Joe's Zappa Page

People often ask me about my association with Frank Zappa.

Here is the short answer: I did technical work for Frank on the 1984 Them or Us tour.


Here is the medium size answer: In 1981 I was playing bass in LA and had recently picked up my first Stick when my friends told me about Franks new album, Joes' Garage. It was PURELY COINCIDENTAL that I lived in Canoga Park, jammed with a band in my garage, had a Jack in the Box restaurant on the corner, and a Dodge parked in the back yard.

   Ike Willis & Frank Zappa

This is mostly where the similarities with my life and the album story ended. It was funny, amusing and the source for many jokes. A year or so later, my friend Robert Williams, who played drums with Captain Beefheart, introduced me to Ike Willis, who played (& sang) the part of Joe on FZ's album. I told Ike that I was the original Joe and we had some laughs about that. Ike lived close by in Reseda and he suggested we start a band without ever hearing me play a note. I thought he must be humoring me or, maybe was crazy.


Ike Willis and Bobby Martin


Well, Ike is intelligent and a super talented songwriter and singer who plays guitar. We did form a great band called The Rugz with then future Bone-Daddys Jeff Hollie on sax, and Morley Bartnoff on Keys. Vinnie Colliuta and Mike Miller also started with us, but were too busy doing studio work and gigs to continue. My good high school friend Jim Summey replaced Vinnie and now lives here in Kona where we gig together as often as possible.


Ike and Frank Vocalizing

The Rugz played and recorded Ikes music for several years and it was one of the most fun and interesting bands I've ever been part of. I came back to LA from Hawaii to do some work in 1984 when Frank called Ike to tour again after a 2 year break. Ike suggested that I could be on the crew, and so I got the job of setting up Chad Wackermans Simmons/acoustic kit and the Scott Thunes bass rig. I occasionally played bass and sometimes the Stick with the band at some sound checks, and sometimes with Frank also.


Frank Break Dancing in Rome - with some help from Scott and Ike !

Playing with Ikes band was great, and working for Pops was a true learning experience. I could see how and why Ike ran The Rugz the way he did after I worked for FZ. Franks ears were huge, especially for someone mostly deaf above 6Khz. I saw many 30 second auditions, and to watch him put together the live version of Thing Fish and other tunes at rehersals and soundchecks is something I will never forget.


My Job was to set up the drum kit for Chad Wackerman and the bass rig for Scott Thunes. Simmons had just come out with the SDS 7 and you can see this setup in the photo above. Scott sitting and Alan Zavod in red pants on keyboards.


Frank always treated me fairly and we had a good relationship. (We were both Pisanos). The band rehearsed for a while, did 6 weeks in the states and 7 in Europe, recording every show with his 24 track mobile studio semi. It's hard to explain what it was like listening to that band 5 nights a week sitting next to Chad. And I was getting paid!


I did leave the organization with 6 weeks of touring left, only because I missed Hawaii and playing in my own band. (I also didn't need to learn how to pack a semi in the snow.) Frank understood and told me he was the only one in his first band dumb enough to own a station wagon. He didn't like the schleping part either. I had been playing the Stick a short time and yet I think FZ saw the potential in the instrument, even in my novice hands. It seems he recorded every instrument BUT the Stick at one time or another.


Getting in some practice time on the bus. Check out the 1984 sideburns!

It was a trip to plug those melody strings into Franks guitar for cover! I feel very fortunate to have attended "Zappa University". With all the music he created, it's not nearly enough to fill the void of his passing. He was my employer but I considered him my friend. I miss him dearly. A real genius and truly incredible human being.


And now for the long answer, you will have to come to Kona and drain my memory of the many funny and interesting Zappa tales in person. And please, Don't Eat the Yellow Snow. Best Wishes from Kona ..... ALOHA & MAHALO!!!