When Frank Zappa Sat in With Pink Floyd

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Pink Floyd with Frank Zappa (center of the photo, toward the back) in Belgium in 1969

It sits inconspicuously at the tail end of the DVD/Blu-ray that serves as part of the Pink Floyd mega-boxed set, The Early Years 1965-1972. This particular disc, titled “1969 Dramatis/ation,” consists of live music from Paris, London and Essen, Germany, before it gets to the section called “Music Power & European Music Revolution, Festival Actuel, Amougies Mont de l’Enclus, Belgium,” an event that took place on October 25, 1969. The first three Floyd songs performed are more or less conventional for the time: “Green is the Colour,” “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.”

The final track on the disc, an 11-and-a-half-minute run-through of “Interstellar Overdrive,” would have been fairly typical ’69-era Floyd too, except for one thing: sitting in with the band, playing lead guitar along with David Gilmour, was Frank Zappa.

Interestingly, the promotional material for the Early Years box—each disc has since been released individually as well—didn’t hype up the one-time-only collaboration very much; it was treated as just another track. But for fans of Floyd and Zappa, one listen—and now, with the emergence of the video—reveals that this was a special meeting of the minds. The Floyd, standard bearers of British psychedelia, still four years away from The Dark Side of the Moon and mega-fame, were highly regarded but quite esoteric, still very much an underground phenomenon. Zappa, by ’69, had risen, over the past three years, from being seen as a complete freak offering—in his own words, “no commercial potential”—to being hailed regularly as a genius composer and brilliant musician. Not everyone understood or even liked Zappa’s music or his persona, but few would doubt his gifts.

Related: Pink Floyd’s Early Years boxed set

The back story goes something like this: The Actuel Rock Festival was scheduled to be held near Paris but the French government, fearing youth riots, canceled it. Rather than give in, the promoters arranged to have the festival moved to Amougies, Belgium, just over the border from France. From Oct. 24-27, a continual parade of performers from various nations took the stage, day and night, for the crowd of 15,000-20,000. The lineup included some of the best rock bands of the day (Ten Years After, Floyd, The Nice, Soft Machine), jazz greats (Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp), British pioneer great Alexis Korner, drummer Aynsley Dunbar’s band (Zappa would soon nick him for his own group), former Yardbird Keith Relf’s new band, Renaissance, and Zappa’s protégé Captain Beefheart.

Zappa, oddly, was there both to accompany his friend and to serve as the MC. But his complete lack of knowledge of the French language quickly put the kibosh on that idea. So instead, Zappa played, jamming on guitar with anyone who’d have him, including some of the jazz bands and… Pink Floyd.

The rare collaboration was largely forgotten over time (when asked about it, Zappa had no recollection), although Floyd’s Nick Mason spoke about it in 1973. According to the website Dangerous Minds, he recalled, “Frank Zappa is really one of those rare musicians that can play with us. The little he did in Amougies was terribly correct. But he’s the exception. Our music and the way we behave on stage, makes it very hard to improvise with us.”

Photos eventually surfaced but until 2006 there was no aural or video evidence of the jam. That year, the audio finally showed up and now, finally, we have video too. It’s a pretty remarkable piece of film, documenting one of those rare moments that most fans could only conjure up during some deep “Imagine if…” conversation among friends.

Our Classic Video…

Zappa was born on Dec. 21, 1940. He died at age 52 on Dec. 4, 1993.

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3 Comments so far

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  1. Charlie
    #1 Charlie 22 December, 2019, 15:49

    Was blessed to serve Floyd 6 times. Frank Zappa twice. What a meeting of the minds this collaboration could have been. Thank you for this delight.

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  2. Zebby
    #2 Zebby 22 December, 2019, 17:32

    That was a great solo by Frank. He added layers of jazzy sounds to Floyd’s vibe. You can tell Zappa is emulating a trumpet with his guitar … Wtf it is just a photo we want music this is bs

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  3. Celya723
    #3 Celya723 22 December, 2020, 04:06

    There’s Zappa guesting on guitar, Nick Mason on drums, Richard Wright on keyboard, and Roger Waters on base, Syd Barret on guitar … who else is playing but out of sight? Sounded like bits of Echos was in there too. Interesting piece of music & intense musicianship, take another hit and pass it please.

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