the ray collins interview
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And we're going to be playing Love Of My Life by Ron Roman in just a
minute, but I want to play Every Time I See You by The Heartbreakers. Now that's
Zappa playing guitar on that?
You know, I don't know.
I had nothing to do with that session, I wasn't there.
Frank and I sat down at the same piano in his house in Ontario, and wrote
Every Time I See You, and then he just came one day and said these guys The
Heartbreakers, had done the song in Cucamonga.
What was the idea for the song, when you wrote it?
thinking about a beautiful girl I see somewhere-- the usual.
"The usual"! In conversation with, and learning about the
career of, Ray Collins. Now, the
name might not be a household word, but think of Ruben & The Jest and think
of The Mothers Of Invention and think of those
early involvements with Frank Zappa. Would
you say you were Frank Zappa's first collaborator?
I probably was, actually. Yeah.
Was it a good thing?
Good. What do you think you
brought to the collaboration? What
did he bring?
I brought the, well, the "style" of being raised in Pomona,
California, being raised on the, probably on The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen,
Frankie Lane, Frank Sinatra, Jesse Baldwin.
The early influences of R&B came into the Southern California area
when I was probably in the tenth grade in high school.
And I remember Peter Potter, remember him?
I remember Peter Potter's show, and I think I recall the first R&B
tune on there was Oop-Shoop, I think it was.
Sure, sure. They got some of
I'd say that's the first girl-group record.
And Frank, he actually had more influences from the "Real
blues", you know, like Muddy Waters, those kind of people.
But I wasn't into that in my early life.
I was in more of the "pop" culture, pop-radio things, and it's
always been more of a favorite of mine than the early blues stuff-- although I
love it, I love like John Lee Hooker 'n all those people.
Did you hit it off well, at the beginning?
Did you see that you know, this could be something that could go for a
number of years--
--or was it like, "Let's write this song and get out of here"?
What was it?
RC: I would say that in that area of the world, it was nice to run into somebody like Frank Zappa. Because most of my life, at that time, was-- although I had already, when I met Frank, I had already recorded with The Tigers in a period at El Monte Legion Stadium, Long Beach Municipal Auditorium, on the different shows with the Johnny Otis band, the Chuck Higgins band, Joe Huston's band-- (pause)
And your forte, other than vocals, is piano playing--
No, not really--
OK, so you would strictly be a vocalist--
Yeah, I was--
The high falsetto part--
Uh, yeah, and you know, the regular part, too.
Come on in, if you're such a hot vocalist, stay with the mic, OK?
Now, on Love Of My Life, and we're gonna get more into this early
involvement with Zappa, now, you were songwriter collaborators, then you quit
being collaborators, then you got together again with The Mothers, but a few
years elapsed, and you had a group called The Soul Giants?
What was that about? Tell me
Well, I was living in Pomona again, Frank and I had parted after making
records in Studio Z, and it was a period when I was just doing menial work as a
carpenter and drinking away my paycheck every week, and I came upon some guys
that were building a place called The Broadside-- a great club, a great concept
for a club-- and he had other places and packed the people in.
And I used to go there. And
they hired a band called The Soul Giants, which had Roy Estrada (who became The
Mothers' bass player), Jim Black, drums (The Mothers drummer), a horn player
called Davy Coronado, a singer named Dave (I forgot his last name), and a guitar
player named Ray Hunt. I guess his name is Ray Hunt-- I had forgotten his name until
I read it and what Frank said I said about him.
But anyway, the club owner-- I used to get up and sing.
Also, another band that was there was the Three Days & A Night-- Two
Days-- Three Days & A Night, which had Henry Vestine, guitar--
Sure, of Canned Heat.
also of The Mothers-- he was in The Mothers for a while. So I used to get and sing with them.
I used to get up and sing with The Soul Giants, and the club owner, Skip, liked
my singing better than he liked Dave's singing with The Soul Giants, so he told
The Soul Giants they could stay, but Dave had to go, and I would become the lead
singer. I always felt kind of bad
about that, actually, but you know, I wanted to sing, so I got up and sang, and
became a part of The Soul Giants.
That's show biz. (both
chuckle). Now, were you on Love of
My Life with Ron Roman?
