In June of 1994, six months after Frank Zappa’s death, the promoters of the Jazz Open Festival in Stuttgart, Germany, contacted former members of Zappa’s various touring bands, and asked if they would perform a tribute concert to commemorate Frank’s life and unique, prolific outpouring of creativity that had such a profound impact on the world of music. Though the loss of their friend and mentor was still fresh, the band was thrilled about the idea of bringing Zappa’s music live to the stage once again.
Many hours of intense rehearsals were held in both Los Angeles and Stuttgart. It was a powerhouse ensemble, including players whose history with Zappa ranged from the early ’70’s right up through the ’88 band, which was Zappa’s final live touring band.
In July 1994, the Band From Utopia, as they were now called, headlined the Jazz Open Festival in Stuttgart, to highly enthusiastic response. The concert was recorded on 32 track mobile digital and also filmed for broadcast on German television. The result was a live release, Music of Frank Zappa, which was released on Muffin in 1995. The same year, the group released Band From Utopia, Vol. 1, an album which featured Zappa songs such as Mother People, Chunga’s Revenge and Pound For A Brown.
Maintaining the integrity of the original work while adding its own input, Band From Utopia toured throughout Europe and North America, including performances with the Seattle Symphony. In 1995, the group released Band From Utopia, Vol. 2 on Muffin. The group also released So Yuh Don’t Like Modern Art, an album featuring Frank Zappa instrumentals as well as five original songs.
Now known as Banned From Utopia, the group is not merely a tribute band, content to mimic their own performances through the years with Zappa. Rather the values and influences instilled by playing with Frank are the biggest part of Banned From Utopia’s focus. The compositions Frank wrote are a part of each member’s body and soul, put there by years of rehearsal, recording, and concert appearances. But rather than stagnate through self imitation, the Banned builds on that solid foundation, constantly exploring and expanding the material and mining new gems from it, as Frank always sought to do.
The band performed in various configurations for a few years in the mid ’90’s, but hadn’t been seen for many years until headlining the Zappanale and ZappaUnion Festivals in 2013. Those performances were followed by a five country European tour, where Banned From Utopia performed the eclectic, virtuoso music of Zappa, with their own brand of funky, hard rock, jazz stew and unique Zappa interpretations.
Applause and cheers rang out from the audience in instant recognition as the Banned performed fan favorites like “Inca Roads,” “Black Page,” “Montana” and “Zomby Woof,” in more than a two hour set incorporating a well balanced blend of Zappa music that ranged from fiercely challenging material to fun, singable melodies.
Comments like the following were offered by those happy fans that saw one or more shows: “Brilliant. Extraordinary. Entertaining. All of these words fit, but none are enough. Even together they do not begin to describe the experience Banned From Utopia delivered. All the musicians were top notch, featuring vocals from two of the most powerful voices that ever toured with Zappa, Ray White and Robert (Bobby) Martin. Solos, in particular from Albert Wing, practically brought down the roof.”
Banned From Utopia is vital living proof that Frank Zappa’s compositional efforts and unconstrained inventiveness will not soon be forgotten. All these years later, it’s the only band performing Frank’s music that boasts such a wealth of musicians who actually know what it was like to perform with Frank, night after night, year after year.
Banned From Utopia will be on tour again beginning in March 2014 to commemorate Frank’s life and music. Their goal is to keep the spontaneous, adventurous spirit of Frank’s music alive, and to create a vehicle for ongoing creativity.
Robert (Bobby) Martin – vocals, keyboards, sax, French horn
Frank Zappa 1981-88
Ray White – vocals, guitar
Frank Zappa 1978-86
Tom Fowler – bass guitar
Frank Zappa 1973-75, 1978
Albert Wing – tenor sax, soprano sax
Frank Zappa 1988
Chad Wackerman – drums
Frank Zappa 1981 – 1988
Jamie Kime – guitar
Zappa Plays Zappa – 2006 – 2012