LORRAINE BELCHER CHAMBERLAIN

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In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa refers to “a girl I met in a restaurant in Hollywood” in 1964, before relaying the story of his bust at Studio Z in Cucamonga for ‘conspiracy to commit pornography’ . As any fule kno, the girl – referred to as “his buxom red-haired companion” in the Ontario Daily Report – was Lorraine Belcher.
    In April 2010, Nigey Lennon told me she was about to interview Belcher for a Zappathon on WUSB 90.1FM – did I have any questions for her? Of course, but not as many as I should have. Not helped by the ‘official’ airbrushing of history
[i], I didn’t appreciate that Zappa’s friendship with Belcher lasted right up until just before his death.
    The interview on WUSB was very entertaining – Belcher is a natural raconteur. With the possibility of an autobiography at some point in the future, the following gives just a brief glimpse into her amazing life.

Tell me a little about your background – and how, in all the towns in all the world, you walked into that particular ‘gin joint’ in 1964 and met Zappa!
I was born in Tacoma Washington. At age 15, I moved to Ohio to live with my real father, but after a few months returned home to find the house sold and empty. As a result, I ended up a ward of the court and was in a series of reform schools until four months after I turned 18. I flew to Santa Barbara then and enrolled in college. That lasted a year, after getting pregnant and then giving the child up for adoption.
    It was a couple of months after giving birth that I met Frank in the Carolina Pines, a coffee shop/late night hangout on Sunset & La Brea in Hollywood.

Tell us about that first meeting.
It was about 4 o’clock in the morning and my friend was talking to somebody in there she knew – some guy – and I was getting a little bored. I looked across the room and sitting in a booth was Frank in a little striped t-shirt with a guy in iridescent green suit with iridescent green Bobby Rydell hair and another guy who turned out to be Captain Beefheart.[ii]
    I looked right at Frank and he – with his very intense gaze – looked right back at me and crooked his finger, beckoning me over. I gave him my back. But after a few minutes, I was getting a little bored, so I thought I’d take a peek at him again. He kind of tilted his head to the side and grinned at me and waved at me again to come over. I thought, ‘Oh, what the hell,’ and I got up.
    As I was strolling across the restaurant, he was very smart and took another chair from another booth and put it on the outside of his booth so that I wouldn’t get squeezed in with them. As I got there, Frank said, “Pleasure looking at ya!” And as I sat down I said, “Likewise.” I thought he was fantastically attractive and so ridiculous looking! He had beautiful eyes and such an odd manner.
    We sat their laughing and talking for at least an hour before my friend noticed I was gone. Anyway, he ended up driving us both to Cucamonga.

Did you say your friend was later one of a number of Suzy Creamcheeses?[iii]
I always thought Lauren Irell was one of the early Suzy Creamcheeses. Later it was Pamela Zarubica. I could be wrong.

Did you know Pamela?
I met Pamela, yes. She always claimed to be the muse behind Lenny Bruce, Phil Spector and Frank Zappa. Like they would have been nothing without her. I found these claims to be embarrassing. I liked her, but felt she was mostly hype. I was in awe of anyone having that much self-confidence... or maybe self-delusion.

So, did you immediately embark on a sexual relationship with Frank in Cucamonga?
I slept with Frank off and on for a couple of months before we ever had sex. Then, one morning, he woke me up and said, “I think it’s time for your morning orgasm!” We went on from there. He was so patient and understanding and told me later it was well worth the wait.

What was Studio Z like?
Studio Z had blacked out storefront windows.
    Upon entering, there was an office to the left, control room to the right, then double swinging doors which led to the recording area, which was a huge room. To the left were dilapidated couches, to the right a grand piano. Musical instruments and drum sets, cords running everywhere. Past the piano was a long rectangular area where he projected films on the back wall. Past the couches there was a wall with a window and door that led into the bedroom, which was festooned with a myriad of wacky items, including a huge aquarium filled with decapitated dolls...heads and arms filling it to the brim. On the back wall was a glittering jukebox. That was the door to the bathroom. You could open it up and had to duck to get in there. I thought it was quite cosy.

