An Interview From The Vault, Part II

By Don Zulaica

For Part I of the interview, click here.

DRUM! What are your relationships like with the other Zappa bandmembers? I heard a real nice story about how you have become closer to guitarist Adrian Belew.

BOZZIO I've been trying to rattle cages in the King Crimson camp and talk about the possibility of getting different things together, one of which would be to do some kind of project with Adrian. I just haven't been able to work that out.

DRUM! But during his time in the group, late '70s, he mentioned that he felt a little ostracized from the rest of the band.

BOZZIO At the time when Adrian joined the group, I was very prejudiced. Coming from a narrow judgmental space of what I was calling interesting music, it was all based on the American jazz/rock/fusion stuff. Weather Report, Miles, Mahivishnu, Chick Corea, all those guys. And anybody who didn't really understand or play coming from that school, I didn't really respect or care about. That was part of my upbringing or education and also part of my heart. I wasn't broad-minded enough to accept or understand other ways. It was just part of being young.

So here I am, kind of a veteran in Frank Zappa's band. I can read all his hard stuff, I've done orchestra gigs with him, I've played "The Black Page," and I'm an aspiring heavy metal guy with my long hair in the '70s. And here comes Adrian Belew, dressed like out of the '30s, Dick Tracy, which I really thought was cool. I knew he was an excellent guitar player in terms of what he did. He had an incredible feel and made a lot of really interesting sound effects, and he had a good voice. But I was used to someone more in the mold of what Napoleon Murphy Brock was, in terms of being a showman. So I tried to instigate Adrian to be more of a showman, and we got him to wear the WAC uniform and do some of those things.

There was a clique in the band at that point. Tommy Mars, who could read anything and was an amazing jazz player, was the keyboardist. Peter Wolf was a jazzer. Patrick O'Hearn was a jazzer. And Ed Mann who was a great percussionist. And myself and Adrian. So Adrian was just kind of the guy who sung the vocals that Frank didn't sing, and we were hoping to get into this role of being more of a showman, and he'd get to take a solo or two a night. He had to work out the parts that Frank assigned him, and they weren't very complicated. It was like one of those examples of Frank using a guy and seeing potential in him that we didn't' see. And Frank did that a lot.

And even Frank would say, "Okay Adrian, in this section you can do your bird call." He wouldn't call it a solo. And Adrian would phrase across the bar, and wasn't playing in 8- and 16-bar phrases, and building and releasing the tension like all us fusion guys. And there wasn't this sort of talked-about conceptual aspect. So yeah, I didn't respect him as much. I liked him, and we were friends and we hung on the road, but it wasn't like the connections that I had with Patrick O'Hearn and the other guys.

So then Adrian goes with David Bowie, and I thought that work was incredible. Then when he worked with Talking Heads I was like, oh my God, how did I miss this guy? Then I heard "Desire Caught By The Tail," I thought, man, this guy is just incredible and I'm a complete idiot. So I went to the Greek Theatre one time when Talking Heads was playing there, and Missing Persons had just played there, I went backstage and we went out to dinner later. And I said, "Hey, I was so wrong. I didn't see what you had, and I think what you're doing now is incredible. I'm so proud of what you've done, you're solo concept is brilliant." And it is. And ever since then I've been trying to get us back together, but it's just not been the right timing.

DRUM! What about Steve Vai? You did an album with him.

BOZZIO I worked with Steve on "Sex and Religion" and we had a bit of a problem there, so I bailed on that. We've remained friends, but I've realized that Steve is pretty much a controlling type of character. And he's coming from a different head space in his approach to music. Mine is more improvisational, his is more work it out and tell everybody what to do. So I felt like I was working in a factory when I was working with him. We were punching in almost every bar and it was very uncreative for me.

DRUM! Must be strange to juggle all the different projects, and all the label hassles, considering you also do a lot of your own stuff.

BOZZIO I don't know. I just cannot find...I do not think that there's a big daddy out there or some friend who really knows, who can help me. I feel that those days are gone and the only thing that I have available to myself, and I'm happy to just do this, is to keep making my own records which I can afford. And owning them, mastering them, doing the artwork and everything myself, and I sell them out of the back of a truck on my web site and through mail order. If some distribution deal comes through, great. But I have to own it, it has to be non-exclusive, and it has to not infringe on those areas that I already had in place and that I'm making money on. Nobody wants to play that game.

Then, I think the only other aspect that's the best thing I can do so far is a guy like Pete Morticelli at Magna Carta, who used to be my manager. I do a record for him, I get paid handsomely up front, like for a Bozzio/Levin/Stevens thing. It's probably not going to make that much money. He's making a catalog. I don't own it...but who cares? I got to make a record I normally wouldn't be able to make, with some guys I like to play with. And I'm proud of that when I die I can go, yeah I did that.

