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I’ve never bought a Farfisa! - Interview with George Duke – 5th January 2012

George DukeZappa's Gear talked to Jazz, Funk and Soul keyboard maestro George Duke, who (if anyone reading this doesn't know) worked with Frank Zappa in various bands between 1970 and 1974.

Although this interview was targeted at equipment- related topics, we happily strayed into George’s  recollections of 200 Motels, the various Zappa bands he played with, Frank Zappa's on-stage japes with Don van Vliet, and his new live project with Jean-Luc Ponty.

Zappa's Gear called the engaging and entertaining Mr. Duke to find him still finishing his breakfast!


ZG: Is that George?

GD: Hello, how you doing?

ZG: I’m very well thanks. How are you?

GD: All right, I’m just finishing up my salad here. (laughs) I got a little salad in my mouth though but don’t worry ‘bout it.

ZG: (laughs) Are you sure you don’t want me to call me back?

GD: No no, you called now, I’m going to get an espresso in a minute but I can still talk to you.

ZG: (laughs) Okay. (Outlines the scope of the Zappa’s Gear book)

GD: I’ll tell you what I know.

ZG: Okay, cool.

GD: One more bite man and I’m done. Give me one second okay. Just one sec.

(one minute later)

GD: You there?

ZG: Yeah, I’m still here.

GD: Okay, if I don’t get this espresso in here, I’m not going to be any good for you. That’s my drug of choice.

ZG: Absolutely, I’m right with you on that one.

GD: (laughs) It’s later there for you but for me I’m just getting it going! You can go ahead, I’m going to switch back to the other phone in a minute, but we can start.

ZG: OK, first thing I was going to talk to you about, I’m jumping out of sequence here, I’ve just been listening to the “Feel” album.

GD: Ah!

ZG: And that’s really quite interesting to me because it’s one of the few albums that Frank guested on that he wasn’t producing or managing…

GD: Yeah.

ZG: Can you tell me how it happened? You just asked him to come along, or…

GD: Yeah, I’ll tell you how that came about. Frank actually did a demo for me, that he produced and I did three tracks.

ZG: Right.

GD: One was ‘Uncle Remus’, one was the tune called ‘Psychosomatic Dung’, and another was … I don’t remember. It was another tune. And we were going to, originally take it and maybe put it out on this label Bizarre, or one of the other labels that he had, that was running, I think Warner Bros. at the time I could be wrong about that. It might have been Mercury, I’m not sure.

So anyway, we went into the studio and all the time I was working with Frank I continued to make my own records for MPS at that time, whenever we were off and I had some time, and so we were in the studio and I was working with Frank, and I was working on my record whenever we weren’t working, so I just asked him if he could come play something. There was a tune called ‘Psychosomatic Dung’ which I believe was on the first- on the ‘Faces and Reflections’ record which was my MPS record on the new contract in the seventies, which Frank didn’t play on. But he actually produced the original track.

ZG: Oh right.

GD: I took those tapes and actually did some arranging, put my band on it and all that, so there was this other tune that I thought’d be great for Frank to play, but we never recorded it when Frank was producing the stuff for me, so he just came in and played. But I couldn’t use his name; it was really as simple as that. And so eventually I said “Frank, I gotta have a name. I know I can’t use your name.” And so he says “Okay, Obdewl-l X!” and then he spelled it for me and I said “Really? Okay. Fine.” A lot of people ask me who that was over the years.

ZG: Yeah, because the interesting thing as well, on the track ‘Love’ it is obviously Frank but he’s playing your gig, he’s sounding like Ernie Isley almost. Can you remember what equipment he was using, some sort of phase pedal or whatever?

GD: That’s a good question, I really wouldn’t remember. I never really looked to see what he was playing. One of his guys would come in and bring up an amp, or a few effects. I know one thing; it wasn’t going to be a lot. Whatever it was, it was very simple.

