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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