Interview: Napoleon Murphy Brock (Frank Zappa & The Mothers on Invention, solo)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: 3 February 2012. We talked to Napoleon Murphy Brock, who was for years the lead singer, saxophonist and flute player in Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention. Napoleon Murphy Brock is a legendary musician who was for years a very close musical partner and friend to Frank Zappa. Many musicians all over the world would like to have his talent and his experience, but very few have achieved what he has done in his career. We are very lucky that we had the chance to talk with such a living legend. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


Your latest release is “This Is What Frank Zappa Heard”. Did you remember that night when you first met Frank? How difficult to release these recordings?

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The recordings were made in 1973, the night I met Frank. I didn’t know him, I didn’t make the recordings because of him. I made the recordings because that I usually did it. I used to record the shows with my band and then we would listen to them and that way we made the band sounds better. The difficult course was transferring reel to reel 4 tracks to a digital process. I had to go to Hamburg in Germany at Master Penguin studio which is run and owned by a guy called Ralf Kessler, an engineer, an incredibly genius engineer. Part of what he does at studio is restoration of old, old tapes that contain music. He had to transfer my old-school tapes to Pro-Tools, the recording tools they use today and then he had to reduce the scratches and the sound of the tapes themselves. He has an equipment to do it, the tapes were made long ago, but it sounds really good. It sounds as good as it has to sound. It’s the true sound of what Frank Zappa really heard, the exact music he listened to before he offered me the job as band member in his band. This CD “This Is What Frank Zappa Heard” hasn’t originals. The arrangements of the music are mine. I arranged the music with the band, a 5-piece band but the thing that it’s incredible with is band is my conviction to make it sounds live. We sounds like a 7-piece band. The terrific with this CD is simply that you can hear 7 musicians, but there are actually only 5.


“Balls” is your latest solo album. Are you satisfied with the feedback you got so far for “Balls” from fans and press?

“Balls” is the release of some of my original compositions. All of the compositions that are in “Balls”, are songs that I wrote by myself. That was some of my original music I planned to release. The next one will probably be with a 40-people orchestra, which I recorded four of my other original compositions, the Metropolis Orchestra from Holland. I haven’t finished with it yet. I have to record some of my other music with them. It’s a long process because the music has to be written for the orchestra, transcribed for the orchestra and it takes a lot of time. These are all originals.


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Which are the current projects you’re involved in, except the project with the orchestra? Are you doing any recordings this period?

I’m doing many projects with many artists, right now. I ‘m doing an album with Ed Palermo Big Band in New York, we’re also doing Frank Zappa’s music. It’s a 17-piece big band. Also, I’m preparing to tour the world, right now with The Grandmothers of Invention. We have a new bass player who is Tom Fowler, who’s brother of Bruce Fowler (ed:trombone, Frank Zappa). Tom Fowler played bass on “Over-Nite Sensation”, “Apostrophe (’)”, “One Size Fits All”, “Roxy and Elsewhere” and “Bongo Fury”. He was the bass player for Ray Charles for the last 30 years, now Ray Charles has passed away and Tom Fowler came to play with us again. There are 3 of the original musicians of The Mothers of Invention in this band: myself, Tom Fowler and Don Preston (ed:Mothers of Invention/Frank Zappa alumni from 1967 thru 1969,1970, 1971, and 1974 as a Special Guest, on keyboards, electronics, IPOD, and vocals).


During the last years you played with Zappa Plays Zappa. How was the experience to play with Frank’s son, Dweezil and old friends? Steve Vai told me it was great and he wishes to do it again.

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Playing with Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio (ed: drums, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck) is a always great to do. Dweezil’s band is a cover band. They play Frank’s music correct but there is a real difference with that we played with Frank. There was a little more room to be more flexible and creative. With Dweezil is exactly like the record. It was Ok, we had a good time.


What was the most important thing you learned from your collaboration with Frank Zappa? 

That we were very much alive. We had the same interest in creating and playing music, that hasn’t been played in these days or before. How it has to be performed and executed in theaters, live and that it must have been humour in the execution of the music and it has to be fun. You had also to play the music absolutely correct. If you look at the videos you will see that we had a wonderful time, we had fun. George Duke, Ian Underwood, Tom Fowler, Frank, Chester Thompson and myself, we had always fun. Playing music was always fun. The music was also played correct but there was also a lot of improvising based on our collaboration. Based on how theater music should be executed and how it should be played. We had the same idea about it, it should be fun and it was always fun.


Is there any musician you ‘d like to play with and hasn’t happened yet?

Hmm, wow! That’s a hard one. That’s a hard one because those I have played so far, are those I always wanted to play with. Good question, I don’t know how to answer it without suffering a headache.


Maybe with Tom Waits?

Tom Waits? I love Tom Waits! Yeah, maybe with Tom Waits. I would

love to play with Tom Waits. He used to open our shows on tours.


Wow!! I didn’t know that!

Yeah, he’s the one I would love to play with. I love Tom Waits.


Do you have any contact with him, all over the years?

