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.
After abandoning plans to reform Missing Persons for its 30th anniversary, have you been in touch with Dale Bozzio since? How’s she doing?
I haven’t spoken to or seen Dale since we did the Viper Room show in LA a few years back. (That was the 30th anniversary, by the way.) I’d entertain the thought about doing something for the next ‘special anniversary’ with the two of us. So, it’s not out of the question. I just won’t finance it this time. Ha!
Despite the huge changes that have taken place in music and the industry in general in the last 20 years, you are still creating new music and not resting on your laurels. How does a guy like you make a living in music today?
Creating new music, working with genius talents, it’s what keeps me going – keeps me youthful.
I lucked out by writing huge hits in my Duran Duran years. Those songs pay for my lifestyle. I also made a great investment with my restaurant.
I haven’t ‘worked’ since 2001, but I never stop working (on music, presentation concepts, studying atonal harmony/Coltrane cycles, comedy, video backgrounds, etcetera).
‘Placements’ are what fortunate songwriters live on now: usages in film, TV, video games, etcetera.
You’ve recorded with some female vocalists in recent years, and I understand your new album[i] includes a few tracks with Prima Apollinaare. Tell me about her.
Prima is a dear friend of mine and a super creative, ‘amazing energy’ person. She is of Italian origin and is a mother of two with her husband actor/musician Dermot Mulroney.
She worked her ass off a few years ago, taking up songwriting, guitar, and singing!
She was so perfect for this project, I couldn’t believe it. Recently I heard her new album on her YouTube channel and I was blown away! Check it out!
And Casey Desmond?
Casey is an old friend of Anthony Resta,[ii] and also of my manager Jean. I suggested to Jean that Thanks 2 Frank’s hook was basically a pop hit in hiding. He said, “Let’s send it to Casey.” Well, she is something else! She was on The Voice TV show when it first aired I believe. She’s way too good for that![iii] She’s a true artist, a multi-instrumentalist and highly prolific.
And finally, Denise George?
Denise is another very dear friend of mine and former ‘flame’. She is an all around wiz at most things computer oriented, is a trained actress, dancer, and singer. She’s working with us right now on preparing the new album for the next step.
Any plans to work with Shenkar again?
I contacted Shenkar when he was living in LA briefly a few years back. I’m always ready to play with him and I’m sure he feels the same. We just GO!
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.
Okay, bit of a random question: did you ever see Frank buy Gail a present – for her birthday or Christmas?
I never saw Frank buy Gail a present, but I know that when he wrote something he loved he ran upstairs to play it for her. Like
Watermelon In Easter Hay, for example.
In his memoir,[iv] 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.[v] 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.[vi] 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.
POSTLUDE: The Power Trio met-up in Bad Doberan six days before they performed at Zappanale. When I arrived, Warren told me their set would be “the tits” and very kindly invited me in to witness the band rehearse. They ran through The Purple Lagoon, I’m So Cute, Transylvania Boogie, Canarsie…by the time Terry struck up the opening sitar notes from Treacherous Cretins on his glockenspiel, I thought the hairs on my arms would never stand down again.
Terry’s wife, Mayumi, had written and recorded a Haiku to play behind Cretins: in the event, Terry opted to play the riff on gongs, but it was still one of many highlights. Mayumi has very kindly translated her poem into English. Here ‘tis:
Want to see you…
Wish you were here with us...
Want to hear your voice…
Wondering what you are creating now?
Just want to tell you:
We all love you forever and ever.”
Saturday night could not come soon enough, but the actual performance was beset with technical issues, missed cues, acrimony and division. Terry broke one of his six bass drum heads early on, which badly affected the show’s flow. Warren, as the musical director, improvised several pieces in an attempt to keep things moving along. In spite – or perhaps, because – of all this, we got an absolutely unbelievable show, the stuff of legend.
The trio played a total of 18 Zappa songs, including surprises such as In France (performed à la Gary Numan’s Cars), Twenty One, Baby Snakes and two of the three sacred guitar compositions. Additionally, we got musical tributes to Frank, Prince, Coltrane and Holdsworth. They were contracted to play for 90 minutes, but played for three hours. They were joined by special guest Denny Walley for the last few numbers.
A friend compared it all to a Greek drama: tragedy, fights, love…every single emotion in three hours. The next day, rumours abounded: Warren should have left Bad Doberan but was still in town. He later told me:
“My luggage went missing from the dressing room. I was supposed to go straight from the gig to the airport in Berlin. A three and half hour drive. No clothes! Till 10 fucking a.m.! Flight left at 7:30am, from Berlin to Munich! I was left at the gig. No driver, no minder, NO FLASHLIGHT! I NEVER missed a flight in a 40 year fucking career, and NEVER lost anything from a dressing room. Surprised I didn’t have a fucking heart attack. My cat of 17 years was dying in LA and I get stuck in a foreign country with no clothes after all of my effort and the brilliant show I alone put on.”
He is now looking to the future and plans to undertake his ‘Warren Cuccurullo: Missing Person LIVE!’ tour with Alex Alessandroni (keyboards), Bizarro Patanè (bass), and Steve Ferrone (drums). He assures us his set/visual presentation will be “performed properly with the new line-up.”
Photo of Warren in Bad Doberan taken by David Ditkowich, used with kind permission.
[i] Originally to be called Album Of The Century, Warren has now renamed it Missing Person.
[ii] Anthony J. Resta is an American multi-instrumentalist and record producer.
[iii] Thanks 2 Frank, with lyrics sung by Casey, is now the track called Woman.
[iv] Of Course I Said Yes! The Amazing Adventures Of A Life In Music by Arthur Barrow (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016).
[v] 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).
[vi] 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.