded-- Detroit's first whiff of home-made, prime-time dada."  Do you remember the performance?

RC:     Oh yeah.  It was great.

DP:     What did you do?

RC:     Well, we had couches, and a picture, and actual framed, beautiful, hang-on-the-wall type picture, and chairs, and we just destroyed 'em. Just totally ripped them apart, and ripped the picture apart, and just like Frank says, with no relationship to any of the musical lyrics or changes.  I think it was Who Are The Brain Police that we did it to, and I recall the-- either the disc jockey that had the show, or someone-- telling me afterwards that they were deluged-- is that the word?-- with calls from irate parents, saying "Get those guys off the air, out of town, off the planet!"  We had a lot of fun.

DP:      (laughs) "Mailing dangerous materials through the mail," like this kind of music and thought.

RC:     "Mailing dangerous materials through the air!"

DP:     You used to operate this "soft giraffe" at the Garrick Theater. What was the "soft giraffe"?

RC:     Well, The Mothers were doing a lot of instrumentals, a lot of times there was nothing for me to do, so I became sort of like the "Jonathan Winters", where you throw him a hat, or three hats, and he'd do an hour routine or something.  I just used to ad-lib things and do comedy with whatever was available.  So, at the Garrick Theater, we started using fruit on stage, all the way from bananas to a watermelon, and stuffed animals.  The Fugs were in town at the time, too, and they used to call us "The West Coast Fugs" in the writing I've seen.

DP:     You think that's a good label?  They're different things.

RC:     I don't think so at all, until we got there, and sort of maybe mimicked some of the things they were doing and just sort of-- you know how that is:  "Oh, you can do that?  Well, I can do that, too!  Check this!  I'll do this, PLUS what I do."  So Frank brought in a doll, and that kind of started the whole thing.  We started doing "nasties" to the doll, and I'd have the doll crawling up my leg, like I was a rock star and the doll was after my person.

DP:     A groupie.

RC:     So then we got stuffed animals, we got the giraffe, we used to hook it up so whipped cream was coming out of its rear end, and we'd stuff fruit-- actually, one of the guys-- don't recall his name, he ended up working for Bill Graham-- but he used to send-- he had a wire hooked up from the light booth down to the stage, where he'd send fruit down on a wire which we mutilated and squished all over into the stuffed giraffe and stuffed whatever-- there were all kinds of animals.  I remember one night, I remember The Monkees were in the audience, making love to a piano stool, doing all these sort of sexual acts to a piano bench, and that was a lot of fun.

DP:     That's a coincidence, there's a piece--

RC:     We got an apartment after that.

DP:     Yeah, did it get you the apartment?

RC:     Yeah!

DP:     Luc Ferrari did a piece called-- I think it's called "Society II", and it's subtitled, "And If The Piano Were A Female Body", and apparantly the percussionists come up and play inside the piano and do all these "funny" things.  Ferrari sayss, "Well, if you think that's in bad taste, you're probably right!"

RC:     Maybe he saw my act.  Or I saw his act.

DP:     Independently conceived.

RC:     Yeah, right; I think everything's independently conceived.

DP:     Especially this radio program!

RC:     Did you know somebody sued-- actually took Cole Porter to court, for telepathically removing song melodies and lyrics from his mind?

DP:     I can believe it.

RC:     The guy lost, but it's quite a concept.

DP:     You know, it's kind of sad, because-- we know about Frank Zappa living up, ah, just at the top of the mountain, and we sit at the base ofthe mountain here, and you think, people, they get a record contract-- well, it's like people in TV series-- yout hinnk, once you're on television-- like the woman who played the maid on the old "Topper" series, she's not getting any royalties for any of those old programs anymore-- and you appear on a lot of these, and you really did give the sound to the early vocal ensemble, and yet-- well, you would not be described as, I think I can say this, in my economic position, you would not be described as a wealthy man.

RC:     No. (chuckles) I would say not-- no.  I don't know.  Maybe somebody decided, "This guy can have money over here, that one can have money, that one goes out on the street, and one goes wiggley-wiggley-wiggley all the way to the store."

DP: (laughs)

RC:     I don't know why; money has always evaded me.

DP:     So-- it's a common complaint artists seem to have.

RC:     Yeah, I think it's tied up with what great thing or rush that I talk about, about the joy of walking away from a situation, that most people don't experience.  They stick with it and earn the buck, and I don't know why-- I suppose, maybe I'll be successful some time.  Who knows?  Maybe I already am-- I think I am.

DP:     You actually do have, probably, a bigger following-- I know I'm always amazed to find out the listenership I have so I guess if people can be up here (at this hour)-- you probably have more local fans, being a local artist who actually performs with the "hoi polloi", than you may know about.

RC:     Yeah, could be.  What's the hoi polloi?

DP:     That's one of them fancy terms from a Three Stooges thing.  That means "the common people."

RC:     Oh yeah.

DP:     But you're doing-- you're doing the circuits, still.  Things like bar bands and weddings and things

RC:     Yeah, well, I-- it wouldn't be actually correct to say I've done a lot, because I really haven't.  I haven't done a lot of things in my life. I don't know why, I don't know what tends to designate me the non-doer on the planet, one of the non-doers, I don't know.  I still have plans to do things, you know, I still want to record, and sing.  I love to perform, but um-- sometimes I wonder, when you're sitting around thinking why you're sitting around thinking-- I've done that a lot-- and wondered why it is that I've actually done very little recording and performing in my lifetime.  I do love doing it, but something somehow has to put a stop to it.  Only at certain times.

DP:     Money, backers--

RC:     Yeah, right.  But I know that I'm good at what I do, and I know that I'll do some more again.  It's really great to perform before people, I'm sure you know that.

DP:     Do people recognize you at gigs?

RC:     Well, now the only time I would sing with a band would be if someone says, "Here's Ray Collins, former Mother of Invention", it's obvious who I am.  People rarely recognize me.  As a matter of fact, more people think that Don Preston is me, or I'm Don Preston.

DP:     You both have the same kind of beard.  It's too bad that you don't seem to be on better than you are with Frank.  It's like-- he has a bar band, and he wants to do certain things with it, and he's able to do things with this band, and it becomes more than a bar band, and the band still exists separate and apart from his concept of it-- I can see what he's trying to-- he's trying to make it into a "performing ensemble"-- a lot of people, when they write for a specific ensemble, it's a very personalized piece, and only that ensemble does it the way the composer thought of it.

RC:     Well, a "personal ensemble", in many cases, probably in most cases, does it exactly the way the composer wanted, but the ensemble "The Mothers Of Invention" not only played it the way Frank wanted, we shaped it also.  We incorporated our ideas of ways of doing it. 
I've seen a lot of Frank's bands, and I haven't talked about it
too much, 'cause it would sound sort of like sour grapes-- all the guys in Frank's band seem, on tape or something, all seem to do what THEY think The Mothers of Invention are supposed to do.  They all try to act zany. Have you seen any of his new bands?  You've seen guys, they'll have some bit of clothing that's cuckoo, that they envision "The Mothers" would do 'cause it would "be funny" instead of being-- when what it is, what it's supposed to be is, you're supposed to do what you want to do when you get there.

DP:     Well, you worked as a carpenter and a bartender as well, so music is not your only trade.

RC:     No.  I would hope so, but not really.  Actually, I got into carpentry by way of my brother.  He married into a construction family. So I started carrying studs around--

DP:     The wooden ones, let's make that clear.

RC:     The wooden ones, right.

DP:     We're talking music here-- we have to make that distinction.

RC:     Yeah.  And you learn how to frame apartments, and do all that sort of stuff.  Eventually in my lifetime, I got into doing movie sets.

DP:     Um-hm.

RC:     You built sets too, right?

DP:     Theater sets.

RC:     Yeah, right.  I remember, for one movie that wasn't released, we built a ten-foot high penis, and was for a movie made by the people that did "Kentucky Fried Movie."  I think it was in the theater for about a week.

DP:     Made it a whole week.

RC:     Yeah, right.  I would have liked to have seen it, just to see that thing that we built in there.  But building sets and building props for movies is a lot of fun.

DP:     How's bartending?

RC:     Bartending's bizarre, if you like to watch fights, people slobbering, and non-communication.  I think that everything-- nothing's ever solved by people talking, you know, "Why doesn't Bush do this", "Why didn't the Dodgers dot hat", and bars are like the forum for that mentality, where people think, "I should have done this, they should have done htat, if I can only do this, why did you do that, why was he getting sloppy drunk."  So you get to view it all as a bartender, and get sloppy drunk too.

DP:     You learn how to make drinks, too.

RC:     Yeah, true.

DP:     Which is always-- if you don't make it on the radio, or in music--

RC:     You can always drink!  (both laugh)

DP:     Yes, America drinks AND goes home.  Sometimes together.  Well what do you think of our board?

RC:     It's fabulous.

DP:     Isn't it wonderful?

RC:     That picture of the new one you're gonna get, real soon, is really beautiful.

DP:     Someday

RC:     Almost as beautiful as that donut.

DP:     Help yourself.

RC:     This is the sound of a sack.  (crumple) With a donut-- what's the sound of a donut?

DP:     (mock apprehension) You better be careful what you say, because I know a guy, when he called you a "sack", it was like calling you a sack of "something."  We can't say it on the air-- also if your'e Swiss-German, you'll know what "schafseckel" means.  That's another kind of sack-- that only men carry.

RC:     Oh--

DP:     You learn a lot when you meet illegal aliens from Europe.  INS doesn't go after them.  They only go after the ones that have suntans.

