Joe’s Camouflage

Posted: February 7, 2014 in album review, zappa
Frank Zappa, Joe's Camouflage, Vaulternative Records, 2014

Frank Zappa, Joe’s Camouflage, Vaulternative Records, 2014

Probably the most amusing Joe installment to date, Joe’s Camouflage combines high appeal for zappaphiles and hard-core listeners of any kind (including resentment ones), with good sound quality, for the most part. Previous episodes in this very special nuggets saga have been always of some interest (the social group quickly depicted above needs all of them for sure), however sometimes not fully enjoyable because of a low-fi sound. Joe’s Domage for instance, is of a great interest concerning the rehearsal process of the Petit Wazoo band and, although short, includes a beautiful unreleased composition, namely Another Whole Melodic Section, also known as Interlude to that social group, performed live by the MOI in 1969. However the low sound quality keeps this object away from digital audio converters for long periods, and it’s a real pity. But Camouflage no, there is a lot new to hear, and all of it is in good stereo, from analog 4 tracks source. Some material derives from Denny Walley’s mono rehearsal cassettes, but luckily it is not the most interesting part, and it’s enjoyable. In a few words, a great ZFT/Joe Travers job, thank you for bringing to existence this otherwise undocumented line-up, who here gives shape to some unreleased music, in a very relaxed studio environment.

The band in question stayed together in 1975 for a short period and never toured. They were: Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals); Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax, vocals); Robert “Frog” Camarena (guitar, vocals); Denny Walley (slide guitar, vocals); Novi Novog (viola, vocals); Roy Estrada (bass, vocals), Terry Bozzio (drums); André Lewis (keyboards, vocals, a “special mention” in the booklet). Novi Novog is the only musician who didn’t have other chances with a Zappa band, four of them (Lewis, NMB, Estrada and Bozzio) where in the next Zappa live quintet, if you are part of that social group, you instantly imagine this band live instead of the well-known 1975 live quintet.

The album starts off with the first unreleased piece, in a first take: Phyonix, a quasi-prog effort, keyboards and bass on duty for a linear march cadenza, Bozzio to break the rhythm in pieces, Zappa to improvise with him. Amazing guitar/drums interplay. The stereo image of the guitar sometimes jumps from left to right, reinforcing the ’70s character of the tune.

Then T’Mershi Duween follows, in an arrangement similar to the one to be presented live a few months later with a different intro, never used in previous (’74) and later versions (’88 and ’91). On October 1, 1975 in Vancouver (BC, Canada) FZ presented the tune as an idea of a “close short friend” (i.e. Moon Zappa) of him who said T’Mershi Duween was The Queen of the Desert, “and I believed her!”.

Very close to the spirit of The Queen is Reeny Ra, the other unreleased piece, that after the exposition of the main theme morphs for a little while into Solitude, a love song that left few marks during the 1980 rehearsals.

Here is a 76k .mp3 sample of this song from the 1980 rehearsals, courtesy of Jon Naurin, via IINK.

After that the main theme, followed by a guitar solo with quotes from T’Mershi Duween, then again the theme for the closing. The whole thing is truly amazing.

In the following spoken track someone asks “What’s this song called”, Zappa answers “it’s two songs, T’Mershi Duween and Reeny Ra“, in this phase of their development they were probably supposed to form a sequence. Another studio audio environment track comes next, musicians seems to discuss about a broken instrument, in a relaxed mood.

Then the band again with Honey, Don’t You Want A Man Like Me? from the Walley mono rehearsal tapes, in the classic 1975 arrangement. Vocals are buried in the foreground and slide guitar is pushed really forward, it’s like sneaking the tune from Danny Walley’s shoulders! Not the best moment in Camouflage maybe, but entertaining.

Back to stereo for The Illinois Enema Bandit. Zappa is building the 1975 arrangement, slower in this version which unfortunately stops before the guitar solo section. A great vocal performance of Napoleon though, this take emphasizes the vocal potential of the song.

A short break into the mono Walley tapes, for Sleep Dirt – In Rehearsal, just a fragment but moving as usual, thank you Joe for letting this 1:08 in too.

Stereo is back for Black Napkins, the way we know it, with Novi for the first solo. Second solo is for Frank, a quite extended and tense one, a great chance to listen to a studio guitar improvisation from the ’70s, quite a rare episode.

Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance for the next number, the classic 1975 reggae arrangement, Napoleon front man.

Two further Walley cassette cuts follow, the first a brief chat between Walley and Camarena, the second includes a short fragment from Swallow My Pride, an unreleased song from the 1975 September/December tour.

Any Downers? comes after, in stereo, it is the 1975 arrangement but unfortunately without the usual long guitar solo, just a few bars to close the number. The Zappa catalog missed this version for too long.

Phyonix (Take 2) follows, no stereo tricks here (sounds better to me), and a little step ahead for the arrangement towards the end (3:44), where a truly appropriate chord change occurs, opening the mood for the closing. Great guitar/drums interplay again (note that Zappa asks to “put some of the guitar in Terry’s monitor” at the beginning). Hats off everybody!

Another studio environment document for the finale, funny dialogues about someone complaining for the noise, typical garage rehearsals folklore!

This album is going to be played a lot and calls for a live companion from the 1975 September/December tour. It would be nice early in that leg, a performance including this version of T’Mershi Duween, Swallow My Pride and the extended Any Downers?. Hopefully a next Road Tapes release.

Zappa 1975 no touring band: Denny Walley, Frank Zappa, Terry Bozzio, Novi Novog, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Robert "Frog" Camarena, Roy Estrada

Zappa 1975 no touring band: Denny Walley, Frank Zappa, Terry Bozzio, Novi Novog, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Robert “Frog” Camarena, Roy Estrada

Zappa 1975 no touring band: Robert "Frog" Camarena, Roy Estrada, Frank Zappa, Novi Novog, Terry Bozzio, Denny Walley, Napoleon Murphy Brock

Zappa 1975 no touring band: Robert “Frog” Camarena, Roy Estrada, Frank Zappa, Novi Novog, Terry Bozzio, Denny Walley, Napoleon Murphy Brock


  1. There’s so much Zappa material out there that was released posthumously that it’s hard for me to decide where to begin! This sounds like a great album though. What is your favorite album in the “Joe’s” series? I started my blog on here to try and get a deeper, personal understanding of Zappa’s music. It doesn’t have a lot of material yet but my second review is going to be over You Are What You Is.

    • rhoerer says:

      “Joe’s Camouflage” is my favorite in the series, it’s the most entertaining and includes surprising unreleased music never surfaced before. Also, if I should pick only 3 else between posthumous releases, I would go for “Imaginary Diseases”, “Wazoo” and “The Lumpy Money Project/Object”. These three albums give new light on the Zappa output, the first two disclose unreleased live settings, the third one is essential to fully understand “Lumpy Gravy”, one of the most important FZ releases. Conversely, I would go for “Joe’s Domage” as a final choice, tough very interesting as far as the rehearsal process is concerned, the sound quality is so bad that you will listen to it only if you want to dig into the Zappa method. In the middle I would pick them all sooner or later! I will read and follow your blog (nice name!), have a great time listening to FZ!

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