Title: WXRT-FM Radio Interview
Source: audio tape. Transcription (excerpts) by Gary Tausch as sent to Raindogs Listserv Discussionlist, August 8, 2001
Date: Chicago. July 11, 1986
Key words: Frank Zappa, Wilmont Hotel, Ken Nordine, Franks Wild Years (play), Chicago, Family


WXRT-FM Radio Interview


Interviewer - was your first record in 1973 a big break?
It was different, I'd had a lot of different jobs before that so I was kind of thrown into the fascinating world of entertainment, this business we call show. I started touring with Frank Zappa and the Mothers and I went out with them for a year or so. I was on the road most of the time. I had a bass player with me(1), just myself and a bass player, I still have nightmares about that.

About Frank Zappa fans
I know they all come from good families but somehow when they all get together like that their behaviour was just unsatisfactory. There wasn't a gentleman in the group. But it was good training for me. I was real glad I did it. We were playing sports facilities which is a little rugged.

Interviewer - what were you doing before that?
Morgan Fairchild and I were dating at the time and I left her for Elizabeth Taylor - and Tony Curtis and I went into business for a while and I had that little car wash with Bill Dana. You remember that. And Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Junior and I did a couple of pictures together. Those were the old days. Those were the nightclub years. Buddy Greco and I have an upcoming project we're working on. I'm part of that Pro Am Tour, the Bob Hope Invitational.

On movies
I did music for One From The Heart and I had an appearance in Rumblefish. I played Benny, owner of a pool hall, I got to wear a wild shirt and bark at the youngsters.

Interviewer - why was Crystal Gayle chosen for One From The Heart?
There were a lot of candidates for the score, they were looking for something in contrast to my voice so there were a lot of people they considered. She was real nice, a real nice girl.

On Down By Law
The film was shot in New Orleans in November, with Roberto Benigni who's kind of the Italian Harpo Marx. It's a pimp, a DJ, and an Italian tourist thrown in jail together, they escape, so it's a family show

On his conflicting images as the character in Franks Wild Years and as a family man
Which one of those should I address? The one with the 7 children and the Country Squire station wagon and the trips to the beach with the candy stuck on the back of the bucket seat. I have 4 children, all in military school, we see each other on weekends, it 's my life. No, I'm happily married, living in Kansas, there you go.

Interviewer - you don't live in the Tropicana anymore?(2) Not staying in the Wilmont Hotel in Chicago anymore?
No, I gave them enough business I think. The Wilmont was good to me and I was good to the Wilmont. But those days, I knew they would have to end. Actually the woman who was the night clerk at the Wilmont Hotel - her son is the Marlboro Man - and that's how I got into show business. I met Bob Marlboro and it was all uphill from there.

Interviewer - why is Franks Wild Years the song so short?
Well I kind of said what I had on my mind and then decided to pack it up and go home. Some of it is inspired by Ken Nordine(3) who's a real hero of mine. I love his thought process and his word jazz and his stories, they're like movies for the ears

On Nordine doing ads for Franks Wild Years(4) 
Yeah, we asked him if he would and he was nice enough to give us some of his time. He's got an extraordinary studio in his house and he's just a remarkable guy.

Interviewer - how long was the play in the making?
It's been a while, it's been a bit of a bumpy ride. Originally we went to New York City and started working on it. I wrote it with my wife, Kathleen Brennan and she's responsible primarily for the libretto and I'm responsible for the music.

Interviewer - libretto?
I mean the story itself and how it unfolds and so it's really a collaboration which theatre really is.

Interviewer - how responsible are you for the music?
It's all my fault. Most of the band members were on my last record, Greg Cohen, Michael Blair, Ralph Carney, and Morris Tepper on guitar. So it's a real good group.

Interviewer - who's responsible for the look of the play?
Gary Sinise is the director(5). You kind of have to get a play on its feet before you can stand it up and start working on it. You could consider it a workshop or work in progress, we're still changing things about it and developing different ideas about the characters and the story.

Interviewer - I saw it a few weeks ago - is it much different now?
I'm not sure. There are probably some things that are different about it. In the whole running of it the ritual kind of massages certain things out of the story that get strengthened through the whole process. Steppenwolf Theatre's been great, working with great actors and a great company so it's really been a great experience for me.