I didn’t specifically ask him to play like Ernie Isley or anything, who I love, by the way. Actually I tried to get him to play on my last album, and I couldn’t get him. But yeah, Frank, he was kind of interesting in terms of a guitarist, I totally believed - I know I’m not answering your question now but I’m just throwing this out. - I think he was underrated as a guitarist, I just don’t believe he ever received the accolade that he should have as a guitarist because he was very interesting the way he thought about music, and the way he soloed and the way he constructed his melodies.

ZG: Yes.

GD: They were like little packets of ideas, and then kinda put together. And of course, he didn’t want any music on stage, he had to remember all this stuff, but when he would solo, he would solo exactly the same way, they were like packages of rhythmic ideas and then he moved to the next idea. And a lot of times it would be, he’d start off for example with just a couple of beats over a (sings increasingly fast complicated rhythmical pattern) ‘duh-duh-duh-duh-dududududududu-duh-duh-dugugugugugudah-dah…’ but still the beat is still going on, it’s very mathematical but it has an emotional content as well. Very interesting, and I’ve never seen anybody else ever, in my career, that thought about music and played the way he played. He made it work, and he could still play the blues with it.

ZG: I’m right with you on that.

GD: Yeah, it was, y’know what, it was design. It was like rectangles and squares and octagons and these different shapes and… I learnt so much, man, just by being in his presence; I mean the guy was a genius.

(We talked for a bit about the difficulties of remembering events 40 years ago, GD thought it might have been the late Paul Hof who was working for FZ on this session)

GD: …well y’know, I’ve a hard enough time remembering the last week so.

ZG: Well, we’re in the same situation here, apparently (my sister told me), I saw you at the Albert Hall as well as the Bath Festival, and I really only remember Bath!

(actually I meant the Coliseum in London 1970, the Albert Hall concert in 1971 was famously cancelled)

GD: Ah… Wow, that’s a looong time ago.

ZG: 1970, with the first Mothers band. So, when you joined the Mothers, was that after the Jean-Luc Ponty album.

GD: Which album?

ZG: King Kong

GD: Yeah.

ZG: Was that the first time you worked with Frank?

GD: The first recording I did with Frank was ‘Chunga’s Revenge’.

ZG: Okay.

GD: That was the first thing, and then Dick Bock, who was the president of World Pacific Jazz Records, which was part of the ‘United’ family, had an idea for Jean-Luc Ponty, who I was working with at the time, to do a record with Frank. And it was really as simple as that. We played some jazz, used to play a lot of jazz clubs around the LA area, along with playing certain places in Europe. And we were playing at the place called ‘Thee Experience’, which was right on Sunset Boulevard and  Frank and a lot of other artists came down to see this incredible violinist playing electric violin and all this kind of modern violin stuff.* They’d never heard anything like that, and I just happened to be there. Because Jean Luc gave me a shot, y’know, to actually play with him, I was just out of my teens. And essentially, the idea came up for him to do a record with Frank and Jean-Luc didn’t really want to do it. He kinda said “Well… I’ll do it if George plays keyboards.” And pretty much the same reason we played that rock club, ‘Thee Experience’, because he said “I’ll do it… so long as I can bring my keyboard player.” Who happened to be me!

ZG: Right.

GD: And Frank heard me, heard me live, booked me for this date we did with the LA Phil, I think it was at UCLA, doing a show there. And the next thing I know, he asked me to join the band. It was pretty much as simple as that, but it was really, I think more than anything else, based on the King Kong album, I truly believe that.

ZG: Okay… and so, when you started with Frank, did you just bring your own rig? Was that all your own?

GD: No, the first time he provided everything. I was still living in the Bay area at the time and then of course, all the other work was going on at the time, in LA. So I had to fly out and stay in a hotel. I can remember the first time I auditioned, he must have had some kind of keyboard there and I think he might have had a piano and a couple other things. Maybe a Fender Rhodes, I don’t remember at this point. But they were his keyboards, not mine. Eventually, when I moved to LA after I joined the band, I began using my own keyboards, more and more… but initially, it was his Rhodes.

ZG: He gave you a synth at one point?

