The Night John Lennon & Yoko Ono Jammed with Frank Zappa at the Fillmore East (1971)

It’s unfortunate, I think, that legions of Beatles fans turned on Yoko Ono with such ferocious animosity after the breakup of the band. Most fans still absolutely despise Yoko. (See the legion of often crudely misogynist comments under every Youtube video in which she appears.) Sure, her voice and music is certainly not to everyone’s taste, but without her artistic and conceptual influence on John Lennon post-Beatles, it’s unlikely his amazing solo albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) and Imagine (1971) would sound the way they do. Yoko, in fact, more or less gave Lennon the seeds of “Imagine,” the song, in her quirky 1964 self-published book, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings, though she never took the credit for it.

Like it or not, if we love solo Lennon, we have no choice but to take the more traditionally great songwriting with the messy, experimental, and sometimes unlistenable. They cannot be completely untangled, to the dismay of a great many people. As Damian Fanelli at Guitar World comments on Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band’s impromptu performance/jam with Eric Clapton in Toronto in 1969, “Yoko screams—very loudly—during the entire otherwise-decent performance.” This is not an exaggerated or especially biased characterization. “Someday,” Fanelli then goes on, “I’ll vent about how terrible and depressing this is.” Fine, but whether we think of her singing as challenging performance art or “depressing” caterwauling, we’re stuck with it. But do the dynamics of John and Yoko onstage change when we add another polarizing weirdo—Frank Zappa—to the mix? See for yourself in the videos here, from an onstage jam session the two did with Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore East in 1971.

See Zappa, Lennon, et al. do Walter Ward’s “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go),” which Fanelli declares “the highlight of the jam, for sure.” Zappa announces to the band the key and “not standard blues changes,” then Lennon introduces the tune as “a song I used to sing while I was in the Cavern in Liverpool. I haven’t done it since.” Zappa rips out a fantastic solo and the band—though seemingly in the dark at first—lays down a righteous groove. And Yoko? Well, it’s true, as Fanelli notes, “all she did was scream her head off.” In this straight-ahead blues number, I have to say, it’s pretty obnoxious. But her vocal tics play much better in more freeform, oddball, Zappa-lead jams like “Jamrag” and “King Kong,” and the shouty, repetitive “Scumbag,” which sounds almost like a Can outtake.

Zappa and band, as always, are in top form. Lennon at times looks out of place and uncertain in their improvisatory environment, but he gamely keeps up. Yoko… Yoko does her usual lot of screaming, howling, yodeling, etc. But before you gin up to tear her to pieces in yet another nasty online comment, bear in mind, for what it’s worth, no Yoko, no “Imagine.”

As Fanelli notes, “the performance was released as part of Lennon and Ono’s poorly received (and not very good at all) 1972 studio/live album, Sometime in New York City.” See Allmusic’s review for a much more thorough, fair-minded assessment of that recording, which “found the Lennons in an explicitly political phase.”

via Guitar World

Related Content:  

The Night Frank Zappa Jammed With Pink Floyd … and Captain Beefheart Too (Belgium, 1969)

Download the John Lennon/Yoko Ono “War is Over (If You Want It)” Poster in 100+ Languages

Hear John Lennon’s Final Interview, Taped on the Last Day of His Life (December 8, 1980)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (12)
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  • Fred says:

    My cat couldn’t stand her screaming on the Live Peace album. I liked it on Cold Turkey. You are right tho about the hate towards her, it’s easy to point fingers and assign blame.

  • john says:

    John jammed. Yoko screeched. My ears are bleeding.

  • Cranky Tom says:

    Yoko was a distraction to a John Lennon looking to be distracted. To credit her with anything other than adding to Lennon’s enigmatic mystique it to diminish his already proven talent and elevate her egoistic pranks to the level of talent. Lennon didn’t want to be what he was best at — “a song and dance man,” as Bob Dylan once described himself. Without Yoko, Lennon would likely still be alive, but she turned him into the hermit of the Dakota by undermining his instincts, and thus his talent.

  • revo says:

    *glances at comments* Yep, Lennon fans are still a bunch of whiny misogynistic crybabies who put known abusers on a pedestal.

  • steve harper says:

    Lennon lost his mind to heroin & a chicken screeching mama

  • Dan Blackvester says:

    It’s like having a cat on the stage (and a noisy cat). And I like cats. So, I’m OK with Yoko.

  • Not even a beatles fan says:

    Although I’m not a beatles fan I do enjoy the music of Frank Zappa and that is why I’m commenting. john, yoko, and phil spectre mixed the material without ever consulting Zappa and the Mothers. “Jamrag” was not the actual title of the song but rather john/yoko/spectre renamed the original Zappa track AND took the writing credit. So lame! They completely changed around some of the songs removing vocals as they saw fit. How shameful!!

  • Baba says:

    Just look at the way yoko screwed Julian out of his legacy. Released Sean’s CD the same day as Julian’s! Sean obviously gets his talent? from her.How pathetic

  • Arnie Carr says:

    Julian with get his so, the rights to his music reverts back to the heirs after 50 years! So Julian will soon get what he deserves!

  • Andre says:

    Why don’t you look at what Frank Zappa said about this. SHE wanted to take advantage of his audience because she was conviced she is launching a new style that will be very sucessful. They even published the recording without telling Zappa. Zappa did’t bother to sue them because he did not really care for the recording. Of course nobody was interested in her PURE garbage and, as Zappa said, his only concert from where people left before the end. OMG now’s she’ credited for “Imagine” got to be kidding.

  • Virginia Abreu de Paula says:

    A standing ovation to you. And too bad when people say the truth it is considered prejudice. I don’t hate Yoko…I can’

  • Virginia Abreu de Paula says:

    Something happened and my message was not complete. I was about to say I can’t accept what she did which is very different than hating. There is nothing crudely misogynist in our comments. It is the truth. This text disrespect George Harrison and also John Lennon because both said Yoko was guilty. George said ( I saw the video of him speaking it clearly) she was there all the time to separate them. He compared her with a wedge. And John said she was the one who gave him strength to split. See? She was not there to help him to solve the problems. He wanted them to split.

    As for the cat who could not stand her voice I happened to others. My friend’s cat starting miowing in despair as if feeling pain. And my dog almost died, he could not breath…He only recovered when I disconnected the sound.
    This text said that: “Sure, her voice and music is certainly not to everyone’s taste, but without her artistic and conceptual influence on John Lennon post-Beatles, it’s unlikely his amazing solo albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) and Imagine (1971) would sound the way they do.”

    Now this is a crime. A total disrespect to John Lennon. Yoko didn’t make him sound an inch better. It s to ignore everybhing amazing before meeting her. She is simply…nothing musically. It is not correct to say it is not fore evryond’s taste. It is only for those who have not taste at all. And am sure she laughs a lot when she read such things. He is very inteligent. She is conscious she has no talent. She only wanted to prove how is easy to fool everybody. She was naked all the time, not only in that cover, but she told she was dressed with diamonds but idiot people could not see. So people pretended they so for being afraid of being considered idiots. The song Sexy Sadie is not for the guru from India. It is about her, or should be. Because she really made a fool of everyone.

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