Who else was living there?
No one else lived there, except towards the end when my friend Theo, from reform school, moved in with her baby boy. That ended when the bust happened.

Was that the ‘white girl with a black baby’?
Yes, Theo was the white girl with black baby, Todd.

Can you recall any of the sessions that occurred during you tenure at Studio Z?
No one recorded while I was there, as I frequently left for weeks at a time to go stay in my little place in Laguna Beach. Mostly the Mothers would rehearse there.

The ‘party tape’ aside, did you appear on any Studio Z recordings?
Frank recorded me singing quite a bit at one point. He told me he thought I had a range somewhere between John Lee Hooker and Minnie Riperton and wanted me to sing with the Mothers. But the minute he wanted me to sing alone, with him at the piano, I would freeze and go off pitch. He wasn’t patient enough to put up with that. I could only sing when he was out of the room – and he was listening to me sing through the mike, in the control room. Not good. So we gave up.
    I did sing back-up in the studio sometimes over the years... on The Mud Shark,
[iv] with Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. It was just fun fooling around with him at the recording studio... I don’t know whatever made it in the mix besides The Mud Shark.

Did you overdub a live recording of that, or was that a separate studio recording?
Mark and Howard and I recorded over the live one, I think. We were in the studio adding tracks.

What are you memories of the Soul Giants/early Mothers?
I loved to listen to them rehearse, but didn’t speak to them much except for Beefheart, Motorhead[v] and Jimmy Carl Black. I went to their gigs sometimes...at the Saints ‘N Sinners in Riverside, I think. Frank was always frustrated at having to play anything like Louie Louie and would always go off the cover band plan, playing his own stuff. Then people would start yelling.
    The bikers from a club called the Comancheros loved Frank’s own material, though. They came to Studio Z many times to hang out with us. Great big scary guys playing marbles on the floor like children. Very funny.

Were you aware of Frank's brief tenure as a beat poet, writing under the pseudonym Vincent Beldon?
   I seem to recall Frank telling me about various excursions into alternate artistic endeavours when I first met him...the Steve Allen show with the bicycle, etcetera. But I can't excavate Vincent Beldon out of my brain, really, even though that sounds familiar. I do have the original text he wrote of Trouble Every Day...he mailed it to me in Laguna Beach after reading it to me over the phone during the Watts Riots. I, too, had been watching the whole thing on TV. It's kind of wrinkled after all these years, but still such a fantastic piece. It stands as a great poem.[vi]

Why did Frank refer to you as ‘Pete’ on the Freak Out! sleeve?
When I first met Frank, I told him my name was Lorre, spelled like Peter Lorre. He never called me Lorre and went on with Pete from then on.

Are there any references to you in any of Frank’s songs?
No songs about me that I know of. I think it’s because I asked him to once in the early days, wanting him to write some kind of love song. Frank hated love songs!

In the recent radio interview with Nigey, you told the wonderful story behind Call Any Vegetable[vii] – care to relay that one more time for the world?
He told me that his wife[viii] never made a sound during sex. This made him feel bad.
    One day, after he’d been on the road to a meeting in LA for a while, he realised he’d forgotten something and turned around. When he got home he found his wife passed out on the bed with a potato carved like a dildo. He was originally very upset, since she’d apparently been so satisfied she had to take a nap! Then he asked her to tell him about the potato. She had apparently tried all the other vegetables and found the potato to be the most harmonious with the vaginal canal... pH balance, etc. It didn’t produce any kind of infection or discharge and held up well.
    That’s why he wrote Call Any Vegetable.