Yeah. Actually, Ron Roman--
I think Dave Arny recorded Ron Roman's voice on top of a track that Frank and I
and Paul Buff had done already that already existed, so I'm on there doing
falsetto and background vocals.
So there is no lead vocal on that track you wrote in search of a lead
I think either they took my lead off, or I was going to put one on later.
I think I did record a lead on that.
A different version.
And the same song came to life again on the Ruben & The Jets LP,
And you're doing what on Love Of My Life by Ruben & The Jets?
Probably 3 background vocals and the lead.
OK, we're going to hear that, and after we hear that, we'd like to take
some phone calls... because I think listeners are gonna be able to ask you more
informed questions about your career than I can.
There's so many questions, that I want to have some listener input as to
your career with Frank Zappa, The Mothers Of
Invention, Ruben & The Jets. You
were there, helping to start it all. How
much of the ideas were your ideas, how much were Frank's ideas? I mean, is it 50/50, 60/40, 36/70, whatever--- (both laugh)
Well, a lot of the "maybe-major" things were my ideas; I would
say, Frank, obviously being the leader of the band, if you wanted to put it
percentagewise, I'd probably say 20/80 in Frank's favor.
OK. Well, then, that's--
since it was-- it did sort of revolutionize rock and roll.
Yeah. Right, right.
--after this song, a remake of Love Of My Life, the Ron Roman original,
and you were on both of them?
OK. (Songs play.)
Page 65 of "The Real Frank Zappa Book," newly-issued, Chapter
4, "Are We Having A Good Time Yet?"
"During the early days when Paul Buff still owned the studio, I met
Ray Collins. Ray had sung with a
number of R&B groups since the mid-50's and had recorded with Little Julian
Herrera and The Tigers. In 1964 he
was supporting himself by working as a carpenter.
On weekends he sang with a group called The Soul Giants in a bar in
Pomona called The Broadside." Well,
some of that's correct, I don't think you sang with a number of groups--
You sang with a group. I
guess the number was one. "Apparently
he got into a fight with the guitar player, Ray Hunt, punched him out, and the
guitar player quit. They needed a substitute so I [FZ] filled in for the
weekend." True or false?
not. I never touched Ray Hunt, I
don't even remember shaking his hand.
No, it said you punched him.
know, that's what I mean. I never
touched him in any manner, shape or form.
Why did he leave the group?
RC: He didn't like me for some reason. The Soul Giants at that time were Roy Estrada on bass, Jim Black on drums, Davy Coronado on saxophone, and Ray Hunt on guitar. And he used to play the wrong thing behind me-- the wrong chord-changes or something-- so finally I mentioned it to Roy and Jim, 'cause Roy and I had gotten pretty close by then-- what was going on. And Roy said, "Yeah, I noticed it too." So it all came down to the fact that Ray Hunt didn't want to be part of the band, so we just got together after the show one night, and said, "OK, Ray, you're not doing it right-- so don't do it." So he said, "Great, so I'm leaving." So I said, "Don't worry about it, 'cause I know a guy that I worked with before from Ontario/ Cucamonga named Frank Zappa, and I think maybe he'd like to be in the band." So I called Frank and he became part of the band. But that's very strange that out of all Frank's memory-banks, he should pull out something like that, which isn't true at all, actually.
That's very-- I don't know how to put it-- it's "interesting,"
to use the word in a bad sense,-- that what became The Mothers was a band that
Frank came into as a replacement for. It
was a pre-existing band. And yet-- the way things worked out-- the band he came
into, became the band "The Mothers" that sort of started his
professional career off in the record world.
Yeah, that's true.
Odd how things happen.
Yeah, I know. And then, from
what I hear from his book, it's like the band almost didn't exist or something,
-- he really seems to have a-- bad feeling about his association with
you, for some reason. Do you have any idea-- is it just that-- the personality
clash, or something or--
I don't know. I've always
walked away from things that were threatening, authority-wise-- that's one of
the greatest things in the world, to walk away from a job.
Isn't that fun?
Great! I don't know-- maybe
I kind of think, sometimes, that-- Frank used to say, I heard him actually say
it to other people that, in conversation, that "Yeah, Ray" (talking
about me) "gets all these great ideas and then I use them, I do them."
But I noticed over the years that, either someone told him or he realized
it himself, that that's not a good thing, to go around telling somebody else
that somebody else has a lot of ideas that you had.
