Interview with John Smothers
From the German video, "We Don't Mess Around."
John: Hey, how you doin? Yeah!
Interviewer: Fine, how are you?
Interviewer: Uh, John, what's your profession in the band with Frank Zappa?
John: I'm a professional bodyguard, I take care of Frank.
I make sure nobody touches him, everybody stays in line, make sure they
get on the plane right, walk behind the road manager, make sure he does every
damn thing right, cuz he costs (?) all the time.
Interviewer: How you are skilled? For that profession?
John: How was I done what?
John: Well, I took care of majors and generals and the
paratroopers, and when I got out the service I didn't know nothin' to do.
So I bought a couple limousines, and got in the bodyguard business.
Interviewer: Um, you are together with the band.
What do you know about the band?
John: Well, I've seen seven different bands go on around here. Seven different bands. From George Duke down to Flo & Eddie, and this band he's got now is more crazy than the last band. The last band we had, we had- we had six puppies. In this band we got three of the puppies raised to be dogs, now I got three little poodles in place of 'em! The drummer's a poodle, the guitar player's a poodle, and that guy from St. Louis, he's a poodle. It takes 'em a whole year to grow up to be a full-grown dog.
Interviewer: Who's the complicatedest guy in the band?
John: The confiscated guy is that damn drummer with the weird beard on his face. Man, he ain't wrapped tight, he's got some cards missin' out his deck. Know how you take a deck of cards, you take the joker and the deuce out? Well, his aces will beat a- beat the four- the two jokers and the four deuces any time. He is really weird, way out there. Walks around the hotel, beat on all the goddamn walls and all that shit, scarrin' the walls up. Not knowin' Frank gotta pay for all that shit.
Interviewer: How you get them together?
John: How do I get 'em together? I just tell 'em, "C'mon, hormones, all y'all get your, yeah let's get on the damn bus. It's time to leave." And you just gotta run behind 'em, watch 'em. They're always doin' weird shit.
Interviewer: What's the truth about Frank Zappa?
John: What's the truth about Frank?
Frank is a hell of a musician. When
I first started workin' for him, I was brought in for one week.
And I told his last road manager, I said "That son of a bitch is
crazy, gimme my plane ticket, let me go home." And then he took a five piece band, and he started playin'
symphony music, and that got me hooked, 'cuz I like classical music.
That hooked me on the band.
He's one of the best guys I done worked for. I done worked for the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sister Soul, Temptations, I done worked for them all in the last 22 years. Frank is about the be- about the best one.
Interviewer: Does he have connections to a foreign power,
or connections to ze mafia?
John: No, no way. No way. He don't go near politics or crime or drugs, he stays away from that shit. He won't even take a pill when he got a toothache. He just drink that goddamn black coffee.
Interviewer: What's the difficultest thing to do with him?
John: The difficult thing to do with him is walk behind him once he gets off the plane.
John: That fucker walks like a goddamn roller coaster- you
ever seen a roller coaster in the United States?
That's the way he walks when he get off that damn plane.
An' you gotta really keep up behind him, I stay on my toes all the time
in the airport.
Interviewer: What about girls and Frank?
John: Girls? Oh, girls you gotta keep away. They like to pull on his hair, play with his mustache. An' I don't think it's a good image for the girls to be pullin' on him. He might get hurt, and if he get hurt he can't make the music, can't play the band. He's got twenty people depend on him, plus about eight, home and office. Plus he's got three kids depend on him. So if he gets hurt from the girls pullin' on him, everybody's out of a job. I have a job to go back to, but the band don't, and the crew don't.
Interviewer: How you get the girls off from him.
John: I just looks at 'em very hard.
Interviewer: Well, look like what?
John: I just look… "away.. raus, raus!"
From: interview with Warren Cuccurullo from T'Mershi
AG: Have you got any good stories about John Smothers you
can tell me?
WC: There's loads. The funniest one I remember was when we were at the Hyde Park Hotel with Donovan and his wife and kids. he got some pot out and the kids started helping themselves. Smothers eyes just went really wide because Frank was about to arrive at any minute. So he went and got Gail and ended up throwing them all out of the door saying "We don't like that kinda stuff". I remember I was playing Donovan's acoustic guitar with the in-laid stars and planets.
AG: The last I heard of John was that he was ill. Do you know how he is?
WC: We played Washington recently, but I couldn't track him
down. I don't know what's happened to him.
Dr Mustafa Abu-Lisan
I just got Baby Snakes It's great.
who the heck is the bald black guy and is that guy gay or what
That's none other than John Smothers, aka "Bald Headed-John", the bodyguard responsible for famous Smotherisms such as "Shaushage", "Salima", and "Falcum."
I'm also looking for any other info on John that y'all might have, so as to include a FAQ sheet for him. Who is he really? How did he meet Zappa? Why did he quit working for him? Where is he now?
p.s. I did get his age. Apparantly the 4/4/80 San Diego concert was John's 50th birthday.
Chris Roe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the video "we don't mess around" Munich 78.Smothers says he heard zappa play classical music & he was hooked.(maybe moi?)Said he has worked with frank since the flo & eddie days.It also looks like he's backstage during the pier shows in 84.Maybe he never quit(?)