And ‘the bust’ story?
We were really broke and one day this guy came by pretending to be a used car dealer. They were going to have a bachelor party for someone who was getting married and, originally, he wanted a pornographic film. But Frank said he didn’t have the materials for that, but he could make a tape. So he said okay and he’d be back the next day to get it. So Frank pulled the bed out of the bedroom into the middle of the recording area and put up microphones. He said this is what we’re gonna do: you’re under age and I’ve picked you up in a bar and we’ve come to a motel. That was all I knew.
    We were fully clothed, the lights were on and Theo played this background music. Frank said, “Well, little honey, have you graduated from high school yet?” And I looked at him and said, “NO, I graduate in June, but I’m gonna go to summer school.” He didn’t know what I was going to say, so he asked, “What are you going to study?” And I said, “Cosmetology!” And then we’d laugh.
    It took about 45 minutes to an hour to record and then Theo said, “Okay, get down to business,” and we’d start moaning and groaning and carrying on. And laughing! Frank stayed up half the night editing what was a great comedy tape into a nasty little heavy breathing and moaning tape that lasted about five minutes.
    In the morning, there was a knock at the door and this guy goes into the control room with Frank. I was with Theo and her baby in the bedroom. Then suddenly, the doors burst open – it sounded like a herd of elephants coming across the room – and there was Frank leading them saying, “Pete, Theo - we’re under arrest.” I had nothing on and I grabbed the sheet and pulled it up over me. There were eleven men in the bedroom and Detective Willis steps forward and says, “Identify yourself.” I said I’ll identify myself after you get out of here and let me get dressed. So they backed off.
    I managed to brush my teeth and do my hair and make-up. When I eventually stepped out from the jukebox, Willis right away asked me, “Tell me, have you ever engaged in oral copulation with Mr Zappa?” I laughed and said, “I know that’s a felony in the state of California, but are you asking because it pertains to this little charade or for your own perverse curiosity?” I was very frightened, but I wasn’t about to let him see that.
    Frank, knowing that I had been in reform school was just devastated. He was so worried and he was apologising to me. I did that little finger burst thing and said, “Oh, what the hell!” And we started laughing. He had his arms around me as the photographer kicked the door open. That’s where that photograph came from – it looked like we posed for it.
    Then the band showed up to rehearse. They had them all in a line with their sleeves rolled up and I’ll never forget Motorhead looking over at me saying, “Pete, they’re looking for tracks!” He was so excited. Because he didn’t do drugs, he thought that was really exotic!

So Frank spent ten days in Tank C,[ix] and shortly thereafter you left Studio Z – where did you then live?
I lived in Laguna for a while. Frank closed Studio Z and moved to Echo Park, where I would stay with him sometimes. It was a chaotic time.
    Then I moved to Seattle for a while. Frank couldn’t find me. So he put out Lumpy Gravy, which was my nickname for him. There was a little cartoon guy inside the album cover saying, “write to us” with the address in New York. I had married some guy I’d only known for three weeks, to get away from the rock ‘n’ roll life in LA. I sent a little note to him saying, “I am married but still recognisable.” And he called a few days later. When I picked up the phone, Frank said, “I thought you’d see that.”
    The Mothers then played Seattle three times in nine months. Frank and I would sit alone together backstage saying, “What are we going to do?” He had married Gail
[x], who was pregnant with Moon[xi]. So he came up with the brilliant idea of me divorcing my husband and moving in with them in LA. Shocking. Even more shocking was, I did it! But I said, “I want my own room.”
    We never touched each other the year I lived there with them. I moved back to Seattle for a few years, but we still saw each other, as I would fly down there sometimes for a visit.
    It was five years before Frank and I were intimate again, which destroyed the relationship with Gail when she found out.

So what did Gail think about your friendship?
Gail acted very cool about me moving in. She was very friendly to me. I always tried to go on errands with her so Frank and I wouldn’t be alone in the house, making her wonder. It was an unspoken deal: Frank was not to sleep with anyone in LA where she and the children lived and not me anywhere in the world.
    We broke that deal five years later when I went on the road with him out of Seattle. When she found out, she was furious. We barely spoke after that. She would make cryptic remarks to me only in passing.
    I saw her here in San Francisco in 2004 at a Zappa film festival at the Castro Theater. When she finished taking questions from the audience after the movie, I jumped out into the aisle as she was passing by to give autographs in the lobby. She cried out, “Pete!” and threw her arms around me. It was a Friday night and she was going directly back to LA, returning for Sunday night with Moon. She wanted me to return on Sunday night so I could see Moon again (whom I loved so much and hadn’t seen since she was five).
    I couldn’t return, but I wrote to her several times. She never replied. I believe she wasn’t so much thrilled to see me as shocked and said all that stuff because she was so stunned. I have given up trying to be in contact with her.