RC:     Well, to all you Russians, I'd like to say "Dobire utro."

DP:     Which means--

RC:     Good morning!

DP:     Thank you very much.  We're having a wonderful time here.  My name is David Porter, with me is Ray Collins; not the one who was in "Citizen Kane", we tried to get him but--

RC:     I AM Citizen Kane!

DP:     You are Citizen Kane.  You've actually raised some, too, with some of the bombshells you've been dropping.  (to listeners) If you missed them, well, too bad for you!  You should tune when this show starts! Let's-- well, you like this album a lot, so I've turned back to ABSOLUTELY FREE, and-- by the way, this is the first album, if you're wondering-- the man at the end of the "Baby Snakes" video-- this is the first album that Gerald Fialka heard this is "America Drinks", which is a parody of II-V-I cadences and the bar scene on general.


DP:     We're back and with me this morning is Lieutenant Tragg-- no, no, Ray Collins.  We tried that joke an hour and a half ago.. and we've been listening to things that Ray ahs either sung in or written-- we heard America Drinks and Status Back Baby, two tunes written by Frank Zappa-- correct me if I'm wrong here-- and The Mothers on ABSOLUTELY FREE, then we heard two tunes by Zappa and Ray Collins, "Memories Of El Monte" sung by The Penguins about 1962,  and "Every Time I See You", sung by The Heartbreakers, from about the same time or a little later-- didn't they have a tune under another name?-- that was fairly popular?

RC:     I don't know.  You know, I didn't really know much about those guys.  I think I met them at the Cucamonga studio.  But Frank and I had just written "Every Time I See You"-- strangely enough, both of those were written on his piano at his home in Ontario, Every Time I See You and Memories of El Monte.  I can picture us both sitting there at his piano writing them.  And he just gave it to the Hartbreakers, I don't know whether they ever had anything else out or what.

DP:     How did you actually go about writing a tune with Frank?  I mean, would you guys just sit down at the piano and hammer it out?

RC:     Well, of course, those two tunes we're talking about are what they call "ice cream changes", you know.  They're very simple and very easy things to do.  Yeah, the tunes we wrote together came quite easily, really, very simple.  And there's one tune that Frank and I did, -- I always wondered-- I always thought he would do it-- "Monkey see, monkey do, You got a watch with a golden chain, Gonna steal it so fast, gonna spin your brain", but evidently he won't do it.  Probably with good reason, I don't know.
        I just want to say-- I don't know if people heard the early part of the show-- it might appear that Frank was on the witness stand or something, or on trial, but I want to say that Zappa makes beautiful albums, great things, great sounds, and I love doing those things. There's always good-- there's always bad things along with the things that are good.

DP:     Well, it gets hectic under someone elses' studio time, too.

RC:     Yeah, right.

DP:     As far as I'm concerned, this is the same as if someone had a tape recorder, walking around Paris with "The Six", the great composers gathering around Satie.  This is the kind of thing-- well, how would you say you two writing a tune is different than, say, Lennon-McCartney-- 'cause they always had the billing of the two names on those tunes.  They wrote theirs one way, but-- you said last night that it wasn't like that.
How would you say it was?  Just be nuts-and-bolts about it.

RC:     Well, we actually did-- wrote together the music and the lyrics, and we both created both parts.  I understand with Lennon and McCartney, probably the major difference in their writing is that they're successful. I understand that they didn't both write everything that had the "Lennon-McCartney" name on it.  Right?  Is that true?

DP:     Yeah, I think so.

RC:     Yeah, I think they just put their names on everything.  "Ned and Nelda" of copurse came about because of the "Paul and Paula" pop tune--

DP:     It's one of my favorites.

RC:     --pop tune of that era.  It was a lot of fun making those tunes of those times.

DP:     The vocals are great.

RC:     Oh yeah,-- and still reaching for a hit.  I remember, in Cucamonga, suggesting to Frank that we lock ourselves in the studio and do a major media blitz, the fact that we were going to stay locked in there and not come out until we got a hit record.  But we came out, without a hit record-- but after having a lot of fun, of course.

DP:     You worked a lot with Elliot Ingber.  Would you like to tell the story about why is wasn't in the group anymore?

RC:     Yeah.  I think, of course--

DP:     The way you tell it, I like particularly.

RC:     The period I was in the band, I think that Elliot Ingber was the only person who was ever fired.  He "abused drugs", I suppose is the modern way of saying it, he maybe smoked a little bit too much, I think and he got to the point where he didn't do the mechanics of tuning his guitar and playing on stage, and I can recal; nights that he-- one night in particular, he was trying to tune his guitar, and his-- the amplifier  wasn't on.  And Frank looked over at him, looked over at me, looked down at the amplifier, and I knew right then that was the last of Elliot Ingber in the band.

DP:     That's too bad.  He has some great comments int he "Video From Hell" that's been released.

RC:     Elliot does?



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