Would you buy a subscription to Zappa ?

Sunday's LA Times had this article on an
interesting idea by the Zappa family.


Not just in it for the money

By Steve Hochman, Special to The Times


Get ready for the Zappa of the Month Club.

The family of the late Frank Zappa is putting together plans to release music from the composer-musician's vast vaults via a subscription service. They hope it will expand the Zappa legacy among his fans and establish a unique business model suited to such a unique artist.

The details are still being worked out, but Gail Zappa, Frank's widow, says that the concept is pretty simple. Fans will pay an annual fee (probably around $100) and receive a set number of new releases each year (probably five), some of which will not be available elsewhere. Subscribers will have some level of choice as to what titles they receive from an ever-expanding catalog, and will also likely get bonus material and other special merchandise.

"We get people who say they only want to buy Frank's music directly from us," Zappa says, sitting in the family's Laurel Canyon house with their son Dweezil.

Beneath the house is the vault, a climate-controlled basement room stacked with shelf after shelf of audiotapes and films made by Zappa (who obsessively recorded nearly every concert he gave) in addition to studio recordings of his many band projects and classical compositions.

In the years since Frank Zappa's 1993 death from prostate cancer, the vaults have been largely closed, in part due to tension between the family and Rykodisc, the record label that owned the rights to the Zappa catalog. That deal expires in October, though, and the family is ready to open the door.

"I've always said that my day job is to protect the integrity of the work," Gail says.

That, adds Dweezil, is why the plans were devised to retain as much control as possible over the archives.

"Our dilemma is we have a core audience that's very enthusiastic," he says. "But music appreciation is nonexistent these days."

Under a new label named Vaulternative, marketed through the www.zappa.com website, two concert recordings were released in recent years. But the new program is really being launched with the brand-new "Joe's Corsage," which despite a title playing off the 1979 "Joe's Garage" albums actually consists of demos recorded by Zappa with his first Mothers of Invention band in 1964.

Archivist Joe Travers has been combing through the tapes for material that could be released, and Dweezil is marshaling a remix program to put both previously released and new discoveries in state-of-the-art surround sound for a parallel release program.

The latter will be introduced with "Quadropheliac," essentially an audio documentary being made from unreleased tapes on which the elder Zappa experimented with surround-type recording in the mid-'70s. At this point the material will be released only as hard-copy CDs, not as digital downloads — the Zappas believe the technology is too limited to do the music justice.

While others have has success with extensive archival projects, such as the Grateful Dead with its ongoing "Dick's Picks" concert series, it's the subscription angle that makes the Zappa plans stand out. Pete Howard, editor of the collector-oriented music publication ICE, thinks it's an overdue idea.

"As a business model it makes great sense for a label or people doing it," Howard says. "It keeps the ability to do product flow at a predictable level. And for the consumer and fan it has got to be win-win, because there will be all kinds of things coming out of the vaults that wouldn't otherwise. It ensures a steady flow of goodies. There needs to be a little blind faith that there will be quality, but that shouldn't be a problem with the Zappa material. I wish other artists would follow suit."
im a big zappa fan but buying releases sight unseen from the vault(utility muffin research kitchen)wouldnt appeal to me unless i knew the titles of the tracks.

i currently have the entire catalog along with many many boots, all the old masters sets, the beat the boots set & would really like for the zappa family trust to release NEW material but i fear it would be more of the same old songs just from different venues.

one things for sure gail zappa is a marketing wizard & if she undertakes this it will be a sucess but i suspect it will be like the long awaited release of LEATHER.

how many more versions of dyna moe hum can a guy listen too before they release an lp of entirly unreleased tracks.

we waited for LEATHER to come out for 2 yrs only to find out it had been renamed LATHER & the unreleased tracks that were supposed to be there were now gone along with an entire album side.

for the longest time i had high hopes of new material flowing out of the UMRK but after talking with scott thunes the bass player from the last zappa band im sceptical about what material will be on the albums.

after gail & dweezil chopped up a bunch of classic zappa titles on the best of zappa in order to fit more tracks on the cd i for one wouldnt expect too much new stuff to be comming from the subscription deal.

I loved Zappa live. Saw him many times when he used to play in Los Angeles almost weekly. His albums though, are a different thing. I wouldn't pay the subscription.
I'm not sure I'd get the subscription. I too would prefer to know what the material is. That said, the idea is very intriguing. The fuss made above about hoping for new tracks doesn't move me. Lather was brilliant. And sure, another Dina Mo Hum we do not need, but archival performances of, say "Little House . . ", or "King Kong", or "Ship Arrived to Late", or any number of things would be great. FZ didn't play or arrange the same song the same way twice in a row. And the output is gargantuan. Not hearing new songs is a weak complaint.

But what I'd really like Gail et al to do is figure out a way to get the best analog masters extant (NOT the digital remixes), previously released or not, pressed onto 180g vinyl, with the utmost care to fidelity. That might well open up a decent sized new market , as well as exciting many of the present core of fans. People new or back to vinyl would love it, since good pressings of FZ material are very hard to come by and expensive, and never as good as a well done new pressing would be. I can more easily see a revival of interest in FZ coming that way than obscure material in digital format. Vinyl enthusiasts are always up for audiophile quality pressings, almost regardless of what's on them. Jeez, an audiophile pressing of Fleetwood Mack or Emerson Lake and Palmer will get attention. Imagine how much of an impression would be made on a vinyl junkie with ears when she gets a load of Uncle Meat or Roxy and Elsewhere sounding great in her favored format!

But I'll sure check out what Gail is offering in the club.

Oh yeah, Thunes is famously grouchy and bitter -- a control freak head case (GREAT player, though). Hard to imagine his saying much nice about anything, let alone what may come from the vault.

rnm4," not hearing new songs is a weak complaint" i guess some are satisfied to hear different versions of songs or different live recordings, i am not, especially when ive heard & seen the great things fz was capable of writing & playing.

the info i got was that the UMRK was full of unheard tracks especially his works with the synclavier.

you mentioned king kong, absolutely fantastic, you might try jean-luc ponty plays the music of frank zappa/king kong.

you also mentioned ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch, i remember when it was a new release & i 1st listened to the album, i was astounded, i couldnt wait to hear the next track & thats what i would be looking for to come out of the vault, not songs ive heard before sitting there waiting to hear somthing different in the composition.

as for scott thunes being a control freak with a swelled up head i wouldnt have a clue as to his personality in real life, all i know is that he is 1 hell of a bass player & when i talked with him he was very nice to me & had nothing but good things to say & seemed to genuinly like talking to me about music in general.

i believe that frank truly loved music , playing it, writing it, directing it, experamenting with it & just being around it & it showed in his live performances but i also believe that the zappa trust has other ideas that are based soley on cash flow.

fz used to release atleast 1 album per year somtimes several , i guess i got spoiled beacuse i always savored going to the record store, picking up the latest fz release & seeing titles ive never heard before.


I had the privilege of seeing FZ live many times and yes, every time they played a song it sounded different. I heard many different versions of Black Napkins, Peaches, Tinseltown Rebellion, Broken Hearts Are For Assholes, Bobby Brown, Zoot Allures, etc...

The bigger question is, what would Frank want? He was the consummate professional and one of the world's greatest musicians. Ever. I suspect the material stayed in the vault because Frank didn't feel it was worth releasing. So even if it didn't measure up to Frank's standards, it sure seems to meet Gail's measure of success (i.e. $$$$$). Maybe I'm off base here but I think Frank's legacy deserves better.