So it could be, possibly, that Frank doesn't want to say anything, and
sort of keep it cool, keep it quiet, keep it down, and then he can be
"Francis Vincent Zappa, genius of Laurel Canyon," you know. But who
knows? I don't know that that's it.
I do know that he says a lot fo good things about me, too.
So I got to look at both sides of it.
I know he's very demanding, and I know in the (so-called)
"classical" world, there's a lot of people who don't like demanding
musical leaders. And there's a lot fo people who can just-- it rolls right off
Don't most great conductors and band leaders, Duke Ellington and all
those people, most of them have a reputation for being pretty hard to get along
with? I believe they're very
People like Fritz Reiner, Stravinsky, Cab Calloway, too, Buddy Rich.
And Miles, Miles Davis.
Maybe everyone is, or anyone is, if they get that kind of authority to be
able to hire and fire people. Maybe
they do all get crazy like that. Maybe
I would, maybe you would! By the
way, David, you're fired!
Oh! Here, you get to run the
board! I know, working on tapes,
I'm very much a perfectionist, in my own work, like Frank says in the book--
machines are not people, a live band is not a Synclavier, and they do different
things. This is a good hour to go
into thos, before we go into our next musical selection.
There is-- well, here. Why
should I paraphrase? I'm no going
to do too much of this, but I thought since this is in a book, and it's talking
about someone else, we should have that other person comment on it. This is in "The Real Frank Zappa Book," and it's in
the section "Are We Having a
Good Time Yet?," and it's under the subheading "What's in a
Name?". This is what Frank has
to say about a meeting, and he really gives it to Ray, and I'd like to give Ray
the opportunity to give his side of an event.
"Freak Out! by 'The Mothers Of Invention' finally
hit the street. Listeners at the time were convinced that I [FZ] was up to my
eyebrows in chemical refreshment. No
way. As a matter of fact, I had
several arguments with the guys in the band who were into
'consciousness-altering entertainment products.' The whole thing blew up at a band meeting when Herb Cohen
wanted to get rid of Mark Cheka. Cohen
said we could continue to give Mark a percentage, but he wanted to take over
since, basically, Mark didn't know squat about the management business.
'Well, as long as we're cleaning house here,' some of the guys thought, 'let's get rid of that Zappa asshole too.' Yes, folks, some members of the band wanted me to go away and leave them alone because (don't laugh) I wasn't using drugs."
Now this is where you come in.
"The classic line of the meeting was delivered by
Ray Collins: 'You need to go to Big
Sur and take acid with someone who believes in God!' Undaunted by this
fascinating suggestion, I continued my duties as resident-- "
arschloch. ('Cause you can't
say that word-- the FCC does not like Pacifica to say words like that!)
Now--that's Frank's rememberence. Would
you care to elaborate on that?
Well, I didn't recall that Herbie wanted to get rid of Mark Cheka, but I
agree. I didn't understand why
Mark, other than the fact that he was a friend of Frank's, had anything to do
with The Mothers anyway, because he wasn't, to my way of looking at it, an
actual manager, although a very nice
person. As far as anyone, I can't
speak for the other Mothers, but as far as wanting Frank out of the band because
he didn't take drugs, it's total nonsense!
I can't imagine anyone, even someone who's totally on drugs, wanting
someone out of their way because they don't use drugs.
The reason-- that was a great meeting; I wish somebody had recorded it,
it would have been a great album-- I wanted Frank not to be the leader of the
Mothers Of Invention because I didn't like what he was doing with the band, and
his control. Like, the Mothers
albums, as good or as bad as they are, are Frank's version of the Mothers of
Invention. I suggested at that
meeting that we take any member of the band besides Frank or myself-- would
become the leader of the band. That
way it would take the leadership away from him, and I wouldn't be taking it,
giving it to myself.
It wasn't like I wanted to be the leader of it, I just wanted an equal
say in what happened with the band.
This comment sounds more like-- it's a "Lighten up, Frank,"
comment, rather than a literal suggestion--
Yeah, right. And that's when
the "take acid and go to Big Sur"-- that came, that's out of context,
of course. I mean, there's a lot of
things said, and that's what that was too.
You know, "lighten up, Frank." I'm not sure that-- I mena, what
is "someone who believes in God"?
