The true story of Bongo Fury gig

Previous entry This Album Refs Global N&C Refs Songs Index

From: John Henley <>

The True Story of Bongo Fury
  I attended the second Bongo Fury show, 21 May 1975, at Armadillo World Headquarters. Herewith some of my memories of it, and responses to a couple of questions.
  The Armadillo (or AWHQ) was an old Nat'l Guard Armory that had also served as a skating rink. It was located in a part of Austin, south of the Colorado River, that's right on the border where the downtown business district gives way to a neighborhood. Around 1970, some enterprising hippies transformed it into a music hall in the spirit of the defunct Vulcan Gas Company. They struggled with it til about 1972, when both Willie Nelson and Freddie King decided they liked playing there and began doing so often.
  As a music hall, it was mid-sized, held about 2500 people comfortably. There was a stage, the main floor (which usually had only a few rows of chairs at back, people mainly sitting on the floor), a raised area at back where folks could sit at tables, two bars (one on each side of the hall) and the food counter off to the side. For a long time, the main floor was covered by many 3-square-yard patches of carpeting. Pretty handy - when one got soaked with beer, it could just be replaced. In the late 70s, they carpeted the whole place with red outdoor pile, and it never smelled the same again.
  There was also a nice beer garden outside.
  It was popular with touring musicians because, unlike most other concert venues, a point was made of feeding the bands with real food, not just deli snacks, before or between shows. Evidently, no one was more impressed by this than Frank. Hence, the credit on BF to "the Armadillo kitchen staff, especially Jan Beeman." The actual Guacamole Queen was an early AWHQ cook known as Big Rikki, but she'd been gone for a while by this time and kitchen manager Beeman had become known as the GQ sort of by default.
  For the most part, attendance at an AWHQ concert required a person to not mind at least getting high on second-hand weed smoke, because toking was almost a requirement. Very democratic, too - if you didn't have any, all you had to do was sit and wait for one to come by. (At his 1977 concert there, Frank pointed toward the emergency exit at stage right, the doors of which were usually open, and said "Please blow your smoke that way.")
  I had seen the Roxy-era band play there in 1973, my first live Zappa and my first indoor concert at AWHQ. I think they may have been there in '74, but I missed that one. The concert was explicitly advertised as a joint FZ-Capt. Beefheart gig for recording a live album.
  As the second night's event began (I cannot remember if there was an opening act), the resident AWHQ artist/sage/MC Jim Franklin (creator of the armadillo ad campaign for Lone Star Beer) came onstage in some weird kind of priest garb, and growled "Ladies and gennelmen - ya Mothas!"
  The lighting went all spooky and the band came out in kind - I remember Bruce Fowler staggering out like the Frankenstein monster.
  The first disappointment was that Ruth was nowhere in sight, though everone else was there - but wait, that's a new drummer, not Chester. Rats. And instead of percussion they've got a new guitarist? Hmmm.
  I really don't remember what they began the show with, nor what all they played aside from what's on the record. I think Carolina Hard Core Ecstacy came fairly early in the set. What was obvious, right away, was that this band didn't sound like the one I had come to see - even though it was largely the same band, there was none of the precision of the earlier show. Instead, Frank was plainly emphasizing the bluesier side. Whether this was for Beefheart's sake, or whether FZ was really entering his guitar-hero phase, or even perhaps pandering to the AWHQ audience (Texans have always loved blues and electric guitar stuff), I don't know, but it gave me a sense of letdown that, to be honest, never entirely went away during the show.
  A few days ago, someone posted on here the second-hand statement (allegedly by another attendee) that the show sucked. That's not entirely true, but sadly, it _is_ about 50% true. George Duke did not play a single keyboard solo all night, that I can remember, so he was wasted. Napoleon Murphy Brock didn't seem to be having as much fun as he did before. Bozzio's frenzied style was so different from Chester's that he put me right off, and it took a long time for me to like him. Frank often looked stressed, like he was really concentrating hard.
