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Mayhem Memories: Looking Back at the Zappa Special that Started it all in 1981

lombard   4/28/2021  

2021 marks the 40th anniversary of KFJC’s Month of Mayhem. In honor of that significant anniversary, we are excited to be able to present the very first Mayhem special again this year. The ten-hour No Commercial Potential: The Frank Zappa Special was such a herculean effort, that it inspired other KFJC volunteers to craft special programming that quickly became the first Month of Mayhem in 1981.

Tune in on Mayhem 1 and Mayhem 2, 2021 (10pm PT to 3am each night) to hear this special again. Preceding the broadcast, during Cousin Mary’s “Mayhem Memories” special from 9pm to 10pm, KFJC will also present an interview with the man behind the Zappa special, Alex Pantages. Read on for more recollections about that first special from Alex Pantages.

– Cynthia Lombard

1981 flyer from Zappa special (courtesy Alex Pantages)

Alex Pantages on the First Mayhem:

The first Month of Mayhem on KFJC took place in 1981 and the premiere show was the Frank Zappa special on May 1 & 2 of that year. Not many people know though, it was originally planned to air in April. Work actually began in January and the Month of Mayhem concept didn’t exist yet. Here’s the back story to the Frank Zappa special and how the Month of Mayhem came into being (well, at least to the best of my recollection).

Alex Pantages in the booth at KFJC during the Zappa special in 1981 (photo courtesy Alex Pantages)

Through the local Blues scene, I had met journalist Dan Forte in 1980 and while talking one night, Frank Zappa’s name came up. I said I was a huge fan and Dan mentioned he had done a few interviews of Frank in his home in LA a couple of years prior for an article he wrote (Dan was then Editor of M.I. magazine). On a whim, I asked him if I might get copies of the cassette tapes. As I waited for an answer, the gears turned. What if I could do a show on KFJC, play a chronicle of Frank’s music and be able to play actual sound bites of Frank’s voice! The tapes were not great quality Dan said, since they were just for transcribing but, damn, this was Frank, in his own living room, kids running around in the background, talking about his music! This was in January of ’81.

I enlisted help from my other Frank Zappa friendly friends. Paul “Buddy Awreetus” Korntheuer, Russ “Winston Q” Reynolds and my friend Donn Paulk (who had an amazing collection of unique records and tapes). We talked about putting together a “marathon” and what it would take. While they worked on figuring out what songs to play from 30+ albums, I went to work on securing the interview tapes and getting the OK from KFJC management to do a show of that length.

Dan, Donn, Paul and Alex at KFJC in 1981 (photo courtesy Alex Pantages)

Needless to say, it took rounds of phone calls and letters (and lots of begging) but I got the rights to play edited versions of the tapes one time only. I was put in touch with Bennett Glotzer (at Frank’s management company, Glotzer Management) and he sent me some press kits and literature. I also found out that Frank was going to be releasing a double live album and 3 mail order only discs around the second week of May. I asked if there was any way we could get a few tracks or an album side to play on our April special. At first he said no, it was too far away from the release date and they didn’t want bootlegs out there. I said, OK…so…what if we move our special to May? He said to call him back in a week. I did. I told him we moved the special to May 1 & 2 and he told me that the artwork was not done but he was going to send me 3 test pressings so we could have the world premiere of Frank’s upcoming album, “Tinsel Town Rebellion” on our show!!!

Tinsel Town Rebellion test pressing (Photo: Alex Pantages)

As word got out around the station, other DJs jumped on the idea of a playing a dedicated block of one of their favorite bands/artists too. But not just spin records, they wanted their audiences to know more – where did they grow up, how did they become a musician, how did the band form? It was a testament to the passion and power of music fandom as much as anything else.

Tinsel Town Rebellion test pressing (Photo: Alex Pantages)

Our Frank Zappa special was going to be 10 hours over two days. Nobody had ever really done a show that long on one artist so we really weren’t sure how it would be received (although, we didn’t really care at that point). As the others began plotting their specials, it became quickly apparent this was just not a weekend or even a one week kind of thing. As the number of specials mounted and filled the air schedule calendar, it literally spanned the entire 4 weeks of May. Here is where memory fades a bit (and I want to give credit where it is due). I believe it was possibly Hawkeye Joe Scott who first uttered the words “Month of Mayhem” but I also recall Brent Jones (Publicity Director) begin making flyers and press releases touting the “Month of Mayhem” that was approaching.

Original playlist from 1981 Zappa special (courtesy Alex Pantages)

I ended up editing about 6 hours of interview down to small sound bites. Paul, Russ and Donn worked on the written biography, play list and sources for the music we would play.  We had the world premiere of Sides 1 and 4 of Tinsel Town Rebellion along with Side B of Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar on KFJC on May 1 & 2, 1981 and unknowingly started a tradition that has endured some 40 years. I cannot hardly believe what I just wrote. It is humbling and amazing at the same time.

Cassette card for part of the Zappa special

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