Inside The (Frank) Zappa Archives

Looks like new Zappa albums will be released well into the next century.

You know how sometimes you hear about somebody else's job and go, "Man, I

wouldn't trade places with that guy for a million bucks." Well, for most

non-Zappaphiles, Spencer Chrislu, Recording Engineer/Mixer at the late Frank

Zappa's studio, Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, has one of those kind of jobs.

Chrislu, who worked with Zappa during the last three years of his life, has now

been handed the daunting task of cataloguing and documenting the contents of

Zappa's enormous tape vault, a project, he says, "could last the rest of my

life." Chrislu describes the vault itself as "a giant, cavernous cement-walled

laboratory that contains all the films, videos, tapes, and recordings" Zappa

amassed over his career. Asked to speculate how many tapes-worth of material

lie in the vault, Chrislu could only offer the conservative estimate, "tens of

thousands." The real problem with sorting through the mountain of material is

that, like a great chef, Zappa himself was the only person on earth with the

entire contents memorized. "A lot of the material in there is unreleased and

Frank had this encyclopedic memory of shows and versions and where those tapes

were in the vault, so one day he might say something like, 'there was this solo

I did in 1974 at a concert and it's on a tape with so and so on it, it's on the

third shelf with a yellow label...' and I'd go down there and search around

and, sure enough, it was exactly where he said it was." Aside from the fact

that Zappa was the only living soul with the key to the contents, the other

problem is that some of the tapes were re-used during the lean years when Zappa

decided that he didn't think they were particularly useful and taped over their

contents, creating a whole new sub-set of confusion. The real daunting task

now, says Chrislu, is actually sitting down and listening to all the tapes and

entering them into the database he is currently creating in an attempt to

cross-reference each tape by where it is and what's on it, while also trying to

oversee re-issues, monitor and maintain the official Zappa web site, and any

number of other Zappa-related duties...

[For rest of this story, please use

"Continued" icon.]