Frank Zappa: Son of Orange County
Son of Orange County
Frank Zappa (guitar)
Zappa/Mothers Roxy & Elsewhere (Barking Punpkin Records D2 74241)
Frank Zappa (guitar),
Walt Fowler (trumpet), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax), George Duke (keyboards and vocals), Don Preston (synthesizer), Jeff Simmons (guitar), Tom Fowler (bass), Chester Thompson (drums).
Composed by Frank Zappa.
Recorded: Edinboro, PA, May 1974
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
I was 16 years old or so and hanging out in my room listening to the radio. I think I was tuned to Boston's WBCN, a great radio station back in the days when there were great radio stations. People were more open to music and had not yet been brainwashed by the communication conglomerates that force-fed them cookie-cutter music like they were pâté geese. I could go on and on about crimes against listeners, but back to my story. On 'BCN it would not be unusual to hear a set consisting of Black Sabbath, Carly Simon and the Mahavishnu Orchestra! You could hear anything. People familiar with my views know that I believe the Mahavishnu Orchestra was the greatest band that ever was. That is why what I am about to tell you means something.
So, I am listening to the radio and I hear a fantastic fusion number. It is awesome! And I get all excited because obviously there is a new Mahavishnu Orchestra album out! I wait for the DJ to announce the new album. Instead he comes on after the tune and says, "That was the latest from Zappa and the Mothers of Invention." Holy crap, jazzman! I knew about Zappa and "Call Any Vegetable." But I was unfamiliar with this side of him.
By the time I picked-up Zappa/Mothers Roxy & Elsewhere a year or so later, I had become quite aware of Zappa's jazz fusion leanings. Sure Zappa could be silly at times. I don't appreciate all of his music. But he always surrounded himself with superb musicians capable of being silly and virtuosic at the same time. When his bands got serious, it was time to really listen. "Son of Orange County," a bastardized version of several of Zappa's earlier tunes, is some serious message. It begins as a sweet R&B ballad with effective vocals from saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock. His words are a rather unveiled criticism of Richard Nixon, who was in the last year of his power. (For years I had thought George Duke supplied the lead vocals on this cut. But a Zappa fan site now says it was Brock.) As soon as the vocals end, the tune turns into a fusion blues. The horn section enters. Playing with a fuzz tone, Zappa lets loose with a fiery solo. He turns his chorus sound on, too. Keyboardist Don Preston jazz comps in the background. There is a driving rhythm. The full brunt of the band's jazz-rock power is now on display. This is one of my favorite Zappa performances. If he had decided to go the full fusion route back then, he might well be mentioned now by jazz-rock fans in the same breath as Mahavishnu, Weather Report or Return to Forever.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky