Depending on one’s point of view, I am personally to thank or blame for what now goes on the first Thursday night of every month at River Gods in Cambridge. According to The Good American, whose DJ slot is that night, I am the one who got him back into Frank Zappa.
“You put me in the Zappa mode,” he told me. “It’s all your fault. You brought me to the show.”
Mr. Good American was referring a performance by Doors guitarist Robby Krieger at Johnny D’s last December. The band with whom Krieger tours, the Jazz Kitchen, includes three former members of Frank Zappa’s band.
Have you ever DJ’d before?
I’ve been a fixture at River Gods since 2000. I had friends who worked there and I just decided that I wanted to DJ, too. I love the DJ booth there and the atmosphere there is like perfect for relaxing, just hanging out. No TV screens there, it actually centers on the music.
What kind of stuff were you DJing before you decided to focus on Frank Zappa?
The night originally was called “Beauty and the Beat.” It was named after an album by a very eclectic DJ named Edan, who went to Berklee. What it was was to bring together funk, soul, acid jazz, rare groove, blues, basically the music of black culture. My focus was to explore all these samples in hip hop, where they came from, and play the original versions, tying them together with hip hop, with an emphasis on old school, because new school hip hop—unless it’s underground—has always been sort of painful to me.
Why is Frank Zappa, of all people, worthy of having a night of DJing devoted to him?
I grew up listening to Frank Zappa. I saw Zappa in ’88. I was turned on to him through my brother, who played guitar, who inspired me to play guitar, but was never really inspired to play guitar by Frank Zappa. He had all the Zappa albums and really forced them on me.
Do you remember when you first heard Frank Zappa?
My first memory of Zappa was probably as a young kid listening to a Boston radio station, WCOZ. On COZ every Sunday night, I believe, you heard Dr. Demento. “Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow.” That was the first Zappa song that I heard, “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.” And then there was obviously “Valley Girl,” ya know.
Did anything beside your love of his music lead to the beginning of ZAPPA Thursdays?
When I went back to work for The Weekly Dig, which within six months became DigBoston, the first day I started I was ecstatic to be back working for them. I had my own desk, and I had a boom box. The first album I played was Zappa’s Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar. I was lodged in between editorial and sales. They were trying to sell advertising and here I am blaring Frank Zappa. The publisher, Jeff Lawrence, comes over to me giving me the “cut it out” sign (mimes hand across throat). He said tomorrow it’s Thursday, you can play all the Zappa you want. And I go, “Zappa Thursdays.” And he said, “Yes, tomorrow is Zappa Thursday.”
It was an inside joke going on for a while, until it all came together at River Gods, where I was DJing Thursdays anyhow.
What kind of crowd do you expect at ZAPPA Thursdays?
I think it will appeal to music students. When you say, “Who really likes Frank Zappa?” it’s mostly like tech-heads, music students, you know, uh, even though Zappa didn’t do any drugs at all I think a lot of people who like to experiment with drugs find Zappa’s music pretty far out. And audiophiles, people who really like to collect music, people who really like that era. Then you’ve got guitarists, whether they’re music students or not. And then there’s just an eclectic blend of other people who dig Zappa. Zappa had so many sides. He was a master guitar player, he was a composer, an innovator, but he was a humorist. His big question was, “Does humor belong in music?” A lot of people are attracted to that side of him.
Is there any Zappa stuff that you simply will not play?
I don’t play anything from the late ‘80s, like Jazz In Hell, which is all this really like syncopated, schizophrenic composition. He did a lot of classical compositions. I’m not gonna play that in a bar. And some of the early stuff is just too far out.
One album is off limits, sorry folks: 200 Motels will not be played.
How might ZAPPA Thursdays benefit those who are interested?
Zappa has a song called “Get A Little,” and that’s sorta the sub-heading of my night: “ZAPPA Thursdays: Get A Little.” Don’t get it all. Come by, have a beer, enjoy the night.
I see this building a community of Zappa fans coming out on Thursday, because there’s nothing else like it. My deepest and sincerest apologies if Thursday was your night to go to River Gods, and you enjoyed the funk.