GD: Once I started playing the synth, he actually borrowed an ARP 2600 and stuck it on my keyboard, and I took it home and tried to learn it, I talked to Ian Underwood about it and he gave me a few things, but it was just a little too heady for me. I wasn’t really interested, I needed something simpler and so Frank got me a Mini-Moog, and I started on there and I said “Well, that’s kinda interesting.” But from there I heard a guy named Jan Hammer who was playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and I said “Well, he’s playing a Mini-Moog so there must be something else out there.” And I started looking around and I met this guy named Tom Oberheim and I decided to play the ARP Odyssey. It was a little different from a Mini-Moog, and eventually I went on to play both but I decided to make the Odyssey my instrument, and I played that mostly with Frank.

ZG: You were playing a Hammond Organ with the band?

GD: No, I played a Farfisa.

ZG: And that was yours?

GD: No, that was Frank’s. I’ve never bought a Farfisa (laughs). That equipment was Frank’s.

ZG: What just a single-manual one?

GD: Yep.1 The first thing that I played in the seventies when I went over with Frank, especially to Europe, and when everyone thought I was Billy Preston, because there weren’t that many black guys playing in quote-unquote ‘White Rock Groups’, not to say that Frank was a rock group, because it’s not in the classic sense but still there weren’t a lot of guys, there was Billy Preston who’d played with the Beatles, they just figured I must be Billy. So they called out “Beelly! Beelly!” and I’m looking around like “What the! who the hell are they talking about?! No… George!” but that was back then, and I was playing a Farfisa and trombone, that’s what I was playing in the band and Ian Underwood was playing more of the keyboard parts than me, but I had a Fender Rhodes there so, Fender Rhodes, ARP Odyssey, a Farfisa and er… a trombone. That was it.

ZG: Do you still play trombone much?

GD: Oh no! That was dead… when I went back with Frank, back in ’73 when Jean-Luc joined the band, because I left Frank for a couple of years and when I was in Cannonball Adderley, I had to do the jazz thing for a couple of years. But when I re-joined Frank in ’73, when Jean Luc came in, I said “Frank, I’ll join on one condition. That I will not have to play that damn trombone!” (laughs) and so Frank said “Okay.” And that was it.

ZG: When you came back, the music got a lot more complicated, a lot more interesting?

GD: And they didn’t need me to play trombone. They had Bruce Fowler.

ZG: Yeah sure.

GD: Who played rings around me. So he still had that sound. It was much more jazzy, though he wouldn’t admit it, I said “Man, you’re playing jazz. You can call it what you want.” But, this was some of the hardest music I ever played in my life, yeah, it was very different from anything, but that’s one of the reasons I decided to go back with Frank, because the music that he was suggesting that we play, or wanted to play, was really interesting, I mean besides being quirky like it always was and all that, it had another thing going on that really required musicians that could play but also were a little… nuts!

ZG: (laughs) I think the Roxy band was probably one of the most delightful bands I’ve ever heard, really.

GD: I agree, that was my favourite band, the Roxy band, Roxy & Elsewhere band, all of that. That period was an amazingly creative period for Frank, yeah, I don’t even know what else to say, it was definitely my favourite band.

ZG: What always struck me, seeing the videos, it seems to be the happiest band that Frank had for a long time. Everyone seemed to be not only working their nuts off, but really happy and enjoying it.

GD: It was pretty cool. We worked all the time and it was a happy band, I mean when Napoleon Murphy Brock joined the band, with Chester Thompson and all that, it was an interesting thing. I mean it’s just because Napi, it’s almost like instantaneously knew what Frank wanted. It took me a long time to figure this out, but Napi walked in and it was like, he got it! He understood exactly what to do to make Frank smile. Frank just loved it. Chester on the other hand, when he auditioned I said, “He’ll never get this gig, because he’s too grumpy. He never smiles!” But Frank likes diversity, he likes whatever he thinks is weird, that’s what he wants to do. It was weird putting me in the band; because I was a little straight-lace, black-suit, thin black tie, white shirt-wearing jazz player. Now why would I be in the band? He just loved that kind of dichotomy, just something doesn’t quite work together and you just put ‘em together and see what comes out. It’s an interesting way to make music and live life (laughs).