DRUM! It does seem that you have your own niche, and you can do what you want within that niche.

BOZZIO Yeah, that's nice. My head space is that I have a very critical nature. And sort of have low self-esteem despite the fact that...I know who I am and what I've done. But the part of the thing that hurts, in terms of the way that I think about myself, is also the thing that makes me successful. You don't get successful by going, "I am great, I am successful!" You don't move forward. You get great by going, "This sucks. This is so ***** unbearably embarrassing to me. I will never do this again, and I'm going to get this s**t together." And you find things to do to move forward.

Then you get to the place where you just enjoy the process, and you don't really care so much whether it's accepted or not or commercially successful or not. Because there are certain things in place that you can make a living from, let's say, and then that gives you the freedom to be more true to this artistic self. And I've been lucky that these deeper things that I've pulled out of myself have been accepted in my own little way and I've been able to poke along. It ain't easy, but the bottom line is that at the end of the day if I do something that's exhaustive and financially draining, and all I have is the chance to do something again with my freedom-- then that's a good thing. Because if you're doing that with Missing Persons, where it's hell, and all you have is a chance to make another record-- that's very discouraging.

DRUM! You talk about being a self-promoter, which you do very well on your web site. I wonder what your attitude in towards using the Internet as a distribution tool, and all of the copyright issues that we're seeing with Napster, Metallica, and the like.

BOZZIO Any intellectual copyright should be protected. I don't care what the medium is. For me, I shy away from internet distribution. I've got snippets of things on Real Player, which isn't really downloadable. It enables you to listen to it online and that's that. In other words, I can't give what I'm working on away for free. A lot of people are all-too-willing to do that for promotional consideration.

The thing that's different about where I'm at-- Zappa made me an internationally known guy with credibility, just from playing with his band. A kid coming up today, who is a great drummer who people should know about, may not have that feather in his cap. The cap doesn't exist anymore. That's why I have that page on my site where there's a couple of guys that I feel are doing great work. That's about all I can do, and I'm lucky to be in that position.

Yeah, the potential of the web is there, and that's great for someone starting out and making their own business and all. But you're still up against this whole marketing, promotional, dues-paying machine that I've gone through and benefited from. Whereas a brand new band doesn't have that opportunity. They can't just have complete control right off the bat. They've got to do something where they give it away for free or give it to a record company who spends millions in promotion and if they're lucky they get a hit and then they're known, and then maybe they can do what I do. So it's a catch-22, and I'm just glad that it's available for me. And I thank all of my fans and supporters, people who actually relate to what it is that I do and enjoy that.

And I know for me, I know it's hard to think of myself that way, but I still listen to old Miles Davis and go, "Thank you." Tony Williams-- thank you. So I buy those things from the store and I pay top price and I want those people or their families or whoever is supposed to make money off of that, to survive. Because they put something into this statement that still gives me pleasure. So I hope my fans hear that as well and that they'll continue to like and buy the things that I make. That's how I support my wife and family. If nobody buys my stuff, then I don't get to do it. And I don't know how long I've got. I don't know how long it'll be before there's other achievements in drumming that make me look like a guy playing in a Dixieland band.

DRUM! That of course begs the question, who are the drummers out there that are pushing the envelope?

BOZZIO Rick Gratton is an amazing drummer that not too many people know of. Chad is so underrated compared to myself, because things kind of changed in the Zappa band from when I left. From then on, personalities in the band weren't developed in the same way. It was more all about Frank, and at that point in his life and career, deservingly so. But it's still a shame, because here's a guy who is just phenomenal and doesn't have the same recognition.

I think Dave Weckl has grown incredibly. He's doing some beautiful things now, and has developed such a musicality. You know, he was a bit technically oriented when he first started out. Riveting, but still a little stiff compared to what he's doing now. He still has this perfection of expression in terms of technique, but he's got this musicality in his soul that's really coming out now that's just blossoming.

Same with Steve Smith. He's really tried to develop and grow. Max Weinberg, same thing. Who would have thought he'd be playing like Buddy Rich in a jump blues band and smokin', from what he did with Bruce Springsteen? I get excited when I see guys moving on like that, especially guys who don't have to. Steve Smith probably made a lot of dough. Max Weinberg probably doesn't have to work another day in his life. They took the plunge and did their own things, because they care.

DRUM! You've mentioned throughout this conversation about Frank's impact on you. What do you think his legacy will be on the music world in general?

BOZZIO He's a real renaissance man. He's like a Da Vinci. I always describe him like this. He was, I think, a bona fide genius with a very high IQ, and multi-talented. And talented to the extent that there's eight different areas that I can think of off the top of my head, that he could have made a career out of any one of them.

