Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bob Lilly's Zappa Story

Almost all of my posts are comics. Sometimes a story. Today I am ready to tell you my Frank Zappa story. 

If you are a Frank Zappa fan, you may have looked at the websites that attempt to publish the schedule of dates and places where he and his band appeared.  Some of these lists have him playing in Charleston, South Carolina on May 4th, 1975.  He was actually in Charleston, West Virginia that Sunday.  I know. I was there.

It was about an hour before you would think anybody would arrive at the Charleston Civic Center but there was quite a crowd milling about in the front of the building near the ticket office.  Not yet forming a line.  My date and I walked around the building to a side entrance which had a garage door.  I assume this is where the equipment was usually carried inside.

Much to my surprise, a white limo drove around the building and out popped Frank Zappa.  He actually walked a couple of steps in our direction (I assume) because I had several cameras hanging around my neck and he possibly was willing to interact with the local press. But I was not a reporter. I was only a fan who was stalking him that day.  I said to him, "Welcome to Charleston, Frank. We're glad you're here. (speaking on behalf of many other people or using the "royal we". Take your pick).

He said, "OK, but it will have to be click click. I'm in kind of a hurry."

Since my date had a Poloroid camera, I turned and posed with Frank.  As you can see, my date didn't compose the picture as Frank and Bob.  It is more like Frank in the center with Bob trying desperately to be included in the shot.

As you can see, Frank is an average sized guy and I am a big guy.  I love it that he posed with a cup of coffee.  I was impressed that he was actually well tanned and healthy looking.  He went to great pains to present a freaky image on his album covers and posters.

I was also amazed at how black his facial hair realy was.  He was freshly shaved and yet his beard looked blue under his skin.  He was wearing a string of beads and had a little american flag on his lapel.

I thanked him and he walked inside.  About thirty seconds later, Captain Beefheart, George Duke, Bruce Fowler, and the rest of his band came walking around the building to where we were.  Apparently their limo driver let them out up front at the ticket office, right in the middle of the crowd. That must be why nobody else approached the door we were at when Frank Zappa arrived.

About four years before this, a nutcase attacked FZ in England during a concert and pushed him from the stage into an orchestra pit. He usually had a security guard with him for a time afterwards.  I am surprised he got out of the car outside of the building.

Around the same time as the Charleston concert, I believe FZ was involved in a huge lawsuit in England because they had cancelled his scheduled concerts, possibly at the Palladium.  He had several legal and financial challenges so that may well explain him performing in West Virginia.

Remember the cameras I had around my neck?  I was able to go inside early and crank off a few shots while Frank was setting up his guitar and adjusting the amps.

In the first shot, he is playing a quick guitar solo and the small group of us next to the stage are hooting and hollering and clapping our hands. It seemed to amuse Frank that we would react to what to him was mere practice and warm up.

I like this shot. The famous profile and if you look in the lower right, you will see his name painted on the side of some equipment.

He is making some adjustments on the amps.  If you look at the neck of the guitar, you will see that he parked his cigarette under a guitar string between the pegs.

You may have observed that I didn't have a camera flash.  Back in that era, I was always trying to find ways to get good photos using available light.  Using a flash would sometimes get you kicked out of a place.  I also developed these black and white prints myself, so don't blame Kodak. I probably used grainy as heck 400 speed film, which didn't need very much light.

The other camera around my neck had color slide film.  If I ever find the slides I may post them as well.

Please respect that all of these images are copyright 2011 by R. Lilly

See ya soon


  1. great story, Bob ! you gotta find them color slide photos and scan them @ high res before they fade away. It certainly looks like 400spd b&w film, I shot a boatload back in the 80's.

  2. Damn! That photo Zappa004.jpg IS pretty badass! Thanks for sharing this stuff.