The Night John Lennon Jammed With Frank Zappa at Fillmore East

‘Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever’ Book Excerpt

Frank Mastropolo
The Riff

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Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Frank Zappa. Photo by Dr. Arlene Q. Allen and Ben Haller

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On June 6, 1971, the Fillmore East audience was surprised when John Lennon and Yoko Ono took the stage to jam with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Glenn Phillips, guitarist of the supporting group, the Hampton Grease Band, and Aynsley Dunbar, the drummer who performed at Fillmore East with the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and the Mothers, recall the performance in the book Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.

June 1971 was also a period when Flo & Eddie — Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of the Turtles — were members of the Mothers.

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The show was recorded and Zappa released a version with his own mix as Fillmore East — June 1971. More controversial was Lennon’s release as Some Time in New York City / Live Jam. As liner notes, Lennon used a copy of the cover of the Zappa LP, adding his own credits in red ink across the album’s original credits handwritten in black ink.

Glenn Phillips: The job at the Fillmore was a fluke. Duane Allman was a fan of the band. We had done lots of shows with the Allman Brothers and he told Bill Graham about the band and he booked us sight unseen, just on Duane Allman’s recommendation.

They put us on this bill with the Mothers because Frank Zappa was a fan of the band. There were three bands, we were second on the bill. The Mothers obviously were the headliners. It couldn’t have gone any better for us. The Mothers’ audience was probably the perfect audience at the time for us to play for.

With Frank, he had come down and asked me to give him a guitar lesson, which took me by surprise. He told me, “I’d like you to help me with my picking technique. When I play fast runs, I can’t pick all the notes the way you can; the way I do it is with hammer-ons and pull-offs.” Those are ways to play notes on a guitar without actually picking them.

He said, “I really have trouble doing that. Could you come up and show me how you pick all these notes?” So I said, “Well, sure.” So I was up in his dressing room and we were playing guitar together and I was showing him things and that’s when John Lennon and Yoko Ono showed up.

Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Frank Zappa. Photo by Dr. Arlene Q. Allen and Ben Haller

Aynsley Dunbar: John and Yoko went in the back room with Frank and Frank came up with the songs. For some unknown reason, I think John thought it was all his writing. And to be quite honest with you, as far as I see it, it was basically a case of the band playing songs that we just threw together and the Turtles came up with things like “Scumbag” and that.

When they were singing “Scumbag,” they put a canvas sack over the top of Yoko’s head, a big sack, it went all the way down to her feet. And then Flo & Eddie said, “Shut up, Yoko!” when she was screaming.

Glenn Phillips: Depending on how you feel about her vocalizing, it was either a great moment or it was a “What the fuck is going on?” moment. The audience was incredibly and understandably excited that John Lennon was appearing with the Mothers.

Aynsley Dunbar: It was fun playing up there because it was almost like an interlude for us to play that music because with Frank, we weren’t playing anything that simple, where we could actually get into it and just play without having to think. It was just feel. That was the good thing about that whole thing. The rest of it is just typical BS. The music BS. The stuff the people in the audience don’t even know what’s going on. Egos.

Glenn Phillips: The band was not selling many records at all. Here we were playing at the Fillmore and Kip Cohen took it upon himself to write a letter to Clive Davis of Columbia Records to say that although Frank Zappa and John Lennon and Yoko Ono graced our stage this weekend, my thoughts remain exclusively with the Hampton Grease Band, praising the band, telling him how incredible we were, that we had gone over better than any new band that had ever played there. He obviously knew that we were on the verge of getting dropped from the label.

Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Frank Zappa. Photo by Dr. Arlene Q. Allen and Ben Haller

Aynsley Dunbar: It was only later that I realized I never got paid for the John Lennon album. I was with the musicians’ union on the West Coast and I went to see them and said, “You know, I never got paid for that.” And they go, “Well, how much do you want?” I said, “Well, just hit them, I would say $350 at least for doing the album, like one session fee.”

So they sent a letter off to the management and I got something in reply, which said, “Tell him to go and fuck himself.” So there it is. John Lennon is from Liverpool, I’m from Liverpool, and a guy goes and tells me to go and fuck myself for 350 bucks when he’s a millionaire.

You’d have thought the management would have at least approached John and said, “Hey, this Liverpool guy here, he’s asking for 350 bucks for doing that album.”

They scrubbed all our names off. We were all playing, that was me playing on the drums on “Scumbag” and that was the Turtles but he put lines through our names and stuff on the back of the album. Something weird.

It blew me away. I thought, OK, I’m not asking them for $3,000 or something, I’m just asking for a basic thing, just to make me feel good about getting paid for something they put out and never paid me.

Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever and the 200 Greatest Rock Songs series.

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Frank Mastropolo
The Riff

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