Did Frank ever talk to you about any other women in his life? We know about Nigey and Jenny Brown from Australia[xii]. In his autobiography, Ozzy Osbourne mentions “some Japanese chick that Frank was hanging out with”[xiii] in the late 70s. He also allegedly had a one-night stand with Janis Joplin while Gail was pregnant with Moon[xiv].
He never spoke about anyone except that girl from Australia. At one point he was going to get an apartment in San Francisco, but never did it. I encouraged him to do whatever would make him happy, but he gave up.
    When he and Gail met John Lennon, Gail got all mixed up with Primal Scream Therapy with them and said she was going to divorce Frank if he didn't do it too. That didn't last long. She gave up on both, of course.

After Cucamonga, did you have any further contact with Beefheart or Motorhead?
I used to see Beefheart and Motorhead all the time at Frank and Gail’s house. Sometimes, when he and Don were in a feud, he would come and visit me in the back yard... he wouldn’t come in the house, or maybe Frank wouldn’t LET him... I’m not sure. So we would just talk outside.
    I moved to New York City in 1972 and saw Frank all the time, whenever he was in town... with or without the band. At those times, I saw Beefheart and Motorhead. I was in touch with Beefheart for many years, whenever he was in New York. I loved both of them.
    I only connected with Motorhead again in 2001, when the Grandmothers were playing in San Francisco. It was a fantastic show and so great to see Don Preston and the boyz again after all those years. Motorhead and I have been in touch ever since and I went to his wedding in Stockton a few years ago.
[xv]

When – and why – did your sexual relationship with Frank end?
My sexual relationship with Frank ended several times. Every time I had a serious boyfriend and during my marriage to the sculptor, John Chamberlain[xvi]. Frank waited patiently and we still spent time together during those periods but just didn’t have sex. It was sort of a ‘same time next year’ relationship in later years.
    He was always waiting for me to change my mind whenever I wouldn’t sleep with him, knowing eventually I would.

When did you last speak to him?
The last time I was with him was when he played Springfield, Connecticut.[xvii] I was in NYC when I got his phone message and raced back to my house in Chester CT to change my clothes and zoom to his show there.
    Afterwards, we spent the night in his hotel. I thought then that he looked tired.
    Later, when they were going to do that big tribute for him at the Ritz
[xviii] and he called asking me to join him in New York, as he was going alone, but still refused to tell me how bad he was.
    I was in my bedroom packing to go in to meet him in the city when the news came on the TV. Moon and Dweezil were being interviewed, saying their father was too ill to travel. That came as such a shock to me. I remember sitting down on the bed in tears. I was living in a dream world, though, thinking he was going to live another twenty years. In fact, I still thought that for a long time afterwards. That’s when I started writing him letters and tearing them up... his silence told it all.
    Soon, I could write nothing, thinking about how Gail would hate to see my missives arriving in the mailbox while her husband was dying. I have regretted that ever since. I don’t know why the hell I was thinking about her at such a time instead of writing to Frank!
    I bought a card once to send to him during that year which said, “I heard you are sick...” and on the inside it said, “...if you die, can I have all your stuff?” Obviously a card for someone with a cold. I threw it away, of course, even though I knew he would have laughed. It was too close to the bone for me.
    When I saw Gail at the Castro and she was onstage answering questions from the audience, I told Wilson
[xix] I was going to stand up and shout from my seat saying, “Gail! I’m kind of broke! Did Frank leave me anything in his will?” He was scared I might actually do it. I have a sick sense of humour, but I’m not that sick. I just like cooking these things up, but not actually following through. I learned of his passing one morning on the radio. I was alone and grieving. It was awful.