No. Tom is making movies all the time. It’s very hard, it’s very difficult to get in touch with him. He’s making movies all the time and now he’s back in the studio, making music, releasing CDs and doing tours. He’s a very busy man.


Do you have an explanation why Frank hated so much The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s” album? He believed that “Sgt Pepper’s” was a sell-out. It wasn’t pure music.

I never heard him saying that. Maybe with said that one in an interview. He never told me that to me. He always told me that he liked The Beatles.


But he did “We’re Only In It For The Money” as a parody to “Sgt Pepper’s”.

Maybe so, I don’t know. But it sounds like a personal opinion. It’s not his opinion about the music, I think it’s his opinion about why they decided to release it in a certain way. It’s not his opinion about the music itself, it was about the way they released the music. That’s I think he was talking about. To me, he always said that he likes The Beatles.


Do you think the fact that Frank was a self-trained musician helped him to become a so revolutionary one? He broke the rules, he did things for the first time.

Well, the thing is that most of the composers on the level of Frank Zappa, on the level of Bach, on the level of Beethoven, they had their own ways of doing things. Following the rules, you can’t always make a composition the way you hear it, the way you feel it. As far as breaking the rules, that’s not the problem. The rules have to be broken if that doesn’t allow you to be yourself.


With who musician you had the most spiritual connection on stage? Maybe with George Duke?

Frank Zappa and George Duke.


Do you think the fact that recording industry is collapsing, is some kind of justice for all the years of their greed?

The music that they are writing today is not as good as the music that it was written before. The compositions that they are making today are a lot of copying, they are doing a lot of sampling. The music that they make today hasn’t the quality of the music that they did in the past. That’s my personal opinion. I would rather play the music from the past than the music of today. The music they are doing today I don’t think it has anything. I don’t think it has sound, I mean it doesn’t sound good.


What kind of music are you listening this period?

I listen to the old music. I listen to old-school rock’n’roll, old-school rhythm ‘n’ blues, I listen to old-school jazz. The music I listen to is from the past. It’s not the music of today that I listen to because it doesn’t have the level of quality, it doesn’t have the level of musicianship, it doesn’t have the composition level of that I was raised up with and I personally know is good. I don’t consider that good and I don’t play that. I don’t use to listen to that and I don’t waste my time. That’s why I think Frank Zappa music will always live, because this music it’s before its time. It was composed before its time and time hasn’t come for this music yet. It’s still ahead of its time and it’s brilliant. People can’t play it because it involves a lot of discipline, it involves a lot of musicianship and it involves a lot of acting. Most musicians don’t want to do that. You had to have a lot of disciple to play that. For example, most chords are 1,3,5 chords, but Frank Zappa used mostly 1,2,4 chords. You had to learn to play a scale, a 2 scale and a 4 scale as opposed to 3,5 scale. That’s a challenge. Today’s music has no challenge: Lady Gaga. I like what she’s doing with the theater thing, with the costumes but I don’t really think she’s a singer. She’s good,

she wears good outfits and does a good show, but I don’t really think she’s a singer. She’s Ok, but I won’t buy one of her records. Justin Bieber: I won’t buy one of his records because I don’t think he’s a singer.


They were created by the companies.

We call them here cash cows. They are people who don’t know anything about music, and buy their music because a lot of their friends like that kind of music. They are all like a little sheep that they are walking down the road. Nobody has independent thinking, nobody has the courage to stand up and show “I don’t think that sounds so good”. They are cash cows, they are making money for the record companies. They are designed and created by the record companies to make money and that’s it. The challenge in their music doesn’t exist. Beyonce: that same thing. She is a great dancer, she has a really nice body but I wouldn’t buy one of her CDs, because the quality of the music has no challenge.


Do you think rock ’n’ roll is dead and everything is about managers, percentages and deals? Jim Morrison was right, then?

Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well and it will always be.


Have you ever rejected an offer to play with someone and then regretted for that decision?

Of course. People who want to play with me, have to send me a video, and have to send me a CD of their music. If they don’t have quality, I won’t do it. I won’t do for money. I won’t prostitute myself for money. You have to play the music right, otherwise I won’t do it.


Have you ever rejected an offer from a famous person?

No. If a person is famous, is probably good. To play with other people they have to play the music right, they have to play music good and they have to have fun. Those are the three ingredients I require. And then they have to pay me.


Today that’s optional. Few people are getting paid for their work.

Yeah. You know, I’m a professional and I was chosen personally from Frank Zappa to be the singer in his band for some reason: because I do it right and I have fun and audience have fun.


Do you remember your show in Greece with Zappa plays Zappa in 2006? 

It was a great show. Me, Terry (ed: Bozzio, drums) and Steve Vai. I’ m amazing of what happened. We are the three players who made that tour and made that show what it was. Otherwise, it would be just another cover band. They are Ok, but you know..


You are the people who played alongside Frank and know the true spirit of the songs.

That’s right. The people in Dweezil’s band never played with Frank. None from Dweezil’s band had ever recorded with Frank. They really don’t know the spirituality that is connected with that music.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Brock.

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