Interviewer - why Steppenwolf?
We all met in jail. In New York I met Gary Sinise and Terry Kinney and John Malkovitch. They used some of my songs in Balm In Gilead(6) that was done there and we saw the play so we started talking. It's a lot of work.

On play audiences
The audiences are different. There's a lot of older people. Gloves and purses and perfume. They all seem to really like it. The audiences are really good, they're selling Standing Roo Only now - it's doing real well. It's a lot of fun to do. I get to go to Las Vegas and realize all my big dreams. I never really played Vegas so it's really something, I love doing it.

Interviewer - what's the name of the dept store in the play?
Zookey's - Zookey's the all night haberdashery where high fashion meets low low prices. Come on down to Zookey's, you won't be sorry that you did. What are you? A portly? Do you have a big neck? Well, come on down to Zookey's. What, you say to me, Frank, I'm divorced, I don't own my own home, I've got a poor credit rating, I say come on down to Zookey's.

Innocent When You Dream is turned into You're In A Suit Of Your Dreams
I love doing it. We're gonna run till the 20th of July. We're waiting to find out where it's going. Gary Sinise has been great. He whipped it into shape and it's been a lot of work, it's been a great collaboration. William Schimmel is our accordian player(7), he plays accordian, pump organ, piano, it's the story of an accordian player, I'd like to see the accordian back at the vanguard of the world of music where it belongs and we're fortunate enough to have him playing with the group - he's great. We're gonna do an album in August(8), the music from the play

On blues bars in Chicago
We saw Lefty Diz at the Checkerboard(9) - he was wonderful, we got around a little bit, but mostly we're working 6 nights a week so it's a little hard to get out. We're gonna have a little break between the play and the record so I'll probably have a chance to go out and hear some more music. It's great being here in Chicago, the music is great.

On his newer music compared to his older
Most of the instruments on the last record were accordian, pump organ, bass marimba, bass sax, Marc Ribot on guitar - mostly pawn shop instruments that can be obtained by anyone. I don't know how to describe it, maybe it's a little more outdoors - I don't know - Halloween music, I don't know.

Interviewer - Robert Palmer called it the best album of 85
Well, you can't believe everything you hear.

About mixed reviews for play
Well, people say a lot of things. A review, essentially, is just one man's opinion, someone who came to the show and either liked it or didn't like it. That's all. So I don't know what to say except that you don't really rise or fall on the opinion of a critic. I think you have to put it all in the same hat you know. You don't do it for them and you don't allow them to discourage you one way or the other.

Interviewer - .... loved the characters, etc, loved the play
There you go, we just got a good review. Come on down, see if you can get a ticket, there's a lot of action, a lot of girls, a lot of music, a lot of laughs, you're gonna love it. Coming soon to a theatre near you.

On Cemetery Polka
This is dedicated to all my dead relatives - who are still arguing from the grave with each other. On my father's side we had all the psychopaths and alcoholics and on my mother's side we had all the evangelists so they were finally united at the grave - this is a little family tree really.


(1) I had a bass player with me: this would most probably be Bob Webb on standup bass. Further reading: Performances

(2) You don't live in the Tropicana anymore?: Further reading: Tropicana Motel.

(3) Ken Nordine: Waits often expressed his appreciation for Nordine. Nordine as narrator; - The Nordine album: "Devout Catalyst" (Grateful Dead Records, 1991). With Waits guesting on: "A Thousand Bing Bangs" and "The Movie" (spoken word). Nordine as Producer, main artist;

(4) Ads for Franks Wild Yearsread more about these sessions at "Boho Blues": Spin Magazine by Bart Bull. San Francisco. September, 1987 (early 1987?)