Aside from the meeting at the Castro Theater, have you had any other contact with Gail since his death?
She never replied to my few attempts at contact. Also, a few years ago when I was in LA, I drove to the house and buzzed the gate. Her assistant came down to talk with me and I handed her a note for Gail which I’d written in the car in case she wasn’t home. She did not respond to that either.

When did you first meet the great American underground cartoonist, S. Clay Wilson?
I met S Clay Wilson in 1968 in the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle. We had mutual friends. We’ve been flirting ever since, but were never single at the same time until 2000, when I met up with him in Colorado, gave him a ride home to SF and never left. (I was on my way to southern California to live.)
    We had visited one another many times over the years and spent hours on the phone despite our mates’ disapproval. We have corresponded all this time and both of us saved every letter and postcard. I have all of our letters now in one box. I should do a book, as they are very funny and all of his are illustrated... even the envelopes.

Interview conducted on Friday 7th May 2010. The complete interview can be found in Andrew’s book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa’s Other People (Wymer UK, 2017). A later interview with Lorraine can be found here.

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Photo of Frank and Lorraine in the late 70s ‘borrowed’ from the SoHo Weekly News.

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[i] In a May 2016 comment on Moon Zappa’s Facebook page. Belcher claims Zappa’s wife Gail "insisted he not use my name, nor tell the truth about our relationship" in The Real Frank Zappa Book.

[ii] Stage name of Don Van Vliet (1941-2010), American singer/songwriter and early friend of Zappa's.

[iii] Zappa said that Suzy Creamcheese - who was referenced on the album Freak Out! (1966) - was a figment of his imagination, "until people started identifying with it heavily. It got to weird proportions so that when we did our first tour of Europe, people were asking if Suzy Creamcheese was along with us. So I procured the services of another girl named Pamela Zarubica."

[iv] From Zappa’s Fillmore East, June 1971 album (1971).

[v] Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood (1942-2011), sax and tambourine player with the original Mothers.

[vi] This exchange actually took place via email on 26th June 2011. Belcher was able to confirm that the same typewriter was used for both the Beldon poem, LA Night Piece, and the Watts Riot lyrics.

[vii] From Zappa's Absolutely Free album (1967).

[viii] Kay Sherman (m. 1960–64).

[ix] As referenced in San Ber'dino from Zappa's One Size Fits All album (1975).

[x] Zappa’s second wife (m. 1967-1993), Adelaide Gail Sloatman (1945–2015).

[xi] Gail and Frank's first child, Moon Unit Zappa (born 28 September 1967).

[xii] In her Flirting With Disaster stand-up skit from June 2016, Moon describes her father as a bit of a cheater, adding, “When I was little, he moved this Australian lady named Jenny into the basement: he slept with her downstairs, and we slept upstairs. Meals were awkward. It was like a game of chicken between Jenny and my mother.” In spite of this, Gail gives Brown an ‘honourable mention’ in the liner notes to the posthumous Zappa release FZ:OZ (2002).

[xiii] I Am Ozzy, written with Chris Ayres (Grand Central Publishing, 2010).

[xiv] See Zappa: A Biography by Barry Miles (Grove Press, 2004).

[xv] Motorhead sadly passed away on Christmas Day the following year.

[xvi] An American sculptor, who passed away on what would have been Zappa's 71st birthday (21 December 2011).

[xvii] See Zappa The Hard Way (Wymer UK, 2010) for Chamberlain’s account of this final meeting.

[xviii] Zappa's Universe: A Celebration took place on 7-9 November 1991 at The Ritz in New York. In 2012, I asked Gail Zappa about the likelihood of the concert video that PolyGram produced of this event in 1993 ever being expanded and reissued on DVD; her response was, “That project was done under intense duress, so it is not on my list of priorities.”

[xix] S. Clay Wilson, an American underground cartoonist, who married Chamberlain on 10 August 2010.