Conversations with JB

If you don’t enjoy vulgar humor and displays of virtuosity, Frank Zappa is not for you. For a decade, my mind was immersed in his music. It got to a point where I knew that every time I put a Zappa CD in the player, I was going to hear a bunch of exceedingly talented musicians flawlessly executing ridiculously difficult music.

I frequented a brewery in Music City. I like to think of myself as an entertaining drunk, but most of the time, I was just an annoying drunk. The night I met JB, I was steeped in the latter. He didn’t appreciate my misguided attmpts at humor. He seemed like a hard person to upset, but he raised his voice in anger. I apologized.

We functioned as friends, but all of our future dealings were tainted. We would sometimes sit together, have conversations. JB was a big time recording engineer. He engineered In the life of Chris Gaines—Garth Brook’s final album. JB had worked on a lot of popular Christian music.

One time, we were chatting and “My City was Gone” came through the speakers. The snare drum sounded like it had an excessive amount of reverb. JB said that it was standard for the time.

A good friend from Virginia said that he doesn’t listen to Zappa anymore because he’s in agony in the fires of Hell for promoting Atheism. Zappa did touch on the topic, but he mostly just pointed out hypocrisy in organized religion, in a humorous fashion. I’ll bet that God gets a smile out of that.

Years prior, I had some experience with multi-track recording, at the Recording Zone. Since I was playing every part myself, it made the most sense to record the drums first, then the bass. I asked JB if they record the drums and bass first, in professional studio recording, He laughed incredulously, and said. “We record the whole band.”

Zappa worked with some specific equipment. He mastered the Synclavier. He took two digital 24-track recorders on tour in 1988. Later, he used something called Sonic Solutions—a six-channel system. I asked JB about it, and he mentioned Zappa’s engineer. I said, “Spencer Chrislu?”

He just about freaked out. He said in near disbelief, “You know his name?”

I said, “Yeah, the last engineer to work with Frank Zappa.”

JB said, “He used to be my assistant…he was great.” He added, “When I wanted to tell him to do something, I’d look over, and he was already doing it.”

I was aware of JB’s religious disposition, so songs like, “Ride my Face to Chicago,” “Titties & Beer,” “Harder than Your Husband,” “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk,” or “Jazz Discharge Party Hats,” never came up.

The next time we were both at Blackstone, JB let me read a letter that Spencer had written. I don’t remember any of it, but it was neat. Later, he said that he and Spencer had dinner at the brewery, and he hoped that I would have shown up.

Even with the fun coincidence, our friendship remained tainted. As far as I can gather, JB is no longer among the living.  Also, JB had mentioned that Frank Zappa and Spencer Chrislu recorded the music of Edgard Varèse with the Modern Ensemble.

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