Joe’s garage band
Longtime Frank Zappa sideman Ike Willis to take stage with Chico tribute band
When longtime local musician and Frank Zappa aficionado Dave Breed started For the Love of Frank, a tribute band devoted to the music of Zappa, his goals were pretty modest. Breed’s intention was to get together with his capable cadre of local players “mostly for fun” and just enjoy the process of learning and playing the songs of the musician he loved so much.
But somewhere during the process, the Paradise musician decided to send out a Facebook greeting to Ike Willis—a longtime band mate and close friend of Zappa’s who is known for performing with Zappa tribute bands all over the world—and let him know about his project. Breed, of course, thought that might be the end of it, but then one day …
“The phone rang and someone claiming to be Ike Willis was on the other end,” Breed recounted. “I, of course, did not believe it was Ike, and for about a minute this person was trying to convince me he was in fact Ike Willis from Frank Zappa’s band, finally saying, ‘What do you want me to sing for you?’”
Now, with just a couple of gigs under its belt (a two-night stay at King’s Tavern in Paradise), For the Love of Frank will add a very special extra member as Willis will be making the trip from his home in Los Angeles to front the band for what promises to be a hot show at Lost on Main on Friday, Sept. 14.
“We’re terrified and thrilled all in the same breath,” said Breed, a veteran local drummer who currently plays with the McBride Brothers Band and has had stints with Electric Circus, Stone Blossom and Crazygrass. “Without question it’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been listening to Frank since I was 16. I knew he was a great musician, and when I dove in I realized from the depth of his compositions he was a genius.”
And the man who collaborated with Zappa for more than a decade—singing and playing guitar on more than a dozen Zappa albums, including the irreverent, politically satirical ’79 rock opera Joe’s Garage, on which he assumed the persona of Joe—is pleased to carry on the legend.
“I’m basically following the old man’s final directive to keep his music alive,” Willis said by phone, adding that, shortly before his death, Zappa reached out to him. “I was living in Portland and he told me to come down to L.A. and see him before it was too late because he had to give me his final instructions: ‘Here’s what I want you to do—if it’s possible, I’d really like to keep my music alive.’ I was like OK, what an honor. I was flabbergasted.
“I find the people who want to play the music and do it correctly. So when I see musicians who get it and who are good musicians and do it the right way, I join in, crack the whip and make sure they do it right.”
Doing Zappa right is no easy task. Most renowned for mixing highly proficient art rock, searing guitar and satirical whimsy, the musician/engineer/ record producer/film director generated material that is unconventional, complex and very precise.
Willis has been “an incredible friend and teacher,” Breed said about the experience so far. After hearing some samples, Willis spent a weeklong residency in Chico and Paradise in early June.
“He stayed with us and rehearsed for the whole week,” Breed said. “It was like a dream come true to get to meet and play with one of my musical heroes. Ike is a really funny guy, with tons of stories about playing with Frank. He is a great guy and a true living legend, a musical icon.”
To prepare for this show, Breed said the band has worked on about 40 Zappa songs and has—as bandleader Zappa demanded—made a point to be able to segue from one song to another anywhere at any time. The local players joining him in the fun are “all Zappa freaks; no newbies,” Breed said, and include guitarist Chris Gray, bassist Trevor Warner, keyboardist Greg Hradecky, vocalist Daniel Scheall Jr. and guitarist August Kube.
“They are very good and very enthusiastic,” added Willis (who also leaked out a few of the potential songs for the night: “Outside Now,” “Penguin in Bondage” and “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up”). “They’ve got a sense of humor and they get it. We will knock the socks off a lot of songs during the two-hour concert.”