In 1965, Frank Zappa found himself in cuffs but in true Zappa fashion, his arrest had a wild backstory. As often stories with the mercurial musician do, it all started with a chance encounter with a fan after a show in Chicago.
Zappa hadn’t released any full-length material yet with The Mothers of Invention and following a divorce from his first wife leading him to fully immerse himself into his music, whether this be at Studio Z in California or playing club shows in an evening. On this notorious occasion, he was playing with a blues trio at a Latin club in Ontario, California when things would take a turn for the worse.
The gig by all accounts wasn’t Zappa’s finest hour, with the audience reportedly much more captivated by the four go-go girls onstage dressed in fishnet stockings than his sonic musings. Following the show, Zappa was approached by who he believed to be a used car salesman following the show who offered him $100 dollars for an audiotape of the musician making love. It was too much money for Zappa to turn down at that point, little did he know that it was actually an undercover cop, not a used car salesman.
The artist thought he came up with a genius ploy to earn himself the $100 dollar bill by enlisting the support of one go-go girl, Lorraine Belcher. He then stayed up most of the night manufacturing this tape which included the use of fake bedsprings, squeaks and grunts. He also overdubbed a musical background and said he spent hours cutting the laughs out of the recording.
The following day when Zappa was about to hand over the tape, he found himself arrested with conspiracy to commit pornography and the police then stripped his studio of all documented material. To make matters even worse, the media were tipped off about the incident leading to the following day’s The Daily Report to say: “Vice Squad investigators stilled the tape recorders of a free-swinging, a-go-go film and recording studio here Friday and arrested a self-styled movie producer”.
Zappa had enough money from royalties from the song ‘Memories of El Monte’ which he had cowritten for the Penguins to bail out Belcher. However, he was too short on cash at the time to fund an adequate defence so Zappa instead pled nolo contendre and served ten days of a six-month sentence with the rest being suspended.
He learnt a lot from his short period spent in the prison system and would later say: “You can’t appreciate what a jail is and what goes on there unless someone sticks you in one. In a way, I guess I have to thank Detective Willis and the evil machinery of the San Bernadino legal system for giving me a chance to see, from that perspective, what the penal system is like in this country, and… how ineffectual and how stupid it is.”
Almost as stupid as spending all night pretending to have sex with a go-go dancer. Frank Zappa was one of a kind.