ZG: Cool. Okay, I’m going to ask you something specific here. I’m looking at the ‘Waka Jawaka’ album. You’re credited on here as a playing a ring-modulated and ‘Echoplexed’ electric piano, which is obviously high-tech for those days.

GD: Yeah, well, I remember I used to play this little Oberheim ring modulator that I used to love, it was black with a little gold or yellow lightning strike across it, and I used to love it with the Fender Rhodes, and the Echoplex was a big thing back then, on the Rhodes and whatever else you used it on. But I was with Cannonball Adderley during the time that we did those records. When I was available to do it, back in L.A, Frank would call and I’d go work with him in the studio, so I kept my connection with Frank all during the time I was with Cannonball Adderley in ’71 to ’72, but in ’74 I was back with the band. But it was like he was beginning to do other kinds of music and I thought it was kinda interesting. Like I said, Jean-Luc was in the band for a while, till I think it got a little too much for Jean-Luc, he loved the music but I don’t think he particularly cared for the antics.

ZG: Really?

GD: Yeah, he was a ‘serious’ musician.

ZG: Yes. And you had Ruth on marimbas and stuff as well of course.

GD: Oh, Ruth was incredible; as a matter of fact I heard she’s playing again.

ZG: Oh, you’re kidding. I’m so pleased about that.

GD: Yeah, I haven’t spoken with her, but I did a little thing for her on the death of Frank- on the anniversary of his death in December, last year with Dweezil, in the band, Zappa Play Zappa. A year in L.A, I did two nights, playing with them, we played Big Swifty’ and all that old stuff, ‘Inca Roads’ and all that. I actually had to practice because I forgot half of that stuff. And it was really really, interesting, and they were telling me that they were trying to get Ruth back in to come do some dates with them, but we’ll see what happens.

ZG: Ah, that’d be marvellous, absolutely marvellous.2

GD: And actually, Jean-Luc and I might play Zappanale this year, we’ve been in negotiations now, and I told the guy that’s been trying to get me to do that, and I said “Okay”, I said “Tell you what, I think what might be good is if I went over and did it with Jean-Luc, because we could do the ‘King Kong’ album, and I said that basically brought both of us to Frank, and I said “I think that would be really interesting.” So that’s we’re working on now.

ZG: I’ll be there hopefully, I’d love that!

GD: Yeah, well, I don’t know what’s happening, I put them in contact with my agent and Jean-Luc agreed to do it, I’ve agreed to do it and now they’ve just gotta work out the particulars. I think we’re going to wind up doing it with Jean-Luc’s band, I think it’s gonna make more sense than trying to put a band together that neither one of us can work with. So I’ll just go “Yeah, we’ll rehearse some stuff and I’ll work with Jean-Luc’s band, play some of the Zappa stuff.”3

ZG: I'm really looking forward to that. Okay, moving on, ‘One Size Fits All’, and ‘Roxy and Elsewhere’ with that band, can you remember anything about the recording sessions at all, and how they worked?

GD: Well, 'One Size Fits All' and 'Apostrophe', those albums were basically me and Frank in the studio for hours! I mean, it was just us, and the engineer carrying the amp. We would be there at Paramount Recording Studios, or wherever, just recording like from 1 or 2 in the afternoon, until 5 or 6 in the morning. I mean generally, every night, I got back home when the sun was up. And then go to sleep for six, seven, eight hours, go back to the studio and do it again. And it was just basically, running through synth patches, trying to find sounds that Frank would like, and by that time I understood what Frank was looking for, so a lot of that stuff I came up with, and if Frank didn’t like it, he’d tell me, but I really knew Frank by that time. I wasn’t as quick as Napi but I had figured it out.