First of all, let's just look at the guy as a guitarist. Forget about his music and everything else. Just those guitar solos, okay? Man, that is a very unique style and a hellacious amount of chops, done in a very personal kind of idiosyncratic way that is undeniable. There's nobody that sounds like Frank on guitar. Those tones, those phrases, and his chops, and he did very weird things that other guitarists find very difficult to do.

Then, as a bandleader-- do you know how hard it is to keep a band together? He was a great arranger and bandleader. He had the respect of all these musicians, he knew what it took, and he dealt with everybody on a very professional, almost old school union-like Hollywood way. Everybody got union scale. He could talk with an engineer about chips and ICs, and he could talk with a film guy about SMPTE and lenses. He just knew so much on so many different levels, and could tell people exactly what he wanted because he was familiar with the mediums. And he always treated everybody fairly. His engineers got what the standard engineer rate was. If I did a record with him, I got standard union scale. If there was TV, I got TV scale and I got my little weekly retainer for being on the road and hanging out with him and rehearsing with him on a yearly basis.

Then, he was an amazing composer. His classical stuff is no slouch material. It's a shame that he was coming into his own, finding Ensemble Modern and some of these orchestras that could cut this stuff and had the right enthusiasm for him. And the doors and the grants and the government sponsorship was open so he could get into these situations and do this stuff on the level that it should be done.

Then, as a writer. The books, the interviews, anything that the guy ever said that was put into print is like unbelievable.

And as a rock star. Not too many people can be rock stars. You look at John McGlaughlin, and he's got a lot of aspects like this that we've been talking about with Frank, but he's not a rock star. Right down the line. There's a lot of talent and classical guy, arranger, composer, bandleader, guitarist, but Frank was a bona fide rock star. An icon.

Then, you have his humor and his wit. He could have been a stand-up comedian.

A playwright, "Thingfish" and "Joe's Garage" and all these things. He had so many ideas about Broadway plays, so many projects that never came about. Amazingly far-fetched and way over my head in scope, in terms of computer and audio/video technology in a Broadway medium. Stuff that would have blown that Andrew Lloyd Weber out of the water.

Then he was a guy who could go up on Capitol Hill and make all these congressman look like the idiots that they are. Tell the truth, stand up for our First Amendment rights-- he could have been a great politician, and a real guy that the people would believe in. Like you see Jesse Ventura has that same sort of thing, where he just talks from the heart, no bullshit, and has nothing to hide. And I think that society is really ready for that now. Whereas most of Frank's life he was put in a box and labeled "not suitable for radio airplay."

at Howard Stern. I mean, you go, yeah, it's funny. And I watch it all the time, and he's kind of carrying a torch, but he is an absolute dimwit compared to Frank. Some of the things he says are so stupid, because he's ignorant and he doesn't know. And Frank knew things, he read, he could back up things he said on a level where universally people would get it for the humor and the satire, but also there was an intellectual knowledge that came behind it that would back it up. Whereas Howard would say stupid things about people for effect, but doesn't really have a clue about who he's lampooning, because he doesn't know anything. So it's a shame that the ones who may know have no sense of humor and the ones who lampoon don't know. Frank had both

He's sorely missed. The only thing I don't miss about him was the fear...that fear that sat in the pit of my stomach that he'd call me up and say, "Bozzio, come up here. I've got an idea." I'd be scared to death! I didn't know if he was talking to me about doing a Broadway play or playing something that I would be afraid I couldn't play or didn't have the time. Because when I was with Frank, I didn't' have a life. That was my life. When you're with Zappa, you don't have a life. After you get a life and you do other things, you're kind of in your own world, and it's difficult to put the effort into the demands he would make on you if you've got a family or other things on your plate. If you're young and he's paying you, it's amazing, you're just happy to be there.

But after I left him, every time he'd call me, there was that fear...oh my God! Can I do this? What's this going to mean? It was a scary, ominous kind of thing. And I'm glad I don't have that any more. [laughs] That's the only thing that I don't miss about Frank.

DRUM! Any regrets?

BOZZIO My regrets are that I was just starting to get into what I'm doing now, the soloing and composing, when Frank died. And what I could have shared with him, playing this music, showing him what I've composed. When I showed him a few things, and "Polytown," he was so proud of me and so complementary. And said, "You've got big balls to be doing something like this. I'm really proud of you, Bozzio." I think about that when I'm low.

When he was getting sick, we had just started having conversations about Stravinsky, because I'd started to go back and get things out of it. There's so much more we could talk about now and discuss, and I actually might be able to hold a corner of a conversation with him, versus not knowing what the hell he's talking about without looking up the words in a dictionary. Being inhibited to tell him you don't know what he just said, I did too much of that when I was younger.

And every damn thing Frank told me about the music business that I didn't want to believe, was true. So now I find myself selling very few records, but bumping along and eking out a middle-class existence on my own. And I'm happy to be able to do it.

Ed. Note: This is an interview from circa 2000, that first appeared on drumstuff.com.