Friday, November 7, 2008

Jimmy Carl Black, 1938-2008

I only today learned that Jimmy Carl Black (pictured at the far left on the back cover of the Mothers’ album Freak Out!) the former drummer and sometime singer for Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, died last Saturday, November 1, after a battle with cancer. He was 70 years old. Like most anyone who’s seriously listened to the Mothers’ music, I remember Black primarily because of his amusing soundbite on the Mothers of Invention album We’re Only In It For the Money (1968), “Hi Boys and Girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black, and I’m the Indian of the group.” (Black had Cheyenne Indian ancestry through both parents.) Black would later appear as one of the more interesting characters in Zappa’s largely uninteresting art-house movie 200 Motels (1971), singing “Lonesome Cowboy Burt.” After Frank Zappa disbanded the Mothers of Invention in 1969, Black formed a band named Geronimo Black that released an eponymously titled LP on MCA/Universal in 1972. I purchased a vinyl copy that year and have returned to it many times over the years, and while critically highly regarded, apparently the album did poorly in terms of sales. According to his obituary in the L. A. Times, after the failure of the Geronimo Black album, Black quit playing music, at one time “earning a living working in a doughnut shop” and later “as a house painter and decorator.” Some years later, in 1980, he joined ex-Mothers Bunk Gardner and Don Preston in The Grandmothers, a band that split and reunited many times over the next twenty years. For reasons I do not know, Black moved to Italy in 1992, and then to Germany in 1995. He appeared as a singer with The Muffin Men, a Liverpool band that specialized in the music of Zappa and Captain Beefheart. He is survived by his wife, Monika, whom he married in 1995 following the death of his second wife; three sons and three daughters.

Jimmy Carl Black was a member of the Mothers of Invention in their most musically adventurous and hence interesting period, which is why I’m aware of him at all, and why I bought some of his later records. Later incarnations of the Mothers never captured my imagination the way the band did during the period from Freak Out! (1966) through Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970). As a figure who loomed large in my early musical explorations while I was a teenager, I will always fondly remember Jimmy Carl Black. Additional information can be found on his website.

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