And those were great records, he got me singing, and I really didn’t want to sing, but by those records, because of what happened live, he needed someone to sing certain parts, and I was only one who was stationary on stage, and so he says “Man, I need you to sing this part.” And so that’s how I started singing and it worked into me doing leads, like ‘Inca roads’ and a few other tunes. Which, I really did not want to do, but I was in the band, Frank said, “This is for you”. I was like “Oh Jesus, okay… well how does it go?” And of course, by the time we got to the Roxy and Elsewhere band…. that was a band! I mean we had been on the road, we had toured, it was a real band, probably the closest thing to what a Frank Zappa show is like, that I think I’ve ever heard… short of the stuff we did in Helsinki, and all of that which was all live, as well. But that was the first one, Roxy and Elsewhere, I can remember that was really what I thought represented that band.

ZG: I think it’s one of my favourites; it’s got everything. It’s got the comedy, the silliness of the audience and then the most ludicrously complicated music, ever.

GD: Yeah, it was a lot of fun, man. I’m telling you, and we never knew what was gonna happen, ever. I mean hopefully Zappa Play Zappa, those guys will begin to understand, that that’s what made this stuff really work, is the fact that it’s not only played well, and even the musical complexity, and you had to have that type of expertise, but there was also this other side, which was just total trash, just “throw the wrench in it!”, I mean it was for comedy’s sake, and it was a whole other level of Zappa, this is missing in Zappa Play Zappa right now, and I think they need that “off the cuff” kinda thing, y’know, to really make it work.

In terms of playing it, they’re playing the music as well as we ever played it, for sure.

ZG: Right. I heard that Flo and Eddie might be going on the road with them again.4

GD: I had a dialogue with Mark the other day, and I know they’re trying to get him to do something, and that would be great, if those guys still have that type of energy, because those guys, Mark and Howard were just, that was instant energy. And total, total craziness. I mean, you had to realise, 1970, as I said I was a straight-laced jazz player, to meet somebody like Mark and Howard, from the Turtles, it’s crazy… it was the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll hang, and then when we did the tour of the hotel with Ringo Starr, and the drummer, what’s his name, from the Who?

ZG: Keith Moon.

GD: It was debauchery, I mean it, backstage … that should have been a movie!

ZG: (laughs)

GD: There was shit, there was stuff going on backstage that was absolutely amazing. But I went over with my wife, who I’m still married to right now, when we went there backstage she almost said “Y’know, I don’t know if I wanna do this” (laughs).  Because she said “These guys you work with are all pretty crazy.” I said “Look, I’m in it, not of it.” We eventually got married, thanks to Frank actually, he actually allowed me to establish residence there because he and Gail had a home there and you had to be there for three months, so I just put my name in and gave Frank’s address and that was it. As a matter of fact, Frank was supposed to be my best man. And Gail was the maid of honour at our celebration, it wound up being Herb Cohen. Which was cool anyway. But it was just crazy backstage man, between Keith Moon and Howard Kaylan, y’know, Lord Jesus, I can’t even … I don’t know if you should even put that in your book.

ZG: Well, I probably won’t! (George did confirm that he was happy for me to post a transcript of the interview here on the website)

GD: It was pretty crazy, and then the off stage stuff was probably funnier than anything we did on stage, really! And things that happened on stage were really an extension of what happened off stage,   a lot of the songs were born out of things that happened off stage. Frank was notorious for that because he was always running around with a tape recorder. With these two microphones gaffer-taped to the recorder, and he was taping stuff, and he would take something that Jeff Simmons would say or Howard Kaylan would say or Mark Volman, or me. That’s how that whole ‘DownBeat’  line came about, because I used to carry around this dog-gone ‘Downbeat’ in my satchel I used to wear around my shoulder. And Frank got this idea, and put it into the movie. Y’know, “I wanna carry around Downbeat so I look like I’m hip, and know what I’m doing.” Or whatever I said. He gave me the line.5 So, which was funny and I did it, but all of that stuff was basically true, it was glorified and it was  magnified. But still the kernel of it, was it true? All of it…

ZG: (laughs) I’ll bet, Tremendous. (Apologises for dragging the conversation back to equipment). Do you remember the amplifiers in your back-line? Was it still those Acoustic corporation amps with the blue horns?