  The most entertaining thing to see was Beefheart himself. His stage manner was awkward - sometimes he seemed to be grooving to the music but his movements were rather like watching Paul Newman or someone (maybe Dean Martin) trying to groove. At other times, he sat in a chair and, from a bag, pulled out doodads that he would inspect and set aside. (Hence the credit, "shopping bags.")
  There were 2 or 3 pieces, don't know what, in which Beefheart played sax solos, and I thought he was very good indeed at that.
  About halfway through the show, a stagehand walked on and right up to Frank, in the middle of a number. Frank listened to what he said and gave the band a hand signal, and I tell you, they stopped on a dime, clean and all at once. Frank then told us that a bomb threat had been received and we'd have to evacuate the hall. He seemed to know the layout, since he pointed right at the emergency exit and told us to go that way. By the way, you've seldom seen a crowd of people that was _less_ agitated by the prospect of a bomb than this crowd.
  Many people could be overheard averring that it was all part of the show, but I doubt if the Austin Fire Dept. could have been roped into playing FZ's stooges. They definitely were there.
  After 30 minutes, we were permitted back in, but of course I had lost my good seat and found myself near the back of the hall. The band returned, Frank said "We were in the middle of Capt. Beefheart's solo", he gave ONE downbeat, and the took up RIGHT WHERE THEY HAD LEFT OFF, solo and all. That was REAL impressive, I thought.
  There was one thing about that night I had mercifully forgotten, until FZ had the bad judgment to resurrect it: the original The Torture Never Stops. I wouldn't have known that was it, since most of what Beefheart sang all night couldn't be understood. But I did know that it was the worst excuse for a blues that I had ever heard, and was just sucking the life out of the audience.
  I feel the same way when I hear it now, on Stage 4. However, it's no longer the worst blues I ever heard: "Mannish Boy" as performed by The Who on their most recent tour is the winner.
  I remember Beefheart doing both of his album cuts, most particularly "Man with the Woman Head." When he asks "Are you with me on this people?" you can hear some response in the back, one of those voices being me.
  I don't think that Muffin Man was the encore number, I think it was the end of the main set, but that's fuzzy. Also I am not certain that it had lyrics but I don't remember there being any. What I do remember clearly is that it jazzed up the audience like no other number all night, that as Frank played I made my way in a trance back up to the stage area, stepping on some toes I'm sure, and that I was just flying high with him as he made that kamikaze run up the fretboard right before the verse comes back, and for a second there his fingers got tangled up, moving but producing no sound. (This is the solo heard on the record (and don't fuck with me about it!)). That deflated my high a bit. In fact, that's what I remember overall about Bongo Fury - a few inflations but a few more deflations.
  I do not recall that Frank started playing again after the "Good night Austin Texas" farewell - he just left. That leads me to suspect that the guitar outchorus is actually from the first night.
  It was a memorable evening, to be sure (obviously), but a mixed bag, just the same.
  The AWHQ closed at the end of 1980, after the landowner decided to sell. The last band I saw there was Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, but the next-to-last was FZ with Vinnie, Ike, Ray and company, and he told us we shouldn't feel too bad about it closing, because the way things were going there was no reason to believe that the place's special atmosphere would continue intact. He was quite right about that - panhandlers were infesting the beer garden and the staff had started to treat the customers badly. So I guess it was time; but I will never forget all the fun I had there.
From: (Boil That)
  Re: whether "Muffin Man" had lyrics during the tour...none of the tapes I've heard from the tour had "Muffin Man" lyrics. The main riff seemed to have developed over a series of shows as a guitar-solo-vehicle-cereal-by-product of the dramatic, slowed-down final verse of "Camarillo Brillo" (same chords). Lyrics would appear to have been written afterward and overdubbed. Does anyone have any evidence of a vocal "Muffin Man" during the '75 Zappa/Beefheart tour?

Previous entry This Album Refs Global N&C Refs Songs Index

SOVA NOSE Any proposal? I'd like to hear!
Provocation, compilation and design © Vladimir Sovetov, 1994-2004
You could download, copy and redistribute this material freely as long as you keep copyright notice intact and don't make any profite on it.