If you sit with someone who believes in "God," you're sitting
with someone who believes in what they believe God is.
So how would I know to say that he-- what I'm saying is "Take it
easy, Frank." It's not a major
event. The first time I ever took LSD, Frank Zappa took me to get the LSD, in
Hollywood on Sunset boulevard. It
was induced into my mouth by way of an eyedropper out of a vial. Frank didn't take any to my knowledge at the time.
But he took me to get the LSD. So
it seems a bit ironic that he should make this kind fo statement about me.
And he also was quoted in another book
called "No Commercial Potential" saying that I was an "archetypal
What is that, anyway?
I have no idea, I don't know.
I'm not understanding this "burnout" thing.
Maybe burning out on society. I
always wondered how people use that. I'm
serious. I'm throwing that out as
an academic question, too. If
anyone would like to call in and tell us what a "burnout victim" is, I
would like to know what a definition is.
I think we're all burnout victims.
After 8 years of "Uncle Ron"-- who wouldn't be? And "Uncle Duke" up there--
You also said, while we're on the subject of this-- you also said you
smoked a proscribed substance with Frank.
What was like, when he was loaded?
RC: It was a long time ago, it was on the way to the airport. Henry Vestine, who went on to make Canned Heat, was in our band at the time. He and Frank and I smoked a joint on the way to the airport, I think the first time we were going to San Francisco. And Frank was, if I remember right, a bit giddy, and maybe paranoid. You know, I was probably giddy and paranoid, too! Maybe we all were.
Sam Yorty was mayor then--
But I really do believe Frank when he says he doesn't do drugs.
He brings up the fact that he smoked maybe a dozen joints.
Oh, he does?
Yeah, he brings it up in-- he's talking mostly about beer in the chapter.
But he brings that up. In
fact, he says if he had liked it-- apparantly he's just one fo those metabolisms
that just doesn't take to it-- which is simply a fact of biology-- he said if he
had liked it, he'd probably be smoking it today, because he likes to smoke.
Actually, I think he has a very enlightened, libertarian attitude towards
Yeah. So do I.
Frank does take care of his health.
He always had the look to me of a yoga.
He always could get into the lotus position really easy;
he always looked to me like he did yoga or believed in Zen, maybe inside
himself more than he did publicly. Where
he just really takes care of his body but doesn't want to make a public issue
out of it, I'm probably wrong-- he probably eats steak every night, I don't
DP: But I wanted to clear up that thing about-- it seems like he felt he was being persecuted, but I really don't think that's the case, myself.
No, not at all.
I'm glad you were able to give us another side of it.
Yeah, right. I'm sure the
other Mothers have another side.
Probably one for every member fo the band.
DP: We started off with two versions of How Could I Be Such A Fool, from FREAK OUT! and "Cruising With Ruben & The Jets," then we heard the original Studio Z, Cucamonga, 1962 version of Deseri, then we heard How's Yer Bird?, also recorded at Studio Z... Ray, who wrote some of these?
How Could I Be Such A Fool was written by Frank Zappa. Deseri-- Paul Buff owned Studio Z in Cucamonga before Frank
took it, and he had a track with no vocal, and it was sort of like a Four
Seasons foot-stomp background kind of a track, and he didn't know exactly what
to do with it, so I said, "Well, give it to me, I'll take it home and write
a song," and so I wrote Deseri on top of it.
And like we were talking about earlier, I believe the original old
version is better than The Mothers' "too clean" version.
Who's the drummer on that, by the way?
I think Francis Vincent Zappa, if I remember right.
He's on foot-stomps, too. Or
shoe-stomps-- I think he didn't use his feet, just his shoes.
You mentioned last night, on Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder, that you
had some input on that.
Oh yeah. I think I was
thinking about my ex-wife, if I remember right.
So Frank and I were in Cucamonga, and so I said, "Oh, I got this
idea about, 'Don't bother me,' 'Go away,' ''Go cry on somebody else's
shoulder.'" He said,
"Great!" So I sat down at
the piano and started playing it, and Frank joined in, and we created Go Cry On
Somebody Else's Shoulder. And then
of course, the spoken part that's on the Mothers' album, is all just ad-libbed,
right in the studio, about the khakis, and the Mexican input.
You used to do a lot of ad-libbing.
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