GD: Generally at that time, we were using, unless I’m wrong, a Crown amp? I’m pretty sure we were using Crown amps and they were stereo and I believe I had two big JBL cabinets in the back, and with some kind of tweeters on the top, and I was never used to this stuff, I was only introduced to this kind of live audio sound through Frank, because I needed something that was loud! That could compete with these guys, I couldn’t just use whatever the floor monitors were.

ZG: Okay.

ZG: Then with the Roxy band, Frank had started mixing amplifiers and using a Marshall and an Acoustic amp on stage. But you just had the …

GD:  His amp was too far from where I was but I know he had those Marshalls there, he got a lot of sound out of what he had, considering, it didn’t seem to be that much to me. But I know that later on he would put Captain Beefheart in front of his amp because he liked to see how he’d react. Because the level of the volume, when it got to a certain point, Frank would hit this note and it’d make Don van Vliet do something funny which made Frank laugh. It was as simple as that. Don was specifically placed right in front of the amp, further down stage but still in front of the amp and with all the papers around Don because he could never remember any of the lyrics. So all of these papers are on the floor and Frank would hit this note and then the air from the amp would blow the paper all over, they weren’t taped down! So he was going around trying to pick up the papers, the lyrics, and just every time Frank would do the note, Don said “Goddamn it!” and he’d start… look, it was a hilarious band!

ZG: Don was hard work from what I hear.

GD: Yeah, well Don was tough, and he’d never go to sleep when we went on the road, and by that time Terry Bozzio had joined the band, that was in ’75, and Bongo Fury was the last record I did with Frank and then I left and went on to do other things.

But, yeah, there were a lot of guys not only from that period, Flo and Eddie included, who kinda got a bad taste in their mouths basically I think because Frank… I’ll tell you man, from me, I don’t care what any of these other guys say, and I respect ‘em all… but from me, I gained more from just being part of that, than to argue about whether I got paid a certain residual or not, but then on the other hand, I’m in a little bit of a different position from these other guys, I’m still making a living playing, I’m doing well and so I don’t really care about that… I really don’t. So the long hours I spent working with Frank, no… I didn’t get paid for it but I definitely got paid for it… in another way.

ZG: Yeah…

GD: I didn’t get paid financially, but I reap benefits far beyond receiving a few dollars for residual from a record, so that’s the way I look at it, so I have no problem with Frank, but some of the other guys do, and they feel they should have been paid for the long hours of work they put it, and they got a point. But I don’t feel the same way.

ZG: Yeah, I can understand that. I think that the people in those bands, it’s bit like working in the space race, you’re doing something that nobody ever did… and although you only get paid scale while you were going up to the moon, you can make what you want of it afterwards…

GD: Yeah! They were making musical history.

ZG: Absolutely!

GD: But the other part of it is, I think it’s a personality thing, because once you were not part of Frank’s world, you were not there. I mean it was like you didn’t exist almost. And a lot of guys I think took exception to that, for me I understood it, because it was almost like Frank knew that he had limited time and he had a lot he wanted to get done and a lot he wanted to say before he checked out. It was almost like, in hindsight, looking back at it, it was almost like somewhere deep inside of him, he knew that he had limited time and he didn’t have time for frivolity… y’know, in terms of music.

ZG: Yeah.

GD: This was serious dedication, if you weren’t involved in making his next creation, then he didn’t have time for you. It was really as simple as that. And I don’t know if it was personal, I think he just knew he didn’t have time.

ZG: I think you’re right. It’s interesting, that attitude is perhaps part of what caused the breakdown of the last tour, the big ’88 tour.

GD: Oh, I don’t even know anything about that.

