How Frank Zappa Began His Solo Career in Earnest on ‘Chunga’s Revenge’
Chunga’s Revenge was a turning point in Frank Zappa’s career when it arrived on Oct. 23, 1970. It began his future as a true solo artist while ending the great iconoclast’s career as just another member (albeit the ruling member) of the Mothers of Invention.
Yes, earlier releases like 1967’s Lumpy Gravy and 1969’s Hot Rats had already been credited to Zappa alone. But it wasn’t until the following year that Frank unambiguously disbanded the Mothers, before plumbing much of their remaining material still in his vaults into 1970’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh.
Only then would Chunga’s Revenge complete this transition by combining tracks recorded for a since-abandoned Hot Rats sequel — including the driving guitar jam “Transylvania Boogie,” the lounge-like “Twenty Small Cigars” and percussion piece “The Clap” — with brand new material captured by Zappa with a mostly fresh group of hand-picked backing musicians.
The first of these to be recruited was widely respected English drummer Aynsley Dunbar, who had already relocated to L.A. and moved into Zappa’s home, the notorious Log Cabin. When challenged by his boss to “Show me why I hired you,” promptly helped jam on the basis of Chunga’s Revenge's title track (inspired by a mutant vacuum cleaner, as depicted in the LP’s gatefold sleeve).
Joining Dunbar in the new and now officially unofficial “Mothers of Invention” were keyboardist George Duke, bassist Jeff Simmons, returning keyboardist and saxophonist Ian Underwood (all of whom contributed to the avant-garde “The Nancy and Mary Music"), and former Turtles Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, who were credited here as the Florescent Leech and Eddie, for legal reasons.
It was the colorful pair who would arguably most help define Zappa's next era, as much with their often improvised comedy bits as with their vocal talents, as exhibited on the bluesy “Road Ladies,” hard rocking “Tell Me You Love Me,” poppy “Would You Go All the Way?,” ‘50s rock pastiche of “Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink,” and doo-wop infectiousness of “Sharleena.”
Many of the above served as both catalyst and preview for Zappa’s ambitious next film project, 200 Motels, which delved in a wide swath of debauched themes inspired by the typical adventures and misadventures of a touring rock band — again something Flo and Eddie would greatly assist in pushing over the edge of surreal excess.
For now, though, Chunga’s Revenge posed as many questions as it did answers about the future course of Frank Zappa’s musical travels. It peaked at a modest No. 119 on the Billboard chart, and continued to build upon his grassroots following in America and his far more established reputation overseas.
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