(5) Gary Sinise is the director: 17-22 June 1986, world premiere and theatrical debut. "Frank's Wild Years" at the "St. Briar Street Theatre", Chicago. The Steppenwolf Theatre. Further reading: Franks Wild Years
Jay S. Jacobs (2000): "Terry Kinney was set to direct Frank's Wild Years, but just a few weeks before it was scheduled to open, Kinney resigned (or was fired) over creative differences with Waits. Steppenwolf's head was actor Gary Sinise (who would later win an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Forrest Gump and turn in strong performances in Apollo 13, Mission to Mars, Ransom, and Of Mice and Men). Sinise stepped into the breach and became Frank's director. There was some talk of retooling the production - building new stage sets - but by this point both time and money were in short supply. Waits remained calm. He told O' Donohue he felt that such turmoil was "normal. Sometimes the spark comes from a conflict of ideas. It's just wood and lights and people walking around until you somehow bang up against something, and something breaks, and something sparks, and something catches and then it has a life. Until then it's just on the page." The cast included Steppenwolf regulars Gary Cole, Moira Harris, Vince Viverito, Randall Arney, and Tom Irwin. Waits's touring band played Frank's band, and Teller (of Penn and Teller) worked up some magic tricks for Frank to perform. Frank, of course, was played by his creator, and Waits carried the production solidly on his shoulders. But the play remained in a state of flux; they tinkered with it constantly, even during its run. The reviews were decent, but there were no raves. Frank's Wild Years played Chicago's Briar Street Theater for three months." (Source: "Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits. Jay. S. Jacobs, 2000)

(6) They used some of my songs in Balm In Gilead: This is a Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead. Directed by John Malkovich and featuring Francis Guinan, Glenne Headly, Tom Irwin, Terry Kinney (Fick, Stranger), Laurie Metcalf, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise (Dopey). The production ran in Chicago first on the Steppenwolf stage (September 28 - October 26, 1980) and again at the Chicago Apollo Theater Center (July 8 - August 30, 1981). The production was then remounted in 1984 in New York at the Circle Repertory Theatre (May 15, 1984) and eventually moved to the larger Minetta Lane Theatre. It ran from May 1984 through the end of the summer. With the three different mountings of the production there was some variation in casting." The only Tom Waits connection here is that some of Waits' songs were used for the play. More important, it got Waits to meet the people from Steppenwolf (1984) which led to them working together for the staging of Frank's Wild Years in 1986.

(7) William Schimmel is our accordian player: Shimmel, W. William - The album 'Rain Dogs'. Album released: September, 1985. Accordion ("Time"); - Beverly Theatre. Los Angeles, USA. November 23, 1985 (Late show). Tour promoting 'Rain Dogs'. Accordion; - The play: 'Frank's Wild Years' at the St. Briar Street Theatre, Chicago. The Steppenwolf Theatre (17 - 22 June, 1986). Ensemble with Steppenwolf's original cast; - The album 'Frank's Wild Years'. Album released: March, 1987. Leslie bass pedals ("Hang On St. Christopher"), pump organ ("Straight To The Top - Rhumba", "I'll Take New York"), piano ("Innocent When You Dream"), accordion ("I'll Be Gone", "More Than Rain"), cocktail piano ("Straight To The Top - Vegas")

(8) We're gonna do an album in August: resulting in the album "Frank's Wild Years", Island Records (released March 1987). Produced by: Tom Waits. It was recorded in LA. Collaboration with Kathleen (album is dedicated to her).

(9) We saw Lefty Diz at the Checkerboard: Blues legend Lefty Diz at the Checkerboard Lounge (43rd Street, Chicago). "... At one particularly memorable show at the Checkerboard Lounge he [Lefty Diz] had a particularly tight rhythm section and was working the crowd pretty well. Lots of hoots and hollers, heads bobbing, toes tapping and so forth. For many performers that would be fine, but not Lefty. Early in the second set, while the band was really cooking, he unclipped his guitar at the body allowing it to swing from his right hand like a pendulum. As the band continued the groove, Lefty cranked up the volume knob on his guitar and began playing lead without his left hand -- it sounded great! Midway through the solo, Lefty tosses his guitar up into the air with a flick of his wrist, catches it further up the kneck and continues playing lead, never missing a beat and never playing out of key! The crowd absolutely fell out! Jaws dropped, wigs went crooked, knees buckled, backbones slipped and Diz never missed a beat, but continued to work the crowd into an absolute frenzy that left them exhausted and crying for more." (Oh papa Music Inc ).