Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ike Willis and the Pojama People: Keeping the Legend Alive in 2009

           As I walked up the ramp to a delivery door in back of the Red Fox Tavern, I couldn’t help notice the silhouette of an Afro lurking in the shadows. Out into the street lights appears a black man in his sixties, clad in black and hefting a guitar amp out of a van. “Man, I’m too old for this!”, he cries as he drags the amp up the ramp. As he limps into the room, it is apparent that this”roadie” is actually Ike Willis, the voice and guitar behind legendary Frank Zappa. “Hey, man, I just rolled in. I have got a back ache and a abscessed tooth, so let me get a pain reliever and set up, then we can do the interview.” Two hours later, after enduring the feedback and squeaks on stage and the uncomfortable wooden high stools they called chairs, I shimmied over to the bar and hung out with the man.
Ike Willis and the Pojama People

DG: “What was it like working with what some refer to as the greatest composer of the twentieth century?” Ike: “He was a genius, he was great! We had a really good time. It was great, basically, a lot of fun. We laughed most of the time. He worked us hard, but I didn’t mind. I learned a lot, and, as you can see, I am still using it.”
 DG: “You were the vocalist, guitarist and musical director?” Ike: “Well, kind of, sort of, at one point during the rehearsals of the last show, I was assistant musical director and stuff like that. On his last tour, he had me on lead guitar, rhythm guitar, lead vocals, bass, synthesizer and percussion.” DG: “Where did you meet Frank?” Ike: “I met Frank when I was in college. I just got one of my classmates to put me on the vocal crew so that I could take notes, and stuff like that. We ended up meeting at a sound check. We made eye contact and started talking. He basically threw his guitar at me and made me play some stuff, then, told me he wanted me to audition for the band.” DG: “Great. So, how did you meet these folks from Portland (Pojama People) and how did you get together with them?” Ike: “Glen Leonard (the leader of the band) was a drummer for my main project, Project Object. Well, I had 14 Zappa tribute bands all over the world, but, it is down to 10 right now. Let’s see, we met Alley, his wife, in the middle of a Project Object tour. Our bass player, Ryan. (Jesus!) I have known him for almost twenty years because I used to live in Portland for almost seventeen years starting after the 88 Zappa tour. Ted (drummer) is also from Portland, so, that is how I know these guys.”

 DG: “I would like to read you a couple of Frank’s quotes and get your opinions. Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. ” Ike: “Ha, ha, ha. Pretty much! DG “Stupidity is the basic building block of the Universe.” Ike: “The stupider, the better!” DG : “The people of your country no longer require composers. They are as useful to a person in a jogging suit as a dinosaur turd in the middle of his runway. Do you think that’s a slam on Rap Music?” Ike: “Well, that’s the thing. Actual composers don’t get cut any slack these days. Just about anything passes for music.” DG: “It’s amazing, because he fought for civil liberties and the Fifth Amendment!” Ike: “He was a Libertarian just up until the day he died. We were going to run him for President and the Libertarian Party picked him for their ticket and everything.” : “He might have won! I mean, if they are gonna run Ralph (Nader) , Frank was just as good a candidate.” Ike: “Yeah, YOU know what I’m saying ! I think better, especially since what has happened in the last eight years. America has been dumbed down, and that is which is insane. That is why this insanity has been going on.”

 DG: “His earlier works such as Ruben and the Jets, seem to influence and call back to an age of innocence and Doo Wop.
Do you feel that essence with you and your vocals?” Ike: “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah! That was his heart, his life! He actually had the largest Doo Wop collection I have ever seen, wall to wall, floor to ceiling. He had all the groups; the boy groups, the girl groups, the bird groups, the cat groups, the dog groups, he had all of them!” DG: “And I imagine they were all immaculate.” Ike: “Oh, yes, pristine! He had a guy that would come in whenever he would find old original copies and he would bring them in personally from New York.”

“One last quote from Frank. The creation and destruction of harmonic and statistical tensions is essential to the compositional drama. Consonant compositions equals good guy movies or eating cottage cheese. “ Ike: “ Yeah, yeah, yeah! There you go! The man had a way with words., but it is all pretty true! His sense of composition was pretty immaculate. Nobody pays any attention to composition anymore. That is one of the main reasons, besides the fact that he asked me to do it, that I play his music. Unless it continues to be played, nobody will hear it!
He’s already been gone for fifteen years, which is real scary! The fact that just keeping it alive any way I can kinda helps toward that end. People still play Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninov” and all that stuff. I consider him in the same category and one of the most important composers of the 20th Century. No doubt about it. He deserves to have his music played over the years of time just as much as anybody else does. So, there you have it!”

 Frank Vincent Zappa was born 21 Dec 1940, Baltimore MD) began to play drums at the age of 12, and was playing in R & B groups by high school, switching to guitar at 18. After narrowly graduating from high school, and then dropping out of Junior College (where he met his first wife, Kay Sherman), Zappa worked in such jobs as window dresser, copywriter, and door-to-door salesperson. With the money he earned from scoring Run Home Slow, a B rated Western (1965), Zappa purchased a recording studio. Zappa was not only a brilliant rock guitarist, but an orchestral composer, innovative filmmaker, music producer, businessperson, iconoclast, and perceptive political and social commentator.
Pojama People 2012

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