In his teens, Brooklyn-born Warren Cuccurullo became a devoted Zappa fan. He appears in the film Baby Snakes talking about how his life at that time revolved around getting “some money to see Frank in concert as often as possible”. In 1978, at the age of twenty-two, Cuccurullo auditioned for Zappa and the following year toured and recorded with him.
Zappa said at the time that Cuccurullo was the only guitar player he’d ever worked with who understood how his music worked: “I can sit down and play some of that stuff for him and he’ll look at my hand and be able to play it because he understands what it is. It doesn’t come out exactly the same because he plays it cleaner than I do because he picks every note – I usually slur about 60 per cent of what I’m playing. But he can comprehend it. I don’t think he could read it off a piece of paper, but he hears it and the way it’s supposed to fit inside the bar. He knows what the joke is, but most people don’t.”
After leaving Zappa’s band, Cuccurullo founded Missing Persons with Terry Bozzio and his vocalist wife Dale, quickly adding former Zappa sideman Patrick O’Hearn on bass. In 1986, he replaced Andy Taylor in Duran Duran, becoming a long-term member until 2001.
Along the way, he has recorded a number of varied and interesting albums, both solo and in collaboration with the likes of Duran keyboard player Nick Rhodes (Bored With Prozac And The Internet? by TV Mania), violinist L. Shankar (The Blue), vocalist Neil Carlill (Chicanery) and sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan (The Master).
In September 2017, the ZFT announced that Cuccurullo would be one of a number of special guests appearing on The Hologram Tour. A few months later, news came that he would be reuniting with his old band mates Bozzio and O’Hearn to headline Zappanale in 2018. It seemed like time for another chat, but he cautioned that he was, “Busy as fuck gettin’ ready for the show.”
So without further ado, here’s a transcript of our very brief chat.
Will your performance at Zappanale be a one-off – or might the three of you get to together some more?
Me, Terry & Pat will hopefully be kicking off our ‘Call It Everything’ tour after Terry’s North American dates later in the year. That’s what we’d like to see happen: we’ll see if anyone is interested. Otherwise, it’s back to my one man jam band dates that I was planning for 2018/19: me with loopers (seven tracks) and synths with projection.
On a scale of one to 26, how excited are you about participating in the Hologram Tour?
The Hologram Tour is something that everyone should be excited about. The stuff I’m doing for this Bozzio-O’Hearn-Cuccurullo thing is preparing me for it beyond my wildest expectations.
I was so glad to see Joe Travers and Mike Keneally participating. Also, I’ve been dying to do something with Ahmet for years: always loved his creativity, voice and stage persona. I told him I’m 100% in – even bought a new Kemper Profiling Amp to do the gigs.
In his memoir,[i] Arthur Barrow mentions an overdub he did for Frank that got overlooked: he says he played the cheesy surf guitar parts on his second-hand Stratocaster – with a whammy bar – and that you and him played the main two-note guitar motif in unison through two amps picked up by one mic. Is that your recollection?
I can confirm Arthur’s story. When he told me a few years ago, I was like, “Yeah. holy shit! That was so much fun! Can’t believe I didn’t remember it.”
In retrospect, the whammy bar Strat part was the ONLY thing for that guitar. The first of the guitar overdub sessions. Different set-up/mics, etcetera. Once that was put away, it was all Les Paul and Coral Sitar.
Arthur didn’t remember that I used his Strat on the entire tour. Weird, huh?
Arthur also talks about working closely with you to get the tremolo setting on the amp just right for the end section of Brown Shoes Don’t Make It. Tell me more.
The Brown Shoes thing was really something. Frank let me pick a bunch of songs to play. One of ‘em was Brown Shoes. Me and Arthur could not believe we would be playing that tune. We were so psyched. Everything had to be spot fucking on.
There ya go.
When I last interviewed you, you weren’t too complimentary about Obama.[ii] What are your thoughts on your current president?
Trump is the anti-Obama! Just what we needed. And what a first lady!
WC’s bottom line: world politics is just like the SUPER BOWL – it’s the Patriots versus the Communists.
I understand the Arf Society is hoping to acquire an original/boxed Rock Rod to exhibit at Zappanale.[iii] Any suggestions on where they might get one – used or unused?
Ha!! I’ll tell ’em we’ll make a new one, film it (for a documentary) and call it... ‘Grandpa Meat’.
Just kidding, of course. See ya soon!
Interview conducted on 3rd June 2018.
Photo of Warren taken by Jean Renard, used with kind permission.
[i] Of Course I Said Yes! The Amazing Adventures Of A Life In Music by Arthur Barrow (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016).
[ii] In April 2010, Cuccurullo told me, “Obama is a puppet, probably the most controlled ever. Manchurian is a word that comes to mind, not American. I think my song O’Bummer (Operation BS) just about sums up my feelings.” The complete interview can be found in my book, Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa’s Other People (Wymer UK, 2017).
[iii] The Rock Rod was a dildo moulded straight from Cuccurullo’s cock and balls with a “realistic look and feel”, available for purchase in 2001.