ZG: Well, there’s a good book about it6, but basically, there was a lot of personalities, in the end the band refused to work with the bass player, and…

GD: Oh, one of those…

ZG: Yeah…

GD: Well, I didn’t really have a lot of communication with him towards the end, unfortunately. I was busy doing other things, I got up to the house a couple of times, we spoke a few times he tried to get me to come up and do a few things and like I say, I only got up there a couple of times, but I had no idea that he was sick. I guess, if I had known that, I would have made the time to go.

ZG: Well he was busy getting his last records done, like you said.

GD: True. Well true, right, now I know that. He’d say “Why don’t you come up, I don’t mind playing on something.” He wanted me to come up and jam and I was like “Aaahhh, I’ll see you next year.”(wry laugh). Next year was too late…

ZG: Indeed. Moving on again, when I was talking to Tommy Mars, who was his main synth player in the eighties, he said that Frank was always coming up with new equipment for him. Did Frank ever give you anything weird to play, or did you just settle down with your basic synths and your Rhodes and so forth.

GD: Pretty much, the basic gear, I mean by the time I left the band, I had all the basic stuff, same thing that I mentioned earlier, but I had a Mini-Moog and an Arp Odyssey, and then all the effect things that went with it, I had a Yamaha effects pedal and of course I had a board, a Yamaha RT 1000 or something, like a sixteen channel mixer that I needed to mix all this stuff and then the speakers. It was a formidable rig, I mean considering what I carry now, which is nothing but a computer; it was pretty amazing what we used to carry around. But no, Frank didn’t really give me anything to play, as a matter of fact, at that time, if one of those instruments that I wear around my neck had been invented and was working, there’s no doubt that I would have used it in that band.

ZG: Right.

GD: Because he used to constantly say, you need to find a way to get out from behind the keyboards and get to the front of the stage. And eventually one day, I was reading Downbeat magazine, believe it or not! and I saw this thing and I said “Wow! That looks like a guitar with a keyboard on it”, and this guy’s name was Wayne Yentis, and his father lived in L.A, I called him up and said “Is this real?” And he said “Yeah, you wanna see it?” so I said “Yeah! Where you live?” and I went over to his house, and looked at it and I said “Look, this is exactly what I’m looking for”. And the story went off from there, but I’d already left Frank by that point.7

(We talked a bit more about the Clavitar and similar devices, and George’s current band, which I’d recently caught in London, and then it was time to wind up).

ZG: All right then, George, I’ll let you get on. And thank you very much for your time, it’s been a real pleasure.

GD: All right man. Take care of yourself.

ZG: Cheerio.



*.   This was reported in the Sept. 26, 1969 - Valley State Daily Sundial - thank you Zappateers. George Duke is out of shot in this picture from the article:


Frank Zappa sitting in with the Jean-Luc Ponty group


1. A Farfisa ‘Professional’ in fact, there will be a section on it in the Zappa’s Gear book.


2. Not likely according to Ruth, who said she hadn't started playing again when I mentioned this to her.


3. Now confirmed – Duke and the Ponty band will be playing as 'The Brothers of Invention' on Thursday 2nd August 2012 at Zappanale.


4. Very unlikely now, check out Dweezil’s comments in his interview with Scott Parker in Zappacast 6


5. In '200 Motels' during the scene where the band members reveal their secrets after Ringo (as Larry the Dwarf’ says “Each guy has his own speciality for getting the girl of his dreams”. Duke says the line “I bought a copy of DownBeat so I could carry it around and look like I knew what was happening.”  DownBeat was (and still is) the magazine for serious jazz musicians and fans.


6. 'Zappa The Hard Way' by Andrew Greenaway.


7. The Davis ‘Clavitar’ is featured on the cover of Duke’s ‘Dream On’ album :


George Duke 'Dream On' cover


The above is an edited transcript of a telephone interview with George Duke conducted by Mick Ekers (Zappa's Gear) on January 5th 2012. My subsequent comments and additions are in italics. Reproduced with the kind permission of George Duke. Copyright © Mick Ekers

Interview transcription by Steve at Halden Books.