Santa Cruz will come as close as it will ever come to a live Frank Zappa experience this Saturday, when original members of his band play a show at Moe's Alley.
The Grandmothers of Invention formed in 2002, when four original members of the Mothers of Invention—Zappa's band between 1966-1975—were invited to play in Leipzig, Germany.
They've been delving deep into Zappa's musical archives together ever since, and Friday kicks off an 18-state tour ending in Argentina and Chile.
Keyboard player Don Preston, 79, was just heading into the studio to rehearse when Patch caught up with him. Just days before their tour he can barely get his fingers to stop itching. He's excited because the coming tour highlights some of the most important music that Zappa has written, he says; songs from Roxy and Elsewhere (1974), and from earlier albums like Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970).
"Some of the music on that Roxy album is very complex and difficult, and to me that's more fun than just playing something simple. Because it's challenging and you have to really be on your toes every night," said Preston.
It's the kind of music that cannot be categorized, a level of subversive genius that had audiences equally intrigued and confused, and modern day chamber bands clamoring to take the challenge.
"Its a combination of doowop, and jazz, and classical, played with a rock beat," said Preston.
And even though listening to a live Zappa album (or watching him on youtube) may lead one to believe Zappa must have been high like everyone else in the 60's and 70's, he was actually naturally off-the-wall creative.
"He didn't like [marijuana] at all, and I can understand that. It interfered with his brain and he didn't like that. That's how he created a lot of this music that was so wonderful, because he was very bright," Preston said. "Then of course Zappa, he was mostly kind of terrified of getting caught, that was primarily the reason he didnt do anything," said Preston.
Those who catch The Grandmothers of Invention at Moe's on Saturday can expect a fair amount of improvisation, which was always what made their live shows so exciting.
"There was always the element of creating something, and the improvisations were spectacular in some instances," said Preston.
"...Zappa had a group of hand signals that he had taught to us and sometimes during an improvisation he would start using these hand signals to get the band to make certain noises and play certain notes and do various kinds of things," he said.
And although other bands have since copied Zappa's "conduction" methods, the Grandmothers of Invention probably won't be using it Saturday.
"Yeah we do a lot of improvising... but we just kind of thought that's kind of Zappa's territory. Nobody wants to immitate Zappa, you know?" said Preston.
Mad respect for the maestro."And of course we try to throw little wierdness in here and there during the concert. I might even do a little magic trick," said Preston.
The Grandmothers of Invention are:
Napoleon Murphy Brock - vocals, tenor saxophone, flute, and dancing. Brock played with Zappa from 1974-1984.The Grandmothers of Invention are made up of:
Tom Fowler - bass and hats. Fowler was with Zappa from 1967-1969.
Don Preston - Keyboard synthesizers, electronics, vocals and magic tricks. Preston played with Zappa from 1967 thru 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1974.
Miroslave Tadic - electric guitar
Christopher Garcia - drums, percussion, vocals.
"Because Zappa played drums before he played guitar, he always got a great drummer, you know, so we had to do that too," said Preston of Garcia, who is known around the world for being an expert tabla player, but can also drum out a hell of a rock and roll beat.
The Grandmothers of Invention Play on Saturday, July 28 at Moe's Alley. Doors open at 8 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $22/adv $25/door.