lundi, mai 09, 2005

Cucamonga days

Filmmakers sound out musical history

Filmmakers track down Zappa's roots

By Molly R. Okeon, Staff Writer

Former high school friends Adam Fiorenza of Pasadena and Derek Miley of Whittier have spent more than a year uncovering the rich history of a bygone musical era.

By the end of this year, filmmaker Fiorenza, 23, and producer Miley, 24, expect to culminate 18 months of exhaustive research with a documentary on the famed Pal Recording Studio in Rancho Cucamonga, where such musicians as Frank Zappa and others spent countless hours.

Fiorenza's initial intent was to honor Zappa, the prolific avant- garde composer, rock musician and co-founder of the band Mothers of Invention. Zappa died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 52.

But with each new revelation, he and Miley realized there were "more characters,' others who found their way into the Pal studio during its heyday in the 1960s.

"From my point of view, when people think of Cucamonga, they think it's the butt of a joke,' said Miley. "I didn't know about this studio that recorded 'Wipeout!' and 'Pipeline' ... and I love those songs.'

After graduating from USC in spring 2003, Fiorenza contacted his old friend Miley.

"He calls me up and says, 'Dude, I just graduated, I got this nice camera and this great idea,'' Miley said.

Shooting for the film began in late September 2003.

Fiorenza and Miley, both graduates of Rancho Cucamonga High School, enlisted the aid of Kent Crowley, 54, their "official Rancho historian,' at the suggestion of Daily Bulletin columnist David Allen, who had earlier captured the men's attention by writing about Zappa and the Cucamonga studio.

After gathering Crowley's input, the two were allowed to tour the Zappa family's former home in Claremont with the permission of Zappa's younger siblings, Candy and Carl.

"They were talking a lot about the neighbors and how they were one big community,' Miley said. "The old neighbors who still lived there talked about the memories they had. They said the Zappa kids were always at this one neighbor's house. It was their second home.'

Fiorenza and Miley then were able to score what might be the final interview with Zappa's mother Rose Marie before she died in January 2004 at the age of 93.

Their research also took the two to Nashville, Tenn., where they visited with Paul Buff, the musical engineer who owned Pal Recording Studio from 1959 until December 1964.

"(Buff) told us a lot of technical stuff about the actual studio itself,' Miley said. "It was a five- track studio back when the norm was two-track. We wanted to see if he could re-create it for us, tell us exactly how it looked.'

Fiorenza explained Buff's relationship with Zappa as more of a partnership in the latter years of Pal. But he added that Zappa was "green' when, in his early 20s, he showed up at the doorstep of Pal.

In early 2005, the filmmakers managed to find Karl Kohn, a retired composition professor from Pomona College who taught Zappa.

Kohn, who was born in Vienna in 1926, described Zappa's demeanor as a student as much different from the persona he adopted as a famous musician.

"He was not outgoing, not the long-haired hippie-looking guy,' Fiorenza said of Kohn's recollection of Zappa. "He was more low-key and shy. His compositions were good, and they were turned in on time. He was very meticulous.'

But the two filmmakers' biggest coup was finding Zappa's former girlfriend, Lorraine Belcher Chamberlain, who in March 1965 was arrested with Zappa at the studio for conspiracy to commit pornography.

Chamberlain, who was 19 at the time of the arrest and now lives in San Francisco, has previously avoided interviews about Zappa. Fiorenza was thrilled to capture Chamberlain's rare musings and anecdotes.

According to various accounts, the surprise raid came after a notorious San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department sting at the studio over a racy audiotape.

The pornography charges were dropped soon after, but a chance snapshot would immortalize the moment.

Just after the bust, a photo published in what was then the Ontario Daily Report showed Zappa and Chamberlain smiling, their arms draped around one another.

"If you look at it, it looks like they're posing for the picture and smiling like they're really proud of what just happened,' Miley said.

In fact, Chamberlain explained, it was just an odd coincidence. After officers had separated the couple to question them, Chamberlain insisted on being reunited with Zappa. Once back together, Zappa apologized so profusely that the two burst into laughter and embraced, she recalled.

At that moment, a news photographer kicked open the door, which turned the couple's attention toward the camera.

"It was totally not their plan to pose for the picture - it just ended up that way,' Miley said.

Through the course of their research, Fiorenza and Miley interviewed members of early 1960s surf bands The Tornadoes, who wrote "Bustin' Surfboards' - which appeared on the soundtrack to the movie "Pulp Fiction' - and the Surfaris, who performed the surf hit "Wipeout!'

The filmmakers discovered that the original versions of the two hit songs were produced at Pal Recording Studio and later re- recorded and put into radio rotation.

"Paul Buff developed this unique sound that people liked,' Fiorenza said. "It was the 'Pal sound' from Pal studios.'

And it was a sound the musicians insisted could not be duplicated elsewhere.

"They went out to L.A. many times, trying to re-create the Pal sound, but couldn't do it, so they came back,' Miley said.

Molly R. Okeon can be reached at (909) 483-9376.