On June 6th, 1971, an unlikely meeting of two musical legends occurred at the historic Fillmore East in New York, NY when Frank Zappa and John Lennon shared the stage.
Just a short while after The Beatles‘ reign had ended, Lennon continued to perform with his Plastic Ono Band. Meanwhile, Zappa was just making a name for himself with his off-the-wall style and sharp wit. It was certainly an exciting time for these legends to share the stage.
The performance itself, however, is particularly bizarre. The three-song collaboration starts off with a blues-ish number, “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go),” a song that Lennon says he hadn’t played since his Liverpool days. Yoko Ono is caterwauling throughout this entire performance, an asset that comes into the limelight on the next song, “King Kong”. Zappa seems at times both amused and annoyed by the vocal contribution. They finish off the session with a jam on something called “Scumbag”, a free-form jam based on the word scumbag.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Zappa had a recording crew at Fillmore East to capture what would ultimately become his Live at Fillmore East album. Lennon and Ono also received access to the tapes, producing their own mix which went on the Some Time In New York City live album released in 1972. In a later interview, Zappa alleged that Lennon and Ono took one of his songs—”King Kong”—and changed the title on their album to “Jamrag” (British slang for a sanitary napkin) and gave themselves writing credits, thereby cutting Zappa out of royalties on a song he wrote.
“The bad part is, there’s a song that I wrote called ‘King Kong’ which we played that night, and I don’t know whether it was Yoko’s idea or John’s idea, but they changed the name of the song to ‘Jamrag,’ gave themselves writing and publishing credit on it, stuck it on an album and never paid me,” Zappa said. “It was obviously not a jam session song: It’s got a melody, it’s got a bass line; it’s obviously an organized song. Little bit disappointing.”
Fortunately, video footage of this show was captured as part of an eventual live release for Lennon. Though the album tanked, this video certainly captures an incredible moment in rock and roll history.
Watch the three-song segment below.
Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention w/ John Lennon & Yoko Ono – 6/6/71
John Lennon – guitar, vocals
Yoko Ono – bag, vocals
Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals
Howard Kaylan – vocals, tambourine
Mark Volman – vocals, tambourine
Bob Harris – keyboards
Don Preston – Minimoog
Ian Underwood – keyboards, alto sax
Jim Pons – bass, vocals
Aynsley Dunbar – drum