I don't remember where I got most of the following info, so please take it with grain of salt:
John is an ex-policeman from the Washington DC / Baltimore area. I don't know how he became introduced to FZ, but he was in FZ's employ from about 1975-1984.
He and his family were in the audience one night at one of the Washington DC pier shows in 84.
AJ Wilkes (email@example.com)
In the Circus Crone TV special there's an interview with Smothers, and he mentions all the 'cats' that have been in the band, and he mentions Flo & Eddie and George Duke. Could have been employed possibly earlier than 75, though probably not as early as 71.
I'm sure there's a picture in one of the FZ books (Michael Gray's? Mother?) where FZ is in Czech-etc or one of the Eastern Block countries, and a big black guy who looks like Smothers but older is standing near him. This would be around 1991?
I'm not sure when Smothers entered the picture, but offhand I can't recall having heard about him before the 1977 "Lther" tour. Zappa had several other bodyguards before Smothers: the first two were ex-LAPD guys, and another (named Bob) was a former doo-wop singer from the Calvanes. Apparently there was also another John, who was the brother of a girl FZ went to high school with. Smothers was an acquaintance of Marty Perellis' from Baltimore. He stayed with Zappa through the 1984 tour. Zappa reportedly asked Smothers to come along on the 1988 tour also, but Smothers declined, allegedly saying he was "too old for that shit." The bodyguard on that tour was named Bond--David James Bond, who had some serious experience in protecting big-name rock stars.
AJ Wilkes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Smothers was in the protection business from the 60s (Circus Krone interview, if someone would like to transcribe it for Splatrick), and in one of the FZ books (Michael Gray's Mother, or Electric Don Quixote) there's a tale about Smothers being present at the 1972 Oval show in London. So I guess he was hired after Zappa was pushed off the stage.
Although having read the rest of Biffy's post, it might have been the other John, or someone else called John.
The reason I inferred (I have no direct knowledge) that John did not start before 1975 is that I would think his presense would have been mentioned by George, Napoleon and/or Frank from stage during previous tours. Does anyone know when the first mention of John Smothers appears on a concert tape?
I've got a boot from RPI (my alma mater) in 76 that is unique in that, during the show, onstage, BHJ shaves the road manager who lost a bet playing backgammon at the airport earlier that day. Totally hilarious with John even "squeaking a few limes" and even singing "Muffim Man".
I don't know why none of this EVER made the YCDTOSA series. Beats most of the dance contests (without visuals) and at least equals English poetry.
Taylor Martin (email@example.com)
I remember a night in the Chicago Auditorium and a fight broke out in the orchestra pit. Who would pay good money to have a fight at a Zappa concert? John the bodyguard just walked up to the front of the stage, made a gesture with his arms like an umpire going "you're out!", and the guys jumped out of the pit, ran up the aisle and left.
John was scary like that.
Zoogz Rift (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In 1973, I had the rare opportunity to have a private conversation with Frank, backstage at a show I helped book at William Paterson College (I was an influencial part of the Student Activities Committee, and got them to hire the Mothers instead of Hot Tuna!).
Frank and I talked about a lot of things, and were getting along just fine, until my awkward sarcasm got the best of me, and I teased him.
Frank (who hadn't had any sleep in three days, according to Ruth), got offended by my joke, and had John Smothers "escort" me out of the room. Regrettably, Frank and I never spoke to each other again.
Patrick Neve (email@example.com)
That's right.. didn't you say something like, "Oh, you used to back up Flo & Eddie?" Very funny, if so.
Zoogz Rift (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Yes, that essentially IS what I said, and Frank found it offensive, not funny. I told Art Tripp about this a couple of years later, and Artie said that no one could joke with Frank--he wasn't that kind of guy...
Pretty sure Smothers is gay, right?
Jon Naurin (email@example.com)
An Italian friend of mine used to hang around with the Zappa gang on the 1982 and 1984 tours. Once, in 1984 I think, the ol' Iron Sausage asked my friend to fix some girls for him, a mission he did not accomplish. As a punishment, Smothers hindered him to see the first 30 min of the show that night.
Ned the Mumbler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Attached is a scan of John Smothers business card circa 1976. He gave it to me at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto where I had gone for an interview with Frank. I believe he was hired after the incident in Europe where a crazed fan pushed Frank off the stage and layed him up with a broken ankle for a few months.
A story for the John
2006 10 25
Thought you might enjoy this.
and a bunch of friends were at a Zappa show a the Sunrise Music Theatre in
Lauderdale, and during the show, Frank was motioning to some girl in the
audience like he wanted her to come on stage.,
So she stands up from her front row seat and gets ready to step up on
stage and Bald headed JOhn comes out of nowhere and hits her in the chest with
some kind of extendable baton. KNocked
her right on her ass. So a few of
us right behind her started yellin shit at him (we thought it was pretty uncool)
like we were gonna kick his ass or something.
Well, John heard us yellin at him and put that evil ass stare on me.....I
sat down pretty quick after it looked like he was ready to come out in the
audience. He was a very
-- Tom "Zappachild" Glancy
1978 We Don't Mess Around
1979 Baby Snakes